Se projeter

Love the view and feel of this place but it is too close to a major highway

When you’re looking for a place to live, there is really only one question: Can you see yourself there? This is what the French call ‘se projeter’ — literally, to project or imagine yourself living somewhere.

I am becoming a bit of an expert on imagining my life in different places. We’ve been visiting properties to buy or rent now for months — mostly online lately due to coronavirus. But now visits have started up again and we’re trying to get out and see places live and in person.

One thing I’ve learned is that there is no technology — virtual reality, 3-D photos or video — that can substitute for the feel of a place. Do you feel a kind of buzz as you enter? Could this be the place in which the next chapter of your life will unfold? Can you imagine getting up each morning and seeing that view?

Terrasse mit Traumaussicht
I could live with this view but the place is just too small.

Oddly, it is not necessarily the nicest or most spectacular places in which I can see myself living. It seems to be a combination of privacy, attractive space and surroundings that do it for me. Basically I’m attracted to anything with greenery around it: a treetops or garden apartment, light-filled rooms but not a full-on southwest exposure. While husband wants an open space with tons of light and most of all a spectacular view, I want to feel protected by walls and not overly exposed.

There are some things I simply cannot do: certain architecture is a non-starter (non-descript is okay but not in-your-face ugly, whether in colour or style), the sloped ceilings of an attic apartment, anything too boxy or institutional-feeling, a terrace overlooking a road or even a parking lot.

Traumhafte See- und Bergsicht
This little garden would be perfect for us but the apartment is overpriced and needs work.

Also, I don’t want to feel too isolated. We’ve set a 15-minute maximum on the time it should take to walk to a village, café or shop. Ideally I’d like to be within 5 minutes and not have it involve a massive slope. But this is a tough ask in Switzerland, especially as we also want peace and quiet, as well as a view.

I’m working hard on ‘projecting myself’ into my new life. Where we see ourselves next year, in five years, in retirement? City or country or somewhere in between? I need to see water, he needs to see mountains. I want proximity to a city with bookshops and train connections. He wants to be within 30 minutes of CrossFit.

You learn to be very careful of places that look too staged.

The biggest challenge at the moment is the sluggish property market. We haven’t sold our house in France yet (quelle surprise, given the past two months of lockdown) and there is little available on the Swiss side. Things are gradually picking up but the challenge remains: to sell in a buyer’s market (France) and buy in a seller’s market (Switzerland).

So we’ve decided to rent, at least for now. Which is probably more sensible anyway until we decide where we want to be long-term. Now we have to find a place to rent that meets all our criteria and is still affordable. And also accepts pets.

Where do you see yourself — today or tomorrow?

Cham’ and me

Chamonix, France

We are fortunate to live between two chains of mountains. I awake to views of the Jura, the older, gentler slopes just across Lake Geneva on the Swiss side. In the other direction, to the southeast in France, are the Alps. They aren’t far, although we don’t get many views of the Alpine peaks from here.

Visitors are a good excuse for us to get out and see the Alps close up. That is just what we did when my sister and her family came to visit the other week.

Outside of ski season, it’s easy to forget just how close we are to Chamonix – Cham’ to the locals – home to our highest mountain, le Mont Blanc. We drove about an hour to Valorcine, then parked the car and took a series of chair lifts up. It’s fun to take a chair lift in the summer as you can see all the detail of the green slopes just below. And I enjoy it more when my fingers aren’t frozen.

We couldn’t figure out why so many chairs had spots blocked off but decided it was for all the people with bikes. This is a popular spot for the sport and just below us, we could see mountain bikers descending the narrow dirt trails at break-neck speed. I can see why they take the lifts – riding down must be a lot more fun than going up.

Chair lift near Valorcine

At the top, the views open up to the valley below in a way that soon had us singing, ‘The hills are alive…’ Thankfully no one started yodelling or the Swiss, who share a border just a few hundred metres away, might have changed their minds about staying neutral.

We could see the glacier called La Mer de Glace – the Sea of Ice – and a little bit of the Mont Blanc peak, although there were a few clouds. There were wild flowers and a few mountain cows – although we argued as to whether they were cows or bulls. Do cows have horns? And are there male cows? My daughter the future veterinarian would certainly have a few things to say on that subject.

From the top, we hiked downhill for half an hour to a small mountain refuge that runs a restaurant. This was my favorite moment of the day.

thumb_img_5605_1024It’s enough to make me want to come back and do it again – but don’t tell ZFrenchman, or he’ll soon have me up and out the door to Cham’ every Sunday morning.

 

When was the last time you were in the mountains?

Grimentz and grumbles

IMG_3089After 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.

The view from the top
The view from the top

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.

IMG_3092The best part of the weekend was being in Grimentz. It is a picturesque mountain village built almost entirely out of wood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fire hydrant

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.

 

 

 

Stay tuned for more adventures next winter!