Sunday, December 30, 2007

Port de Nice

Courchevel December 2007

Oh before I begin, hold the presses! I found a spot in France where gravity breaks the law of physics! Driving back to Nice from Monaco the other day (shopping for a new Bentley, didn’t have the color I wanted though.) I was in rush hour traffic on the scenic road running along the coast. I brought the car to a stop on an incline, took my foot off the break and slowly began rolling UPHILL!! I know, I know. You’re thinking, ‘DJ, get off the drugs’, but I’m not kidding and I had Glenn in the car as a witness! Should I inform the International Society of Eggheads, can I repeat the experiment, who knows, who cares! Sad, huh. It might be the one single spot in the entire universe where this singular event can take place possibly giving some scientist’s brain an insight into the biggest mystery of the universe and it will be overlooked and forgotten almost as soon as it happened. Well, I’ve put the observation down in writing now and wash my hands of it. Run with it, if you will, I’ll send you the location on google maps. (I will however accept part of the Nobel Prize money though! Fair is fair)

Back to my holiday: Well it is a bit of an epic journey to get up to Courchevel from Nice via the train. You have to go way out of the way to Lyon and change trains to back track to Courchevel. Part of the way is along the Mediterranean coast so there is something to look at and the trains are reasonably comfortable so it’s easy to just sit back and have a read.

I arrived at my destination of Moutiers Salins de Bains with only one event of interest to report. Well, two. 1) Lyon was cold as a witche’s tit! At this point I’m still thin skinned and shivering which may or may not have led to the other point of interest. 2) I got picked up by the cops in the train station! Hilarious really, even in a foreign country. Well maybe not in a third world country because you never know what they’ll shake you down for in the corrupt areas of the world. But in Europe and knowing I had my passport and nothing else (illegal) it was rather amusing plus it was much warmer in the train station’s Police office. After my ‘Je ne parle pa le France!’ he informed me in English that he would like me to come with him so they could “control my identity”. Maybe someone had changed my name without my awareness and they were going to help me straighten it out. Maybe the voice in my head had finally managed to usurp control and my identity did need some controlling?! Well I have always thought I had fairly good control over my identity, but I wasn’t going to argue.

I don’t know if it is a question of translation or not, but they had no interest in my identity whatsoever. They didn’t even look at my passport. They did however ask me if I was carrying anything “dangerous”. When he clarified this as meaning ‘are you carrying cannabis?’ I almost burst out laughing. “Do you want to know if I’m carrying anything “dangerous” or do you want to know if I’m carrying any “pot”? Again, maybe a translation thing. Unfortunately, we all know that is not the case! But don’t get me started!

So he searched my pockets and my bag and fortunately didn’t get overzealous and want to check any other possible trafficking areas of my person. It definitely pays to smile and cooperate in this type of situation. They were friendly and even asked me about my book. Now if I had been carrying a large quantity they would have found it. Of course, if I was carrying a large quantity they would have smelled it. And of course if I was carrying a large quantity I sure as hell wouldn’t be taking the train. But all that is moot. The point I would like to make is that if I had been carrying a personal stash, in this case at least, they wouldn’t have found it. Not that I would and not that I’m condoning that, just an observation.

So I was picked up at the train station by Rachael who has moved on from the boat and is now up in Courchevel managing a Chalet. It was about a 40 minute drive up the mountain until we arrived at Hotel Courcheneige. It is not your typical warm bright hotel reception. You pull up to a fairly nondescript garage door, ring the buzzer and drive into an underground garage. I grabbed my bag and walked up the ‘tunnel’ which reminded me of a cross between a mine shaft tunnel and a trip through a stadium to the locker rooms. I grabbed the elevator and made it to the lobby where Lara and Hotel manager Robert were there to greet me. Robert had stayed up to greet me which was completely unnecessary, but Neil did tell them to take care of me so perhaps he felt he had to. Then again he is gay and I’m sure he was more than a bit curious about this 'DJ guy' he had heard so much about.

I thought I might be stuck in the staff quarters, but since the hotel hadn’t any real guests yet I was pleasantly surprised by a very nice sized room complete with my own snow encrusted porch. Only one real drawback. No shower curtain! God, I don’t remember the last time I took a bath! And I didn’t bring my rubber ducky!

On Tuesday Robert invited me out with the heads of departments for a pre-opening celebration. I tried to decline, not wanting to impose, but he insisted. Twelve of us grabbed a cab van and drove down the mountain to “Piggy’s Piano Bar” A cozy, sophisticated place with fine furniture, expensive drinks and a DJ spinning American music in lieu of a ‘Piano Man’.

We were served finger foods and the gorgeous hostess kept our champagne glasses filled with some top notch bubbly. I’m not really into champagne, but this was exquisite and I’m sure just one of the three huge bottles would have blown my drink budget for the year.

Next we were off to dinner at a fondue restaurant. I had already eaten dinner so I kept it light and started off with a cheese ravioli in a mushroom cream sauce. It’s hard to remember having any better. For my main plate I got a selection of hard cheeses to munch on while the others shared sizzling fondue pots, dipping their raw meat and breads. The gentlemen across from me had what looked like a 10lb block of cheese slowly melted by a portable table furnace which I think may have cooked the guy across from me as much as the cheese. He looked at least two shades tanner after dinner!

Now they all speak a least a little bit of English and many speak a fair bit. Still it’s not their preference and that is partly why I didn’t want to come along and impose. Although I did have a few little conversations, the group did of course carry on mostly in French although never long enough to alienate me. But the bottom line is that I really did enjoy the dinner, thoroughly, regardless of the language barrier.

After dinner, the smart ones excused themselves and went home. The rest of us went to the disco. I decided not to embarrass the French by showing them up on the dance floor (or myself), but sufficed with sipping some more champagne and chatting up the bartender from “Piggy’s”. We exchanged numbers and I may not ever here from her, but she will be in San Trope this summer and I’m sure I will be to, so you never know?

Of course I did have some fun in the snow too. I have been snowboarding for the longest time now, but I decided to give skiing a try again this time. It didn’t snow the entire week I was there, but there was already plenty of snow around and it was good. There are ‘Tres Vallees’ in the area to ski, but that is a bit overkill unless you are going to race around like a bat out of hell attacking everything you can ski to so I just got the pass for Courchevel Valley. I surprised myself really. Of course, I was a little rusty, but I only fell a couple of times and even more surprising was that the expected intense soreness in the days after never materialized. Late in the day I did however make a little mistake. While trying to explore more territory I wound up taking a wrong time and found myself in another valley, Merribel. Fortunately it wasn’t like Vermont when I went off trail and had to hike back in the dark. This time I just paid six more Euros and got the lift back to where I should have stayed.

So after two days I was confident that I wasn’t going to be crippled by muscle soreness and I hit the slopes again. This day I actually started to get the real flow going again. I went faster, looked for the bumps and flew off of jumps. Well, maybe not flew, more like barely got off the ground and not so smoothly at that, but I was making progress. I think I will actually stick with skiing as opposed to snowboarding. You can generate you own speed, get through flat spots, really attack moguls, and you don’t have to do that annoying skateboarding maneuver that you do on snowboards. From now on if I board there will be a wave underneath me and I’ll never trade in my surfboard for waterskis!!

The staff were all really great. I didn’t get really close to any of them though. I don’t think they wanted to. A. I’m not one of them even if we do all work for the same owners. B. They are much younger. C. Language barrier. D. I might be a spy. (they knew who I was and how close I am to the owners so….) But I did talk with Laura a bit. She had worked on Jazz for a while when it was in Italy and is working on the mountain for this season so a familiar face was a nice surprise for both of us. And of course it helps that English is both our native tongue even though she does pretty well with French and I’m sure by the end of the season she will have it well in hand.

So at the end of the week I got a ride back to the train from one the hotels drivers and he happened to be a guitarist. We talked music all the way to the train station which gave me pause to think. I really should try to find a floating studio! I wished him ‘bon musique’ and he said farewell ‘DJ Jazz” and I got ready for the 9 hour train back to Nice. Since I only had 30 minutes between trains I avoided the interior of the train station just in case I have one of those faces that French Police can’t resist ‘indentity controlling’!

I’m back in Nice now and New Year’s is just around the corner. The year has flown by. I have no special plans, but the thought just occurred that maybe this year I’ll flip things around. Get drunk on the 30th so I’m good and hungover for New Year’s Eve. Then on the 1st I’ll be fresh as a daisy. Maybe, maybe not.

I added a couple of pics to the ‘Port de Nice’ gallery experimenting with stitching photos together for a panoramic view and also my very first picture quiz.

Happy New Year, Bon Annee’