For my fortieth birthday, Peter, my heel-dragging, left-brained engineer and to-be husband, surprised me with a color- and number-coded itinerary for a trip to England, airfare included. It was fantastic! I met his dad, his friends, and I generally passed inspection.
Three years later, finally married after our whirlwind seven-year courtship, we went to England again. London-based friends Martin and Anna had bought a ski chalet they wanted us to see in the mountains above Chamonix, France in the Haute Savoie region. So we popped across the channel for a long weekend.
Their Alpine lodging was perched on a mountainside with a sweeping view of Mont Blanc, the tallest peak in Europe. To wake up to flurries on June first was pure magic for a snow-lover like me. I was the only one who wanted to take the cable car to the top on that blustery summer’s day — Peter wasn’t keen on cable-car travel in any weather — but they humored me.
At Aiguille du Midi, the last stop, the wind drove icy toothpicks of snow at us. I hung over the guard rails to take photos from all angles, and finally agreed to warm up with coffee and grappa in the café near where France and Italy meet. I bought postcards — the café has its own postage stamp and letterbox — to send to my daughters. (Leslie’s arrived a few days later, Carolynn’s took a year to make the same trip.)
I was still snapping pictures, thrilled to be cramming just a few extra shots onto my 36-exposure roll, when they dragged me off the mountain.
Back at the chalet the film wouldn’t wind back onto the spindle so I asked Martin, a camera buff, to help. He shut himself into the windowless bathroom to work on my little Minolta. There was garbled muttering.
“Don’t know yet.”
“Don’t tear my film!”
The door banged open. “No worries,” he said, “There’s no film in the camera!”
Well…merde! My first trip to France, first ride in a cable car, in the snow, almost to the top of the beautiful white mountain, and I had no record of it! Luckily, Martin had taken pictures so there is evidence.
That same weekend we went to the little village of Peillonex for a typical French meal. The restaurant was part of a long, low white farmhouse that also included the owner’s personal winery. The meal was delicious, wine too, but I didn’t imbibe as much as the others. After dinner we joined the locals in the bar to play pool. We were so bad the patron asked us to leave. I actually launched a ball off the table and across the room where it smashed into the upright piano. Still, I was the designated driver. I did myself proud on that tiny mountain lane that snaked three miles down and four crooked miles up the other side, driving a stick shift, I might add.
If we were to go back to France now we would have no cozy chalet to visit. Martin and Anna sold their mountain aerie after the 2002 heat wave that began to change the nature of skiing in that part of France. They now have a home on the south coast, with a distant view of the Alps. When conditions are right they drive to the slopes to ski for a day or two. Best of both worlds.
By the time we visited their new place I had a digital camera. I took some beautiful pictures as we toured. Unfortunately, the most telling photo was one I took after I fell down their circular staircase and broke my foot when it wedged between the two bottom steps.
Am I an accident waiting to happen? Well, yes. But I did photograph my own foot myself.