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Musings on a Vintage Ski Season

April 5, 2012

Playing Ski Mum

Call me spoilt but I’m done with the ski season. Living as close as I do to the slopes, I’ve more than proved my dedication to the sport what with traipsing the kids up the mountain every day during Christmas and February vacances scolaires, freezing my butt off in blizzards during far too many Saturday trainings and – as every loving parent whose child races does – skiing boy racer’s ski jacket down slope while same-said boy hairs down slalom course sans jacket in the hope of shaving a split-second off his breakneck-speed time. Nah, there might still be some snow on higher-altitude slopes – Argentière is open until early May – but I’m a discerning, blue-sky-perfect-snow skier and I’m done.

Vintage all the Way

Weather patterns gone bonkers aside, this season screamed vintage for me. A decade ago I would quietly giggle at how easily recognizable my 70-year-old belle mère and her veteran ski companions were as they elegantly tootled down the slopes, weaving perfectly uniform curves with enviable artistry in matching pearly white ski boots that closed at the front and knitted woolly hats they’d worn since the 1980s.

Hence my bemusement this season when not one but two, three, four friends – all of that ski-bum hip, pre-kid ilk – raved about retro ski parties they’d been to, on and off piste. One had bedazzled Chamonix’s slopes with a bright turquoise all-in-one her almost-50 boss had dug out from his youth; another had rocked up at a 1980s carnage party in Morzine in a rather delightful, orange and pink two-piece picked up from Retro Rentals. Should you have the end-of-season urge, the 1980s skiwear specialist rents out all the garb in Chamonix, Morzine and Avoriaz for €10 a day, plus €30 deposit to cover damage (‘mud, beer, wine, puke, tears, burns, bullet holes, wolf bites’ to quote the company).

What with Heidi chalets and wooden Davos sledges straight out of a traditional Christmas card scene, Swiss ski resorts somehow seem to retain more of the grace of yesteryear than their French counterparts. Case in point: Belle Epoque week in Kandersteg in late January when skiers don gaiters, balloon trousers and wooden skis to recreate the understated ski glamour of the 1920s. Vintage après-ski in the shape of a tea dance might not necessarily be your cup of tea, but traditional Swiss alpine villages like Bettmeralp and Riederalp – no motorized vehicle in sight – beneath the Aletsch Glacier instantly rekindle the romance and retro-best of an era when sedate was the ski pace and when mums definitely did not ski their speed-fiend sons’ ski jackets half-way down the mountain.

For off-piste vintage ski glamour: Ponder beautiful B&W photo essays on retro ski trends in the New York Times and Boston Globe.


With Kids: Week One in Paris

April 27, 2010

Disneyland Paris would have been an easy cop-out, but with husband @luefkens juggling a three-month-old baby alongside two six- and eight-year-old boys, the Parisian land of stomach-swirling rides and over-sized mice was simply not on.

No bother. With Parisian metro artfully mastered first day (no mean feat given the dozens of staircases – if you can’t handle your pushchair independently take the bus), the city of light, love and 101 ways to woo children was his oyster.

No afternoon is better to mingle with Paris families than this. The city’s mythical Jardin du Luxembourg is where they frolic between fountains, flirt with ball games (footie, volleyball, tennis, boules …) or simply flop with a good read on a signature sage-green chair. Sailing a 1920s toy boat on the ornamental pond in front of the Palais du Luxembourg – a childish tradition much-loved since 1922 – is a charm-loaded Parisian classic.

It has none of the romance of the Eiffel Tower, but the view from the 56th floor of the Tour Montparnasse – the perfect crowd-dodger – is not bad – and you can see the Eiffel Tower! Back on ground level (well, not quite …) the kids ran riot in the Jardin Atlantique, a rooftop park secreted on top of Montparnasse train-station – another perfect crowd-dodger. Reach it via the metal staircase next to platform No 1.

With many Paris museums shut Monday, the boys set their sights on ancient Rome in the shape of 2nd-century Roman amphitheatre Les Arènes de Lutèce. They ran and ran and ran in the vast oval, then made a beeline for the world’s second-oldest zoo in the Left Bank’s Jardin des Plantes. Menagerie done, more beasts dead-not-alive awaited them in the Natural History Museum’s Grande Galerie de l’Evolution (open Mon). But they got so lost in the park’s labyrinth they never quite made it. Lunch was an easy child-friendly walk from the Jardin des Plantes to Le Jardin des Pâtes, a creative pasta restaurant at 4 rue Lacépède (5e) no kid could possibly dislike.

The boys have yearned to return to the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie ever since first experiencing it a couple of years back. Of course we hadn’t thought to make an advance reservation for the kids workshops (all full). Nor had we thought to pack a picnic (food in the centre is pricey and poor). So a humble promise was made to return later in the week and the boys bounced the day away in Parc de Villette’s many playgrounds – easily Paris’ best – instead. Goûter for €36 was a real treat, as was dinner at Casa Bini, 36 rue Grégoire de Tours, 6e, where Italian waiters had the kids eating out of their hand in less than 10 seconds flat.

The boys being boys went bananas over the dinosaur exhibition, La Faim des Dinosaures, at the Palais de la Découverte: the animated monsters could not fail to impress. Then it was a merry dash to the Centre Pompidou for a recycling art workshop. When Niko met me that evening he gallantly presented me with an exquisite flower made out of a ratty old cardboard box. My heart instantly melted.

Cité des Sciences take two: workshops booked this time and predictably boys are already yearning to return again. Dinner was an attempt to further the boys culinary education in the shape of frogs legs at Roger La Grenouille, 26 rue des Grands Augustins, 6e, near our apartment in St-Germain des Près (which, incidentally, we rented through agency Paris Attitude).

Day 7 in Paris ushered in a quick march up the Arc de Triomphe for triumphant views of the capital. Daily dose of culture done, the boys spun and swung and flew on all manner of funfair rides in the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne, a favourite park they’re already citing as their holiday highlight.

Second post to follow on what the kids did with two weeks in Paris …


Paris en famille: Goûter for €36 #gulp

April 14, 2010

They’d have been just as happy squatting on the pavement edge, licking a Berthillon ice-cream to the merry beat of street buskers on Pont Louis Philippe. And it would have been cheaper.

Instead we plumped for one of Paris’ most historic cake shops and tea rooms to give the boys that sacrosanct mid-afternoon snack no child in France goes without – goûter.

I sipped Earl Grey poured from an antique silver teapot and watched in amusement as the 6-year-old tucked into a lurid, bubblegum-pink Ispahan built from two raspberry macarons delicately glued together with rose-petal cream. Eggshell-crisp on the outside and soft ‘n chewy inside, it is these sweet treats baked in a rainbow of lurid colours that Ladurée in St-Germain des Près is known for.

Needless to say the sugary-sweet cake, fresh raspberries et al, went down a treat until he hit a lychee. Dramatic grimace followed by ‘Mummy, I don’t like the gluey thing’. So uncultured.

Tomorrow we’ll do the kerb on the bridge.