Monday, January 25, 2010
Don't not ski in the alps
Just as I was sitting down to write this entry I remembered I'd taken some pictures and I thought I'd better upload them. I haven't uploaded any pictures since I got here so I pulled out my box of cords and things and set to looking. After ransacking every storage device in my room I died a little inside. I could not believe I'd left my camera cord at home. Of all things to leave at home. In desperation I searched all the little inputs on my computer hoping to find something memory card shaped and popped a little piece of plastic that was....just the shape of a memory card. So that's a total releif. Unfortunately I wasn't much of a photographer on this trip.
I'd been given all the tickets and instructions for taking the kids on the train from Paris to Annecy(oddly the town that I applied and was accepted to study in). Annecy is in the Alps and about 30 minutes from Geneva by car.
I wasn't super excited about the trip and had even at one point said I wasn't really interested in skiing but later took it back because if you get a chance to ski in the Alps for free you don't just say you don't really feel like it. I didn't really feel like it but that wasn't the point. I was also consumed with anxiety for not only the skiing but for the transporting of three fairly strong willed children from the apartment in Neuilly all the way to the train at Gare de Lyon. There had been some talk about taking the bus from the apartment to the metro(about a 20 minute walk) but we decided against it because the bus is slow and I'd have to buy tickets at the metro station etc. However I predicted that there would be a minor mutiny from the kids over it. I was totally right.
We made it to the metro where I bought tickets. By then it was about 4:50, the train left Gare de Lyon at 5:50 and it was all the way across town....by public transit. Four fifty on the metro is a little crowded but still manageable. Four fifty on the RER A(a faster train which I only use once in a blue moon and had no clue how to navigate)or 5:00 as it was by then, is an absolute nightmare. The upside of the RER is that it goes faster and stops less, the downside is that it's less frequent. We waited for it fifteen minutes while I pep talked the kids about RER procedure; hold on tight and don't let go no matter how much people push and pull you. The RER is not a place for kids, it's far too dangerous, crowded and fast. The only way I knew that Noe was still with us was by his tightly gripping hand and intermittent whimpers. Everytime the RER stopped and it wasn't our stop I shouted to the kids, "hold on to me and don't let people push you out!" Each stop is roughly five seconds, same as a metro stop. When we reached the Gare I tugged Noe through the crowds, carrying three bags with the girls trailing and 10 minutes to spare.We made it on with no casualties but it was close. The first words out of my mouth were, "I'm never taking you guys on the RER again". Five seconds later that was repeated par Agathe over the phone to les parents. Oh well. I sat back and dozed.
Anne picked us up at Annecy and we drove to the Chalet in La Clusaz, a small village in what was surely the nearest town to Heidi or the Abbey that Maria lived in. I remember once when I was twelve or so someone asking me where I wanted to spend my honeymoon. Maybe the oddity of the question is why I remember it but at the time I knew where I wanted to go:the Swiss Alps. Even though I had no interest in honeymoons at the time I had the idea that they were to be spent in the most idyllic place imaginable. Well, even though this was the French Alps I was right in thinking it idyllic.
It was nighttime when we arrived at the Chalet and I pretty much went to bed right away. In the morning we bundled up and headed down to the ski area. After getting my skis Anne waited with me for my instructor. When we found him Anne said, "elle parle Anglais, vous parlez Anglais?"
"Euh, no speak English," he said turning to me.
"C'est pas grave," I responded reasuringly. Whatever, it was totally grave. Maybe I'd be able to understand him telling me to bend my knees and all that but French ski lingo isn't something I studied in school and the last thing I needed was an added confusion slash humiliation. So I said bye to Anne and began the ski lesson.
We were working on this slope with a plethora of tiny children zooming by and various non-french adults crashing hazardously all about. I won't relive the mortifying and frustrating experience of being taught to ski by retelling it at great length but I will say that falling doesn't hurt in the moment but kills later and that after falling it's super difficult to get back up so you have to sort of thrash about until your teacher comes to the rescue. This guy was long suffering, especially with my success at turning right time and again and my absolute failure to master the left turn. As I was being toted up the hill by a thing completely unlike any ski lift that I'd ever seen before, I had time to contemplate my attitude towards my own incompetence. I'm usually game to try something but if I'm not good at it right away I'm convinced that I will never be good at it. Thats probably why I don't take on too many athletic activities. The fatalistic attitude kicked in pretty quick and my frustration was apparant to my teacher as I waxed elequent in mild French and English swear words and such useful phrases as "ca marche pas!(it's not working)" and "je peux pas(I can't)". This promptend lots of "C'est normal", and in English, "relax". After my lesson I continued to go up the slope and down, finally mastering both turns, a degree of steering and a little speed until my punch card was used up around lunch time. After lunch I went back the Chalet for a nap. And let me just say that walking the slippery uphill kilometer to the chalet in ski boots carrying my skis and poles was so far beyond any exertion I'd ever put myself to that I collapsed shaking in a heap while I tried in vain to take off my boots. I now have bruises from where the boots pinched my feet and calves.
The next day I was determined to take advantage of my oppourtunity to ski in the Alps. I'd taken the lesson but hadn't done much more the day before, and on Sunday I was going to not only get better at that same slope but also go to another. Armed with the generous encouragement of the whole family I put on my skis outside the door of the chalet from which we were going to ski down the few slopes to the resort. I should have just saved myself the stress and walked but I decided to brave it. I fell three times before deciding to walk down.
The kids are all stellar skiiers and definitely at their best when teaching. They were all very helpful when I managed to lose my skis and poles in a particularly jarring plumet off a slope. Agathe helped me reattache myself and Jade carried my extra skis while Noe explained that falling was normal and that everyone learns by falling and how fun it was to see me in skis etc. I bought a morning pass for the same slope and went on it a few times with Jade who is an excellent teacher and cheered me on when I made it to the bottom with no tumbles. I skiied the rest of the morning gaining speed and confidence before going up the mountain in a real enclosed lift to a new set of slopes where we were going to have lunch with another family. This other family stayed wth us a couple months back and I really like them. They've lived in the states for about seven years and their son who I babysat is completely blingual, speaking with a perfect American accent which was disarming when he responded to my first orders of the evening with an "aww, c'mon, you seem nice, you're not going to make us work." I definitly made him work. After a long lunch of tartiflette, a potatos, bacon, and reblochon gooey mess of goodness I was presented with the full range of choices for the afternoon; stay and nap in the lawnchairs(which I'd been doing for forty-five minutes while I waited for everyone for lunch), go back to the chalet for a nap, ski on the debutante slopes, go back down and ski some more on the same slope I'd been on in the morning, etc, etc. But then Anne asked if I wanted to go on a long 'promenade' back to the chalet. I said yes but didn't really anticipate the gruelling trail of tears it would be. I didn't cry but I was close enough. I completed about thirty epic crashes, one of which involved another skiier and half of which involved losing one or both skis. All of this was distributed between kilometer long flat stretches where we pushed ourselves along at a snails pace.
Although the skiing was a trial in many respects I'm not opposed to doing some more of it, maybe with a couple more lessons. I completely adored being in the mountains. The drive back yesterday was beautiful. I was happy to be approaching our destination at a speed of 180-200 kilometers per hour but I klutched my seat in terror as we rounded mountainy bends and FX performed drums, guitar and vocals to blaring Coldplay. It was good times. I love traveling in France. Thats why I'm super excited to go the Strasbourg in a few weeks time.