If you spend any time in France you will hear the story of le coq Gaulois – the Gallic rooster – and why it is the unofficial symbol and mascot of France.
“Do you know why the rooster is the true symbol of the French people?” asked my father-in-law not long after I arrived in this country. He had a telltale twinkle in his eye, so I hazarded a guess. “Because he’s cocky?” He chuckled and delivered the punchline. “Parce que c’est le seul capable de chanter les deux pieds dans la merde.”
Translation: Because he’s the only one who sings while standing in shit.
Everybody laughed but I confess I didn’t really get it. Until it dawned on me: the French are often dans la merde but that doesn’t stop them from crowing.
It was my first experience of self-deprecating humour à la française. Or, as they say…
Overheard snippet of conversation amongst female coworkers, roughly translated:
“I really need some.”
“Me too. It’s been way too long.”
“How long’s it been?”
“Months. Not since the winter and that was far too short.”
“If I don’t get some soon, I’m gonna die.”
I was red-faced before I figured out what they were talking about. It’s the one thing the French absolutely cannot live without: holidays.
Since the law was first passed in 1936 granting every French worker the right to les congés payés, the annual paid vacation has been inscribed in the culture of this country. Since then it has mushroomed from two to five weeks.
There are two major categories of holidays: les petites vacances (spring, fall and winter breaks) and les grandes vacances, that lovely stretch of two long summer months. They all march to the rhythm of the school calendar. But whether or…
Visiting some countries just puts a spring in your step. I love seeing new places but there’s one country in particular that always makes my heart sing: France. The moment I land at Roissy and take one of its weird springy travelators to the chaotic baggage carousel, I feel right at home.
I’m heading to France in a few days so that means I’m skipping around the house with a stupid grin on my face. It makes me question just what it is about France that makes me feel so happy. After all, politically it’s rather a grim place at the moment.
After my one-woman tribute to the 80s on the ski slopes last winter, I swore that this year I would get new gear. If only to keep up with my husband who is fully outfitted in the latest high-tech layers, skis and boots, including a set of seal skins for going uphill. I didn’t make it to new skis but did manage to get a new pair of boots, the most challenging part of the whole operation.
Let’s just say I have a rather substantial calf. A pair of gams that call up images not of limbs so much as tree trunks, or, as one (obviously former) suitor once said: “Your leg looks like something that should be put on a spit and rotated.”
Getting a ski boot I can actually do up without cutting off all the circulation in my lower extremities is a challenge. After terrorizing two salespeople and trying on at least six different models, I finally thought we had a good fit in a Salomon. Last weekend it was time to put them to the test.
Now that the spring is upon us, the Alps offer my kind of fair-weather skiing. We decided to make a weekend of it on the Swiss side, more picturesque and less crowded than France. On Friday night we headed for Grimentz, a cute little village in the Valais region of Switzerland where I’d been once before for a work event.
The trouble began the next morning when I tried to do up the boots. Either my calves had expanded in the weeks since we left the store or the altitude was playing tricks with my brain. We somehow managed to do them up but I was feeling pins and needles by the time we got to the télécabine.
My husband instructed me to wait while he got the ski passes. He has this habit of taking charge whenever we get near a mountain. He then directed me to the gondola lift and up, up, up we went – a full twenty-minute ride to the top. What the–? I tried to catch my breath as we got off the lift but the air was a little thin. This was not what I’d had in mind. I studied the map of ski runs. Where were all the blues? And the restaurant? Hubby looked at the map and pointed out that we were on the other side of the resort, its highest point. Seemed there had been two possible ways up and we had taken the wrong one. A few choice words were exchanged but I’ll spare you having to pardon my French. I admired the view while he did a few red and black runs. We took the next cable car down.
By the time we got down to the nice blue slopes it was almost lunch time. We got in a few runs before heading for a sunny spot on a terrace where, a sausage and a large beer later, I began to enjoy myself.
The boots were still a bit tight but at least I could feel my feet. We skied several runs and enjoyed the afternoon.
The best part of the weekend was being in Grimentz. It is a picturesque mountain village built almost entirely out of wood.
Which probably explains why there’s a fire hydrant on every corner.
Unlike the French, who so often let their ski resorts turn into concrete monstrosities, this place is nothing but old wood and cobbled streets. Lots of good places to eat, too, and the Valaisans make great wine and cheese.