Un détournement de Chamonix.

Chamonix

Chamonix, and a view of Mont Blanc

On my return from Chamonix, the most common question asked of me was how I was treated by the French.  I said very well, but my friends weren’t buying it.  Weren’t they rude and dismissive? Or, do I speak French, and so had an easier time.  Or, if one just makes an attempt to speak French, is that enough?  Until one travels to a foreign country (foreign to the traveler, not so foreign to the people living there), it is difficult to understand the experience.   In the case of Chamonix, it is an international resort, welcoming adventuresome people from all over the world throughout the year. French is the native language, but English, German, Italian, Japanese, Arabic, Russian, Turkish, and Polish, were among the languages I heard while there. There is no doubt about it’s French nature, though. This is evident in the super marché, or super market.  Generally, ski towns have very nice super markets, and here is no exception.  But the meats and cheeses were the best, the wines excellent for about $7-10, the alpine butter delicious, and the choices of fresh vegetables, superb.  It was a very busy place, and typically, around 4 to 5 PM, the locals were crowding the store to buy food for dinner.  It is not customary there, to stock up for a week or more.  How would the food be fresh?  There were boulangeries (bakeries) on every street, and the image of a person carrying a baguette or two sticking out of the bag or backpack is real.  The bread is devine, crusty, yeasty and just the right texture.  Pâtisseries, the pastry shops selling incredible raspberry tarts, eclairs, and other sweets are also common, their wares displayed in windows to lure in the customers.
I don’t speak French, at least not well enough to engage in a conversation, and I may never, but I took the time to learn a little, and have picked up some over the years. While this is an international town, not everyone speaks English, so it helps to know a bit of the native tongue.  Whenever I am in France, I am reminded of the brilliant essay by David Sedaris, “Me talk pretty one day” , in which he describes his attempts to get conversant in French. It is so funny and true, and dangerous to read in company. You’ll embarrass yourself.

I was in Chamonix for a ski trip with friends from Pennsylvania and the UK.  We are an interesting mixed group, thrown together by chance and acquaintanceship, and of varying abilities on the slopes.  Yet we invariably have a great time, and plenty of adventure to boast about.

Teresa and AJ, among the UK set, enjoying the alpine sun.

Teresa and AJ, among the UK set, enjoying the alpine sun.

We arrived in Geneva on Sunday, March 2, and took a van to Chamonix.  We were dropped off at our elegant Chalet close to the center of town.  One advantage of going with a sizable group, there were eleven in ours, is that we can rent a whole chalet together, and get the benefits of a kitchen, nice rooms, and comfortable living areas.

Our chalet, Chalet Arkle, on Rue Joseph Vallot in Chamonix.

Our chalet, Chalet Arkle, on Rue Joseph Vallot in Chamonix.

Our chalet was, according to the “bible” left for our perusal by the owners, originally a home built for a physician in Chamonix, over 100 years ago.  It was solidly built, and the current owners upgraded everything to modern standards, with bathrooms in all the bedrooms, a huge, modern kitchen with an industrial stove, and even an outdoor hot tub, which we certainly did make use of.  A few peculiarities of local life:  recycling is done, but one must carry the trash and recyclables to receptacles in town, where there are big bins for trash, glass, plastic and paper.  Bags are not free in grocery stores.  They do sell reusable shopping bags, though.  Vegetables and fruits are weighed by the customer on a scale near the produce section, which spits out a label with the weight and cost.  Without this, one is sent back by the check-out person to fulfill one’s responsibility.

Famous early members of Le Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix

Famous early members of Le Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix

Chamonix is famous for extreme sports, winter sports, and mountain climbing.  The mural above shows early, formative members of the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, an association for the guides in this region.  The woman depicted at the top, Marie Paradis, at the time a worker in a hotel, was the first woman to climb to the summit of Mont Blanc, in 1808.  Chamonix was the home of the first Winter Olympics, in 1924.  Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe, can be seen clearly from the town, and is a primary attraction here.  The Vallée Blanche is the ski route off of Mont Blanc, accessible from L’Aiguille du Midi, the highest reaching cable car in the valley.  It is unmarked, unpatrolled and quite a challenging run.  I did this run in 2003, with a group from Philadelphia, led by a guide named Christian.

Entrance to the Vallée Blanche

Entrance to the Vallée Blanche

The trek down to the start of the ski run, Vallée Blanche

The trek down to the start of the ski run, Vallée Blanche

Our guide, Christian.

Our guide, Christian.

Some of our group did this same run this year.  I decided not to go, having done it once and survived.  The skiing, though, in this region is not easy.  While there are slopes meant for beginners and intermediates, they are pretty tough due to their steepness and iciness.  Up high at the top of the multiple ski areas which surround the valley, the snow is good and the views amazing.  But the runs at that height are steep, ungroomed, and mainly moguls.  My friends Teresa and Kristine and I took on the second most challenging descent, off the top of Grand Montets, the Point de Vue run along the Argentière glacier.

Frank and Kristine at the top of Grands Montets

Frank and Kristine at the top of Grands Montets

Point de Vue run off Grands Montets

Point de Vue run off Grands Montets

The Argentière glacier along the Point de Vue run.

The Argentière glacier along the Point de Vue run.

Frank, Teresa and Kristine after successfully descending off the top of Les Grands Montets summit.

Frank, Teresa and Kristine after successfully descending off the top of Les Grands Montets summit.

During this trip we also spent a day on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, the Monte Bianco side, in Courmayeur.  To get there, we took a bus from Chamonix through the famous Mont Blanc tunnel.  This eleven kilometer long tunnel runs under Mont Blanc, and was the site of a fire in 1999, due to a truck catching fire which was carrying flour and margarine.  Thirty-nine people died, and the tunnel was closed for three years after that for repairs and improvements.  Our bus left from the Chamonix train station and took us directly to the ski resort on the other side of the mountain, with no problems to report.

Our group, waiting for the bus to Courmayeur.

Our group, waiting for the bus to Courmayeur.

Skiing in Italy seemed a bit more fun and lighthearted than skiing on the French side.

Enjoying a break in Courmayeur.

Teresa, Christine, Simon, AJ, Drew, Eric, Jen, Paul, Kristine and Frank enjoying a break in Courmayeur.  Thanks, Will, for taking the photo.

The challenges were there, too, as we learned ascending to the top of the Youla gondola.

Looking down from the top of the Youla gondola station, see if you can spot the helicopter.

Looking down from the top of the Youla gondola station, see if you can spot the helicopter.

Simon, Will, AJ, Kristine and Paul at the top of the Youla gondola.

Simon, Will, AJ, Kristine and Paul at the top of the Youla gondola.

Drew, Jen and Eric, part of our Pennsylvania contingent, with Monte Bianco looming over us.

Drew, Jen and Eric, part of our Pennsylvania contingent, with Monte Bianco looming over us.

Traveling to really get away, to have an adventure, take some risks, and be out of range of work allows one’s batteries to recharge.  We had great food, some cooked by our chalet’s caretaker named Abdel.  He is Algerian by birth, with a Moroccan passport, and he loves to cook.  He prepared several dinners for us, including a Moroccan style dinner, and a fondue dinner.  Always he would include fresh salads and lots of vegetables, unlike what a restaurant meal might provide.  We played a truly bawdy card game called “Cards against Humanity”, which we learned from our UK representatives, was heavily weighted toward Americanisms.  Nevertheless, it had us rolling with laughter.  We drank plenty of beer and wine, and completely enjoyed ourselves.

I arrived home late Sunday night and had to be at work the following morning at 6:30.  It was a jarring reminder that I don’t live the holiday, jet-set life full time, only on special occasions.  I also have a half-marathon coming up, and the week of skiing is hardly preparation for a run.  I did run a couple of times in Chamonix, with Will, the eighteen year old who needs to stay in shape for lacrosse.  Good that I was able to keep up with him, although he did carry a backpack on our runs.  By the way, the French people I met were very friendly and forgiving of my grade-school French.  It was a great get-away, and I am looking forward to the next big adventure.

How to make Black Eyed Peas

Pat, a delightful nursing assistant with whom I work, was disappointed we would be missing the hospital cafeteria’s soul food extravaganza out in our surgical center, away from the main hospital.  This was an homage to black history month.  I suggested to her we should put together our own soul food pot luck for lunch, and she was quite enthusiastic about that.  In fact, just about all the nurses and techs in our surgical center wanted to contribute something.  I realize I am not black, nor do I have a “soul food” background.  But there is a crossover between Texas cooking and soul food, and I know a bit about Texas cooking, so I offered up my own version of black eyed peas as my contribution.

First, buy some ham hocks.  This is the far end of the leg of the pig, before the foot.  It has meat, but also tendon, bone marrow, fat, and skin.  I like them smoked.  (Michele, my running friend who is meat free, turn away at this point).

Smoked Ham Hocks

Smoked Ham Hocks

Put these in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a slow boil.  Cook them like this for a couple of days with a bay leaf, five or six hours a day, replacing the water as needed to keep them covered.  Let chill, skim off the fat, and set aside.  One day into this process, clean one pound of dry black eyed peas, and start an overnight soak in cold water.

Dried Black Eyed Peas

Dried Black Eyed Peas

On the day of cooking the peas, drain the soaking water, rinse the peas, and return them to a large pot.  Take the chilled pot of ham hocks, which after boiling for two days, have turned the water into a wonderful, protein rich gelatin.  The meat has been cooked to a nice tenderness.  Remove the skin, and carefully extract all the bony pieces.  There will be lots of small bones, and one gets to plow through the hocks with bare fingers, extracting the meat from the bone.  Pick out any cartilage or sinew not wanted in the final mix.  Cut or shred the meat into little bits.  Add all the gelatin and the meat to the peas.

Take one good-sized green pepper and chop into small bits.  Likewise, shop an onion.  Saute these in oil until the onions are translucent and the green pepper looks thoroughly cooked.  Add this to the pea pot.  Add water as needed to just come up to the level of the peas.  Add freshly ground black pepper, sage, and salt to taste.  Don’t over salt, since there was salt in the ham hocks.  Add several dashes of Tabasco sauce, or if you really want them hot, use cayenne pepper.

Bring the mix to a boil, and cook for 35 minutes.  Unlike a lot of beans, the black eyed peas don’t require a long cooking period.  Cooking them too long turns them into mush.  Once they are cooked, check the seasoning to be sure the heat is right.  Let chill over night.

We served these the next day by warming in a crock pot.  They were a big hit, along with all the other incredible contributions to the lunch.  We had collard greens, smokey red beans, chicken, several versions of mac and cheese, rice, corn fritters, corn pudding, green salads, and lots more.  There were several different chocolate cakes, too, since everyone likes chocolate cake.  I think we came out way ahead of the cafeteria’s offerings.

It’s still very cold here in New Jersey.  While we are facing single digit temperatures, trying to get the running miles in, facing snow, ice and wind, it’s not bad to have some nice comfort food to keep us going.

Redefined Timeline

You know all of those things you've wanted to do? You should go do them.

Logical Quotes

Logical and Inspirational Quotes

partimetravelers

Full time dreamers, part time travelers, the World how we see it.

OLD AND FIT

Never a diet, always a lifestyle change

Uncorking Croatia

The Blog of WINES OF CROATIA

RunnersOnTheGo.com

To help enrich the lives of others, we developed RunnersOnTheGo.com to help runners save money on races, running stores, and much more. We also provide the specific local information that makes your travel for business, vacation, or racing as rewarding as possible.

Pearls Before Swine

The Blog O' Stephan Pastis

My great Wordpress blog

Just another WordPress site

Adventures in Wonderland

a pilgrimage of the heart

Hiking Photography

Beautiful photos of hiking and other outdoor adventures.

quotidiously

the spaces between

getsetandgo

Travel Blog of a Budget Traveler on a look out for Vegetarian Food

26.2 with Toddler

A stay-at-home-dad training for 26.2

Hemingway Run

Marc Hemingway: On The Road To Berlin Marathon

Mid-Life, Mid-Level, Masters Running

Exploring ideas about running to contribute to a more enjoyable pursuit for the mid-level masters runner

therunningtherapist

"One foot in front of the other and one thought at a time"

%d bloggers like this: