Thursday, 27 August 2009

Of Alpine Life

I thought I would start off a couple of posts about my alpine trip with a little description of the daily routine at the Chalet. It is odd just how quickly I settled into it. It was a soothing kind of existence, cut off from phone and internet, with time to sit and read and muse, to talk if one wanted to talk, and to walk if one wanted to walk (admittedly I did more of the former than the latter...). The day generally began just before 8 (apart from for those hardier souls who would go off for day-long treks into the mountains, clutching water bottles and a loaf of bread, at six o'clock in the morning). We took it in turn each day to cook the evening meal, in pairs or threes (I was rather relieved when my turn came to be merely Chief Cutter-Upper for someone rather more skilled than I in catering for twelve people), and every morning the day's cooks would knock on the bedroom doors, leaving a jug of hot water to greet their still-sleeping companions. Hearing the knock, my room-mate or I would stumble from our sleeping bags, bring in the water, and then throw open the wooden shutters onto our balcony, admiring our morning view as we brushed our teeth:

It looked beautiful at dusk, too:

The bell would ring for breakfast, and we would all troop downstairs in various states of sleepy-headiness. Some amongst the group were obviously very much Morning People, laughing and chattering away across the bread, grapefruit and (when we had a particularly good cook) freshly baked muffins and cakes. Others groggily reached out wavering hands for the delicious smelling coffee pot, gratefully clutching at the hot cup and attempting to steam some sense into their brains. I was very much of the latter party. I am emphatically not a morning person, and I Don't Do Breakfast. I have been told time and time again how unhealthy this is, but I can't help it - if I try to eat too much, too quickly, in the mornings, the result is Bad Indeed. I used to have a pet hamster when I was younger, who, when she awoke, would stagger around for a few minutes, with her ears clamped flat down against her head, her eyes bleary, until she gradually came to full consciousness and her fluffy little ears would start perking up again. My ears are definitely down in the mornings. Nevertheless, I managed to brighten up enough by the end of breakfast to be cheerful enough when helping with the washing up (we got a very good relay system going of washer-upper, rinser, dryer(s), and putter-awayer) and not be too much of a kill-joy when the early birds amongst us started singing madrigals to speed up the dishes...

After breakfast, I would generally steel myself to face The Shower. This was something I had been rather dreading before I arrived at the Chalet, as in the notes we were told of an 'ingenious' shower arrangement, and I had noted an alarming vagueness on the subject when I tried to press people about what this actually meant. As it turned out, it wasn't nearly as bad as I had feared, although I must say my first shower back in Oxford felt rather luxurious in comparison (not something one would normally say about college accommodation showers!). The shower room was, when the Chalet was originally built, a Turkish Bath. Yes, a Turkish Bath. This, along with the maids and the requirement to wear a tie at dinner, is long gone. Now, there is a system by which one fills two large jugs with hot water, one with cold, climbs up a wooden stepladder, holding said jugs rather precariously, and deposits their contents one by one into a tub which is connected by a long pipe to the shower head. One then leaps under the shower, turns on the connection, and hopes that hair can be washed and body can be scrubbed before a) the water turns cold; or b) runs out entirely; whilst c) also keeping fingers crossed that the damn thing actually worked (it broke down at least three times across the ten days, but luckily one of our party was a brilliant handy-man in a crisis, who at various points ended up on the roof and in the middle of the septic tank ... more about these events another time. Priceless).

After grappling with the shower, which, incidentally, was reached through a door in the main salon so tiny that it suggested the Chalet's first inhabitants to have been hobbits, I would generally return upstairs to air my towels on the balcony and apply my make-up (I had made sure to get one of the few rooms with a mirror - priorities, priorities). The rest of the morning would be spent in the main sitting room - the salon - curled up under my shawl (a beautiful birthday present brought back from Florence by a friend), until the sunshine broke through enough to lure us all out into the garden, where we could sit and admire both the view and the Chalet itself. My room was the one at the far left-hand side of the balcony as you look at the photo below, with a lovely dual aspect across both mountains and garden. The salon is directly underneath.

On a few of the days, about half the party went out for a day-long walk, but generally speaking, everyone would spend at least the morning lounging around reading - either for work or pleasure - and the walking would commence in the afternoon. A lunch of the evening before's left-overs, along with ham, bread, cheese, and fruit would make an enjoyable break in the middle of the day. By this time the sun would be in full flame, and I would merrily skip upstairs, exchange my trousers for a little skirt, slather on the sunscreen, and while away another few hours reading in the sun, until the heat got too much for my head, and I was forced to retreat back into the cool of the salon, taking up residence once more on one of the sofas, and sipping copious amounts of tea.

On a couple of afternoons I did actually venture out for A Proper Walk, which consisted of me and a couple of other non-walkers huffing and puffing like little steam trains in the background while the others strode off into the distance, but I must admit that The Boots did their job and saw me across some rocky terrain to greet some beautiful views:

Most evenings, however, I would forgo any more strenuous activities in favour of the relatively gentle twenty minute stroll up to Le Prairion Hotel - or The Pav, as it is fondly known to the Chaletites. Those people who had been out walking for the day or afternoon would generally find their way back here before returning to the Chalet for a shower and dinner, and the Chaletites who had remained at base camp all day would usually make the trip up to the top for a pre-dinner stretch of the legs, and a bottle or two of the local Beer of Choice:

Personally I have never been able to like beer, however pretty the bottle, so stuck to Kir for my evening tipple - and sipping my delicious drink whilst admiring a double rainbow across the mountains is something that will stay with me for a very long time. This is where we would generally sit of an evening:

Looking out towards Mont Blanc (although the summit itself is hidden):

After this we would wend our way back down the mountain path to the Chalet, to enjoy whatever delights our wonderful cooks had concocted for us (and to see whether they had managed to find any inspired ways to use up the forty wheels of cheese left for us by the Univ chalet party...), before we decamped to the salon for some candle-lit conviviality before bed.

Tomorrow, I will blog a little about Books at the Chalet - both mine, and others... I shall leave you with a few words on the subject from Sir W's 1600 essay 'Of the Obseruation, and the Vse of Things', and you may be relieved to hear that, although the toilet system at the Chalet was somewhat primitive (ahem), we never quite had to resort to this:

'All kinde of bookes are profitable, except printed Bawdery; they abuse youth: but Pamphlets, and lying Stories, and News, and two penny Poets I would knowe them, but beware of beeing familiar with them. My custome is to read these, and presently to make vse of them, for they lie in my priuy, and when I come thither, and haue occasion to imploy it, I read them, halfe a side at once is my ordinary, which when I haue read, I vse in that kind, that waste paper is most subiect to, but to a cleanlier profit.'


Merenia said...

Oh that quote! I am briefly stuck for words. However, have rallied, and wanted to thank you for the detailed description of Chalet Life, from vital information about airing of towels to madrigal singing. Definitely a first novel of the Persephone type could be based on this Oxford students go 'alpine' trip. Was the conversation VERY elevated?

Sophie said...

Ha, I know, it is something else! I'm glad you enjoyed the description of Chalet life ... and yes, I agree that it would make an excellent setting for a novel! If I get to go back next year (fingers tightly crossed), perhaps I'll spend some time writing, as well as reading! I must admit that the conversation wasn't always of the most elevated kind ;) but it was always interesting, and very enjoyable!