There are times in life when we are fortunate to meet people who affect us in a way that makes us want to spend more time with them. If I had known when we moved to France that our neighbor Sally was going to be one of those people, I would have done all I could to get to know Sally right away.
One of the first things I learned about Sally, was that she and I liked the same type of books and many of the same authors. Sally and I were also able to introduce one another to new authors, which I greatly appreciated.
I also learned fairly quickly that Sally had a rapier wit. She was very quiet, but more often than not, when she spoke it was to say something that made those around her laugh out loud. As an example of Sally’s sense of humor, one day, Sally’s husband Clive came by our place to ask if we had a small screwdriver. I told Clive that I did and that I would be down to help him. I grabbed our tool box, which actually contained not one tool other than eight various screwdrivers, and headed down to help Clive. I knocked on the door of Clive and Sally’s flat and went inside toting my toolbox. Sally was standing in the kitchen cooking, and the second she saw me, she feigned palpitations with her hand on her chest and said dramatically, “Ohhh, a man with a toolbox!” as if I were the sexiest man she’d ever seen. I almost dropped the toolbox because I was laughing so hard.
Sally appreciated a good joke as well, even if she was somehow intertwined with the joke. At one of our neighborhood gatherings, I told a joke about a woman who went to a finishing school. Sally laughed as hard as anyone else and had Clive not alerted us, we never would have known that Sally had actually gone to a finishing school!
Besides her sense of humor, I also appreciated Sally’s toughness. She battled cancer for over twenty years. Though she had numerous health problems associated with cancer and its accompanying treatments and often times was in a great deal of pain, I never heard her complain. In my mind I picture her waking each day and telling her various ailments to “bugger off!” and getting on with her day.
The time I got to spend with Sally enriched my life more than she could have imagined, and I will be forever grateful. I only wish she had more time to give. I am proud to have been able to call Sally a friend even though it was only for a short while.
One of the great philosophers of our time, Forrest Gump, once said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what yur goan git.” (Misspelling used for quotation accuracy.) This piece of wisdom applies to many different life scenarios, but for the purposes of this blog, I am going to apply the quote to music heard while in a store or business. Specifically, music in French grocery stores.
In the United States of America (USA), people can generally expect to go into a grocery store and hear one of two types of music. One will hear elevator music, which generally consists of songs one recognizes but horribly rendered on an electric piano keyboard and without vocals. Or one will hear what is generally termed, easy listening, or soft rock. Basically music that would not be considered controversial in any mix of people. A person may not like the music they are hearing, and they may even think it is boring or not something they would normally listen to if given a choice. In fact, after a couple of minutes in the store, most people have stopped hearing the music as anything other than background noise. This is less likely to occur in French grocery stores.
In French grocery stores, our Forrest Gump quote becomes applicable because you never know what you are going to hear while checking the ripeness of your peaches. One would naturally expect to hear the French version of elevator music or soft rock. Native French music is heard in the grocery store, but it is exceedingly rare. Typically if you do hear native French music, it is some French pop song in it’s original form, not stripped down and turned into elevator music. More often than not, you will hear music that even if you do not recognize the tune, you will certainly recognize that the person is singing in English. More probably you will recognize and be able to sing along with the music.
I will use today’s grocery trip as an example. Not long after entering the store it was hard not to add a little groove to my grocery shopping step with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic playing, “We Want the Funk.” I thought this was an apt song when one is searching for just the right French cheese. Immediately after George Clinton, none other than Marvin Gaye was needing some, “Sexual Healing.” I am not certain Marvin’s song can be applied to shopping as was, “We Want the Funk,” but the quality of the tunes certainly made searching for my gluten-free bread more entertaining.
I have also heard the following in the local grocery store: Eminem, Survivor, Snoop Dogg, The Temptations, the Stones, the Beatles, Sting, Springsteen, Elvis, Gun’s N’ Roses, Van Halen, Louis Armstrong, Salt N’ Peppa, and the list goes on. One of my favorites that is frequently played is Michael Jackson.
As some reading this will no doubt know, some of the artists listed above tend to have lyrics that would never be played over a PA system in a grocery store in the USA because someone would no doubt be offended. Not so in French grocery stores, where the songs are played regardless of the lyrics. I am eagerly awaiting the day when I see an elderly French lady mouthing the words to Snoop’s “Gin and Juice” while perusing the juice aisle. I can also imagine old Francise (around here better known as, “The Grumpy Butcher”) making up his own lyrics to Eminem’s, “Without Me.” Something along the lines of, “ham and prosciutto, get all you can see, but there is no beef, without me!”
I have used the grocery store as an example for this blog, but this unexpected music happens in other French businesses as well. Take for example a recent trip to the doctor’s office where the receptionist was actually singing along with the music coming over the speakers in the waiting area. What artist was she singing along with you ask? None other than the aforementioned, Snoop Dogg. It should not have been too surprising, considering the doc has a Metallica poster on the wall of his office.
Possibly the most unexpected place I have heard music here in France was in a place that I now believe should always have music, considering these particular places are typically gloomy. Parking garages. It is a most pleasant experience to get out of your car in a dark and dreary multi-story parking garage and hear Mozart. The concrete acoustics somehow work well with the strings of a Mozart symphony.
Go out and be consistent.
*If anyone would like to get a better sense of France, I highly recommend reading any of Peter Mayle’s non-fiction books, such as “A Year in Provence.”
Since the beginning of the Covid19 pandemic I have heard various rumors regarding the virus. Most all of these rumors have come from people who read that bastion of knowledge, that haven of academia, that font of truth, Facebook.
I do not know why people have not yet realized that any information reported by their “friends”, on Facebook is not necessarily accurate and likely false. I think it has something to do with the fact that people can no longer tolerate uncertainty. When they see something that conforms to the way they think, even if it is ridiculous, they jump on the bandwagon and repeat whatever backs up their perspective. With so much information readily available, people do not bother to ask themselves whether or not something makes any sense or is logical. After first being frustrated at people’s lack of logic regarding these rumors, I realized how comical the rumors were and decided to do a little analysis.
THERE IS A CURE!
THERE ARE ONLY MORE CASES BECAUSE THERE IS MORE TESTING!
HOSPITALS GET PAID!
THE VIRUS CAN’T SURVIVE IN THE HEAT!
MASK WEARING TECHNIQUE!
MASK WEARING IS SIMPLY A WAY FOR THE GOVERNMENT TO CONTROL EVERYONE.
Number 1 above refers to the rumor that there is actually a “cure” for COVID-19, but the pharmaceutical companies are not willing to let the public have this cure because the price the pharmaceutical companies get for the cure is too cheap. Therefore the pharmaceutical companies are secretly hoarding this cure until the price they can get for it goes up and they can make more money.
There are so many things wrong with this idea, it is hard to know where to begin. Let me start with the most obvious problem which is that this rumor does not have a single specific piece of evidence. It simply lumps all pharmaceutical companies together as if they are all one company rather than competing businesses.
Speaking of business, this leads to another thing wrong with this rumor. Let us say that a company could get $1 for every dose of their miracle cure. Assuming that at least 1/7 of the people in the world would want this cure and there are 7 Billion plus people in the world, that equals a minimum 1 Billion dollars. There simply are not any companies that I know of that would say, “No, we don’t want a billion dollars and the possibility of being the company known for creating this cure and thereby creating multiple other business opportunities for ourselves”. I could go on about this one, but let us keep moving forward.
Rumor number 2 above absolutely begs for the still popular elementary and teenage phrase of the century, “DUH!” Stating that there are more positive cases because there is more testing is like saying, “If you have one basket of apples and you add another basket of apples, you have…TWO BASKETS OF APPLES.” I am not sure what people were trying to prove with this statement. For some reason, I think people thought this was a bad thing, instead of realizing that finding out more people were sick is one of the only ways to actually help those sick people.
Rumor number 3, “Hospitals get paid when they say people died of Covid” is one of my favorites. This rumor is accusing hospitals and furthermore, doctors, of falsifying information regarding causes of death, as well as accusing hospitals and doctors of letting people die so that the hospital can get more government money.
First of all, I am not sure from which government program this money is coming, as the rumor of course does not specify. Personally, I think it comes from the cabal of Jews who secretly control the world financial industry.
Secondly, this rumor accuses doctors and hospitals of going against the Hippocratic oath. “First, do no harm.” I think letting people die for the sake of monetary gain goes against this oath. Not to mention the fact that falsifying causes of death is most likely a crime.
Rumor number 4 that the virus can’t survive in the heat was proven false when most of Africa and India got sick. For those that do not know, those places are hot basically all the time. As if that were not enough, when colleges and universities began letting their athletes return to practice, one of the first places to have to shut down their return to play program because of an increase in positive tests was the University of Houston where it is hot most of the time as well.
Number 5 above isn’t a rumor so much as it is a critique of mask wearing technique. We have all seen, and possibly been guilty of this ourselves as well, people walking around with the mask under their nose or down around their chin or one of my personal favorites, over the nose but having the bottom somehow flopping around instead of form fitting around the mouth. A recent guest on the Rich Roll podcast had the best comment (if a little off-color) which I will paraphrase here. Wearing your mask with your nose uncovered is like walking around with your dick hanging out. Why even wear pants? The masks are at best a stop-gap measure so wearing them incorrectly utterly defeats the purpose. It is a simple thing to have a care for your fellow human beings and wear your mask over your nose and mouth.
Number 6 above is an argument that I have only recently come across. For some reason, some people have decided that wearing a mask is a way for the government to exert more control over their citizenry. Well, okay, or it could just be a very simple thing to do that might save someone’s life.
When the Chinese invented Covid-19 in a secret lab in order to kill off a large majority of the world’s population, I do not think they anticipated the further benefit of creating an increasing number of dumb people.
For those who may not know, there is a virus going around. I know this will come as a shock to most of you because you do not watch the news or look at any sort of social media.
A couple of weeks ago, M and I took a trip down to a lovely place called Annecy. We went there to take advantage of their much drier and snow free trails and get in a longer run. Annecy is a town near Switzerland that has been around since the 1300’s. According to what I have read, beginning in the 1400’s, Swiss royalty used Annecy as a vacation spot. Like Kennebunkport, or Mar-a-Lago but with history. The older part of Annecy has cobbled streets and a Venice-like canal (only with clean water) running through the middle of the village.
There are also some churches featuring beautiful stained glass, cool architecture and an M, although that last feature was only temporary.
M and I had a wonderful time running in Annecy. We even managed to bump into Hillary Allen, a famous American trail runner, while we were out on the trails. M and I were taking a break (that means trying to figure out where we were and where we were going) when I looked up and saw Hillary coming down the trail toward us. I said, “Here comes Hillary Allen,” rather loudly so she would know that we recognized her. Her response was typical of Americans on European mountain trails. “YOU SPEAK ENGLISH!” For Americans who do not speak French, it is always a treat to come upon a fellow countryman and not have to worry about how to communicate.
While M and I were in Annecy, the virus shutdown was instituted here in France. Since Le Tour, where we live, is a ski area, and all ski areas were closed, M and I expected the ski area parking lot to be empty when we arrived home Sunday afternoon. As we drove up the hill towards our village, we could see that not only was the parking lot not empty, it was jam packed! People were skinning and hiking up the mountain and enjoying a beautiful spring day. French authorities quickly realized this could be a problem. The authorities worried, and rightly so, that people could get hurt on the mountain and require emergency services that were needed to aid sick people. French authorities then put out a new rule that forbid any activities at the ski areas. At first, many people ignored this order and were still skinning up the various ski areas.
In order to prevent people from disobeying the new rules, police were stationed at the base of the mountain to prevent people from going up. The police presence began to work and people were staying off the mountain. However, the police cannot be stationed at the base of the mountain all day, every day. Therefore, not everyone heeded the new rules. A few people were sneaking up the mountain when the police were not around. This leads to the title of this blog.
About one week ago, M and I were in our apartment, following our normal quarantine routine. This means that M was working, and I was focused on my most demanding task of the day, breathing regularly. Sometime in the afternoon, we noticed that a helicopter was flying endless laps across our valley. Picture Le Tour as a big upside down “U” with the village being at the open end and mountains making up the straight parts and curve of the “U”. The helicopter was flying back and forth, back and forth, for quite a long time. It is not unusual to hear helicopters in the Chamonix valley as they are used for lots of jobs in the mountains. It is unusual to hear one doing laps above our village when the ski area is closed and there are no tourists about as there are in the summer. M and I decided to go for a walk to see if we could determine what the helicopter was up to.
As we ascended the hill towards the base of the lift station, we noted that there were no police present at the base of the ski area to prevent rebellious skiers. M and I made our way up to the base of the lift station and stood looking up at the mountain. We watched the helicopter fly back and forth for a bit and noted the large amount of melting that had taken place on the ski runs. Suddenly, M and I noticed a lone skier coming down the mountain. We watched him descend for a few minutes, noting that he eventually skied very fast across the mountain towards the Vormaine. The Vormaine is directly behind our apartment and is what Americans would call a bunny slope. It is used for beginner skiers and boarders and ski school classes during the ski season. During the winter, M and I would typically access the main ski area by starting at the Vormaine and skinning across from the Vormaine over to the main ski area. Access to the Vormaine is well away from the base of the main ski area lift station. I describe all of this so you can now picture how the skier got away from the police.
As it turns out, the helicopter was doing a random flyover of the mountain to check for skiers out having illegal fun. When M and I walked back down to the parking lot from the base of the lift station, two policeman were walking up towards the base of the lift station because that is where skiers typically end their ski. The police had been called by the helicopter pilot to come and catch the evil skier! Due to the lack of urgency in the policemen’s walk, M and I determined that they were not excited about busting the rabbel-rouser. Even if the police had been more willing to catch the skier, it would not have mattered. The skier’s clever plan to ski across the Vormaine meant that he was at least a quarter of a mile away and possibly already back in his home, if he lives in Le Tour.
So to answer the question in the title of this blog, the skier got away. Since that time, there has been no more high adventure here in the village, although we did see three local teenagers sledding at the Vormaine the other day. Rebels.
M and I hope you are all in good health.
Don’t let the virus stop you from going out and being consistent, in a socially distanced manner.
Having lived in Summit County for the last 14 years, M and I had become accustomed to the way things work there in all the different seasons. For instance, we knew that within 5 minutes of the first snowflake falling in September, I-70 would be closed due to multiple auto accidents. M and I have also become accustomed to being in the Chamonix area during the summer over the last few years. Summer in Chamonix means lots of tourists from various places becoming lost on the many trails around the valley. Winter however, is a different hairball of wax. (Insert your own mixed up metaphor here.)
The buses are an excellent example of the above mentioned winter hairball. The signs in the buses indicate that the bus can hold around 80 people when full. Typically during the Christmas break, I would estimate that number goes up to at least 90, plus skis, snowboards, backpacks, and poles. Recently I rode the bus from Chamonix to the Le Tour bus stop where at least 150 people were waiting to get on the bus. Oddly, no matter where the tourists are from, none of them have learned that it is better to let people get off the bus before trying to squeeze themselves on to the bus.
Tourist country of origin also seems to be more concentrated in winter, at least during Christmas time. In the 2 weeks surrounding Christmas, it was Brits. They were everywhere, and they wore every single article of warm clothing they owned, even though it is not very cold here. After the new year, the Brits vanished into thin air, only to be replaced by Russians. Our neighbor Janet had warned us that this would happen. One day you are on the bus and can sort of understand that people are speaking some form of English. “Butte-ful daiye innit?” (For our American English speaking readers, that means, “Beautiful day isn’t it?”). The next day the Russians arrive and it sounds like someone put a bunch of consonants in a blender and poured them out, having forgotten to add any vowels to the mix. “Syrtdpwqvbx?” (“Beautiful day isn’t it?” in Russian.) I breathe a sigh of relief when people on the bus are just speaking French.
The winter weather here is also quite different than what M and I were accustomed to in Colorado. In Summit County Colorado, which sits at 9,000 feet in altitude, when the snow falls, it tends to stick around until sometime in July, because it is cold all winter. In Le Tour, which sits at about 5,000 feet in altitude, the snow begins falling around the same time as it does in Summit County, so snow in late August or early September is common. However, here in Le Tour, the first snow tends to melt quickly.
What M and I were not prepared for, was when the real snow started here in Le Tour in December. One day, M and I were running up the Le Tour ski slopes on a dry ski area access road. The next day, people were skinning up and skiing down the same ski slopes because 3 feet of snow had fallen over night. The most surprising thing to us was that so many people were so prepared to go skiing!
For the uninformed out there, here is a quick primer on the sport of ski mountaineering, also known as skimo. You put what is called a skin, generally made of mohair and other synthetic materials on the bottom of your skis. These skins allow a person to travel up the mountain without sliding backwards. Special bindings on the skis allow the boot heels to be disconnected from the ski binding, enabling a walking motion up the mountain. When ready to descend, the skins are taken off and the boot heels are locked into the ski bindings as normal and the person skis back down the mountain. “But why do this when you can take a lift up the mountain much more easily?”, someone asks. Because it is good for you, and it is fun, you lazy slob.
Discouragingly, the initial large dump of snow melted a lot over the next few days, especially on the lower slopes. That did not stop the dedicated skiers though. They simply hiked up the mountain a little further to where the snow hadn’t melted, put their skis and skins on and up the mountain they went.
After a few days of warm temperatures and no new snow, the mountain began to look rather bleak to M and I. We should not have worried. One Saturday evening it began to snow again, and by Monday morning, a fresh 5 feet of snow covered everything.
The issue we had to deal with when the snow came was the fact that, particularly higher on the mountain where there are no trees, visibility was about 3 feet due to the snow clouds being so low. Each day, M and I would set out to skin up to the top lift on the mountain, only to reach the top of the first lift and have to turn around because we couldn’t see anything. Finally, Christmas morning arrived and the sun came out to reveal the scenery we had been missing. It was not disappointing.
We have since had very few snow days but lots of sun and warm temperatures in the 40º Fahrenheit range. The mountain here at Le Tour is beginning to look rather sad again and in need of new snow. However, thanks to all the tourists, the trails around the valley have been really well packed down and are very suitable for running, so M and I have been taking advantage while we can.
Hopefully, the snow will come again soon so we can have some more new adventures in our backyard.
Since the first day of first grade when I was six years old, I have had a friend called Sam. It is safe to say that he has been a best friend for the last forty years. We went to the same school through the ninth grade. We played various sports together, went to dinner and the movies together and spent many nights at each other’s homes.
I remember our dinner and movie nights being remarkable for the amount of food we would consume. Typically we would start out at Pizza Hut beforehand, where we each consumed our own medium pizza. Of course, by the end of the movie we were hungry again and would typically go to Burger King for another meal before heading home.
Sam is known for having played football during high school, but what I remember was playing basketball with him in elementary and junior high school. I remember those basketball times with a laugh because Sam was terrible at basketball. He would throw up the worst bricks anybody had ever seen, with the ball smacking loudly off the backboard. It didn’t matter to Sam or hurt his feelings when the rest of us would give him flack about being a bit too strong with the ball. Sam was just happy to be playing with his friends.
During our sophomore year of high school, I moved away. Being hundreds, or thousands of miles away from Sam did not diminish our friendship. Each time I made the trip back to Mississippi over the years, I always spent a majority of my time with Sam. All of those times with Sam involved watching sports, hunting or fishing. Sometimes all three in the same day.
Our fishing trips usually involved Sam baiting my hook for me and then getting the fish off the hook when I caught one. We never failed to catch lots of fish, which made the fishing more exciting. I remember one fishing trip we caught over a hundred fish! Fishing with Sam should have been called Catching instead of Fishing. All the catching of the fish led to us eating lots of fish as prepared by Mavis Byrd, Sam’s mom. That was certainly the best part of fishing with Sam.
Hunting with Sam was also lots of fun, but not because we got a deer every time we went out. Most of the time we never saw any deer. Hunting was fun because of all the things that happened while we were hunting, or at least supposed to be hunting. Sam would wake me up about 3 am so we could get ready and be at the hunting site before the sun rose at 6:30. We would get dressed and have breakfast. Next we would gather all our hunting supplies and put them in the truck. Then we would drive to the gas station and fill the truck with gas. After filling up with gas, we would finally drive out to the hunting site. The hunting site was typically in a wooded area in the middle of some large property. Getting to the site meant we had to drive through pastures where barbed wire fences sectioned off various areas of the property. When we came to a gate in the fence, I would jump out of the truck and open the gate so Sam could drive the truck through. I would then shut the gate after Sam drove the truck through, only to realize that I had shut the gate with myself on the wrong side while Sam sat in the truck watching me in his rear view mirror, laughing heartily. I would then open the gate again and put myself on the correct side, re-close the gate and get back in the truck. The funny part is that I would do the exact same thing at the next gate, and Sam would sit there in the truck and watch me the whole time without saying a word just so he could laugh again. I blame it on the fact that it was early in the morning.
Finally, Sam and I would arrive wherever it was we were going to park the truck so we could head into the woods and begin hunting. The only problem was that it was now about 3:45 am and too dark to hunt. Daylight being a scant 2 hours away, we passed the time by singing, “Killing Time”, the country song by Clint Black. After a while we would both fall asleep, only to wake up just in time to see that we now had plenty of light because it was about 7:30 in the morning.
In later years, I would sometimes call Sam when he was sitting in the woods hunting. The conversation would go something like this:
Sam (whispering): “Hello”
Me: “What are you doing?”
Sam: “Killin’ time.”
Me: “Oh, so you are hunting?”
Me: “Seen anything?”
Me: “Ok, well, I’ll talk to you later.”
Sam: “Alright, be good buddy.”
Be good. Sam lived his life being good. Other people have been described as having lived a life of service to others, but I have never met another person who lived that way as much as Sam. When my grand-parents were still alive, they moved residences constantly. Coincidentally, they also moved nearly every time I came to Mississippi for a visit. In other words, I was always around to help when my grand-parents needed to move. Sam being Sam, he was also there, picking up all the heavy stuff and putting it in the truck.
At a time when I was living in Colorado, I called my grand-parents to say hello and update them on whatever was happening in my world. My grandfather said his car was broken, so I told him to call Sam. He called Sam and of course, my grandfather’s car was fixed the next day, Sam having taken care of everything.
When Sam took a job coaching football and teaching at a small school in South Mississippi, about 5 hours away from our hometown of Starkville, I was certain the town of Starkville was going to fall apart because Sam had left. Proving that miracles do still happen, the town still exists, but that is probably because Sam eventually came back to the area.
Sam always put others before himself because that was the essence of Sam. It never occurred to Sam to live in any other manner.
It was ever my privilege to have known Sam. I am certain that anyone who knew him would say the same. Sam passed away on Wednesday, December 18, 2019.
Ok so there was not an actual battle of kings versus hot water heaters. However there was a battle of the kings, and M and I did battle our hot water heater, which put up a surprisingly good fight.
A few weeks ago I went into our little storage closet to get the old vacuum cleaner that had been left here by the previous owners. I was retrieving the vacuum cleaner in order to take it down to the city dump because the vacuum cleaner was no longer functioning. The little storage closet is also where the hot water heater lurks, plotting nasty deeds. In the process of getting the vacuum out of the closet, I noticed that the floor beneath the vacuum was wet. And now everyone reading this can sense the impending doom. Fear not dear reader! We dried up the floor and searched for the source of the leak. A steady drip was quickly found and contained with a handy bucket.
After some sleepless nights for M, in which she was up at all hours checking to make sure the leak wasn’t getting worse, a plumber finally arrived to fix the problem. A recommendation from saviors Pierre and Janet led us to Zermatten plumbers, who came and stopped the leak. Or so it appeared…
After a couple of nights filled with actual sleep, our electricity went out about 2 am. Somehow M got the electricity going again after fiddling with the circuit breakers. Accountant extraordinaire, master plumber and now certified electrician. There is no end to M’s talents. This fix lasted about a day until the same thing happened again the next night. This time, it was master electrician Chris who saved the day and got the electrons flowing once more. Those electrons flowed until the next morning.
“Wait a minute, how did we get on to the topic of circuit breakers?” some of you readers are asking. “I thought you were writing about the hot water heater!” others of you are pointing out. Little did we know the deviousness of the hot water heater. At this point, the hot water heater appeared to be behaving itself. As it turned out, the hot water heater was doing an excellent job of disguising it’s true scheme.
When the electricity kept going off because of the circuit breaker, I played around with the circuit breaker box until I figured out that the hot water heater circuit was causing all the other breakers to be thrown off. I called Pierre who came up and decided that we should unscrew the electrical panel on the hot water heater in order to see what was happening. A leak is what was happening – from somewhere in the hot water heater down through the electrical wiring. The leak caused the circuit breaker to shut everything off whenever the hot water heater felt it was most inconvenient.
The plumbers came again and after we heard them use the words, “merde” and “putain” a few times, the plumbers decided we needed a new hot water heater. (I’ll leave you to figure out the meaning of those french curse words, this is a family program after all!) A new hot water heater was eventually installed and all was right with the world. Until a different leak started from our new hot water heater. On instruction from the old hot water heater no doubt.
It turned out that one of our pipes is particularly small and did not properly fit the new hot water heater. The plumbers came again and patched up the new leak, and as of this writing, there are no more leaks. We hope that continues for another 25 years or so.
Now, on to battling kings! The battle of the kings, or possibly queens, is a head butting battle of bulls and/or cows that happens in various places around Europe. I do not know the history of this event, nor do I know the rules. The reason I mentioned the possibility of queens is that there are female cows over here in Europe with horns, so you can see where the confusion might arise. I will use the word “cow” as a catchall term henceforth. What happens though is as follows. There is a large ring where usually about 6 cows are brought in at the same time, two by two. An announcer calls out the numbers which are painted on the sides of the cows. Those two cows then proceed to battle each other by butting their heads and pushing one another around the ring. When one cow had shoved the other cow hard enough to make it turn around, the match was over and the hardest shoving cow was deemed the winner.
It appeared as though there were about 100 or more cows in Le Tour for the battle. We think it was a winner moves on to the next round sort of battle, and we didn’t have all day to watch so we do not know who won. The event was quite popular however, as there were at least 1,000 people in attendance. Oddly enough, they even played American country music during the times when the cows were not battling.
Following are some links to short videos taken during the event. One video shows the cows being led to the arena. Right down our street no less! A different video shows the cows doing battle. The final link shows what happens when the cows decide the battle should continue after the contest was over.
Obviously, things have gotten a little crazy around here in Le Tour! We have had some adventures since those mentioned in this blog that I will hopefully write about soon.
When you move to France, you have to have a medical exam from the French immigration office, known as OFII. The OFII office nearest to us is in Annecy (pronounced Aahn-see and not Ann-eh-see, because as usual, the French have given up on some letters in the word). Annecy is about 90 minutes from Le Tour. That distance and the timing necessitated a road trip.
Emily and I have not had the occasion or desire to do any big road trips since we moved here and do not look forward to doing them often. At least not yet. This is mainly due to the fact that we are still uncomfortable driving around in France. There is no real reason for this discomfort other than the fact that we are scared. We are scared because we are uncomfortable and vice versa.
The main thoroughfares in France are some of the best roads we have ever driven on. If there is a bump on the highway we haven’t found it yet. It is true that the roads through little villages are a bit on the narrow side, slightly wider than a US bike path is normal. Our journey to Annecy was all on big highways though so there was no need to worry about narrow roads. There were tolls however and those made us nervous. As it turned out though, the toll stations were easy to navigate and round trip cost us a little less than 20 Euros.
Annecy is mainly known for it’s lake, aptly named Lac Annecy. It is a medium sized lake surrounded by large hills and it is quite beautiful.
The lake draws a lot of tourists and there are many boats for rent or for hire, including sail boats.
There are also quite a few statues and other pieces of art to view around town.
I think the main part of Annecy reminded me of the Pearl Street area of Boulder as it had lots of restaurants and shops and was for the most part a pedestrian only area.
Our appointment with the doctor went fine and was just a series of questions along with height and weight and an eye test. The appointment took about an hour and we were on our way back to the car which was parked in a parking garage that had classical music playing. Of course there were some distractions between us and our car. Namely shops selling all manner of bread and sweets. As shown below with Emily having found a small beignet.
While I was waiting for Emily, I too found some nourishment.
Technically the sign on the door says, “Without Gluten Free” but I got their meaning and had to go in and buy some sweets for myself.
We also saw what appeared to be an imminent game of unintentional dominoes.
Our trip was very successful and we are looking forward to visiting Annecy again in the future. It is a possible drier winter running area that offers many trails around the lake.
This week is UTMB week which means there are lots of spandex clad runners hanging about the Cham valley. If you are unfamiliar with UTMB, www.irunfar.com has a nice preview of the various races. Americans have a fair chance in several of the different races this year so hopefully they can perform on the biggest trail running stage in the world.
Emily and I meanwhile, will be trying our best to avoid the madhouse that is Chamonix during this week. The main street through town is literally shoulder to shoulder with people and the buses are packed like sardines in a can. Thankfully Le Tour is fairly removed from all the hustle and bustle.
Gotcha! There are no pictures of naked (or if you are from the south, “nekkid”) French people.
When we arrived at our new place in Le Tour, there was a bed waiting for us in the, “master bedroom”. Those words are in quotes because it is really just another bedroom. The bed that awaited us was not what anyone would call the most comfortable of beds. Some people like firm beds and some like soft beds. Some people probably like the Goldilocks combo where everything is, “juuussst right”. The bed here was none of those things, and all of those things, except just right. It was firm in some spots and soft in others. You could always count on ending up in the middle of the thing by the end of the night, so at least it had that going for it. Best of all, it was lying directly on the floor, like the one in your first college off-campus apartment.
There is also a closet in the “master” waiting for us to fill it with our stuff. Or at least six or seven small items of clothing as that is about all that would fit. Of course we had to take the accordion doors off the closet first so we would have room to walk around the bed, since when open, the doors took up too much space.
What all of this means is that Emily and I needed new bedroom furniture and a new bed. There is a lovely store in Chamonix that sells all manner of housewares. We managed to find a bed with lots of storage underneath and a chest-of-drawers. Or if you are from the south, a, “Chester Drawz”. When I was growing up I always wondered who Chester was and why we were talking about his underwear.
Much to our surprise, furniture in Chamonix and France in general is very cheap compared to furniture in the US! “How can this be?”, you might ask, since lots of other things are more expensive. It turns out there is a very good reason furniture is cheaper here. It is delivered to you unassembled.
Some of you out there will be familiar with the fact that M and I, to put it kindly, are not mechanically inclined. The last home project we tried was replacing the microwave at our place in Frisco. After three hours we gave up…, on getting it out of the wall. We had to call our friend Landon to come and finish the job for us.
To say that putting together a bed with storage shelves and a chest-of-drawers was going to be a challenge for us would be one of the greatest understatements in the history of understatements. Right up there with, “we really need an electric screwdriver!” Our current list of tools consists of the following: Allen wrench, bunch of screwdrivers of various types (except electric!), and Leatherman. We had to borrow a hammer from our neighbor Michelle. I think in the back of our minds we were hoping for something along the lines of, “Some assembly required”. Wishful thinking is what that was. Speaking of wishful thinking the, “ALL ASSEMBLY REQUIRED,” instructions stated that our bed could be put together in 1 hour by a team of two people. It must have been referring to a team other than M and I. I am happy to report that M and I are both still alive, we have a bed, and it only took us 6 hours! We reserved the assembly of Chester for the next day. He only took about 4 hours.
Part of the reason for our rush in getting our furniture put together was that sister-in-law Sarah was coming to visit. The guest room was taken up with lots of our stuff and we needed somewhere to put it so Sarah would have a place to sleep. We finished just in time!
Sarah likes to hike when she visits us over here so we planned a couple nights at the Loriaz hut in order for her to get further afield than what one can normally do just from our house. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, the hut system in Europe allows one to go across and around all of Europe by hiking from hut to hut. Some of the huts are as nice as regular hotels. Others are what one would call rustic. As in, there is no running water and a hole in the ground for a bathroom. Loriaz is more towards the rustic side of things although some of the bunk houses did have nice wood paneling and comfy beds.
The hike to Loriaz from our house is about 7 miles and does not have a lot of vertical gain. It is a good hike for people who are unaccustomed to hiking around here as there are no real technical sections.
The hike from Loriaz over the Col de Terrasse (I pronounce it, “Tear ass”) then over to Emossons Dam, which we did the next day, is not for people unaccustomed to hiking over here. It begins with a climb straight up to a ridge with about 1,800 feet of vertical gain in less than two miles. The climb also has some easy scrambling over large boulders at the top. Did I mention there is no real trail and only sometimes a random path through the scree on the way up?
Once at the top, you cross into Switzerland which is immediately known due to the fancy trail signs that appear right when you cross the border from France. The trail signs in France are nice also, but the Swiss signs are a level above. The trail from the top is basically picking your way over and through large slabs of rock and trying not to trip because you are looking at the stunning views. After about 5 hours we made it back to Loriaz and took it easy for the rest of the day.
While staying at Loriaz, your choice for getting some of the sweat and dirt off, is to use water from the creek next to the encampment. M, Sarah, and I would generally dip our wash clothes in the creek and wipe ourselves down. The water was freezing cold so it felt good on the hot days.
The freezing cold water did not stop the French group, also staying at the hut, from getting completely naked and taking a bath! Needless to say this was a bit of a shock for M, Sarah, and I. The creek also has a pipe coming out of the ground so you can get water. The first day we were there, I came around the corner to get some water and there was an older naked guy bathing in the creek. As the kids say, “Awkward!” I got my water and made my way onward as quickly as possible. The next day, I went over to get water and came around the corner to see 3 naked ladies taking a bath. That was a bit too awkward for me so I went back later to get my water. Fortunately for all of us, there are no pictures, but Sarah and M can vouch for the facts, as they too had these experiences.
The next day we were ready for a real shower and took the easy route again back to our place in Le Tour. M and Sarah greatly appreciated having an actual toilet where there was very little risk of getting urine or other stuff on your feet.
M and I had one more big adventure following our Loriaz trip – the annual homeowner’s association meeting. In France, it is called a syndic, which is basically syndicate, without some letters. The meetings are exactly like the HOA meetings back in the States, only held in French. M and I got to meet a couple more of our neighbors including Monsieur Lanson and Monsieur Rob. The meeting ended with some champagne for all except M and I (to the befuddlement of our neighbors). The cool part was that the champagne was Lanson champagne. It turns out that 6 generations of the Lanson family have been in the champagne business, since 1760.
Hopefully the headline grabbed your attention like I intended. I was going to write about how Emily and I are living in the condo version of Gilligan’s Island. Among our neighbors we have a professor, a Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Howell III, a skipper (of sorts), and older versions of Ginger and Marianne. Emily and I would be Gilligan. That story line didn’t play out though because there is too much depth of character in our neighbors, and the TV show equivalents would not do them justice.
We had met most of our neighbors on separate occasions prior to a small gathering last Wednesday evening. Michelle and Jacqueline (pronounced Mee-shell) are our neighbors across the hall. They are the only other mostly full-time residents and are kind of like the condo/HOA president. Michelle has worked as a management consultant in far flung places like New York and Columbus, Ohio. He and Jacqueline also have a place in Geneva and enjoy golf.
We met our neighbor Janet two weeks ago when we got locked out of our place because of the lock breaking. At the evening soiree, we got to meet her husband, the professor, Pierre. Pierre is a linguist and has been teaching in and around the subject of languages for many years. He is now helping Emily and I with our French when we have questions. Pierre speaks, as far as I know, French, English, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian and is teaching himself Mandarin. He can read many other languages as well. Emily and I are learning a lot about the nuances of languages from Pierre.
Janet…, Janet is hard to wrap your mind around. If I could put the little exploding head emoji on here, I would probably take the easy way out and just use that as my description for Janet. I am not sure what all Janet has done in her life for work, but suffice to say it has been a variety of things. Now she mainly skis and does long trail runs and apparently enjoys technical downhill running (she’s 72)! Janet is also the person in the know regarding anything going on in the Cham valley. She helped me volunteer for the race Emily did this past Sunday which helped raise money for the local kid’s Nordic team. Janet is also going to help Emily and I get involved in some of the various clubs in the valley, such as the Chamonix Mont-Blanc running club.
The last, but certainly not least, person at our little gathering was the now unfortunately christened, “Downstairs” Chris. Chris has lived in the condo below us for many years, and was previously known simply as Chris. My entry into the condo above her’s resulted in the new nickname. Chris is a serious cyclists and skier. She is going to kill me, er, I mean, take me out for a bike ride sometime in the near future. Although she doesn’t know it just yet, Emily and I are also hoping she will be a guide for us during the ski season.
Our gathering last week had a mixture of French and English along with appropriate translations. It also had a bit of the history of Le Tour and the Cham valley. A wonderful mixture of fresh tomatoes, olives, mozzarella and herbs was served with either wine or Champagne. Emily and I had a wonderful evening and are looking forward to getting to know our neighbors in even more depth as we continue on our adventure.
Instead of Gilligan’s Island, I think we determined our condo is more like a novel. Something along the lines of Fredrik Backman’s, “A man called Ove.” Either way, we hope the story continues for a long time.