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La vie à la montagne

Hello, everyone, and welcome! I'm so happy to have this space to share some thoughts and connect with you lovely people. First edition, here goes:

It's been a crazy month in Haute Savoie, my adopted home, out here in the middle of the Alps. After a long and fairly quiet stretch on the pandemic front, Covid numbers in France exploded "like a firework" in October, and now we're living the consequences. On the Wednesday night before Halloween, my family and I watched live as Macron announced our "reconfinement," which is due to last until Dec. 1, or maybe longer. 

So here we are again, but to be honest this time around it's more of a relief than an annoyance. We're allowed outside for one hour a day, and we can explore up to a kilometer from home (meanwhile, the area's many orange-vested hunters have  been given a free pass). In any case, I'm incredibly grateful that our radius includes a trail, a river, a waterfall, and some pretty gorgeous views (see below). Plus, schools are open this time, which is equal parts amazing and nerve-wracking. (So much love for friends and family in the US who have been Zoom schooling since March.) 

I'm planning to keep my sanity by diving into work; bingeing on back episodes of my favorite writing podcast; over-planning an over-elaborate Thanksgiving menu for the four of us; and escaping with a hilarious book of essays from an author hailed by the NYT as "our great bard of quarantine." Elsewhere on the sanity-keeping front, I'm only slightly embarrassed to admit that I've already completed my annual November task of downloading the latest Jacquie Lawson advent calendar. I could tell you it's for my kids, but to be honest I've been kind of obsessed with it even before I become a mother. In any case, hope everyone is staying sane and healthy out there. If you need to vent, you can always drop me a line. Seriously!

The reporting life

I spent the first two weeks of October Zooming my heart out with Icelanders, whose warmth and informality were even lovelier than I remembered from the month I spent in the Icelandic wilds in the summer of 2003. The vibe has changed a lot since, then, or so I'm told. I hope to go back and see for myself before too long. (My story for the NYT is here.)

Another story idea I've been chewing on is what's going to happen to Europe's ski resorts this winter. French and Italian resorts have been forced to put everything on hold, though our local ski area is still -- officially -- clinging to the hope of opening on Dec. 12, although friends in the know say an early-February opening is more likely. Meanwhile, Switzerland is forging ahead: Verbier opened on Oct 30, Covid be damned ("Verbier est prête à t’accueillir!"). In Zermatt, early-season skiers can already enjoy 26 km of open pistes. Will it last? How long before we have another Ischgl situation to deal with? Watch this space. 

What else should I be writing/pitching about? Send me a note; I'd love to hear. 


Three books I recommend:

Touching the Void, by Joe Simpson. This true story of a climbing trip gone horribly, shockingly wrong is intense in the extreme. The movie version is worth a watch if you haven't seen it, but there's a good reason that Simpson's book has become such a classic among mountaineering memoirs. The suspense is unrelenting, but the story also drives home the fact that climbing big mountains puts our humanity in laser focus -- which is a huge part of why people do it in the first place. Catch up with Joe now, or read more about his book.  

Why We Swim, by Bonnie Tsui. Lovely, transporting reading from a fellow NYT contributor, this book even inspired me -- a cold-water skeptic, to put it mildly -- to take a dip in our frigid local river. (Will I venture out a second time? Possibly, but not yet!) I loved the mix of reporting, memoir and history, as well as the chance to escape to Iceland (yes!), Japan, California and Hawaii, among other places. Details here if you're curious.

Alpine Cooking, by Meredith EricksonI love a big, fat, photo-heavy cookbook, and this one ticks all of those boxes. But even better: it takes you on a tour of the best alpine restaurants across France, Italy, Switzerland and Austria -- with stories and recipes to complement the gorgeous photos. And no, the author insists, alpine cooking isn't all about cheese! (Although there's plenty of that, of course, if you're so inclined.) Check out the book here.

Got good book recs? I'm all ears. 


There are two French words that I find particularly relevant to the present moment. 

The first is courage. Of course, this has the meaning you would expect, and the pronunciation isn't terribly different from the English, but it's not quite so simple. French people will tell each other "courage!" or "bon courage!as a sort of injunction against mental weakness. When said in that sense, it means something like "hang in there," "stay strong," or "you've got this." And courage, as Nelson Mandela told us, is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. Amen.

Next, se débrouiller. We don't have a direct translation for this one in English, but it's something between "figure it out as you go," "get on with it," "manage," or "find a way through." As in, we've never done a Zoom Thanksgiving before, but it's ok, "on va se débrouiller." I use this word a lot -- possibly too much. On reflection, though, I think I might propose it as the official motto of 2020. 

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La vie à la montagne

Haute Savoie

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