Sloping off

It’s been six weeks or so since I felt impelled to write anything, a strange period of economic gloom, dismal weather and a minor flu epidemic. As we all now know, it’s official that pretty much the whole of the Western world is now in recession. Actually I thought this had been pretty obvious since last summer, but Governments go on pretending black is white to the end.

The main effect here is that British television has become very depressing. One noticeable tendency is for news about Europe to become more prominent than before, the largest part of which being about the poor British ex-pats who are gradually finding their pensions unable to cover the costs of living in their new (mainly Spanish) homes. I don’t know how to comment on this; there is little good news to offer such people but to suggest they were unwise to bank so heavily on the continued high value of the pound seems heartless.

The recession has even hit Monaco. Well, perhaps “hit” is a bit strong, but there’s definitely less cash around. The yacht charter market has taken a big hit and it’s odd to see so many For Sale signs on these huge floating apartments. But whereas the British High Street is now looking a bit gap-toothed with the loss of Woolworths and others, we haven’t yet seen any boarded-up Prada or Gucci outlets and the Ferraris and Bentleys still cruise around much as usual.

The weather this winter has also done its bit to depress. It’s been unusually wet, cold and damp. I know, every winter is like that in England, but houses here aren’t really designed to deal with it. In any typical French or Italian village they are mostly built of stone with no cavity walls, and weeks of rain have a tendency to penetrate and appear on the inside. We have a particular problem here that the only practical form of heating is portable paraffin stoves, which of course generate even more moisture, all of which condenses on the coldest walls, inside wardrobes and so on. Electric heating isn’t an option because a normal supply is limited to 3kW, or one electric fire. Turning on the kettle trips the breaker. We do have central heating, but it runs on bottled gas, and a bottle lasts about three days in cold weather, requiring a trip out to buy another and then haul the thing up four floors. A gas pipe has been run from the coast but the work to connect up the houses hasn’t yet begun so won’t be finished much before next winter. So our nice new radiators have yet to do their job.

Our village nestles inside a ring of mountains. In summer this is scenic and rather nice, but in winter the sun struggles to clear one mountain then dips below one mountain a few short hours later. So we haven’t been able to do much with the roof terrace since November. In another week or two the sun will have risen far enough to clear the top of the hill, at which point we’ll suddenly gain several more hours each day and life can include outside activities again.

Then there was the flu. We had a brief trip to England a few weeks back, during which it seemed that pretty well everyone in that country had gone down with it some time over December and January. Here it seemed less common but that didn’t stop us catching it just in time for our trip. During our visit of five days we visited three friends or relatives and I spent two days in bed plus another two sneezing and generally making people want to give me a wide berth.

So that was winter. I say “was” because although the nights are still cold the days are gradually lengthening and when the sun shines it’s actually quite warm. It’s a reminder that we live in a part of the world famed for its abundance of sunny, hot days, even though the reality is still a way off.

One beneficiary of the high precipitation this winter has been the local ski slopes. Today was forecast to be sunny so we upped early and set off for Limone Piemonte, about an hour away from here. Conditions were indeed perfect; warm sunshine without a cloud in the sky and snow in the best condition I have ever known. Limone usually has unpredictable conditions because it’s so far south, but this year has been exceptional. Unfortunately for them, although they have the best snow in years the number of visitors is well down owing to the above-mentioned financial downturn and the consequent shortage of money among the skiing classes.

But it gave us plenty of room to avoid being jostled, as Anna set off for her first ever time with planks of wood clamped to her (rented) boots. We spent an exhausting three hours or so clumping up a short track then sliding back down again to where we started. The only baby lift at Limone 1400 is for bambini so we had to make do with muscle power.


Eventually we both tired of all this unnecessary effort and I went off for a proper ski. Here’s a view of Limone 1400 from part-way up the mountain above it.


It’s difficult to explain to one not driven by a desire to ski that the first few lessons are completely unrepresentative of the sport in general, that it’s not continually hard work and that enjoyment is both frequent and intense. By the end of the morning I for one was fed up with the sight of that short piece of snow and wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling the same. I can only say in defence of the whole thing that it gets better. Much better.

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