Thursday, February 4, 2010
Je deteste le buttlift
For those of you who don't have time/are too lazy/don't care to read what is surely going to be a novella, here's my weekend au ski in a nutshell: I went skiing in the Alps, got dragged halfway up a mountain on my butt, discovered the "convenience" of French roadside bathrooms, and ate way too much nutella.
The longer version:
After weeks, maybe even months, of anticipation, bragging to friends and family, and making the big decision to pack my ski jacket and snowpants in my suitcase coming to France, I finally got to go skiing in the Alps. Yeah that's right, the Alps. (I still can't believe I did it.)
Organized by my school's (called the IEP) international organization, a group of about 25 foreign kids and 6-8 French students boarded the tour bus Friday night and headed off for Pelvoux, France, a ski station about four hours from Aix. By the time we left Aix, the sun had disappeared, and we couldn't see much of the countryside on the journey. Even at night, however, you can tell that France is a beautiful country. Driving by clusters of lights on hilltops, we'd occasionally pass a castle, lit up in the night. I don't think my jaw stayed shut for more than five minutes the whole trip.
Just as we got off the freeway, we stopped at a respectable-looking rest-stop for a bathroom break. At this point we were far enough North that it had started snowing, and waiting in line was a wee bit cold. Shortly after getting in line, my friend announced that there was actually no toilet-- just a hole. All of the Americans froze in horror and said "WHAT!!" of course. Now I'd heard of hole-in-the-ground toilets in Italy, but I was under the impression that France is a little bit more "advanced."Everything else about the rest-stop was well-kept, clean, and shiny, so I did a double-take when I opened the door and stared down at the slit in the floor that took the place of a toilet. I'm still recovering, actually.
Back on the bus, we were treated to a poorly dubbed film about rock-climbing and another French one about a black family skiing in the Alps. (random?). Eventually we arrived in Pelvoux, pumped up by the movies and ready to hit the slopes. Unfortunately, they don't have night skiing in the Alps, so we had to wait until morning. We stayed in apartments at the base of the mountain, but it was so dark when we arrived that we couldn't see where the ski runs were.
Saturday morning we woke up at the crack of 8 am, ate some nutella and bread, and picked up our ski equipment from the rental place. In the daytime, we could clearly see the mountains, and that the chairlift was a few hundred yards from our apartment. At first, I was a little disappointed that this "station" only had one chairlift up the mountain, and that on the map it looked like there were only a few runs. Then I discovered that the Alps are just a little bit bigger than Boyne or Nubs, and the reason there's only one chairlift is because it takes twenty minutes to get all the way to the top, and all of the runs take an equally long time to complete. Also, after the chairlift ends, there's another lift, which we dubbed "the buttlift" because you literally sit on a disk and it pulls you up the hill, with your skis still on the ground. I'd never seen something like this before, and was so confused about how to do it the first time I tried, that I lost my balance and fell. Too scared to let go, I let the buttlift drag me about 100 feet up the mountain, trying to figure out a way to stand up again. As I was being dragged, I kept passing signs that said something like "if you fall, get off here" but since they were written in french, it took a while to realize that's what they said. So eventually I just let go and fell into three feet of snow, lost my poles, and watched my friend continue up the hill. As I sat in the snow, trying to formulate a plan of escape, French skiiers glided by me, shouting out advice in French, which I of course didn't understand, but nodded and agreed with them nonetheless. One guy picked up my poles on the way up, and I said "Merci" and then panicked because I didn't know where he was going. I decided to take my skis off, which is a bad idea (like I said, three feet of snow), but luckily the man came back with my poles and very kindly helped me put myself together and, after a lot of hand gestures and "je ne comprend pas" showed me how to get back to the groomed part of the mountain.
This experience traumatized me just a little, and although I eventually braved the buttlift again and successfully rode it to the top many more times, I always hated and dreaded it. Going all the way to the top was definitely worth it, though. The view from up there was breathtaking, and the runs at the top the most challenging.
Saturday around noon we stopped for lunch and ate at a little cafe halfway up the mountain. We sat outside in the sun, and once again, I couldn't keep my jaw closed, couldn't stop myself from saying "this is so beautiful" every five minutes.
We stopped skiing at 4:30, and my friend Kelsey and I reserved some time in the sauna (for a 'small' fee of 6 euro.) Luckily, there were two French guys in there at the same time, so we got to practice our French for half an hour. Turns out they were also students from Aix, and were pretty easy to talk to. The sauna is a great place to have a conversation in a foreign language, I've discovered. Conversation isn't necessary, but it's awkward if no one says anything, so having a small vocabulary isn't as much of a hindrance. I've encountered a lot of problems with the language barrier so far. I feel so boring when I talk in French because all I can talk about is food, customs in the United States, and the weather. I sometimes feel bad for the French people who have to constantly supply vocabulary and talk slow just to have a simple conversation with me.
Saturday night this language barrier was also very noticeable. We went over to the French students' apartment for some "vin chaud" (hot wine is delicious) and the room was clearly segregated into Anglophone and Francophone people. Kelsey and I decided to be a little daring (or maybe it's just because we had nowhere to sit) and planted ourselves in the middle of French territory, making it impossible for the French kids not to talk to us. Once again, we ended up comparing cultures and complaining about how we don't understand our professors, but it was fun to finally talk to some French students. The IEP, and most things in Aix, are clearly separated into foreign and French students, and it's really hard to mix, so even talking to our fellow students for an hour was great progress.
This is getting really long and I'm sure no one really wants to read about every detail, so I'll wrap it up. Sunday was equally beautiful and relaxing, although the bus ride home took six hours or so because the traffic was so bad. The weekend exhausted me and I could hardly stay awake in class Monday. Now I'm (mostly) recovered, but I want to go back. It was one of the best weekends I've had here, and I hope I can go skiing again before I leave.