A Travellerspoint blog

A Learnin' Fool

snow 30 °F
View Living a "Cham" Life on meesh123's travel map.

When my mother dropped me off at college she herself was "oriented" by school staff and assured not to worry if she didn't hear from me often - "no news is good news," they said. I believe the same applies now that I've run off to a ski town in the French Alps. Only, Chamonix is better than college. Yet similarly to college, I'm still not learning French.

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Food "Technician"

I suppose things would be heaps easier to order and jokes in French would be funny were I able to pick up some of the language while living here. Trouble is the kids have lost all hope of teaching me and my nose isn't big enough to make those nasal sounds correctly. I just end up snotting over everything, and really I'm just exhausted from cleaning up after myself. I've noticed that I can read French quite well, but speaking and listening are, well, a foreign language to me. I know it like I know Hawaiian - not at all. But I have figured out the commonly used words and use them with a less than local accent.

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Superman, a Turtle, & a Cow at Le Tour

Learning how to ski has come along better than my French. I recently took a few lessons from the very talented "Eddie" (instructors rarely have last names) and my skiing has really improved. I can say that I knew how to ski, I just didn't know why I was doing what I was doing with my skis and now I do. I also have learned to never ever do some things ever again. And plant my poles. But really Eddie did a great job explaining why we do what where - much better than I'm explaining now. The result has been a growing confidence in and greater understanding of my skiing, especially off-piste. Well worth the time & week and a half's wages (sounds expensive but was manageable).

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Knitting has also been taking up a surprising amount of my time. I've found I make a pretty killer headband. If I didn't know it before, Chamonix works on the bartering system, and cold ears require a stylish and (dare I say) well-crafted solution, and I am happy to get my stuff out there. Here friends help friends out, especially if they're in the market for a kick-ass double-layer pro-knitted another-hyphened-word head accessory.

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Not surprisingly, I've had a few new experiences here - I recently enjoyed the novelty of skiing one afternoon and golfing the next. I played a terrible but wonderful round of golf on the oldest course in France and while I was well out of practice, I had a great time nonetheless. Even more novel was skiing with freed heels, yes, telemarking! I spent the entirety of the first run trying not to fall on my face (it blows my mind that that's possible), but before long I was steadily shuffling and enjoying the rhythm of it all. I'll definitely be back out.

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Lastly I've learned that wearing a transceiver doesn't guarantee you'll be in an avalanche, it just feels like it does. Still I'll be wearing one when I go touring, hopefully in the next few weeks.

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Posted by meesh123 14:17 Archived in France Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Ski-Bum Supreme-Bum

snow
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Nearly three weeks passed since we had our last snow. Thankfully the spell has broken and another 8'' dumped two nights ago (knee-to-thigh deep up top)! Like everyone else, I rushed up as soon as I could to play in the powder. Unlike everyone else, I had no idea what I was doing. And so I spent a disproportionate time on the slopes flailing my arms around, eeking, and spitting snow out of my mouth. It was AMAZING! Still, great as that was, I'm working on getting a lesson in off-piste (non-groomed) skiing. I had my last lesson when I was 12 so I reckon I'm due for another, and payday is Friday.

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view outside kitchen window

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Part of my pay is of course to stay in the family's beautiful chalet, I have my own room with attached bathroom & shower. Very lucky to have in Chamonix as a seasonaire. More commonly people find themselves 2 to a 10x12ft room. I considered it. Even better I was offered a place in a two-bedroom apartment between 10 people - "but the living space is huge!" they exclaimed. Unless the living space was Africa itself... I met one of the inhabitants by chance last week and found out there were 9 guys and "a crazy chick, really crazy" AND cost as much as the 10x10. All and all I think I made the right choice.

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photo courtesy of http://www.laruche.biz/

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photo courtesy of http://www.laruche.biz/

As the weeks roll by I'm gettin great at my job. Besides a few minor slip-ups (singeing the kids' cordon bleu, filling their diesel car to the brim with petrol - as the daughter of a mechanic I am obliged to say it was not my fault, and it wasn't entirely of course...), I'm doing fine. Practically Mary Poppins. She forgot to pick up the kids once in a while right? No, haven't done that yet - maybe that's why the kids have been so great. They are really sweet and with their little British accents they sound more sophisticated than me. Than I? Hmm...

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I've been skiing with Oscar (a 60m jump ski jumper with 6'4'' long skis at age 12) and my god they build great skiers here. He just bounds down everything without blinking, then jumps off something at the end of it all. Both Oscar and Rosie ski or jump or ice skate every day, and every Friday the schools here "make" the all the students ski in the morning as part of their curriculum. Life is so hard.

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(the blur is Oscar)

So while I may not be a Super Nanny, I am becoming the world's most ambidextrous driver. I drove "correctly" in the US (right hand side of road in regular car), drove "correctly" in NZ (left hand side, backwards car), and now I'm in France driving a car from the UK (right hand side, backwards car). I think I'll put it on my resume' (omitting of course the fuel incident).

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(not the nicest car in the lot as you can see, but it goes)

My first, and likely only, visitor came to Chamonix earlier this month, Grace Miller from Pittsburgh! While things didn't run entirely smoothly, I loved having her and her friend Christine. I loved even more watching the most thorough fall and slide down a ski run I've ever seen. Grace fell above a steep run, slid over the top and didn't stop until the very base of the run, ages below, and I haven't seen anything so funny since she left. Thanks for coming out Grace!

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Since Grace's visit, I've been to all five main ski areas my pass permits, including Courmayeur in Italy. It was stunning. Just through the tunnel under the mountains lay a huge ski area with great food, wide runs, and Italians passed out everywhere on chairs and in full ski gear, enjoying the sunshine unconscious. Made more room for us on the slopes I'd say. Yes, with my laid back schedule I'm able to ski 3-5 times a week easily, and with more snow on the way I'll continue to be devastatingly outskied by a 12 year old, and love it.

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shadow of mountain in clouds outside house

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chamonix panoramic
photo courtesy of http://www.chamonet.com/webcams/jpg/chamonix-panoramic-cam.jpg

Posted by meesh123 14:19 Archived in France Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Sorted Out

sunny 21 °F
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Nearly two weeks have passed since I arrived in Chamonix, and I've finally moved into a place of my own. Actually, not "my own," per se - I share the massive chalet with the family for whom I work. I decided to take an au pair job for a very kind English family, the Jones' who have two great kids, Oscar and Rosie, ages 10 & 12. The job includes housing, food, a weekly stipend, and a car (so I can keep up with the Jones'?). The work schedule gives me the opportunity for five ski days a week, assuming my legs can handle it. Three days a week would be plenty whilst I get my ski legs back, or lets be honest, construct them from scratch. It's been a while.

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Luckily, Christmas came early this year and I found something upon which to build my ski legs - skis! My friend Phil and I did a thorough search and through a series of unfortunate events - rentals, skis sans bindings, affordable skis that refused to adjust to my boots - I was led to a great pair of used skis in top shape for only 80euro (down from 100)! As I happily whipped out my cash to Phil's friend, I was informed that these skis were not for sale. They were now a gift to me from this man who I just met. And he threw in poles though we protested. I was amazed and knew why I had come back to Chamonix, because of the wonderfully kind people. What a gift!

Not surprisingly, Chamoniards' generosity did not end there. As a "Christmas orphan" (one of many here), I was taken in by Gary and Guri Bigham (who, interestingly enough, are from Paia, Maui) on Xmas Eve where I was fed fantastically and entertained better. Squeezing 12 people onto an 8-person table, and then realizing there were actually 15 of us and making it work anyway was memorable in itself. Jen and I contributed homemade-altitude-screwed-burnt-top-undercooked-base brownies that somehow ended up being a hit. We happily took credit but only after we heard the "mmm"s of satisfaction. Wouldn't have admitted responsibility otherwise.

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The international company, conversation, dishes and drinks were welcome and wonderful. All culminated in a ceremonial opening of gifts from the Bighams, all from their recent trip Maui which made me feel right at home. The last present opened was to the Bighams from Santa - a sleek carbon fiber toilet seat complete with racing flames. Apparently "it makes you go faster."

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Christmas dinner was equally as delicious with amazing food and great company at the Smart's. Puppy Pepper was well behaved for the evening, despite whoops and hollers during after-dinner card games. Rounds of Uno separated the men from the boys, or in this case the three adults from the 9 year old. It was a slaughter, but she was a good sport.

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As the holidays come to a close here in the valley, the winter weather gets *%$&#ing ridiculously colder. And I swear -6 degrees celsius here (which is approximately 20 degrees farenheit) is way colder here than 20 deg used to be in Colorado, dammit. I'm just crossing my fingers for some cloud cover already, and not just for the snow.

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Posted by meesh123 14:50 Archived in France Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Back In Cham

snow 30 °F
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Successfully made it back to Chamonix, and without a hitch. Right off the plane I was offered a place to live from a climbing buddy from this summer, but sharing a 10x12 with a Canadian girl I just met seems a bit too risky, so I will keep looking.

I've made it back and now all i've got to handle is the inability to sleep before 2am (4am last night) and I must begin the tasks of finding work and a place to put my approximately 100lbs of crap. Unfortunately that 100lbs does not include a pair of skis, and so the beautiful snow-covered peaks are out of my reach until then.

Since there hadn't been snow for a few days, I was able to ride a bicycle into town (20min one way) in the freezing air, twice, to get some errands done. My ears were freezing, the rest of me was a living furnace (save for my shins, which were in open air because I rolled my pants out of the chain's way and I hadn't yet excavated my long socks).

Interestingly enough, last night's forecast of "chance of snow showers" turned into a good five/six inches overnight. Perhaps the French learned to forecast in Colorado? In any case, the weather outside is frightful, but gorgeous all the same. No sign of letting up yet, skiing will be amazing for the next few days...I'm off to find skis!

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Yesterday I broke down and rented skis for the day. Photos below. Beautiful & about 10inches of NEW snow...!

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Posted by meesh123 00:09 Archived in France Comments (0)

Anxiously awaiting...


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My three months in Pittsburgh have dwindled down to two weeks and as I put off my final to-do lists till the last minute, I am filled with excitement and dread. Excitement that I am about to return to a wonderful town with endless snow days and folks with amazing stories; dread that I have so much on my final to-do lists. Also sadness to leave another bunch of very cool people.

Pittsburgh has surprised me - easy to do when you've got no expectations about a place, but it's been very pleasant in any case. Trees and hills everywhere (fall was spectacular), very friendly people (coworkers AND customers), and a thorough opportunity to spend time with long-lost family. I would not have been able to return to Chamonix so quickly if not for Alyson and Eddie's generosity in putting me up and working me to death (per my request) at the Hartwood Restaurant.

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I've learned so much from them and their cuisine is simply fantastic. I have been spoiled beyond belief, and will fondly dream of roasted butternut squash salad, tropical tiger shrimp, and pumpkin cheesecake with caramel drizzle when I'm back in Cham eating tuna from a can for lunch...and dinner. Hopefully I won't forget everything I've learned by the time I have enough money to buy the materials to cook the food in the way I've seen and helped.

No one has seen two people work harder than I have seen Alyson & Ed work, and I will remember their dedication when I am changing pillowcases and duvet covers, scrubbing showers, and dragging vacuum cleaners up and down stairs, because it's still not as draining as what they do every day. They are an insane experiment in human resilience and I have the utmost respect for them.

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Its also always easier to pass the time with a great friend alongside. Thanks again for coming out to goof around Laura Lee! We worked hard, but laughed harder.

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Posted by meesh123 16:06 Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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