Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Ski Season

Have I mentioned that we live 45 minutes from good skiing? O.K., an hour now that France is installing radar cameras everywhere. What a life: Provence and skiing in one package. We have become the ultimate in fair-weather skiers. If the forecast isn't wonderful, we stay home.

This year, for the first time, we've bought a type of pass which allows 10 days of skiing, taken as needed. The good part is that we could go skiing, guilt-free, since it was already paid for. The bad part, I discovered this week, is that you know when your last day arrives. This is more of an emotional shock than just not getting around to going again.

Finite skiing is just one of the things I've learned this year. I've also begun mastering the new technique for the new skis. I love it that at my advanced age, I'm still improving on the piste. This is due more to my new parabolique skis than any increase in athletic ability. As an athlete, I'm about on a par with my Chows. As an example, Van-Ly was rapt in front of the floor-model bird cage in the village hotel bar yesterday, when one of the birds suddenly flew from one side of the cage to the other. Van-Ly jumped sideways to follow it and promptly fell over. "Pas très athlète," one apologises in French.

I had to have new skis because after I tore the second anterior cruciate ligament, it was either give up, get new knees or get new equipment. The new equipment (cheaper than new knees) has made me a new skier. I have been wanting Nick to get a pair, not least because it's starting to look funny showing up in the pointy-toed skis he's still using.

Our clothes are pretty out of date, too. We are still skiing in all-in-one ski suits, which, I recently read, are the height of unfashion. The station where we ski is pretty unfashionable, too, so it doesn't bother us, but I did have a yen for new after-ski boots until a couple of weeks ago. That was the day of the Turning Point. There comes a time when your equipment and clothing are so old, they become a fashion statement. "Hey! I can ski. I don't have to wear Yves St. Laurent."

Anyway, I love my ski suit. It's gunmetal grey, with bright red on the bodice and two pleats and a hood in aqua. It has a crudely stitched repair across the right buttock where I must have sliced it on a ski in a fall. Various tatters and worn bits are patched with coordinating bright red rug tape to match the original colour scheme. It's blouson-y and has served me well for a good 25 years or more -- through thick and thin, as it were.

Nick's suit is in about the same shape, not so patched, but with mysterious black spots on his bottom that look like ink spatter. It used to be silver and bright orange, but has dulled to a warm yam colour.

We are the only people on the piste with back-entry boots, bought the same year as the suits. I adore mine. They were the first comfortable boot I ever owned and they feel like bedroom slippers. Who could ask for more? I'm trying not to fall for the propaganda telling me that new boots will do even more for my skiing than new skis. (Hmm, but the propaganda for the skis turned out to be true.)

My real worry is that I will be skiing down the piste one day and will have a Muriel. Our late friend, Muriel, grew up on skis. She wasn't an elegant skier, but she could get down anything in a workman-like manner. She was pretty much dressed like a workman, too. Borrowed pants, unmatched jacket borrowed from someone else, boots that she'd had since her foot had grown to adult size. Anyway, we were halfway down a fairly steep slope one morning when Muriel pulled to a halt, looked down and exclaimed, "Ah! That's what's the matter." The top of her boot had come away from the sole for about 3/4 of its length. For you non-skiers, that means that her ski was hanging on by a thread. Muriel lit a cigarette, had a few puffs to relax, and then proceeded to ski down the rest of the hill.

I'm not as good a skier as Muriel. I'd have to walk down. But I keep hanging on to my boots. Nick's boots are probably as structurally sound as my own and his ski suit covers up the rotting fabric on the tongues.

Our ski poles are so old that the fashion for squiggly racing poles has come and gone, and we're back in style, again. I say style. Nick's poles have developped an unorthodox curve and the baskets on mine have a distinctly home-made look about them. They were cheap (who spends money on poles?) and came without the holes used to secure them when not in use, so Nick drilled them in the workshop. Nick's a designer; ergo, designer poles.

Our after-ski boots can only be worn by the socially feckless. All the fabric on Nick's is rotting away. Mine are newer, but for 7,50 at the market you don't get waterproof, so I've lined them with plastic bags which occasionally peek through the tops.

As to accessories, the hats are old, but, then again, hats don't wear out unless you fall on your head a lot. And I have gloves of fairly recent vintage, this being the first time I've skied in warm weather.

The crown in the jewel, however, are my mittens: silk-lined, down-filled leather that are going on 40 years old. No scratches, no tears and they keep my hands warm while everyone else is wearing Gore-Tex. I paid what seemed to be a fortune for them at the time, but they have to take the prize for money well spent.

So, anyway, Nick will get new skis for next season. But from the boots up, you'll still recognise us when you see us on the slopes.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

My first thought upon opening the book and seeing the author picture was, "Her parents named her Lionel? No wonder she writes about dysfunctional families." And an interview with Shriver confirms that the book stems from her own fears of motherhood.

For anyone who has been hiding in a cave for the past couple of years, this is the story a mother trying to come to grips with the reality of her son, who has killed seven of his classmates along with a teacher and a cafeteria worker. The story is told through a series of letters from Eva to her "estranged" husband.

Unlike many people, I didn't find Eva an unsympathetic character. She is brutally honest with herself and Franklin, and exhibits the not necessarily balanced faults and virtues of a real person. In her letters, reviewing her life with husband and son, she reflects on their familial history in minute detail (the paperback edition I read is 468 pages long), trying to understand why she and her family have been struck by lightening and how she might have made things different.

Although I found Eva an interesting character, her husband is portrayed is someone so unobservant, so emotionally blind, so deaf to reality, his wife's needs and his son's peculiarities, that it is hard to believe he can live outside an institution. In the end, there is no answer for Kevin and much as I might like to have made Eva's journey with her, I couldn't do it in her husband's company.

As for the "twist" to come, promised in the reviews, I'd pretty much figured that out by the second or third letter, so there wasn't much point in waiting around for it.

This is another DNF for me; I read half of it.