Friday, March 09, 2007

from Cervinia, Italy

Looking back:

I am nineteen and I have moved to the States. I am an au pair, a “mother’s helper.” I tend to a rich person’s child’s needs. In my spare time, I finish college.

Back in Poland, just before my move to the States, my friends and I develop a passion for skiing. That is, skiing in the Polish style, circa 1970: you go find a room in a farmhouse somewhere in the Polish mountains and each morning, you go out and put on your leather lace-up shoes (quaint, isn’t it…) and your carefully waxed boards. You take tiny side-steps all the way up a hill (30 minutes maybe) and then you ski down (1 minute, if you are a speed demon; we were all speed demons). And then you do it all over again.

So it is no surprise that, when I start earning au pair money in the States, I immediately think of upping my skiing experience. I purchase a subscription to Ski magazine (look at all this equipment! Choices, people here have so many choices!) and I acquire skis and real boots that snap instead of lace and I look around for an interesting place to ski.

I do not remember how I found Cervinia in Italy, but I did. At the age of 19, I take my first solo vacation, away from the little girl I am minding, away from the fascinating but so very strange liberal arts college I am attending (very American, but so un-Polish). To Italy, I go to the Italian mountains and feel that I have made it in life (I measured success differently then).

And in the morning, I look out from my bed & breakfast window onto a mountain that stands at the border of Italy and Switzerland: the Matterhorn, from the less familiar Italian angle. I stare at it for a goodly amount of minutes. I am an impressionable young thing and that mountain represents everything that is right and beautiful in my life.

In the afternoon, I ski, really ski! With lifts and my fancy skis with cute little roosters painted on the tips.


I return to the Matterhorn again, a year later (I’m twenty now!), this time from the Swiss side. I am with a group of American college students and I want not to be a part of that particular group because, frankly, they seemed so…foreign.

Transitional years. I do not know where I will live, I do not know where I fit.

And when I graduate from college in February and say good bye to au pairing for good, I rent a room in the Italian Alps and take out my skis one more time, just me, alone, zipping down to the village, then riding the gondola up again.

That was then. This winter, I am invited to join a small group who want to do some sailing off the coast of Florida. And I think – do I really want to be on a boat, with choppy waters around me, or do I want to head back to the mountains? I haven’t skied the Alps since those college years when earnings went in one pocket and out the other (in some ways I have not changed). I need a week-end off, if only to interrupt the mad pace of this semester. Airfares are cheap, the snow is melting, melting, but still there.

I’m on my way.

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One bus, two flights, one more bus, a train and a taxi ride later, it is almost dusk. I open the door to my hotel balcony and I look up at Mount Cervino, the Italian side of the Matterhorn. Where 35 years ago I woke up each morning to its splendid sun-drenched face and thought, well now, this is one pretty view and isn’t life promising?

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In the early evening I walk down to the village and have my sensual moment with food, first in the cheese and salami store...

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bursting with ripeness

...then in a pastry shop. Tomorrow I'll be on the slopes. Today, there's nothing left to do but eat.

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easy choice for me

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not for him...

...and you know what gets to me everytime I go out to dinner in these regions? The cheeses. I cannot say no to them, even if the portions here are meant for athletes and not for people who had spent the day sitting in various mechanical moving devices. Oh, but these are the things I love to complain about.

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This, and the the presence of a large scale in the bathroom of my hotel room. The nerve.