Where Am I Now? (Part 2)

 

‘The leafy browns of autumn infused with the retreating grassy greens of a summer gone by. The vast and panoramic background filled with huge mountains which continue to prevail through centuries, perhaps even millenials, of long and drawn out battles with the elements of nature. They tower over the scores of communities which now occupy the deep valleys between. Weathered roads and forests of trees abundant with generations of multiple species who just like their colossal neighbours have fought the good fight in standing their ground and keeping their homes. We as humans fight between ourselves, but it is those which seem forever still who truly know what it means to be alive.’

An excerpt from some notes I wrote back in November when I arrived in France.

After the tumultuous episode I experienced in Megève (discussed in Part 1) I found myself at a crossroads. I had no job. I had lost the confidence I previously shared in being able to find work as a result of my poor French language skills. And I had received some unfortunate news from home that suddenly asked of me which place was more important.

I returned to Scotland for a few days in January. It had probably come at the right time even if for the wrong reasons as the stress was beginning to break me. I’m a bit of a perfectionist which causes me great suffering at times. My romantic notions can be
overpowering which can then progress into some sort of psychological barrier once I take a step back and realize the unrealistic expectations I set for myself. It’s a dangerous trait to acquire and one which I have accumulated over the years, resulting in never feeling quite so content with the achievements I’ve made. And it would be fair to say that before I left home for the first time I put a lot of pressure on myself to settle in my new surroundings almost as quickly as I arrived.

By the beginning of the new year I was tired and empty of hope again. I was ready for giving up completely.

It was a chance encounter however with a funny gentleman which allowed me a renewed energy and willingness to continue. This man is still my boss today and will be for another week when the winter seasons draws to its long-awaited conclusion. I had not long discovered the activity of hitch-hiking and had begun to feel a real buzz for it. The great thing about hitch-hiking is that you’ll never end up with someone who doesn’t want your company (unless their psychos). This naturally means you can get a decent conversation from folk. My partner was working in the resort where I am now while I stayed in the family home at the bottom of the mountain. Thanks to my naivety and excitement of being able to drive the stunning routes that weaved flawlessly through the mountains I managed to damage the car I was using. She is now back in full working order and I have learned my lesson.

 

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‘Baby’

My partner asked me to meet her at her work for an afternoon so we could hang around the resort for a few hours. So I managed to make my way by throwing out the thumb and looking nice enough to offer a lift to. The first driver to stop was Jean-Marie, a young farmer from just outside Geneva. He was a physical contrast of the Swiss city. Billionaire yachts line the docks while the nearby buildings display signs of famous brands such as the supremely expensive Rolex. Switzerland is of course famous for watch-making and the stereotype is utilized thoroughly. Whether that be in the airport or in the area’s of commerce. Jean-Marie was not a typical Genevois.

 

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The Rolex Building, Geneva city centre. 

He was a pleasant man. He spoke lovingly of his flock of sheep, the journey from his Swiss farm to the depths of the French Alps to buy more sheep and he even questioned me on whether there was many sheep in Scotland. I’m not in the business of counting sheep unfortunately but I told him there was (correct me if i’m wrong).

He took me to the next town, Villard-sur-Doron, and sent me on my way. I stood at the side of the road again in search of another generous car sharer. That’s when along came ‘Le Patron’. I didn’t expect him to offer me a job but after speaking together for the rest of the route (with my very poor French) he proposed to me a position in his ski rental shop. We stopped at his store and he took me inside for a tour, showing me the room dedicated to ski equipment. Shoes upon shoes. Rails filled to the rafters with hundreds of skis of different disciplines.

Ski Alpin, Ski Nordique, Randonnée, Telemark..

If I didn’t know anything about this sport I was soon about to.

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‘I wish I could Ski as half as good as I tell people.’

I’m not totally decided on my thoughts around destiny and the concept of events taking place for a reason. The word ‘coincidence’ almost gives me the fear. But for the owner of a business to drive by me at that exact time while I was looking for a job in this area whilst he was in dire need of staff.. well it is funny. And I should add that previous to this I had been looking for work in this area since before my first job without success. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough. He offered me everything I needed. Work, location, and an apartment of my own which I now occupy. It’s small but cosy. Packed but practical. And it means I can wake up 10 minutes before my shift starts.

 

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Piles of snow averaging 2 metres high directly outside the apartment. Claustrophobia.

And since this chance encounter I have been working with some great people, with a beautiful surrounding landscape and an opportunity to experience life as a Ski Man in the French Alps. I never once thought I would be able to say that. But now, it’s another small tale written into my history.

In Part 3 I’ll discuss my own perspective on different aspects of the French culture and what it’s like to be the token Scottish guy in a French Ski resort. For now here’s an example of some of the music shaping my journey so far. Music has always been important in my life and it’s no different now. It took me a while to change my mind but French music has finally started to grow on me.

Enjoy and see you all next week X

 

Where Am I Now? (Part 1)

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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).

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‘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.

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‘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…