Friday, February 26, 2010


Well, I survived the ski trip. But I think I have only the brevity of my séjour to thank for that! For as I predicted, I proved beyond any possible doubt that when I say “I’m awful at skiing,” it is not what the French would dub “2nd degree” (tongue-in-cheek) humor. I have bruises in places I didn’t know could be bruised, muscle aches in muscles I didn’t know I had. Taking the stairs at this point is pure agony, but I did it. I skied the Alps. Or more accurately, I slid down the Alps on my face.

My introduction to le ski was brief but intense, all the more so for having gone with G.’s family
—both nombreuse and particularly, how shall I say, exuberant. Being virtually the only girl in the pack, I had to make do with a decidedly masculine, “sink or swim” approach to a choice selection of activities: snow hiking, cross-country skiing and some bizarre form of postmodern sledding involving thin, plastic contraptions vaguely resembling over-sized shovel heads. Zooming down the snowy forest trails we went on these things, narrowly avoiding violent collision with tree trunks and terrified children. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned inner tubes?

And as for the cross-country, that too was lost in translation. Somewhere in my life I had managed to develop the obviously erroneous impression that this alternative form of skiing was “easy
—in the sense that it didn’t involve big gnarly descents—but oh ho ho! Whatever was I thinking? The uphill segments were just fine: no falling over, just a bit of slipping and sliding. But alas, what goes up must come down, and those segments were most assuredly not just fine. Thank God I sprained both of my ankles back in high school, because that endowed them with an elasticity that kept me from doing any serious harm to myself when I fell over … and over … and over … and over, on down the hill, twisting them in all directions because cross-country skis stay on no matter what. Who on earth invented this sadistic, ridiculously hard-to-learn sport? The jury is going to have to seriously deliberate before delivering a verdict on any hope for a possible Katrin Goes Skiing, the Sequel.

At least I was able to experience the singular beauty of the snow-adorned Alps and the extreme pleasure of returning to a Paris several degrees warmer than the one I had left. Rainy, of course, but definitely warmer. Dare we speculate that spring is somewhere nearby? I for one certainly want to. Not that spending my evenings cuddling with the radiator isn’t fun and all, but I have fond memories of days gone by when I could actually sit outside, on the balcony, and not even shiver! Ha ha! Or were those but the wild imaginings of my sun-deprived brain? Paris weather often brings back memories of reading Ray Bradbury’s short story “All Summer in a Day,” although the comparison is not entirely fair on my part; I should also point out that Parisian weather patterns are perfectly capable of swinging 180° in the other direction, resulting in record-breaking heat waves and extreme fan shortages such as that of 2003. Great year for French wine, incidentally. Rungis food market, on the other hand,
will never be the same.

In any case, my skiing ordeal is over; here I am, back in Paris, snuggled up on the couch with a cocktail in hand, jazz in the background, and the extended edition DVD of Lord of the Rings to savor as I will. And I have to say, this beats any ski trip I can think of.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On winter recreation

In but a few short days I will be going skiing. Yes, I, Katrin Holt, have decided to blatantly put life and limb at risk. Why? Because love means making certain compromises—and in this particular case that means agreeing to extreme physical discomfort and a generous dose of ridicule because I’m the significant other of a Frenchman and in the winter, the French go skiing. With their significant others.

There are many sports at which I am bad. Volleyball was never my fort, nor was tennis. I never did manage the 7-minute mile back in junior high, despite the dubious pleasure of weekly opportunities. I’m lousy at basketball, never played water polo and the hand-eye coordination of softball was never my thing. But while my skills in these areas may be less than stellar, at no sport am I more pathetic than I am at skiing.

At this point in my diatribe (oft-repeated, especially around this time of the year), my interlocutor generally protests with something along the lines of, “But you said you’re from the mountains. How can you not know how to ski?” As if mountains were all the same, all across the world, each and every one of them outfitted for rock climbing in the summer and alpine skiing in the winter. Yes, I’m from the mountains, and no, my mountains aren’t known for skiing. Hiking, sure; apple pies, absolutely. But no skiing. It’s more a sledding kind of place. Sledding is fun; sledding is easy; sledding I like.

So no, I’ve never learned how to ski. And honestly, this ineptitude has never been the source of any significant sense of inferiority. On the contrary, the very concept of donning multiple layers of puffy, multi-colored ski clothes, strapping what appear to be 10-pound moon boots to my feet, and going sliding off on those precarious-looking contraptions popularly known as skis, risking a broken neck in the name of “fun” and coming home at the end of the day cold, wet and nursing a bruised body and ego, has somehow never succeeded in eliciting any form of enthusiasm from me. And yet, much of the world, including 99% of the French, sees things differently. How many times have I heard the praises of skiing sung? The beauty of the mountains; the thrill of the descent; the gratification of those particular muscle aches; the gustatory bliss of a piping hot fondue savoyarde or raclette at the end of the day. I could go on....

But I won’t. Let me just say that the skiing world and I have always had our differences. Even before ever attempting it, I already knew that it wasn’t my bag. Yes, I once took a shot at a quick bout of skiing, back in my wayward youth, at a site aptly named “Purgatory.” We only stayed for a day, the majority of which I spent falling over, careening into innocent fellow skiers and bouncing down gargantuan “kiddie” slopes like a human snowball much in the fashion of vintage Goofy cartoons, leaving random skis and poles dotting the hillside behind me. In the end, I sought refuge in a pseudo log cabin café, where I basically hid until day’s end, sipping hot chocolate and watching tiny children tearing the hell out of the slopes as though it were easy AND fun.

In light of my lack of affinity for winter sports, I long ago mastered the fine art of avoiding any form of participation in the masochistic post-Christmas French tradition of “le ski.” However, G. caught on to my heretofore-successful maneuvering and has somehow managed to finagle me into joining his ski-loving family this year for “just” a long weekend. We’re going to “zee Alps,” where I would just like to point out in passing that skiing deaths—deaths!—occur every single year.

But no matter. I shan’t be called a wuss. I shall go. I shall leave frozen Paris and travel to the even more frozen Alps, where I shall don the silliest ski clothes that I can get my hands on and spend every day acquiring the aches and pains required to earn my evening dose of raclette. Have I mentioned that I abhor raclette, right along with every other traditional Savoyard dish involving potatoes and/or bread and stinky, indigestible melted cheese? But never mind! I’ll go, and if I hate it (which I undoubtedly will), then I won’t go back again next year. That is the other half of the compromise.

And so, dear readers, if you never hear from me again, know that I at least left this earth in a spirit of adventure and diplomacy, risking my fragile ego and my (relatively) young life in the name of Franco-American relations. I should be awarded immediate French citizenship just for this. And if I do survive, you can expect a full report on this totally bizarre ritual fashion of rendering the already bleak winter just that much more unpleasant. Wish me luck!

Sonny Bono: I bet he agrees with me.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Roses are red

Back in November, I mentioned that the French don’t really “do” Halloween. They don’t really “do” Valentine’s Day, either. Most, if asked, will turn up their noses upon the mere mention of it, because as everybody knows, it’s just another damned commercial holiday meant to convince consumers to spend money they don’t have on stuff they don’t need. Worse still, it cutifies love. Quelle horreur.

And yet, just try to find an available restaurant in Paris on Valentine’s Day. Not a chance—they’re all booked solid. France’s boutiques are well aware of what February 14 means as well, as are its florists. Roses, roses, everywhere. I was informed yesterday by a colleague that most roses one finds for sale in Paris are in fact shipped in from Africa, where they are grown en masse, diverting water that once went to nourish trees that provided food for the local populations. In other words, Africa’s people are being deprived of both food and water so that we may have roses in the dead of winter. I was far from my computer when she said this, and therefore unable to fact check anything, but it sounded a little too Avatar-esque to buy off-hand and in any case didn’t stop me from accepting the long-stem white rose presented to me after lunch by our friendly server. Nor did it stop the colleague in question, for that matter. Valentine’s Day is despised enough as it is; must we also make it a target of moral outrage?

For my part, I am finally beginning to appreciate this officially-disliked-yet-secretly-celebrated holiday (aside from its hideous signature colors—pink and red?!). But chromatic dissent aside, I’m honestly warming up to Valentine’s Day. This is mainly because I’m—AT LAST—no longer single and this holiday gives me an opportunity to unashamedly gloat really enjoy it. When I was all by my lonesome, I loathed the entire month of February and its cheesy pink and red hearts. “Valentine’s Day is so lame,” I would say, “and who in his right mind actually eats those nasty ‘be mine’ candies anyway?” Then I ceased being single and changed my attitude about the whole thing overnight. Now February means (more) gifts, (more) candlelight and (more) champagne—all very good reasons to not even bother pretending to look down on this “commercial” holiday. Besides, I’m an American; I’m supposed to enjoy commercial holidays. It is, after all, the fault of my people and our evil capitalist ways that such holidays even exist. Ask any of the French.

On that note, I must end this post as my valentine and I have dinner reservations (we were able to make said reservations because today is the 13th, a clever little manoeuvre on our part). Happy Valentine’s Day to all, whether you like it (yet) or not!