Wednesday, December 25, 2002

First Christmas Not Quite Alone

I heard from so many great people today, I can't really say I WAS alone, so thanks everyone. Actually the first Christmas I ever spent alone was in France when I lived there for Junior Year Abroad and I went cross-country skiiing for two weeks in the Massif Central near Mt. Lozere. Since The Universite de Paris Sorbonne (and Jussieu) closed for the holidays, I had to either go back to the US, go to Greece -- like so many of my fellow Americans did for Xmas that year, or come up with something else.

At the Universite on a bulletin board I saw a flyer for a "Communist Ski Vacation" which looked interesting. The "Communist" part only meant that in order to make the price low, you did group work in the lodge -- worked in the kitchen, served meals, helped out -- more like a co-op than a Marxist-Leninist political get-away.

I sent my money in October and heard NOTHING until about 3 days before Christmas -- I was in a bit of a sweat, not having a Plan B and all my friends joking that my Communist Ski Vacation was just a rip-off to get people to send money. But finally, in the mail, I got a train ticket to the south of France and a big poster of calesthenics and other weight-lifting exercises to put on my wall. This was now 2 days before leaving and the top of the poster read in big French Caps "BEGIN THESE EXERCISES 2 MONTHS PRIOR TO SKI VACATION." So much for that. I was beginning to wonderif my super-cheap great Communist Ski Vacation was such a deal after all. There was also a detailed list of cross-country ski eqiupment, clothes, shoes and something strange called "stop-touts" (roughly translated, "stop everythings" ) -- I never did figure out exactly what those were -- and I was supposed to procure every item on the list before leaving. Needless to say, I didn't get a chance to buy anything at all.

One thing that happens with most kids on Junior Year Abroad is that you realize it's really easy to cheat and speak English and learn no French, and really hard to find a way of getting into French culture and language the way natives do. . Well, that was not to be the case with my Communist Ski Vacation -- it ended up when I finally boarded the train at Gare St.Lazare (don't recall if this was the right station), that of about 80 skiers, I was the ONLY American. This meant I had to speak a lot of French that two weeks, which was terrific.

The lodge was comfortable, the kids were funny, the food was good and the instructors were task-masters. Strangely, the verb in French to "wax" your cross-country skis is "farder" which sure sounds like "fart" so I spent the whole time, half grinning when the instructors continuously yelled at us to hurry up and FART!

The ski instructor or "moniteur" for my group -- surely appropriate for the week of Christmas -- was named Jesus. So I actually spent Christmas with Jesus and the other instructors as we were the only ones left at the lodge when the pre-Christmas week skiers left on Christmas Eve and the post-Christmas skiers arrived on the 26th of December.

It was a very snowy day. I felt very far from home in this ski lodge in the middle of nowhere (imagine the equivalent of the Appalachians in the US -- since the Massif Central is a very underdeveloped mountainous area) and someone had given me a copy of Walden by Thoreau in English on the recto page and French on the verso page. I spent the day in bed reading Walden in both languages. It sounded rough and individualistic in American English and completely nutty in French. I was a long, long, way from Walden Pond that day, but in spirit rather proximate, finding myself out in the middle of nature. And now today, I spend another Christmas on my own -- about 5 miles from Walden Pond in fact -- but glued to that modern and unnatural home away from home -- the laptop.