"Europe 2004-05" story # 37

Cruz d'Encamp, Andorra           February 7, 2005

Blond Klara from the Czech Republic found a ski pass last week. A tourist had evidently lost it.
     Little Klara became very excited, more excited even than usual. She and black-haired Slovakian Martina already had ski passes for the whole season. But, their American friend didnīt.
     I was very reluctant to accept this five-day ski-pass, because it meant some poor tourist was going to be without one. Sorry, tourist. But, I try to always support excited friends. (yeah, I took the pass. If you think Iīm a jerk now, wait until later in the story when I plow down a middle-aged lady skiier.)
     The next day, Klara took me snowboarding. Her new outfit was a mix of scarlet, purple, and black, and she wore snow goggles. I wore the tattered ski outfit of a world vagabond. Klara was looking out for me, and she brought me a trendy navy neck-warmer. It made me look like a snooty Frenchman.
     We rode the chair-lift out of Pas de la Casa on a muffled-sky day. The village of Pas de la Casa sits at 6500 feet altitude in a hole between white, tree-less mountains. Iīd done all my snowboarding to date on the slopes here which are little more than boring drops. If you want to journey the forested Pyrenees of the Andorran interior, you need a ski pass.
     We snowboarded down the mountain away from Pas de la Casa. The long ski run led us gradually down and around vision-obstructing snowy mounds. A snow-dusted forest of bushy spruces awaited us below. The forest blended tastily from green to black to gray to green as it ventured into mountains. I was so happy to see trees! I just wanted to run into the forest and go searching for foxes and rabbits.
     The next chair-lift took us over a desert-like field of snow interrupted by Sahara-sandy boulders. When we got to the chair-liftīs end, the weather attacked us. Wind and sideways-falling snow pulled itself at us unrelentingly. We got knocked off-balance if we tried to snowboard. We had to walk with our boards a short distance. When we got going, the ski run took us across rolling plains. Behind Klara in the shrouding haze, a row of distant mountains joined us in gliding along.
     The third run was then amazing. Early on, the run was a nearly-horizontal, thin path through forest. An attractively small, unseen bird sang, "Whee-eet, whi-it, whi-it!" - the first animal other than a dog or English bar-goer that Iīd heard in weeks.
     The bottom of the run was steeper and meandering. Pine trees spectated in the theatre pit to the left, as other snowboarders and I tried to climb up the sharp hills rising from the slopeīs right. The perfect run to catch your snowboarding groove.
     The only problem was that Klara had thought we were going to die at the top of the run. The snowy wind was so bad that we had to shield our faces as we walked for ten minutes with our boards. The weather had effectively maimed our day of snowboarding. "Iīm sorry, Justin. Iīm sorry the weather was so bad," Klara kept saying. I assured her that the day had still been a great experience for me.
     We got one more chance to use our ski passes together. On this day, the sky was clear light-blue. The wind was calm. And the whole thing put Klara in a great mood.
     ... to give an idea of Klaraīs sense of humor, hereīs a quick story. The other night, blue-eyed Klara encountered a guest in her hotel bar who was wearing the exact same sweatshirt as her. The sweatshirts both read "Etoli" or something - I donīt know what, I hate logos.
     So, Klara - straight blond bangs hanging to her eyes - immediately jumped into over-dramaticized excitement over her fellow shirt-mate. She pulled on her shirt; she pointed around to it; she wore the dumb-founded look of someone easily amazed. The English guest didnīt catch on to her sarcasm. "They donīt get my jokes," she lamented to me, her little face poofed by a big smile ...
     So, we were snowboarding. I only had an hour and forty minutes before I had to return to work, so we hurried to enjoy the Pyrenees.
     One chair-lift had a long line of people waiting to get on. Klara is better than me at sliding her way through the line. Occasionally, little Klara helped me forward by suddenly grabbing my coat and jerk-pulling me ahead. She did this two or three times, and it really cracked her up.
     On the chair-lift, we surveyed the nice day and chatted away. Klara pointed out runs to me. "Thatīs my favorite one ... Ooh, ooh! That over there is my other favorite one ... and that oneīs my second-favorite run ... Oh, thatīs my favorite one!"
     "Youīre like a little, excited kid," I said. "They canīt all be your favorite."
     Klara yelled down to a guy skiing, as we went over his head in the chair-lift. "Excuse me, do you know what time it is!?" The poor guy actually stopped skiing. He soon realized he didnīt have time to search through his winter layers and find his watch, because our chair was almost already out of hearing distance. "Okay! Thank you!" said the Czech.
     Some Spaniards in the chair behind us yelled that we didnīt have a lot of time before I had to be back at work. We did a couple more runs. I was swaying back-and-forth on the board pretty good, changing directions with the confidence of a Himalayan rattle-snake.
     We neared the end of one run. The cute Czech announced, "Here is magical!"
     "Yeah," I agreed.
     "No!" Klara got mad. "Not here ... here ahead of us. You havenīt seen the magical part yet. You just say `yeah.ī That means you donīt listen."
     "Oh." Iīd thought she meant how we were snowboarding amidst a wide, craggy landscape of white; the sky was a blue you could drink: the colors of "heaven." A frozen-over lake hibernated beside us. There was no Pas de la Casa, no other tourist village, no buildings in sight. Just us in the mountains.
     She meant something else. "Here is magic carpet." A floor of rolling cylinders pushed skiiers up to where they boarded the next chair-lift.
     "Do you want me to hold your hand?" She smiled. It wasnīt a romantic smile. It was a smile of "family." I took Klaraīs gloved hand, we rode the magic carpet, and we headed up the last chair-lift.
     What a great lunch break.
     The ending wasnīt so smooth. I sped down the last mountain to Pas de la Casa, hoping to yet make it to work on time. I weaved past all. Most people also moved quickly, so it was easy to judge when to overtake them.
     Suddenly, there was one skiing lady. She was moving her arms and legs a lot, but she was actually going so slowly she seemed to be moving backwards.
     Too quickly I came upon her. I couldnīt avoid her. I kind of ducked, I donīt know why. I hit her ... hard.
     It was like a missile hitting a tool shed. It was like a solid strike in bowling. It was like a cheap stuffed toy being thrown to a rottweiler.
     I donīt know how, but somehow this French lady was all right. Whew. She said, "Trop vite." (You were going too fast.) I said, "Je sui desolée," (Iīm sorry) a dozen times. I felt so terrible. I waited there until she finished collecting her skis and ski poles, but then there didnīt seem like there was any more I could do.
     I felt unsettled. At least I learned a lesson.

And speaking of learning, we turn to French culture now.
     FRENCH INFILTRATION STEP 6 - Listen to Edith Piaf.
     Edith Piaf is a celebrated French singer from the 1940īs. Her voice is powerful, operatic, willowy, confident. The brass instruments and her widely-wandering voice evoke so many emotions in one song that listening to her is like watching a good, old movie. Her songs have the tones of marching in the park, coming home alone to a dark apartment, crying to a friend. Her personal style is romantic in that it recaptures (in a French way) the best feelings of the simple "Good Olī Days."

"Ou sont ils mes petits copains?
Ils sont partis en matin a faire la guerre!" (Where are they my little friends? Theyīve left in the morning to go make war!) - E. Piaf, "Ou Sont Ils Mes Petits Copains"

"Le vagabond
Qui est joli garcon
Le chanteur de chansons
Que donnera frissons.
Il marcha autour la route
Amant les condutons.
Il chante ou que le gouta,
Il chante dans le vin." - (The vagabond, who is a good-looking boy, the singer of songs which cause shivers. He walks along the route, helped by the drivers. He sings where he pleases, he sings in the wineyards.) - E. Piaf, "Le Vagabond"

et moi contre lui
autour sur la nuit" (Him, and me against him, all around the night) - E. Piaf, "Jīai Dansé Avec LīAmour" (I Danced with Love)

Iīm gonna sing that "Le Vagabond" song the next time I hitchhike in France.

later - Modern Oddyseus.

Thanks to Alfredo & Marta; Louis; and Walter for the rides!

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