This is possibly because there's nothing better than a life-threatening mountain situation to take my mind off things like the glacial vaccination rates and climbing covid numbers we have here in France. But also, the Eiger is just cool. And Catherine Destivelle -- the first woman to solo the Eiger's North Face -- is a first-class badass. (Have you heard of her by the way? I'm curious.)
Destivelle showed up at the bottom of the mile-high rock face on a wintry March morning back in 1992, then on-sighted the thing -- i.e., climbed it on her first try -- in just 17 hours, becoming the first woman to get to the top completely on her own. (The first ascent, back in 1936, had taken four men three days.) The craziest part was that Destivelle had only picked up an ice axe for the first time a few weeks earlier. These days, Destivelle is retired from mountaineering, but she still works in that other heart-stopping profession: book publishing.
In any case, there's plenty of winter left to enjoy here in the Alps. A week ago, we were counting the crocuses cropping up in our garden, going on our first hike of the year (see below), and stashing away our mountains of winter coats, hats and mittens. But then, of course, the season had other plans.
But who we are we to move to the Alps and complain about snow? The plan for this weekend: dig out the skis, and dive back in.
The Writing Life
Back in August 2019, I was lucky enough to spend a few days wandering around Pompeii for The New York Times. A couple of weeks ago, I found out that the story I wrote off the back of that trip won an award from the North American Travel Journalists Association. I'm not sure how much these things mean (my hunch is not much?), but it's kind of nice to have the recognition.
And it's nice to be reminded of Pompeii! I had expected to like the place (I had never been before that trip), but I was still very surprised by how moving I found it -- especially when I was nosing around the empty, ancient streets pretty much by myself just before closing time. For anyone looking to learn more about the place, I highly recommend this book, as well as the spin-off documentary -- both very good. (And yes, I was thrilled to get a quote from Mary Beard for the story.)
I'm working on another tourism story at the moment, this one about a perhaps-too-popular European destination. How much is too much tourism? And what can cities do about it? That one should be online in April.
Belonging has been on my mind lately -- perhaps because I've been missing my childhood home more than usual, perhaps because I'm thinking a lot about how I can really find my place here in France. Three books that I've read in the past couple of months have helped me to think about these things more deeply.
Minor Feelings, by Cathy Park Hong. This book combines memoir with history and cultural criticism to take a deep dive into what it means to live and belong in America when your skin color isn't white. Of all the books I've read in the past couple of years, this one has been the biggest eye-opener, the loudest wake-up call. ("To read this book is to become more human," said Claudia Rankine.) It was published a year ago, but it seems even more relevant now, given the horrificspike in violence and aggression toward Asian-Americans across the US.
My Berlin Kitchen, by Luisa Weiss. A lighter but still engrossing read, this memoir from a food-blogger-turned-author includes recipes along the way, which is a winner for me. Most of the drama happens in the author's 20s, when she's deciding whether settle down in the US (her father's home country) or her mother's native Europe. If you like it, be sure to check out Weiss's next book, which is a major favorite in our house.
Aftershocks, by Nadia Owusu. This one, a memoir, tells the author's story of growing up as a biracial, country-hopping UN kid who loses both of her parents (her mother leaves; her father dies) before she turns 14. The narrative digs deep into what it really means to belong somewhere, what it means to be home. The writing is lyrical, haunting and deeply moving (read: I was sobbing at the end).