Putting down (temporary) roots

View from Le Dôme at Le Sauze, after a snowstorm

The main street of Barcelonnette, Rue Manuel

It’s strange to think that I have barely written about my life in Barcelonnette.  I guess it’s harder to write about la vie quotidienne than it is to write about voyages here and there.  But lately, as have noticed my time here slipping away, I have resolved to write something about what I’ve been up to for the last few months.

Back in January I had a bad bout of homesickness.  Many factors combined to put me down in the dumps.  But after a short time, I crawled back out into the blinding Alpine sunshine, and since then I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself, and I have grown more and more attached to Barcelonnette.

The first step to happiness, of course, was deciding to “latch on to the affirmative” and “accentuate the positive.”  This is not hard to do when you are surrounded by snow-covered peaks that, by day, reflect the eternal sunshine of the Southern Alps and, by night, form a glowing basin under the stars.  Or when your weekends fill up with skiing and your evenings with dinner parties.

As soon as I made an effort to be more grounded in my current place I felt more welcomed.  Here are a few of the keys to my success.

No. 1: Farmers’ Market.

On the way to the farmer's market.

There’s nothing that makes me feel more connected to Barcelonnette than walking to the farmer’s market on a Wednesday or Saturday morning.  I almost always make the trip, even when I don’t need anything, because I love the tiny little hustle and bustle that is the market of Barcelonnette.  Luckily, I can almost always find a reason to buy some honey, cheese or jam, because I love saying hello to my lanky apiculteur, my fromager with fantastic hair, and my cute confiturier.

Usually I show some restraint at the market, but on my birthday I decided to go all out and buy everything I wanted: honey, jam, bread, and two types of cheese!  By noon, I already had everything my little heart could desire.

Honey: Monsieur Rampinini’s honey is certified organic, though I don’t see how you can certify bees as organic.  Maybe the label refers more to the honeymaker himself, though.  Thanks to some supermarket espionage I can attest to the fact that he aliments himself with solely organic products.

Jam: Monsieur Tron was my first favorite vendor at the farmers’ market, for who can resist jam?  And who can resist a young man who tells you to regale yourself with each jar of jam that you buy?  (And who doth sweetly protest when you buy another and another, saying, “But you buy so much!  Can’t I offer you anything?”)  You don’t have to give me any freebees, Nicolas, I’ll happily pay you to overstuff my refrigerator with your confections.

The prettiest farm cat I've ever seen.

Cheese:  Monsieur Autheman and I had a long conversation, drawn out over a number of weeks, about when his lambs would be born.  I told him how the first lambs at Mayflower Farm are usually born on my birthday, and wondered if the rule would hold true in Barcelonnette.  On the morning of my birthday he told me, “sorry, there aren’t any yet!”  But when he got home from the market that day what did he find but his first lambs!

A still-expectant mother.

One Wednesday, M. Autheman greeted me with a big “ça va?!” at the market.  Following up on our previous conversations, I asked if Delphine and I could use our free afternoon to visit the sheep farm and see the lambs.  The farmer readily agreed, so at around 3:30 Delphine and I wound our way up the Route de Restefond until we saw the sign that announced “Fromage de brebis.”

La Ferme d’Abriès has about 90 ewes, and when we visited they were all quietly lolling around in the remarkably clean barn.  In the back third of the barn were the lambs and their mothers, while the ewes who had yet to give birth were in the front right third and the unbred yearlings were in the front left third of the barn.  We spent our visit at the entrance of the barn, where the farmer leaned back against the gate and shot the breeze with us.  It was such a relaxed hour, it was as if we were friends stopping by to catch up.  It was nice to be treated like this, and not like the tourists who Autheman described as noisy summer invaders.  Not wanting to ruin the rapport by acting like the outsider I am, I didn’t cuddle any lambs or take many photos.  Even though I might have missed stroking the baby lambs’ silky forelegs and chins I appreciated the lack of preciousness at the Ferme d’Abriès.  Everything was business-like, functional, and old-hat, as if things are done the way they have been done for centuries, (which is probably not far from the truth).

It was refreshing to see how well-suited to his occupation and happy with his place in the world M. Autheman seems to be.  Though he obviously enjoyed chatting with us, I bet he’d also be happy to spend weeks with only his sheep for company.  Indeed, he told us how he used to pass the summer (“estiver”) with the sheep up in the mountains, and admitted that he only goes to Gap (the nearest city) two or three times a year.  As you can see from the photo, he is pretty well-situated; I think I understand why he likes to stay put.

The view from Christophe Autheman's sheep farm, La Ferme d'Abriès


No. 2: Skiing with friends.

View from L'Alpe d'Huez's Pic Blanc at 3330 meters.

My first big skiing adventure was in January, when I grabbed my backpack and ski boots and took the bus up to Grenoble to visit the Maulny family for a weekend.  Frédéric took me skiing at their local mountain, Les 7 Laux, on Friday afternoon as a warm up.  Then we went to L’Alpe d’Huez on Saturday, where Julien and Tobias had a competition.  With 250 km of trails and a summit at 3330 m, it was the biggest ski area I’ve ever been to.

Frédéric at l'Alpe d'Huez in January

We wore ourselves out on practically vertical trails, hopping through the foot-deep powder.  After falling once (and seeing how painless the powder was) I lost most of my fear, and became a much better skier.

Skiing down from the tunnel at L'Alpe d'Huez

That Sunday was rainy, and so I took a break from skiing and Nora and I rode the bus into the center of Grenoble to visit the museum.  With our winter hats and backpacks on we looked like regular schoolgirls, and when we got on the bus we both paid the student rate!  After strolling through the museum we enjoyed a coffee and some tarte at a perfect little café and bookstore across from the Cathédrale de Grenoble.  While we were thus enjoying some of France’s finest, we compared life in France and the United States.

Skiing lesson for Francesca and Mariangela at Le Sauze

After that weekend, my skiing took place much closer to home, at Le Sauze, where I bought a season’s pass.  It’s sort of miraculous, the amount of skiing I got to do this winter, considering that it barely ever snowed and it was almost always above freezing during the day.  I’ll be totally spoiled for New England skiing now, because I won’t be able to stand the cold!

The last run of the day with Amanda, Aaron, Jeff and Steffi at Le Sauze in February

The other miraculous thing about my winter was that at the end of February, a whole crew of friends from my former life suddenly descended on Barcelonnette!  Aaron and Amanda, who my readers last encountered as Arab and feline Scared Harp singers, made the long journey down from Paris, as did Lauren.  They made it down in time to join a bunch of my colleagues and friends and me for a nighttime snowshoe hike up the ski mountain to the restaurant at the top, Le Blanc Mangé.  Cloud cover foiled our plans for a moonlit hike, so we were forced to rely on blind perseverance to get us to the light just over the ridge, and blind sledding to get us back down to the cars.

The American champions of the snowshoeing trek.

My memory of dinner at the Blanc Mangé is dominated by frantic text messages and phone calls with a few Austrian cell phones, because another long lost friend, Jeff Rovinelli, was making his way blindly through the Italian Alps towards Barcelonnette.  He and his friend Steffi set out from Salzberg with a GPS to guide them, not realizing that the Italian Alps don’t take kindly to GPS.  After a few wrong turns, they spent the night in a monastery-turned-hostel, and arrived in Barcelonnette the next morning, ready to ski.  We then had a some great days of skiing, all six of us, with a lot of sun and one really good snowstorm.  After that I took a breather from skiing, as I headed off to Paris with Lauren, where I spent four days before flying to Cork for the Sacred Harp convention.

Emilie and me at Le Sauze (SUPER Sauze)

As soon as I got back from Ireland it was ski ski ski again, mostly with my friend Emilie, who works at the high school.  Although the local ski areas have fought a good fight, I think we have finally arrived at the end of the season.  Today was probably my last day of skiing, and I think it was as close to water skiing as I’ve ever gotten.  I went to Pra Loup (for the first time) with Delphine and Maée, and I was full of that “this is it” feeling.

No. 3:  Cooking.

When I’m not skiing or at school, I’m probably in my kitchen.  After having such fun at Wesleyan, cooking with Kayla and with our weekly ‘dinner co-op’ it’s been an adjustment, cooking just for myself most of the time.  But I appreciate the opportunity to improvise and experiment with no pressure, since I don’t have any one’s palate to please but my own.

Delphine, Grég, Francesca, and Mariangela anticipate homemade tagliatelle with sage brown butter.

Alexandra, prof d'espagnol, and Claude, prof d'anglais.

But it’s not as if I eat by myself all the time, either.  In Barcelonnette, dinner parties make the world go round.  If a week goes by without a potluck at someone’s house people start saying “it’s been ages since we all got together!”  I hang out mostly with Michela, Francesca, Mariangela, and teachers from the high school.

Alexandra, a Spanish teacher, is the queen of dinner organizing.  We went to her house for dinner on my birthday.

Michela made me an authentic tiramisu, and the little girls helped me with the candles.

Farther afield, I occasionally bake apple pies at other people’s houses.

Smiley-face pie produces crazy-face Tobias.

I asked Coco for a high five when I wanted a thumbs up. Luckily her highly developed ability for cross-cultural communication allowed her to understand my meaning.

No. 4: Changing scenery.

Getting out of the valley once in a while (even if it’s only to another valley) keeps me from getting bored in Barcelonnette.  After a trip full of activity and visiting friends and buses and trains, it usually feels great to get back to Barcelonnette.  It seems that each time I get back to Barcelonnette I appreciate the beauty of the mountains and blue skies more.

View from the apartment Emilie and I rented in Abriès, after an early-morning dusting of snow.

A few weekends ago, Emilie and I drove through the Col de Vars (col = mountain pass) and into Le Queyras, a valley with a string of tiny little villages that live on mountain tourism.  In Abriès, we met up with some of Emilie’s friends and rented an apartment for the weekend.

Skiing in Le Queyras, with Mont Viso in the background.

Abriès at dusk.

The skiing we had in Le Queyras was the best of the season.  The ski areas there are specially situated so that they catch snowstorms, an effect the valleyans call “le retour d’est.”  There was fresh snow and sunshine all weekend.  It was strange to suddenly find myself with a bunch of people I hadn’t met before.  Confronted with new faces, I suddenly found it more difficult to speak French.  I had gotten too used to my community in Barcelonnette.  It was good to step out of my comfort zone for a little while.

The view from Saint-Véran, the highest town in Europe at an altitude of 2040 meters.

My other adventures away from my valley will have to wait for the next post, for I fear I’ve drawn this one out too long now.  I’ll leave you with a bit of school spirit:

About adventuresofaleece

Senior Project Manager at The Working World, a non-profit CDFI with an investment fund that focuses on loans and equity investments for worker-owned cooperative businesses. Recently graduated with an MA in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning from Tufts University. Formerly Executive Director of the BerkShares local currency program in Western Massachusetts and Director of Programs at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. Former line cook and prep cook at Txikito Cocina Vasca. Writer, teacher, and traveler.
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16 Responses to Putting down (temporary) roots

  1. ellen says:

    Wonder full.
    🙂 Mom.

  2. steve ide says:

    Really beautiful post Alice, as always.
    Thanks for keeping us in the loop…

  3. Beth Greeley says:

    The quotidienne is almost always the hardest to capture, and the hardest to remember. It’s great to have this record. I enjoyed hearing more about how you’ve spent your time. And the photos are beautiful, too.

  4. Tia says:

    Wow..great blog entry ! I feel like I just took a long trip!

  5. Julie says:

    awaiting more and more…..qu’est ce que tu lis en ce moment? La Reveuse d’Ostende es bon.

    • alice says:

      Salut Julie, merci pour la suggestion! Je peux l’acheter avant de partir, comme ça je pourrai pratiquer mon français aux USA. Je ne lis pas trop en ce moment, en fait, parce que j’essaie de profiter des dernières semaines à Barcelonnette. Avec toute cette activité et le soleil je m’endors tout de suite la nuit. Si non, je lis “through the kitchen window,” une collection d’essais écrits par des femmes sur leur expérience dans la cuisine.

  6. Frederic says:

    Hi Aleece,
    I was a bit worried when I first heard that you were going to Barcelonette, but you turn to have a great time there in the mountains! thanks for visiting us and we love the pictures of Tobias and Coco.
    You can come back, it’s spring and the fields on the way to the mountains are covered with lambs…

  7. Janice Storti says:

    Hi Alice, Again you have made the beginning of my day special. I want to be young again and travel everywhere!!! You are a brave young woman to venture so far from home. Imagine if you simply stayed in Berkshire County! To have missed all of this. Keep the posts coming. The year is nearly over. Ms S

  8. Amy Rudnick says:

    Glad you got to see some baby lambs! We visited the newborns at Mayflower Farm — quite the bucolic scene. The winter certainly looks beautiful there in Barcelonette but I hope you get to enjoy some Spring before leaving. Looking forward to hearing more Adventures of Aleece when you’re home. xoxo

  9. Janice says:

    Always wonderful to see your beautiful photos and “hear” your voice. Happy belated birthday!! xo

  10. Nora says:

    Come again soon and make some more pies!

  11. Catherine Poisson says:

    Bonjour Alice,

    Cela me fait SI plaisir d’avoir de tes nouvelles. Les photos sont superbes et tu es si positive. J’ai vraiment l’impression que tu essaies de profiter de chaque moment.

    Je suppose que ton francais est eblouissant !

    De tout coeur,

    Catherine

  12. harrison says:

    Votre blog devient la demande avec votre famille, amis et d’autres voyageurs aventureux. Allez Wesleyan! Combattez les autres skieurs sur les pistes! Luttez pour Wesleyan! bisous

  13. Auntie Rosie says:

    As usual, enjoyed your blog a lot!

  14. Pingback: Barcelonnette, France

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