May 31, 2011

The barest purest consumerism ever

As an introduction to extreme environmental activism and reacquainting myself with the gatherer habits of my ancestors, I went out a few evening in Edinburg to hunt for goods as an anti-consumerist. After having dumpster dived for quality food, now being forced to throw away all those yummy goods in the restaurant where I was working hurt a lot in the beginning. Soon I froze my heart and got over it. I even got over being part of the system that sells water to people in the shape of 33cl plastic Evian bottles for 7€ a piece when there's perfectly good drinking water coming out of the tap just next to the minibar. Ouch. Luxury and ecological thinking don't match up too easily. At least I got to taste the various untouched gourmandises before scraping them off the plates at the plonge and to stretch the limits of my discrimination between what was rubbish and what was food even further. I never crossed the line yet though. Yet.

The amount of food wrap we used for packing up the hotel and everything inside it for the summer would be enough to wrap a smaller planet in and the pile of newspapers I crumpled around cups and jars would be enough to keep all Estonian hobos warm and alive throughout our winter. Can't say I cared too much. By this point I was too easily amused by the sight of how the plastic film in my hands transformed the curtains into big sausages hanging from the ceiling.

Can't always fight the system.


Living light

Packing for leaving the Val, i found myself cluelessly staring at my huge 65-litre rucksack. It seemed strange that I could, should and would fit all my life into this tiny space in the following three minutes*. I would part ways with my ancient ski trousers that I have only used once for skiing, once for snowboarding and countless times for rollerblading in the cripsy Nordic autumn weather; I would say goodbye to my trusty winter boots that I changed for a newer better (=bigger and waterproofer) model; I would say thank you for the information for the heavy second-hand emergency medicine textbook that I simply can't stuff in; and that's about it - all the rest is more or less essential, stuff that I either cannot or don't want to throw away. Shampoo doesn't count. Leaving behind the soap and shampoo is not that environmentally ethical either but this is the choice I had to make for repacking the pack.

*It seemed even stranger that I could, should and would cut the volume of my possessions down again by another 30 litres a week later even though that time it would be for a mere 9-day trip in Africa which should be easier.

May 30, 2011

Dance like noone is watching

Putting my rucksack down and settling in one place for kind of a normal life for almost three months allowed me to enjoy the routine cycle of the entertainment options of a normal city life. What I had missed a lot during tripping around everywhere had been dancing. Dancing like I was fifteen again, at a school party again, alone on the dancefloor again, jumping around for Limp Bizkit and having the time of my life again while my peers stand in the shadows and sip liquid courage before giving the rhythm a chance.

The clubs and pubs of Val d'Isère offered me all the options for unleashing the dance beast inside me. Each of them made me pour out gallons of sweat per session. Be it dancing silly and singing along for Y.M.C.A in the nightclub on the 21st of every month or be it floating trance-like in the electronic rhythms, bouncing and undulating in a growing amplitude while the tunes gather speed and energy over the hours, carrying my mind away to another universe; be it Bomfunk MC's and the rest of the dance rock from ten years ago that make me do backwards longjumps in random directions with my hands flying everywhere and my hair in my eyes (and eventually land on the wrong spot and put one foot through the Satuday night fever style blinking dancefloor).

As a cherry on top of the cake of a long day on the ski slopes, half way downhill there's a legendary nightclub (or should I say dayclub? afternoonclub?) that closes its doors at five in the afternoon, finishing work at the same time with the ski lifts. Skiing across the last hill separating me from La Folie Douce presented me with an incredible setting. I saw hundreds, maybe thousands of people jammed on the sunny terrasse of this high altitude bar, all modelling your average fashion skiwear that might not pass as normal in a normal city: outrageously colorful combinations such as fluorescent yellows, pinks, blues, greens and violets, often all together on the same person, with neither sex spared; almost invariable owl-tan from the ski mask; often topless, not limited to one sex either. While the DJ is playing the popular club tunes such as "I just wanna daaaaaance, I don't even caaaaaare" and "Hello, o o o o o o!", the very feminin blond male singer on the bar provides the vocal, a real life violinist on the balcony improvises a new dimension for the sound and the drummer on the second balcony adds yet another level of background. The rough wooden tables are obviously built with the regular destructive dancing on them in mind. Heavy ski boots glue all the feet firmly to the ground, making jumping impossible so the tired sporty crowds simply stomp in extasy on every conceivable flat surface, relishing the after-effects of an adrenaline-filled day, of the hot sun, the music and the rush of emotion amplified by the crowds.

Tuesday nights were for moshing and crowd surfing in the English pub. With some annoying exceptions such as an occasional Ms.Pretty or Mr.Muscle doggedly guarding the ground under their feet, choosing to be seen rather that feel the unity of the masses swaying in collective psychedelic euphoria. Unlike the habitual consistency of the crowd in Frenchier venues, this one was mostly made up of British snowboarders who were big, strong and violent enough that I could afford to regularly launch myself in a random direction with eyes closed without the fear of causing any deaths.

Mullit is my new favorite rockband. They gave their show in pub Morris usually at Tuesday nights, playing all the good old pieces of all my favorite rock bands over the years in the course of one evening, ranging from Sweet to Oasis to Limp Bizkit to Prodigy. They always put so much heart into doing their job that at the latest 20 minutes into the concert, sweat jets start flying both ways between the manically jumping public and the enthusiastic band, creating a kind of cross-fire zone in the narrow "no man's land" safety zone. On one lucky occasion they played Friday night as well, permitting me to jump up and down and back and forth into my birthday. I took it as a good omen for my new year.

Often I dressed in bouncy running shoes and a black dress with two tiny pockets to shake off the work stress on a day off. My home was as nearby as everything in Val d'Isère and the only necessary treasure I needed to carry along was a lonely key - kept safe inside my shoe - and sometimes my phone. The latter had already hopped out of my pocket while I myself jumped towards the roof and it took a few moments' effort to locate it and peel it off the floor while somebody's foot was stomping on it. Too big to stuff into my shoe, the only other place I could keep it was in my bra, where I efficiently drowned it to death in my sweat. However, a petty misadventure of this kind was no reason for worry, as the years spent in the circle of computer people has taught me how to fix soaked electronics. The secret is to wait until it dries and, hurrah! it will revive in no time. It did.

May 23, 2011

...and some love

Living in the Hotel California was like living in the kind of isolated student campus that I never lived in. Everthing is done together: you work, eat, party, sleep, do sport or watch tv next to the same people all the time, forgetting that an outside world exist, all the while collectively dreaming about the magical times in the far future when The Ordeal will be over. The workplace is a hook-up spot at the same time (as I've heard): couples sprout up like mushrooms after rain - and most often split up as fast. Any girl (or any pretty boy, for that matter) emerging on the horizon is checked up and charged at by a pack of hungry wolves before she (or he) gets to mouthing the jour part of Bonjour.

It's all right for the girls, I guess, because we're kind of used to too much attention, at least as long as it stays in the boundaries of a conventional approach. As usual, I had laughed very hard when my efforts of mixing my two-word Spanish with my three-word Russian were successful in the sense that I eventually understood what the Bulgarian trucker wanted to buy from me. However, when the boy-runners started getting late-night texts from their chieftain with an offer to earn some extra cash by providing some extra services, things went bad. The chieftain was kicked down from his place on the throne and banished from the Land of the Eternal Christmas until the end of times. It must be a tough life if the failure in getting free love will be topped off by an epic failure in trying to buy it.

Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes Benz
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys, she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget.

May 17, 2011

Sport, sport, sport, all we need is sport

Most people working in the restaurant business in a ski station don't have enough free time to keep up another real life next to working. Volatile scheduals make any planning efforts futile, therefore it's better and more logical to concentrate on the moment and enjoy what is available on the spot. The entertainment in options in Val d'Isère were pretty much covered by partying and sporting and the majority of people around didn't hold themselves back doing either or both of them. In a holiday town the word weekend has no meaning and the possibilities for both are always abundant.

When my fellow waitress broke her knee in the first hour of skiing she ever did, I was asked to stop doing sport or else the restaurant would have to close due to the lack of workers. Our team had already been missing forces and from that moment on I was required to double my efforts, become Super Trinity (with eight hands, four legs and teleportation power) and push for three instead of one-and-a-half-man I had already been. By that time I was already too scared of injury anyway, to start learning how to go downhill on two sticks or a board. The density of medicopter traffic above the heart of the metropolis did not enncourage me to start learning snow sports - neither did the endless crowds limping around on crutches or without as if I were living in a war zone.

However, I continued running at lunch hours whenever I managed to prevent myself from collapsing into a comatose 3-4 hours' siesta between the morning and evening services. Most of the "easy" runs I did meant about 150m elevation gain in 3km, often into heavy headwind, and then racing back down with the speeds I had never before seen my legs achieve. Add 1850m of starting altitude into the equation and the 30-40 minutes' crawl-sprint looks already quite impressive. Level ground was nowhere to be found, making longer distances look like Mission Impossible, especially when considering that I'm already doing sport at work for 9-10 hours a day. While taking it, "easy" with running, I was pretty good with swimming. Gasping for air and trying to crawl through a slow kilometre without drowning developed quickly into 3km pool sessions that left me feeling I could go for the 4th if I only had more time before returning to work.

Once in my daytime break I hitchhiked out of the Val to try running all the way to Bourg Saint Maurice - the nearest actual civilization - about 26km by the road and 1000m lower down. I picked up a trail on the Northern (muddier, shadier, unstabler) face of the valley at about 1550m altitude and jogged along it as long as I could. The path wound through as variable terrains as dry firm ground, loose rocks, mud and knee deep snow, carrying me on for about 5km and descending slowly for a hundred meters while not failing to present a few slight ascents from time to time. Then came tarmac and hairpin bends that I sometimes cut by bushwacking straight up the hillside. Then came an icy forestiers' track that I still could follow at a trot, gradually slowing down as the gradient increased. Then there was a moment when I was all excited about being forced to grab tree roots for safety while carefully placing my feet over the rocks and lowering myself down over the turfs. Then came the moment, a few minutes later, when I discovered myself in the middle of a vertical half-grassy cliff face, gripping the water bottle between my teeth while balancing on five toes and desperately trying to see across the overhang just below my feet separating me from safe ground some fifteen meters below.

I took a moment to breathe. I switched on my brain that I had so efficiently switched off in the morning for work. I looked down again and cold sweat started forming in my palms. The turf I was standing on and the other two I was holding firmly in my hands were both made of grass and mud held together by a skimpy piece of ice. (S***). More cold sweat started forming on my forehead.

After a long moment of weighing up the wish to get down there against the odds of staying alive, I climbed reluctantly and very carefully back up to find an alternative pass down to the river valley. As I was breaking my way through the winter-ravaged bushes and crossing slippery avalanches, I never found any way down that would avoid more exposed rock faces dropping down for hundreds of meters. I could only continue breaking my way further up through the dry undergrowth that was cutting into my legs. Just short of getting very worried I reached a dense forest of ancient fir trees where I was able to pick up a goat track leading somewhere down. Stumbling downwards on the ~70-degree slopes included plentiful climbing across storm-broken giant trees, crawling under bushes, slipping, falling and sliding on loose rocks and mud that often hid treacherous ice underneath, all the while surrounded by the aura of a magical thick forest: a deep-green mossy boulder here, an enormous frozen waterfall there...

When I eventually reached the road level to hitchhike back in time for work, muddy and bloody as I was, I had ascended for 700m (and dropped for 500m) where the plan had been to enjoy a long easy all-downhill afternoon run. Of course, I was as excited as ever about the adventure, expressing it with sparkling eyes, shaky hands and all the usual symptoms of a strong adrenaline shot, contrasting strongly with my dull monkey suit once I was back to the Bonsoir-monsieur-du-pain-de-l'eau? cycle in the evening.

I managed to snowboard for one day, followed by about two weeks of painful butt; and in the middle of April when most of the snow and the crowds where gone, I eventually got over my fear of breaking a leg, attached the skis and had the most amazing day up on the glacier. Even though the biggest bruise I got, a good big fist-size blueberry on my left calf, will take at least a month to cure, I could have never guessed that I'm that good on skis! Once every ten years on a mountain combined with a torturous childhood on cross-country skis followed by a few years of racing the cars in the center of Tallinn on rollerblades, are apparently a good enough base for dashing downhill in the snow soup. Lucky that it was snow soup and not an ice cake where I face planted in a little mound after an accidental unprofessional double jump off a wave, hehe. Now I can imagine only too well what breathing inside an avalanche might taste and smell like.