Reberty In A Bottle

Standard

20130321-224728.jpg

    The confession:

Since the age of 18 (when it was legal Your Honour) alcohol has played a not insignificant role in my life. It has been there at the major events; weddings, birthdays, graduations, saying goodbye…To be fair it has there at some pretty insignificant ones too, so much so that I am not sure if its the wine or the insignificance that causes me not to remember them.

And, fortunately I suppose, as I have developed a reputation for embracing alcohol, I have become known as a fun drunk, or, in darker moments, the person who makes others less embarrassed about their own drunkenness in a ‘thank God it wasn’t me who…’

spent all night vomiting in the sink

did the crazy jumping out from behind people with jazz hands dance behind unimpressed strangers

cannoned straight into a man with a tray of drinks sending the whole lot flying…

way.

And so, as a maturing and increasingly wrinkly person my idea of working a ski season arrived with a sense of trepidation. As far as I was concerned a ski season is synonymous with excess alcohol consumption. How did I know this? My good friend and ex-seasonnaire who spent five months in a beery haze, gelling the hair of strangers and who has never ridded herself of the taste for Jaegermeister alongside the propaganda of commercial giants, the likes of Jack Wills. Not particularly empirical evidence but on this basis I was convinced that time in a ski resort would not promote my spiritual growth and would more likely accelerate my onward journey to AA (not the fourth emergency service!). But true to my stubborn nature I could not put the idea aside. So, I applied, trained and chose Reberty as a nod to my concerns, the place of one horse and one pub. I believed this stood me in good stead for withstanding the lure of the Jaeger Bomb, tequila, chalet wine and dirty pints…

    Sire de Beaupre:

20130321-224846.jpg

The beginning. When the guests arrive they are welcomed with this; a sparkling white wine (of sorts) which costs no more than 1 euro 22 cents from the large Carrefore (a supermarket) in Moutier, the town at the bottom of the mountain (aka the suicide capital of France). It could in fact be that this stuff is the equivalent of a UK Lambrini, which lends some sense to the suicide statistics. But having said that it is much more palatable than Lambrini (most guests quaff it, even those who profess to be in big business and connoisseurs of fine vintage, or even the Swedish who live in a wine dictatorship of exacting high standards on wine permitted to be sold in the country and none of these people are dead to my knowledge, least of all from their own hand). However, the most overwhelming testament to its palatabity is the staff willingness to consume it given half an excuse; the hot tub needs jumping in, as s component in Buck’s Fizz on transfer day morning or the above mentioned Swedish guests turning up so late that we drink three bottles (theirs) and gobble their pork log (long pork pie) waiting for them. And so the week has begun.

    Vin blanc et vin rouge (aka ‘The Chalet Wine’):

The first thing that a guest might ask is ‘what kind of wine is this?’. Well, no, on second thoughts, the very first thing might be to express how it does not taste particularly pleasant (I’m being polite). The response to the second comment is ‘this is true’ and the answer to the first is, well, make it up (its a Merlot one week, Pinot the next) or give or it to them straight, like so; ‘it is a beverage loosely based on wine and coming in two colours, either red or white. It comes in 10 litre boxes which are located in that cupboard and you can have as much of it as you like.’ This response tends to improve the taste and quell any queries about the grape.

From my own point of view the stuff is pretty nasty (not nasty sic, which is in fact good) and not particularly intoxicating owing to it likely being watered down. Irrespective, over the last four months I have drunk a fair amount of the stuff and it seems the main reason (without over analysis) is to burr the sharp edges from an evening (spoken like a true alcoholic); the awkwardness with guests that I have little in common with or quite simply dislike (the man who joined a conversation about getting rid of something irritating and nasty by intoning that he had done this with his ex-wife qualifies) and with whom you can barely get past ‘how was your day?’, the social discomfort of dinning with these people and the moods of others (chefs mainly). Not only does it burr these edges but also your own; memory, energy and sometimes personality. Sadly.

    Vinho do Porto:

The au revoir drink, served avec fromage. The cheese usually goes ignored, yet the thick, rich liquid gets destroyed. It’s not offensive, you might even call it approachable, but despite this and the entreaties of the guests – those you get on with – to sit down and have a glass, Porto is not what you want to be drinking the night before transfer day – the 5:30 alarm and the 10 hour toil. But that does not seem to matter at 22:00, it seems very far away, so you drink it anyway and then it matters less and less with each warm sweet sip.

    Leftovers:

20130321-224540.jpg

No chalet is complete without leftovers. The toiletries go in your bathroom, the food in the bin, the alcohol most definitely not. They can’t take it with them, so they leave it behind; gin, vodka, whiskey (Johnnie Walker Black Label, Jack Daniels), brandy (Remy Martin), beer. In the most decadent of moments you might drink this on discovery, bleary eyed, at 07:30 on a Sunday morning in preparation for the long day ahead…

20130321-220026.jpg
(Transfer day breakfast)

…but rarely. The gin is the preserve of The Chef, nothing turns his eyes as red and has them rolling around his head like Gordon’s and the whiskey has mainly been used up in hot toddies to ease cold after cold. You can look at this swag in two ways; it saves you money, which out here is often a prime motivator; or (and I think I fall in here) it induces you to drink alcohol you would not otherwise have drunk, with occasional head pounding consequences – the Remy Martin springs painfully to mind.

    BYO:

And beyond that you have to buy your own. Rarely a day has gone by over the last four months when leaving the mountain did not involve one vin chaud or two or three. But nothing harder, at least.

    The Conclusion:

So, gradually, the good intentions, at least to some extent, have been eroded. Never more have I wanted to borrow the words of hallowed soft rock legend, Jon Bon Jovi: ‘sometimes you tell the day by the bottle that you drink’. And the fact is that when working a ski season the drinking is no myth, you could easily find yourself counting days in Porto, Sire Beaupre and spirit. If so, at the very least you will end up tired, run down, sneezing. And that’s how I find myself writing this, sniffling, coughing and with a hot toddy laced with ‘rhum’ in hand.

Cheers.

My Itinerary

Standard

In the beginning, or somewhere thereabouts, I wrote and posted an itinerary; a detailed list of my travel plans until September. That was what I understood an itinerary was; a list of travel plans and places to visit. Another meaning of the word is the record of a journey. This is my record.

Over the last months I have come to realise the word means more. While an itinerary to me is a list or a record, on a mountain it is a physical route, a line of travel, down. An itinerary is not a pisted, tended run, but there is a way down for you to find and it is away from the bashed motorways of piste ridden by every other skier, boarder and their family; your own way.

20130307-173342.jpg

This is Le Masse, the summit I can see from the chalet window. Down the back of Le Masse runs an itinerary. To get there, turn left at the goat (strictly speaking, an ibis)…

20130307-173813.jpg

…(goat riding before committing is optional), follow the ridge, negotiate the rocks and undulations, bend around the mountain and finally into the crevice that scars the left hand side, can you see it?

I was scared at first. For off-piste skiing (or snowboarding) you should carry full avalanche equipment (transceivers and spades) and be insured (in France a Carte Neige does this). We left the top of Le Masse with no equipment and no insurance and my inner risk assessor screaming worst case scenarios. But there were five of us and the pow was thick* with limited tracks (the lines cut by skis and boards) running away over the blankets of undisturbed snow beneath us; we had to go. And to explain the ‘why’ you have to understand the feeling of swooshing through light powder, it is like no other…or you could say it is like floating and floating is something I do not do particularly often.

Contrary to the effortless implications of floating, pow is hard work. Stand back, use your back leg to turn, lean back to make sure the nose of the board does not begin to dip into the pow or so will your face. By the time we reached the edge of the first ridge Steve, Alix and I (the uninitiated) were panting; as much with fear as with exertion; where were we going?

But, as we followed tracks from ridge to ridge, between outcropping rocks and along traverses that hugged the mountain our breathing slowed and our confidence grew. In the distance was a hut, ‘we’re going that way,’ our leader said. And we did, onto a track that traced the scar of the mountain, taking us back to the piste. Smiling, relieved – because we had done it – we were back on safe ground. We had traced our own itinerary down the mountain.

The next time was different. A week or so later, with no fresh snow and blue bird skies blazing with spring sunshine, the undulating passageways had become hard, and deformed by moguls. The ridge that we followed, left of the goat, was striated with hard humps of snow. Needless to say I fell, I got up, tried to turn on one of the sun blasted humps and fell again. Then, as my companions slid further into the distance my fear returned, both a fear of the mountain and an older, latent fear that has lived in me for a long time. It became stronger with each fall, with the scrape of the hardened surface against the board edges, the impact against my legs as I hit the snow, sliding over a mogul, down with my heel edge fighting for purchase. I could not do it. A helpless child’s cry welled up inside.

By the end I was sweating. I had made it but my left leg was throbbing and I was angry, gripped by a fear that belonged in another time and place. I had made it but as I chuntered at my companions, fighting for control, I knew I needed to make that journey again.

I have done that; twice since then, each time with focus, rather than fear. Not necessarily with much greater skill but perhaps I make one more turn with each new journey. My journey; my itinerary.

And during this time my itinerary, my list of places, has changed. In the beginning I was not not staying for the entire ski season but would move on on 15 March towards Asia. Instead, I will be here in Reberty until the slushy end. This can be little more than a month away now: the lower slopes have turned to mush and the chalet roofs drip constantly onto the now exposed Tarmac.

When I move on I would not say I have a route, a line of travel, beyond that list. England seems a world away (wages, taxes, shopping and TV), like a pisted run I was brought up to travel on. I want to make my own line of travel, like dropping off the back of a mountain which you have been told is passable but you have no idea how until you get there.

* I have learnt over the last three months that all ‘pow’ (fresh powdery snow) must be shredded (ripped up with fresh tracks). This is known to some as ‘shredding the pow’ and is typed by this 33 year old with the greatest irony.

20130308-172332.jpg

Tired and grumpy having shredded people who have shredded the pow.

Reflections

Standard

Shortly after arriving in Reberty I picked up a book of short stories from the ‘chalet library’ (also known as the kindling store as far as the poorer titles are concerned). Ray Bradbury, the author, has always fascinated me (ever since The Stephen King Days) due to his forking up of the weird and disturbing out of the human interior. The book was The October Country and the front cover featured skeletons floating in misty darkness set against a glowing full moon…just to set the scene.

The first story I read (and also the only one to date) was about a dwarf and aptly entitled ‘The Dwarf’. Unsurprisingly, The Dwarf has a problem with his size. The reader only sees him through the eyes of Aimee and Ralph, discontented fairground attendants, who watch as he enters their hall of mirrors each night. One night Ralph invites Aimee to peek inside the hall and watch how the dwarf preened, danced and bowed in front of his larger self, stretched to a tall, long limbed man by the magic mirror.

Aimee wants to help him, especially after Ralph tells her that what the dwarf really wants is his own mirror. But Ralph wants to thwart him because he is jealous.

In the final scene, haunted by the grotesque, mutated reflections of all three characters making their way through the hall of mirrors, Ralph has switched the dwarf’s beloved mirror. In its place is one that makes him much, much smaller and for a tiny man you can imagine that he just might seem so small that he barely exists at all. The dwarf leaves the fairground, seen brandishing a shotgun snatched from the shooting gallery.

The story disturbed me but I couldn’t immediately say why and ski resort life went on. Then it prodded my consciousness again as I tried to write about the people here. Because if a ski season is about anything other than snow and waxed up planks it is about human beings; colleagues, competitors, guests and the French Furniture – the locals who tolerate and make money from you and fill the physical blanks in resort. Like a special hall of mirrors these people give back reflections of you; sometimes flattering, sometimes grotesque.

Before I began my job as Chalet Host I would not have told you (unless you were interviewing me for a job) that I was cut out for the hospitality industry. I care about customers being satisfied but I do resent the petty wanting and needing (pillows, HP, a jug, a smaller portion of this, a double portion of that) and I am sensitive to friction, I take it personally and that said I perpetuate it. They show me humour, I show it back; they show me mealy mouthed dissatisfaction, ditto. Guests have come, gone and been forgotten and those uncomfortable hugging moments at the bus stop been avoided where possible, but there have been those that have given back reflections that have stayed with me.

‘The Johns’, both pensionable; one who slept with a lion’s head hand puppet and who wore the furriest bear trapper hat in the western world; the other adorned with beads, stubble and who coined the phrase ‘Christian has done for snowboarding what Mary Poppins did for deep throat’. They loved life and laughter and I was more than happy to give it back to them.

But while guests leave, recycled after a week, your colleagues stay with you. You live with them, work with them, go to the one pub (did I mention that?) with them. They may even become your real friends – the fact that they are labelled as such on Facebook counts for nothing (in my opinion, that is – does that show my age?). And throughout these intense relationships i have come up against myself as much as anybody else; my resentful response to the reproach of a chef struggling with her job and looking for someone to blame; my antagonism after the poisonous sentence posted on that same social networking site about my ability to ruin a day (a compliment if anything); my agitation and distress at the red eyes and the mouth that won’t speak to me in the mornings. And in my response to these things is my grotesque reflection; angry, resentful, childish. But there are other reflections; smiles and gushes of giggles at the terrible crude humour of Jamie, the chef; gratitude to Sioned, the Ski Host with the most mispronounced name (it’s Welsh) in resort; and toe-tapping happiness at the musical taste of Alix, the brave Chalet Host. In these moments I am tall and wide and smiling.

Like the dwarf I came away to see myself and be myself and perhaps what I expected was unrealistic. What I get is what I really am and like the images of Aimee and Ralph it is sometimes grotesque, but sometimes it is tall and good; just fleetingly, just for a moment that is never mine to keep.

After writing this I finished the first short story in Haruki Murakami, Blind Woman, Sleeping Willow (a la the updated chalet library), it was long and I looked for a shorter story to follow. I chose ‘The Mirror’; inevitably influenced by the title as much as by the five pages over which the story stretched. What’s in a title? It’s only a sign post. But when the main protagonist stated in the penultimate paragraph ‘the most frightening thing in the world is our own self’ I would be inclined to say, ‘a lot’; to paraphrase Meatloaf (badly) he took the words right out of my head.