Vague de froid

Snow in Corsica

After two unseasonably mild months, we are having a real cold snap. The north wind that blows across Lake Geneva (‘la bise noire’, explained here in perfect detail by blogger Alpenhorn) blew its evil breath for three days until last night when, lo and behold, the wind dropped and a blanket of the white stuff descended upon us.

Enfin! While it seems a little unfair that winter should make so late an appearance, it is still well within its rights. What seems ironic is that snow has fallen all over France this winter but not in our corner of the Haute Savoie, where it is usually more abundant.

Even Corsica, southernmost Ile de la Beauté, has had snow! Paris, Nice, Normandy, Toulouse…but until now, nary a flake chez nous. At altitude of course, there has been plenty of snow for the ski bunnies and I’m happy for them. This year, for some reason, I’ve been oddly reluctant to leave my hearth.

It seems the wave of cold known in France as ‘Moscou-Paris’ (Russia again) is actually due to global warming. Cold comfort to those who are without heat, or a roof. In the last few days the ‘Plan Grand Froid’ has kicked in, taking over gymnasiums and other unused spaces to ensure there are beds for the homeless. Sadly, such measures are insufficient and limited to times of extreme cold. In most cases the people must leave the premises by eight oclock the following morning, and brave the icy temperatures outdoors until night fall.

A group of elected officials in Paris spent last night sleeping in the streets to raise awareness of the issue. Good initiative, I thought. But this has been criticized as so much ‘coup de théâtre’; people consider their time would be better spent seeking real solutions than drawing attention to themselves in the media.

That’s just how French people see things.

As for me, I am grateful that yesterday’s power cut only lasted for a few hours. It seems that every year just as the temperatures hit rock bottom, the French electrical utility (formerly EDF, now Enedis) either has difficulty matching the demand or decides to perform maintenance on the lines. Last year we were in the dark for almost 24 hours.

Mostly I am grateful that I don’t have to drive anywhere today. As long as there’s an internet connection I can work from home. But I’ll be sure to get out for a walk with the Frenchies and finally have my day in the snow.

P.S. Rumour has it that next week spring will arrive in all its glory. What the weather like chez vous?

 

Un froid de canard

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Suddenly, it’s winter here in France. Which means it’s cold enough for ducks.

One of the eternal mysteries of life is why winter always feels colder here than in Canada. Is it the damp, perhaps, or the fact that we are less prepared for the subzero chill? Could it be because the houses are not as well insulated or our coats not as warm?

All I know is that il fait un froid de canard and – pardon my French – we are freezing our tits off. My own personal theory is that we need some snow. All that bright white will soon have us feeling warmer. Take it from a Canuck.

The arrival of snow in France is an annual event that is almost as talked-about as the great migration to parts south and coastal in the summer. Not of ducks but of French holiday-makers.

I’ve posted before about how snowstorms will trump (pardon my French again!) just about all other breaking news. So far we’ve avoided that disaster but the mere suggestion that a few flakes might be falling this week has required live updates and lengthy analyses by meteorologists. When something happens in France, no matter what the cause, an explanation must be found, and if possible a guilty party. The weatherman shook his head and pointed with consternation to the cold front coming in over the Balkans from Russia. Aha!

To the other burning question: why do the French associate the sudden onset of cold weather with ducks? I am happy to be able to clear up that mystery: it seems that our quacking friends come out of hiding when the temperature drops, leaving the open waters for the hinterland and giving hunters a clear shot.

Poor ducks. Well, at least if they’re out flying they haven’t been confined and force fed to fatten up their livers for foie gras.

You have to look on the bright side.

la neigeAs I write this, snow has finally fallen and, conversely, my mood has lightened. Nothing like a bit of white stuff to keep the cold at bay. And the ducks.

What’s the temperature chez vous?

How do you feel about la neige?

Boules de Noël

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It’s almost Christmas and around here that means a bit of sparkle. Here in France, our sapin takes pride of place by the window, hung with lights and garlands and boules de Noël.

One of the mysteries of the French language is why decorations are always called ‘boules’. Christmas balls is a decidedly unfortunate English translation of what we would simply call decorations, rather like the little lamb’s balls from this post of blog years past.

Not having much of a mind for history, I was nonetheless consumed by seasonal curiosity to wonder about the origins of ‘boules de Noël’. Wikipedia reveals that the tradition goes back to the 16th century when the first Christmas trees were decked out in natural bounty like fruit and nuts. One day an inventive glass-blower from Germany had the idea to create balls of glass to hang on the tree. When drought brought a shortage of apples one year, the tradition of ‘les boules’ came to France via the northeast region of Les Vosges.

Our balls are duly (and not dully, as a French colleague of mine used to write), dusted off and hanging in all their shiny splendour from the tree. They are not just pretty but provide a reminder of how fragile are such celebrations. They hang upon a thread of close-knit families, traditions and good health. They depend upon good will towards one’s fellow man and a bit of bounty to share with one another.

I love Christmas but struggle with what we put around it. The gifts, the decorations, the feasting. The squandering of time and money, the stress to get the right things and over-indulge.

And yet there is a core idea of purity around Noël that I cling to from childhood: a fresh field of snow, a star in the sky. A carol sung with joy, familiar faces at the door. A warm fire with a drink waiting inside. A full heart when a fond wish is granted.

I’m off in search of that holiday magic for a couple of weeks. May your days be merry and bright until we meet again next year!

 

Mon beau sapin

Canadian ChristmasWe don’t have a Christmas tree at our house this year. Instead, we are going to visit family in Toronto and let them trim the tree.

For us, Christmas in Canada means family and friends, catching up and pigging out, the chaos of too many people and dogs, shopping from the time we get off the plane and as soon as the sales start on Boxing Day. Yes, folks, it’s consumer excess at its merriest. But I won’t regret it. Not for one single moment. Until I’m back home in January, weighing up the damage.

The thing is, we don’t have any of those things here n France. My husband’s family is too few and far apart, our kids are grown and flown (although one will be heading back home soon – more on Generation Boomerang later…). And the shopping opportunities simply don’t compare.

What Christmas in Canada does not usually mean is snow. To my unending disappointment, our visits almost inevitably coincide with a green Christmas in Toronto….generally followed by a big blizzard as soon as we are back on our side of the Atlantic. But I’m packing my boots just in case.

I am taking a blogging break to enjoy the season. Wishing you and yours a holly, jolly Christmas and hope to see you in the New Year!

Les Bronzés font du ski

Les Bronzés font du ski is one of those cult classic films that define popular culture in France. Released in 1979, it was one of a series of ‘Les Bronzés’ movies by Patrice Leconte, a parody of the singles holiday that featured early performances from an all-star lineup of comic actors: Josiane Balasko, Michel Blanc, Christian Clavier, Gérard Jugnot, Thierry Lhermite.

I remember not really getting the film the first time I saw it: neither the slapstick, heavy-handed humor the French seem to love, nor the lightning-fast repartee. But I came to appreciate that the film defined an era – as did yours truly last time I hit the slopes.

March is a good time for skiing in the French Alps. There are fewer tourists, for one thing, as most of the school breaks are over and the Parisians have gone home.

This winter hasn’t been great for snow – seems the weather gods decided to dump it all on North America this year. So we decided on some early spring skiing last weekend while the skies were blue and the snow still fairly plentiful.

My husband was feeling ‘en manque de montagne’ as he hadn’t been skiing for several weeks – he needed a fix of thinner air. I happily dusted off my old skis and boots that had miraculously turned up after our last move. I’m not an easy fit in a ski boot so I was delighted to rediscover my comfy old Nordicas and not have to rent for once.

We went to our closest resort, Avoriaz. It was a Saturday, a good choice if you want to avoid the crowds. Most people are arriving or departing on that day and so there are fewer skiers on the slopes.

As usual, we’d no sooner geared up than I needed to hit the ladies. Hubby went to buy the ski passes while I went in search of les toilettes. Things must be improving around here: I found clean, functioning facilities right by the pistes. When I returned a few minutes later, an ESF ski instructor was holding up one of my skis and examining it.

“Ahem, those are mine,” I ventured, thinking he’d mistaken my skis for his own.

“Ah!” he sighed, setting them down. “I so regret getting rid of my old ones.”

“Why, because they don’t make ‘em like these any more?”

“Because they were such a great souvenir. Those were the days!”

Right. I hadn’t realized until then that my skis, pointy tipped and perhaps 20 years old, were  considered a relic of bygone days.  I was starting to feel like a fossil myself.

Hubby came up and chuckled along with the fellow, which I thought was pretty mean considering he was sporting brand new equipment. To be fair, he uses it enough to amortize the investment.

Then, as we were about to get on les oeufs (as the French called the Gondola lifts), one of operators noticed my skis and said: “Ha, those are a real collectors’ item!” He went on to advise me not to leave them by the bar too long, or they’d get nicked for sure.

How did he know I’d be at the bar?

But it’s decided:  I’m getting new skis next year.