Sunday, February 1, 2015

Snowed-in in the Pyrenees

It's been a while, like about three years, since I have gotten around to writing something in this blog. Oh well.  But the good news is that Carol and I are living in Paris, on sabbatical for three months.  We arrived January 21, and have been having a wonderful time, even getting some work done.  But more about that later.

After our first week and a half in Paris, we were invited for a few days in the Pyrenees by our friend Michele, who was Eden's French "mother" when she spent time in France during high school.  We have remained close.  She and her brothers travel to the Pyrenees most winters. Michele can't ski right now because she hurt her shoulder, so we thought we could come down and spend a few days in the ski village, hang out.  Michele is the best cook I have ever known, so it was bound to be good.

We took the train from Paris to Bordeaux, where Michele met us to drive us the rest of the way, presumably a couple of hours.  There were two cars, the other one filled with her two brothers, sisters in-law, a cousin, a kid... a big group, 100% in French.  Our car was driven by her cousin, Alain. (An interesting aside is that they are double-cousins, their parents are two pairs of brothers and sisters who married brothers and sisters.  I think this makes them half-siblings, genetically).  So we cruise down the autoroute.  It's maybe forty degrees and raining occasionally.  There is talk that there might be snow in the mountains.  A few hours later snow is mixing in to the rain.  Another half hour and it is snowing like crazy, just as we are getting off the highway and heading onto smaller roads.  It's pretty hairy, I'm sitting in the passenger seat thinking, oh well, at least I'm not driving.  Next thing I know, we pull into a parking lot, everyone gets out, and Michele hands me the keys.  Huh?  Well it's a long story, but most of the group is headed all the way up the mountain to the ski area, and since we are only going half way we need our own car.  And basically, as a cultural matter everyone is pretty much still in the place where the senior male does the driving.  I hate driving,  I'm a crummy driver, it's someone else's car that I really don't want to screw up, but pas de choix.  The roads are getting smaller and steeper, it is snowing harder and harder. It's getting dark.

Someone hears that to make it up the mountain you are required to have chains.  Do I know how to put on chains?  I last put on chains 20 years ago, but I say I guess so.  But it turns out we don't actually have any chains, so we pull into a little town and check the supermarket without any luck, but they tell us about a gas station outside of town where they might have some.  So we plow on through the snow, find the gas station, and lo and behold he has chains.  On our way.

In another 20 miles, everyone is pulled over.  Chains needed the rest of the way up.  We get the chains out of the back of the car and they turn out to be used, and in terrible shape.  No one knows how to put them on.  This leads to 45 minutes of kneeling in the snow, yanking the chains around the tires, everyone yelling in French.  I was assigned the task of rolling the car forward and back while everyone pulled.  Finally they are on, sort of, and off we go.  Soon the other car pulls off toward the ski mountain and it is just Carol, Michele and me.  Pitch black, snowing like crazy, and the chain on the right tire starts going clunk clunk clunk.  You can tell it isn't going to last long and it doesn't.  A couple of miles later it comes off.  Pull over, can't find it, turns out it is still stuck under the car somehow.

There comes a point in an experience like this when there is nothing to do but try to get where the hell you are trying to get.  So we headed off with one chain.  It wasn't completely clear to me that Michele knew where we were going, and if the other chain came off we were completely screwed.  But in another half hour or so there we were, we crawled into the little village, found our apartment.  It was snowing so hard you couldn't see.  Maybe two feet of snow on the ground.

That's good for one day.  It hasn't stopped snowing since.  Maybe three and a half feet on the ground, all roads closed in and out.  The ski area is closed because of avalanche risk.  We have a train back to Paris on Wednesday, I'd say it is 50-50.  Among other things there is is the chain problem, never mind that the car is completely buried and has been plowed in continuously for a day.

But Michele is indeed a wonderful cook, for now the internet is back on, and I am not sorry to have missed the damn Duke game.

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