Les Saisies and the Mont Blanc.
Photo credits to http://www.france-montagnes.com.
On top of a mountain. Really. Well to begin with it was at the bottom of another. In a cosy wee village called Ugine which rests deep in a valley in the East of France. It’s a two-hour drive from Switzerland (handy) and an hour or so from the country’s second largest city, Lyon. The nearest city however is Albertville, famously known for hosting the 1992 Winter Olympics. This is evident on arrival thanks to the various complexes and
Olympic ‘signage’ dotted around. The other famous Alpine city close by to this area is Grenoble (which is ironically the flattest city in France).
France is split into 13 different regions. After that the regions are split further into 96 ‘departments’. To my knowledge this is similar to council regions in Scotland/UK. I find myself now in Les Saisies. It’s a small, typical village close to the top of the Mont Bisanne, proudly standing at 1941m. In the Alps that’s way off the big players such as the Mont Blanc which reaches the dizzy heights of 4810m and is by merit the highest mountain on the continent. However with Scotland’s highest peak Ben Nevis being 1341m it’s very much a grand mountain. And it paints a picture when you imagine the thousands of people who live their lives here all year round and the city dwellers who travel by car for their winter holiday break. Unfortunately I can’t see the Mont Blanc from where I am living but I can see another distinct peak which I now jokingly call my own and that is the Pierra Menta (2714m).
‘La Pierra Menta’
Every day I take 5 minutes to myself and look out into the landscape. Most days I will sit for longer. My girlfriend is right when she says every night is a different view. The sunlight hits the mountain tops in an almost infinitely changing routine whilst the clouds sometimes crowd the valley in a mystifying sea like position, thus allowing themselves to balance in a suspended and lifeless nature.
‘Look at the View’ taken by Lucile Dalla-Libera.
Since the middle of January I’ve been working as a Ski Man in a local small business. The season is drawing to a close now and it feels like it has come and gone as quickly as it could have. Before I arrived here I was working in another town, Megève, in a swanky Cashmere store. I somehow managed to navigate through a French-speaking interview successfully but the achievement was short-lived. After my boss came to the conclusion her employee couldn’t speak the language very well and I discovered that selling 400 euro cardigans to disgustingly rich folk was simply not for me I managed to jump ship and get out of there. I lasted a mere three weeks. Alas it was an interesting experience for many reasons. I had obviously never worked in a job where I couldn’t speak the language and this I found tough. It was even more difficult as my boss seemed to stress that I wasn’t able to fulfill what had been asked of me. So instead I was to do everything else except talk to customers. This was in my opinion taking an absolute liberty. I was the bitch for the rich. I had customers shout at me, throwing clothes at me and this wasn’t enough for my boss who still thought I could do more. It was three weeks going on three years. An unforgiving nightmare.
In truth I never really felt comfortable thanks to the money and the people. After talking to an older man for a few minutes my boss asked me if I knew who it was. I had no idea but in an earnest attempt to impress at work I turned on the Glesga charm and gave it a good go.
‘Regarde Aidan, that’s the man you were just talking to.‘
I was then shown a Google image of the gentleman standing next to Prince Charles and his wife Camilla. I investigated him a little bit more after she gave me his name and so it turns out his ancestor invented something very important to traditional French culture.
He inherited billions. It was another world to me.
Another group of customers came in on New Year’s Day and informed us they were from Bahrain. The gentleman was cheerful and repeatedly exclaiming ‘Bonne Année! Bonne Année!‘ like a delirious party goer. But after he had spread his festive cheer he left the store quickly again to gaze down the decorated streets of busy folk. He left his wife with her assistant who swiftly continued to clear the shop of its stock in a similarly bizarre fashion.
‘I’ll take this. I’ll take this. Do you think this will be nice with these? No? Ok I’ll take it anyway.‘
Over the course of two days this woman spent close to 14,000 euros on products. Each time she left her assistant to pay who consequently stumbled out of the store
with a ridiculous amount of bags to carry.
With all this in mind, it was a very brief visit from three other customers which still shocks me even more. A very rich and arrogant woman entered the store with two other slightly refrained characters. The first of these two was much older, perhaps some relation to the aforementioned snoot. The second was a younger woman with her hood up. She hid her face well in her jacket but her eyes were visible and she looked exhausted. Her frail posture and surprisingly cheaper garments paled in comparison to the women she followed, who dressed impeccably and looked rather well fed (if you catch my drift). The first woman swaggered around the store picking various pieces of clothing from their designated place before shooting a sharp stare of disapproval. It only took seconds for her to assess the items before chucking them away with her stiff nose turned firmly towards the heavens. The older woman merely day-dreamed without making any sort of gestures. But the young woman was running behind the pair in a desperate fashion. At one point there was a slightly aggressive change in atmosphere between the three which could only have been this maniacal characters grave dislike for something so completely unwarranted. The younger woman looked dejected, daunted and severely panicked at most times. Was she really living in this state of fear permanently?
This utterly saddening situation didn’t last very long but the opportunity to see people who lived like this was particularly shocking. Where I am from there is no such thing like this going on. It truly troubled me and gave me a great distaste for the type of person
who is able to treat another human being with such disrespect while flaunting their riches. It was an environment I felt totally out of. Stories of folk like that have passed my ears before and the way they condemn these assistants to a non-stop onslaught of meaningless work. And although the village itself was really beautiful I could not take myself away from this track of thought just to become another bit-part player in the pointless games of those with too much in their pocket and not enough in their conscience…