Skiing; So let me get this right, You wait till it snows then a tractor with a digger comes along to pack all the snow down to make it extra hard and slidey, all along and down the mountain paths and clearings or “pistes” as they are called. Then you maybe wait and hope that it snows again, then hobble onto a bus or across a road and get into a cabin or gondola with around 20 other people. It lifts you all high above the rocky-forested floor suspended from a cable and takes you slowly a few thousand feet up into the mountains. Then you fasten a pair of smooth waxed 5 foot plastic planks onto your feet, in boots you cannot walk properly in, that lean you slightly forward and have been crushing your feet for the last hour while you get to that point. Then you make your way sweating across to one of those steep snow covered slopes or the edge of a precipice, covered in mist, and push your self over its edge, slide down at around 50 mph down 50 or 60 degree downward slope or if your lucky even steeper, with a stick in each hand to help you, taking in a few surprising hair pin bends with pine forest to the left and right, all the way to the bottom a few thousand feet below, erm let me think about that a while…… yeah; ok, I’m up for that!
I honestly had no idea what skiing entailed, why would I. It had never crossed into my consciousness, the nearest I remember was a few skinny guys in Lycra at the Olympics and a chap called Eddie the Eagle years ago. I hadn’t got a clue, the mist is only just beginning to clear and the view below is shall we say; troubling.It has been snowing here regularly now since about the 5th of January, which is a relief and the landscape is now picture postcard beautiful, Everyone is relieved and the tourists are looking a lot happier clumping and thumping up and down the towns roads, skies across the shoulders in those big uncomfortable boots.
It’s been over a month now since we arrived in Morzine, we’ve had our first guests and survived nicely, our natural caring qualities came up to the surface. We had a wonderful Christmas with a lovely Jewish family, a group of 8 charming adults and 3 delightful little girls and a new born baby which was for the record born quite a few weeks before the 25th
We’d been anxious before they arrived but we had no need, they turned out to be lovely, Orsi tuned it on in the kitchen and though unbelievably stressed she cooked wonderfully. She’d worked in various kitchens before and been floor manager at the Vanilla Black fine dinning vegetarian restaurant, Chancery lane, thank goodness she had. Though it was her first time cooking for so many people and had a panicked look in her eyes for most of the period she did great. I cooked and served the breakfasts as somehow Orsi reckoned being English I had a better understanding what was required, whilst she got the rest of the days food prepped and I have to say that though she rode me really hard and I resented her deeply, she really did an amazing job.
Because there were children with the group, there had to be a separate meal for them at 6pm, then the adult’s 3-course meal served at 7.30pm There was also a cake to be cooked and served everyday for afternoon tea
The grandfather of the group turned out to be a Hungarian immigrant from the Hungarian revolution in 1957. As a little boy he’d escaped Hungary with the family, they’d had to give up a beautiful family home in a beautiful part of Budapest for their 4 passports which got them out and though he’d obviously done well since in the UK, we knew the story, we’d walked those streets, we’d discussed it frequently and so his story touched us.
Orsi was in her element of course and they took a shine to her. She decided to change the menu at one point and have a few Hungarian versions of the dishes, they were fabulous, Grandfather was visibly touched, I ran up and down the stairs from kitchen to dinning room like a whippet and never dropped a thing. The two of us just about made it through, though I am at present worried that we will be able to make it through the next 13 weeks. It seems like a long way away right now. Things are tense between us, our tectonic plates are definitely moving against one another, there is volcanic activity just below the surface and mountains are being raised that I hope we will be able to find a way through once this is over.
The family had come to be together from London the UK and the Daughter with her French husband from Paris. The Grandmother who I’d been emailing with was wonderful loving and kind, I liked her very much, their son though born in the UK had played for the Hungarian national rugby team which they played down and made fun of, I thought it was fantastic and Orsi was absolutely beaming about it.
Of course Orsi was delighted; they all got to speak a little Hungarian and got to swear a little too. When your learning a language everybody always teaches you the swear words first don’t they. It makes everyone laugh and it did here too
We had Christmas day with them, I made Santa snow feet across lounge and around the fireplace for the kids, one of the little girls was loosing a tooth so we put some coins under her pillow, she was thrilled. As the days went on we gathered that they’d had a few bad experiences with Chalet hosts in previous years. We were just being ourselves and we noticed after the first day, the initial apprehension we had both felt from them melted away and was replaced by a loving consideration for us.
There is something deeply satisfying about serving others especially when they appreciate it, it seemed at times like an extension of the Healing work we had been doing. After every meal time the son and his wife would bring their two daughters to the kitchen door, call Orsi out to say thank you, the other little girl too, it was beautiful, it doesn’t matter who you are what your background, how wealthy how poor or what you believe; manners maketh the man, or woman. We were charmed by them and responded with our very best. We couldn’t have asked for a better group to start of with.
I ran up and down those 3 flights of stairs, eye on the hot tub and the boiler, the bedrooms, the general face and upkeep of the place. After breakfast the round of cleaning bedrooms which I took great care, it made me happy to leave little touches, expressions of love and creativity in all their rooms. It really is the little things that make the world go round isn’t it.
But then after they’d left on New Years Eve morning we had probably one of our worst clashes, looking back I am not sure whether either of us was to blame. We very very nearly walked out and away, I think what stopped us was that had we walked, we both knew we’d have been going our own ways, so the next few weeks will be a time to see if we really can work together. It has been tough.
I’d taken off that day like a rocket right up a the vertical mountain through the Ressachaux forest right behind the chalet, I think I blazed a new trail, everything retreated until I had to stop, my body aching, my lungs bursting and gasping for air, I had stopped and stood there I noticed I seemed to be in a place the had something else present, I stopped listened and as my blood slowed and quietened in my ears I realized there was something else there. So I laid down and back onto the soft leafy forest floor closed my eyes and I saw and I heard.
I heard clear as a bell the most chaotic music, that as I listened began to make sense, order evolving out of the cacophony and chaos, it was as if the music were roller coaster ribbons that I could see and every style of music I had ever heard in my life was stitched together rising and falling, every instrument I had ever known took it in turns to play, exhilarating and unbelievably joyful, I couldn’t believe it, I tried to shake it away, I had been expecting thunder lightning and the darkness of storm clouds, instead was this delightful playful symphony that seemed way beyond my imagination.
It said “Stay a little longer”
After I returned to the forest, I carried on climbing up out and above the trees onto the bare ice covered mountainside, as far as I dare go with the boots and gear I had on, not daring to look down wards until I could go no higher. Then I turned and sat and looked out onto and across the mountain tops, I couldn’t believe where I had got to. I sat a while till I noted the day light waning and so then, the dizzying knuckle whitening climb back down. I left the heaviness I’d been carrying up there on the Mountain and over the following weeks I’ve looked over and across to that place from the Ski slopes nodded and smiled to myself, there is music there in that forest.
I’d watched Orsi rise and take complete control over the shopping and the food, and to be honest that week with the food preparation, she’d left me standing. We all have different ways of learning and we all have different areas where we naturally excel. This was Orsi’s turf and this was her creativity, though whenever I mentioned it, it was slapped down, she professed to hate it. But there was borderline hysteria with the mountain she envisioned in front of her, Orsi didn’t, couldn’t and wouldn’t stop, drove onwards and drove over. I was reeling. I am sure without that tension she would be enjoying this like fish to water. I hope, she is able too.
My way is to ingest things so deeply that it will never be forgotten. Nobody had really explained anything to us and so I would have to find my way through the place and this time, catch up and perhaps even over take just as I have always done. Humiliation has always been crystalizing for me, it’s a pattern of mine. The picture would become crystal clear the lay of the land and order in my mind established. The situation right then though had made me deeply uncomfortable and, maybe that’s what it’s all about for me, things up on the surface, glaring vulnerabilities to be looked at and learned from, fertile soil for new healthy growth, given another the chance and another opportunity of course.
After the family left we didn’t stop, we’d cleaned the Golden Goat again, toothbrushes in hand, changed all the bedrooms, cleaned from the very top to the very bottom, behind the showers and the taps under sinks plug holes and toilets, all edges and doors and floors, everything!! We finished at 4pm that day and were both absolutely wasted tired. We just flopped, switched on the TV and zoned out. We slept deeply for the next few days.
We now had the Chalet to ourselves for the next few weeks as there were no guests due to lack of snow. I don’t think either of us really knew what to do with the time, we found it hard to relax. The family hadn’t been able to snow and their ski passes had had to be returned, and still there wasn’t any snow. So we took to hiking.
We’d both said that we’d expected something else here and the first impression was of a brown dusty place with not much going on and not much wildlife around for us to search out and enjoy. I had had some very disturbing dreams and a real sense of foreboding, which disturbed me. The Alps right then were not quite the inspiration we’d thought they would be. They were brown, dark yellow and grey. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the world around you does tend to reflect how and what you are feeling, we all look through the veil of our feelings and right then we just couldn’t see the majesty and the beauty.
We walked the dusty trails over the remaining patches of frozen rock hard snow from a previous months fall. We’d been told Morzine was a beautiful place, it is sweet, but it is a tourist town totally geared to skiing. Everybody kept telling us how lucky we were as it was a living working village and it does have a hum and buzz and life to it and remarkably we have not come across anybody unpleasant or mean or bad mannered. The French are disarmingly helpful and always happy to help and the Brits in abundance here, are the best example of Brits abroad. It’s a nice looking crowd, laid back in the same way I imagine surfers to be and so yes it is of course good to be here. But we still haven’t skied and so we haven’t got the full picture yet, we just feel it. The skiers know something we don’t. But out there in the bare snowless mountains, it just looked like a huge empty deserted adult playground.
But then the snow came and it began to make sense. So we went out to meet it, hiked around the lower basin villages of Seytroux, Le Baume and Biot as the snow came heavily down like a long held warm breath suddenly exhaled into the cold air which was caught and frozen right there, and it just fell heavily, blanketing everything, thick dazzling and beautiful. We worked our way up through deserted villages, tiny allotments and wound slowly and cautiously past wooden mountain huts and hideaways. We came upon lonely mountain shrines. With little figures of Mary locked up behind iron grills. I sensed they were not only Christian markers, but a nod to the spirits of the place, I’d been missing them, I hadn’t felt anything around me for a few weeks, so quietly I whispered hello’s and waved as we passed by.
“Come visit” I said “Come visit”
The churches though empty were also beautifully tended and I was happy to have time out amongst the painted pastels, subtle and bright local indigenous folk expressions; evident when you looked up and look closely at the décor. I liked them very much, I always look in on these places, pulled to stop a while, but we came upon a lot of them up here in ski heaven, it, it was a unexpected surprise away from the crowd.
I’m always look for the currents running through a place, it’s how things are expressed, the over riding obvious stories and symbols are the canvas or the frame of something deeper and older, something human expressed upon or within them, something soothing we know and interact with out of the corner of our eyes. I like to look at them straight on, I am always happy to see those familiar faces out there on the trails and up there in those villages at that time it brought me back to a better reality.
We had been calling regularly into New Generation Ski Shop on Rue De Bourg, Morzine, who our company always recommends to guests for lessons and so we get reduced staff rates on lessons in return. Up till then there had been no snow and so no lessons, but now the snow came down and our ski passes had been burning holes in our pockets
As we went in that day Sara said they’d been expecting us as they knew what was coming, all eyes of Morzine had been on the skies, on their apps and on the slopes. The forecasts and predictions had been right and next day an email popped up in the Golden Goat Mail box. A lesson at 11.30 Wednesday 11th Jan, wow, we were really excited. Finally!!
But oh, the effort required to get on the slopes and we’d forgotten about all we’d been told that first day of our fitting 4 or was it 5 weeks ago now. It was a painful frustrating experience just getting our boots on stood there in the street behind the Mountain heaven van, so much so Orsi had to go into a shop to get some extra help, I went ahead to ask the instructor to wait.
All the way up in the gondola I looked down upon the most marvelous easy free flowing sights, beautiful human gracefulness weaving and zigzagging past and underneath, all down the side of the mountain, figures flowing left to easy right, to comfortable smooth light left, back effortlessly to right and so on, and so on, it all look so incredibly easy fluid and elegant.
But once up there, stepping out at Pleny, a busy hive of a place, an Oxford Circus of the ski world, dizzying and remarkable. Little 4 and 5-year-old kids from nowhere whizzing past, people dressed in all sorts of bright clashing day-glow pinks greens sky blues reds and council worker oranges coming out of nowhere flashing by in every direction and nobody seemed to mind, in fact collectively it seemed to make sense and the snowboarders too moving in ways that just defied gravity. But there wasn’t time to stand or sit and marvel, we had a mountain slope to meet.
Our instructor was an Italian girl who we both had to work hard to understand and which got in the way of what was being taught but then again perhaps we were just useless. We managed to just about get a feel for it but this was going to take some time, we were a long way off those 5 year olds, we’d already seen far too many ambulances from the chalet lounge window without setting foot on a ski.
We learnt first of all how to snow plough, which is basically a beginners way of stopping, turning your toes into a V shape pressing your toes down and hoping to god that you managed to stop before that edge or that tree got too close. I was all over the place and the two of us irritated one another again, hilarious in retrospect but in the climate at that time it was humbling humiliating and maddening, but then both of us falling off at the end of our first ever chair lift at the very same moment broke the ice as we lay there in a heap laughing in the snow.
There was a conveyor belt escalator in the learners area too which was a god send, after that first lesson we spent another a few hours going round and round and round just gliding down trying to work out what “a counter intuitive move” really meant, leaning out away from the mountain and the security of mother earth, pressing down with the outside leg, toes not heel, to turn. It all sounds and seems good as I write this, but a whole other thing when your moving down hill and gaining speed and leaning back trying not to fall and yet your speeding up and it just doesn’t make sense at all and holy shit, you can’t see anything in front of you and you know, your up a mountain and its 1460 meters down.
By the time the first snow actually came we had survived the two weeks in the house alone, we’d hiked all around the area and the second wave of guests had arrived. We managed to get a few hours every 3 or 4 days to practice up at Pleny and we began to get a little better and I mean a little. Eventually building up courage to go onto a short Blue run at Nabor and started to vaguely have a little fun, we started to get the turns, to understand, we started to have some good days and of course still a few really disappointing days. Neither of us had fallen in love with skiing, we were too tired to fall in love. But still I sensed, we were missing something, there was a secret we hadn’t stumbled upon, we hadn’t found it just yet or managed to stay stood up long enough to see it.
It rode next to those figures we saw arriving underneath our window each day at the end of the Nyon Piste run, which ended right there in the coach park right below us, the Telepherique De Nyon chair lift is underneath our lounge window, amazing to see those silent easy effortless joy riders coasting down to earth out of the pine forest into the coach park.
The Golden Goat is situated in a remarkable place, we can literally throw a stone to the Nyon chair lift or to the end of the Piste, we see the snowboarders and skiers arriving in clusters like beings I’ve never seen before, compelling and mesmerizing when ever we looked up between the cleaning and we know there is something in it, we sense it, but you can’t know it unless your on that slope and it’s tugging us regardless of all that effort required to get there, so yeah, it’s true, we are so lucky and when all said and done we were getting there.