Showing posts with label snow. Show all posts
Showing posts with label snow. Show all posts

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Ready and waiting ... for winter



Disappointingly, we did not wake up to snow this morning. But, I think that we have ticked off the major items on our ‘preparations for winter’ list. The fuel for our heating system was delivered just after 8am as I was setting off to walk my youngest to school. I watched in admiration as the driver manoeuvred his truck across the bridge two doors up from the house, with inches to spare on each side and then ran up to greet him and introduce myself. I explained to him what the driver who came with last year’s delivery had done in order to get the truck to the house safely down the narrow, winding streets. He smiled kindly at me, nodded and said “Yes, that was what I was going to do.”

Chatting a few minutes later as the fuel was surging into the underground tank he revealed to me that he had been delivering in the Annecy area for 27 years and “knew most things.” He then pointed to the houses around us in our hamlet and explained where he had to park the truck in order to access each property. On one occasion, he told me, when our street was blocked he had even used a ladder to climb down into the river with his hose and up and across our garden to the manhole. I guess I hadn’t needed to worry about helping him with his directions. Nor the driver from last year who had responded with “I’ve got it covered” when I asked if he needed any help getting his truck out of the tiny street. Luckily, in hindsight, as I am still not sure what I could have done in practice to help avoid his several tonne fuel truck from being artistically wrapped around my low stone retaining wall.

Today’s driver was friendly and wore cool tartan-patterned gumboots, which I complimented him on. My words were so nonchalantly accepted that it felt like I was a player in his daily casual conversation routine. The boots may have been part of his seductive delivery method and they were clearly working their magic on me. I would have liked to have kept him chatting to discover a bit more about the things that he said that he knew.

Typically for me, when I looked at the bill after his departure I discovered that I had mis-heard the quoted price over the telephone. Instead of quatre-vingt-treize (93) centimes per litre it had cost me quatre-vingt-seize (96) centimes per litre, easily done over the phone but another one of the frustrating little examples of being let down linguistically by not being a native speaker.

So, now that we have had the wood and fuel delivered, snow tyres bought and put on, salt for the roads near the front door at the ready, spray and ice scrapers for the windscreen placed in the car along with a blanket, snow chains and snow shovel, winter clothing checked and ski school bookings made, we just need the winter. It is making me feel a bit like a wallflower at a school ball, all dressed up and ready with no one interested.


Have I gone a bit over-the-top with our preparations? Probably, but we were so under-prepared for our first winter here that I am scared into action each year now. Memories of sloshing through snow with my toes achingly cold in shoes that leaked, my under-dressed children with despairing looks in their eyes, skidding in the car down icy, un-salted roads and sitting freezing cold in the kitchen with no wood left and our heating fuel nearly all gone are hard to erase.

Now that I think about it we were also way to keen to try out all the different local Christmas markets. We had no idea that the huge banners and roadside signs on the main road from Annecy to home could lead us to small community halls set up with only a handful of cute stalls, which we conspicuously kept on appearing at.

But, how often is it the journey rather than the destination that provides the interest and the excitement in life? We look back on our mistakes with pride, content in the knowledge that despite all of the things that we did not get right last time around, we made it through. 

Still, please hurry up and snow so that I can feel better about being so prepared.









Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Skiing

We had our first ski outing of the season today. As per my usual pattern my dreams last night were interspersed with snow catastrophes and uncertainty about how I would go physically. It used to be worse.

The very first time that we took the three children to the snow was in Australia on the Queen’s Birthday weekend, which was the opening weekend of the Australian ski season. We had no intention of skiing as the children were too young and it was uncertain as to whether there would actually be any snow. A patch of artificial snow was made to provide a somewhat authentic backdrop for the official opening photos and newspaper report but to get to this you had to take a chairlift. My youngest child was only a baby and I, having not skied for many years, and never with children, had never considered the safety aspect of children and lifts.

I had just gotten my, not-old-enough-to-walk son out of a carefully selected age and weight appropriate car seat from a car with safety airbags, new properly inflated tyres and a voice-controlled, ok me, driver cautionary system. At the chairlift embarkation point I, like all the other passengers, was offered a benchseat with one metal safety bar at about waist height when sitting to hang on to for safety. The only problem was that waist height when sitting was above head height for my son. The gap was so large that three babies sitting on top of each other could have slipped through it. What should I do? I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun that was only that chairlift away but how could I put my son into the risk zone just to satisfy myself? I decided to ask for advice. The liftie, a young guy certainly not old enough to have children of his own, assured me it was fine to take a young baby on the lift, as long as I held him tightly.

Well, I did, hold him tightly that is. So tightly, that my arms were aching by the time the ride finished. I dared not breathe, let alone move as it felt like if I relaxed a single muscle anywhere in my body I would send him tumbling into the void below. The day ended without incident but I suspect that my ongoing dreams are my punishment for lack of due care.

Strangely enough whilst driving to the ski station this morning I mentioned that I had not slept well because of ski related accident dreams. My daughter said that she had dreamt that there was an avalanche. With the abundant late snow of the last week followed by days of sunshine there certainly is an increased risk of avalanches and this is mentioned frequently on the evening news. At every ski station there is a team responsible for ensuring the security of the slopes. This at times means deliberately placing explosives on slopes judged to be at risk of avalanche to deliberately set one off. However, if you keep to the marked trails the risk is very low. The warnings apply to the real thrill seekers who look for pure virgin slopes, or ‘hors-piste’ skiing.



The discussion, nonetheless, continued about what to do if you did get caught in an avalanche. Firstly and obviously try to avoid it by moving out of its path, but secondly, my husband said, try to swim with it. ‘Swim?’ ‘Yes, and then be quick to act once you and the snow are coming to a stop, make space around your head because once the snow has stopped moving it compacts around you and you can find yourself without a pocket of air to breathe.’ Right, at this point we were still on the road, which was becoming more slippery and icy, the snow was starting to fall and the reassuring metal road barricades, that had been present when we were leaving the village below, had mysteriously disappeared, leaving unwary drivers the distinct possibility of missing a bend and flipping into the steep valley below. Ah, all the reasons why we love skiing so much were all coming back to me – and I hadn’t even thought about the cost of the day’s outing or the fact that it might be cold once we got there.

It was not just cold, it was freezing. The snow was attacking us horizontally and whipping the exposed parts of our faces. The ski lifts were barely visible at car park level and as we watched they disappeared completely from view. The wind was howling and we looked at each other despondently. At least we were wearing appropriate clothing.


As a first-timer years before in France my ski wear consisted of a pair of old navy blue tracksuit pants plus my black bushwalking japara. Not only did I freeze I felt miserably different. I didn’t have the all-in-one brightly coloured ski suit, cinched in tightly at the waist that my French female companions had, nor the matching lipstick and sexy fur bonnets. Neither did I know how to ski. Hard to say whether the not altogether friendly glances thrown my way were surprise at my outfit or my lack of ability.

After half an hour of procrastination this morning the weather cleared enough for us to decide to get our gear on and ski together. The reasons why we repeatedly go through this complicated ritual each winter were once again exhilaratingly clear.

Monday, 2 February 2015

A New Path


We discovered a new path yesterday. Out walking through the snow along the track overlooking the village leading to the castle we ran into one of the teachers from the primary school. She mentioned that a new path had been opened close to the castle and descending to the ‘Moulins.’ I was quite excited, as up until now the only way to do a round trip to the castle from the house has been to walk back along the road from Bluffy. I have always found this to be less than relaxing as there is no footpath to speak of and the cars take the bends as a bit of a challenge, fast and tight.

Sure enough, a bit further along on our walk, as advised there was a new wooden gate just off the main track, signposted to the Moulins. We took it and found ourselves coming out alongside La Vallombreuse, an imposing and beautiful old guesthouse, literally the other side of the bridge from our house. The path felt like the backdrop to an Enid Blyton adventure, drooping pine trees partially covered with snow that would make great hide-outs, stone steps hewn into the walled paths, perfect for bandits carrying contraband, an old stone doorway, still standing but leading nowhere, prickly blackberry bushes that would have served as good traps and all just at the base of the castle walls. Covered with snow with the light fading and the twinkling lights of the village appearing below we could have imagined ourselves either the heros of an historical adventure story or the wily smugglers needing to outdo the Famous Five.

More beautiful snow was falling this morning and once all the ski gear was back on, the destination of choice was the secret castle path. This time we went armed with toboggans and cameras. Everyone, except Granny had a go on the toboggans, first along the rather steep track and then as the children became more confident, straight down the even steeper slope trying to avoid the prickly tentacles of the rose bushes hiding just below the surface of the fresh snow. Too tempting was it to not use the field as a battleground for a massive snow fight. Grandpa and my husband quickly fashioned snowballs whilst the children were playing below and when their pile of ammunition on the path above was satisfactory they called the children up, on the pretext that we were heading home. Obediently and unsuspectingly they started up the slope. When they were close enough the signal was given and the attack was launched. Laughingly, the children ducked and weaved and unsuccessfully tried to retaliate. Then, in the spirit of all good Enid Blyton books we headed home to a steaming hot chocolate and a hefty piece of homemade fruitcake.

The morning’s activity cost us nothing and yet the fun factor was at an all-time high. We hadn’t had to get in the car, we hadn’t had to queue and jostle to see what was happening, we hadn’t had to wait around for opening hours and more importantly we had been outside together in the cool fresh mountain air enjoying running around. For the adults, there was the bonus of being able to momentarily regress into child-like behaviour and get away with it.

The reality of growing up was brought home to me recently. A young Australian girl contacted us. Her teacher, a friend of ours had given her our details. She is in France for the period of her summer holidays and is staying with a French family who coincidentally live within walking distance of our house. Even though she did not know us she rang, made a time to come and see us and then spent two hours intelligently and confidently conversing with us. She spoke about her aspirations for the future, her final years of school, her desire to improve her French, the travels that she had been on and the places that she still wanted to visit. I could see myself as a sixteen year old again in her, keen for new experiences and impatient to start the challenges that will open up the world to her.


The conversation left me feeling unsettled and reflective as, although not dissatisfied with the path that life has taken me on so far, I feel the urgency of time passing and a somewhat heightened reflection of past choices. My girlfriend, the same one who recommended that her student come and see us, wrote me a letter before our departure from Australia. She concluded with a poem by Robert Frost entitled The Road Not Taken (below). I still have it and I take it out occasionally to remind myself that the future should be viewed optimistically, as an opportunity and that with an open mind and a dash of stubbornness, ‘way can in fact lead on to exciting way.'

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.



Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Le malheur des uns fait le bonheur des autres


Still no snow and it is the first of December. On this day last year the children were hurtling down the road next to the house on their toboggans in seventy centimetres of soft fresh snow. Then, I watched with video camera in my hand and heart in my mouth as amidst shouts of joy they veered away from the bridge at the bottom of the hill at the very last minute avoiding toppling into the icy river. In fact there was so much snow that once again it was causing havoc at airports around Europe. My husband, on his way back to France from Australia, was stuck in Abu Dhabi awaiting news of whether his flight to Geneva would be allowed to take-off. At our end, the children and I were monitoring the Geneva airport site constantly trying to get the latest news on whether or not his plane would be allowed to land.

It turned out that his plane was re-routed to Milan where, upon arrival, the passengers had a choice of waiting until flights were able to land in Geneva, trying their luck with another plane to another airport or taking a bus to Geneva. My husband chose the third option and then spent ten uncomfortably cold hours in the bus as it wound its way around Switzerland through hand-size flakes of falling snow.  He was hungry, too, and could only dream longingly of the Tim-Tam biscuits, which he was bringing back to our children as an Australian treat, but which were tantalisingly just out of his reach in his luggage in the hold. On the bus with him was a young Australian couple who were doing their best to keep their baby and toddler calm. There was also a young man in his early twenties who asked to be dropped off at the side of the road on the outskirts of Lausanne. He disappeared into the pitch-blackness of the eery homogeneity of the night wading through waist-high snowdrifts and weighed down by his back-pack. We hope he made it to where he was trying to go.

Dropped of at Geneva airport at 2 am, my husband then tried to work a little and sleep a little just to pass the time before attempting to get on the 6 am bus down to Annecy. The security guards in the otherwise empty airport smiled encouragingly at him as they passed doing their rounds but were unable to relieve the discomfort and tiredness of two consecutive days travelling without a break. More bad luck when he went to get his bus ticket from the bus station at just before 6 am to find that the first bus out had been cancelled, as the autoroutes were considered too dangerous to navigate.



I got a call from him around 8.45 am just after I had walked the youngest two up the snow-covered road to the primary school.  A snowplough had cleared a 2 metre wide path from the front gate of the school to the classroom entrances. The rest of the playground was a labyrinth of ice sculptures and igloos made by the children the previous day. Most were in ski pants and jackets as they had been told that they would not be allowed to play in the snow if they weren’t wearing ski gear. In Australia I fought hard to bring in a ‘No hat, No play’ policy for the summer months in the school that I was working at back in the early 1990s. What a contrast! But what a joy to have eager, affirmative responses to set school uniform guidelines.

I tried calling the bus office in Annecy on my husband’s behalf, as he still only had a smattering of French and they assured me that there would be a bus from Geneva mid-morning.  Thankfully, this turned out to be true and after another couple of hours in the bus he was back in Annecy. Our own car was completely snowed under, so a taxi ride from the bus station to home completed his long exhausting journey.


There is a French proverb which sums up these two days: ‘Le malheur des uns fait le bonheur des autres’ or in English ‘One person’s unhappiness is another person’s happiness.’ At the same time as the snow was making life miserable for many, including my husband, my children were in seventh heaven rolling around in it at home. But it was my oldest daughter who was the happiest. Her bus into school was cancelled and there were no expectations that she find an alternative way of getting there. I think her translation of the proverb would be ‘Lots of snow, no school-everyone happy!’

As for snow this year, we wait in eager anticipation. It might be tomorrow.  The snowplough did drive up our street as we were eating lunch, which is a sure sign that the men at the town hall have been given the word that snow is on its way. Plus, one of the Mums from school told me yesterday that it was definitely going to snow, as she had smelt it when she opened her windows in the morning. She might be right.