Hello from a ski resort with no ski lifts. But you know what? I'm kind of enjoying it. We've been getting out cross-country skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, ski touring (aka, climbing a mountain with skins on the bottom of your skis), and generally enjoying the snow that's fallen in our area since December 1 (see below).
The hit for our local economy -- which is undeniably based in tourism -- hasn't been nearly as bad expected, so far at least. It turns out that French vacationers aren't as addicted to the lifts as one might have guessed. (Shoutout to my fellow Chapel Hillian who wrote and shot the story behind that last link, as well as to my fellow Williams alum who's quoted at the end.) Plus, we residents of French ski areas get to avoid the kinds of shenanigans that they've seen over in Verbier, Switzerland, where hundreds of British ski tourists recently absconded in the night to avoid a mandatory quarantine. Perhaps lifts don't bring out the best in us after all.
So at the risk of alienating my fellow skiers, I have to say that the closure of the lifts is one thing that I'm actually going to miss after all of this is over. Other things: the amount of time I've had with our kids. The amount of time I've spent in sweatpants. The blissful absence of work travel. The complete lack expectations around New Year's Eve. So many things have been hard this year, but small parts of it have been beautiful. And we might not get them back.
The reporting life
Defying everyone's expectations, not least my own, our little alpine village attracted a record-breaking number of visitors during the summer of 2020. A good proportion of the French population, it seems, woke up one morning in July and decided that it was time to skip the beach for once, and go for a hike. The nature reserve that lies at the end of our sleepy little road attracted thousands of these folks every day at the height of les grandes vacances. Nobody had ever seen anything like it.
I did some calling around, and it turns out that the same phenomenon was happening across Europe: protected areas from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean were swarmed with newly minted nature enthusiasts. I pitched it, then wrote about the trend for The New York Times.
In another fun little piece for the NYT, I got to take a mental excursion to my home state of North Carolina. It turns out the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed to cars in wintry weather, but open to snowshoers and cross-country skiers (see below). Now they just need to pick a week in May to close it to everyone but cyclists...
Looking ahead, I'm starting to think about the return of American visitors to Europe (hopefully this summer?), and how travel will change when they come back. I think we'll see fewer city breaks and more road trips; fewer museum visits and more work-on-a-farm experiences; fewer short-haul flights and more long-distance bike rides. Who's up for a car-camping trip, euro style?
I read a lot more than usual this year, especially during those stretches where the news was especially hard to follow. In that vein, here's a list of some of the escapist reading that I enjoyed in 2020. Pure enjoyment, from two authors well worth revisiting. Here goes:
Early Bill Bryson. Titles read: Notes from a Small Island, Neither Here nor There, I'm a Stranger Here Myself. Reading vintage Bill Bryson is like taking a delightful sojourn back to the simpler days of the 1990s. It's almost soothing to listen to him blathering on about the impending danger of Y2K, the shocking arrival of smoking bans in bars and restaurants, the baffling new requirement to bring a photo ID with you to the airport. (He tries to board a flight to Buffalo by offering up a copy of one of his books, which bears his author photo. And it works.) Taken together, the effect is (to use a favorite Bryson word) delectable.
Jane Austen. I lost myself in three of her novels this year: Persuasion, Sense & Sensibility, and (of course) Pride & Prejudice. Emma is next on my list. These books read like guilty pleasures -- the worlds are so small and so privileged, the romantic drama so intense and yet so reliably ending in wedded contentment. But god, they're fun. (The audiobook version of Persuasion is currently available for free on Audible.)
In honor of France's (probably) impending third lockdown, two vocabulary words inspired by the epidemic:
Couvre-feu -literally, "cover fire," and of course, this is the source of our own word, curfew, dating from the Middle Ages, when people were ordered to cover their fires at a certain hour to prevent conflagrations during the night. (The more recent history of curfews in the United States is much less benign.) The current French national couvre-feu is every night from 8pm to 6am, which I admit has had precisely zero effect on life at our house, crazy cats that we are. I'm guessing it's going to last at least until March.
Ému(e), which means moved, touched, affected, seized with emotion. This is the word that 78-year-old Mauricette, the first person to receive a Covid vaccine in France, used to describe how she felt after getting her first injection at her Paris-area nursing home yesterday. A recent poll found that 61% of French people did not intend to get the vaccine, which means that the home of Louis Pasteur is now the world capital of vaccine skepticism. Will stories like Mauricette's help to change the national mood? We can but hope.
What did you think? Was this interesting/boring/annoying/too short/too long? What can I do better?