Sunday, March 21, 2010

Last full day in Courmayeur

Carol Mast Reports: This is our last full day in Courmayeur, and we already speak of returning. Small sub-groups have ventured off in different directions; some took the public bus back to La Tuile, some headed to the local slopes, some had guides to regions that may require them to harness up and carry their skis up metal steps (so it is rumored) to a tenable place on the glacier. This morning’s threatening cloud cover has given way to full sun with no wind, and only a gentle haze to soften the bright sunlight. Some chose to hang in town to absorb the particular viewpoint of this small mountain town in the Val d’Aosta. And, of course, to shop, especially as woodcarvers from this valley are the pride of Italy.

From the balconies on the street side of our hotel, one can see the bright red cable car ascending the slopes as well as the Dent d’ Geant (the Giant’s Tooth, which is so vertical that no snow covers it) and one of the numerous paired tunnels which connect adjacent valleys with ease, rather than the tortuous narrow winding 2-lane roads of former times. It is no surprise that uniquely local features can be observed in some most mundane details.

For instance: chimney caps are topped here by two varieties of architectural detail. One looks for all the world like an avian condo, with multiple verandas and gabled roof. The second version was repeated in Chamonix, (which is in France) but not in Italian La Thuile, a flat tile over the chimney opening, topped by a triangular single chunk of stone, a mini-Matternhorn. Some variations exist on this second theme, with a cone of smaller stone creating the pinnacle, but the most
attractive exemplars of the form are single triangular blocs of stone with a bit of a curve at the point. Are they functional? Do they deflect snow accumulation? Cut down on flue draft for the fire? Who knows? Who speaks fluent Italian?

The vista down the main road shows off the handsome rounded 2-foot diameter slate roof tiles (which surely came from La Thuile) which boast of the stout construction beneath them. There is not a single blue tarp in sight! There are numerous sattelite dishes which have all but replaced roof-top antennae, although a few remain alongside the dishes, perhaps on the summertime “HoneyDo” list.

We don’t see any sign of ostentatious EuroTrash visitors here; perhaps we are early or late for their arrival. There is a Hermes shop on the plaza, so someone must shop there, but in this lovely warm between-High Seasons week, it is pretty much locals and hard core skiers like ourselves and the Japanese group with whom we share the breakfast room We did hear some American English this morning, two 40-ish men who
talked business non-stop, thought they were suited up for skiing.

Wildlife report includes sighting of a butterfly on the ski slopes at 10,000 ft yesterday, a possibly suicidal black squirrel that performed an almost-fatal crossing of the cat-track on descent to La Thuile, barely missing the chance to decorate someone’s helmet. Dang! Today, there are deer-fly type buzzing insects about the valley floor at mid-day, perhaps looking for a nibble of the dried beef and cheese on the table. Lunch in Val d’Aosta… with a view of a cleft mountain and
distant snow fields lined with retaining walls that are intended to keep the downhill residents safe from avalanche. This is a geologist’s paradise. Who speaks fluent Geology?

Typing those words, I heard a rumble, thinking it was some sort of cart on the cobbled path behind the hotel, but it was a pale grey waterfall of melted snow and rubble across the valley that continued for two minutes or more. It stopped well above any possible habitation, but the image remains. And five minutes later, a softer rumble from the same area of the mountain slope showed a replenishment of the first snowfield, lower in altitude. Now I hear rumbles elsewhere, beyonc the
enclosed valley, and I no longer think of carts on the cobblestones, waiting in anticipation of the return of our friends. And the rumbles continue, prompting a search of the hillside for the source, like counting seconds between thunderclaps and lighting bolts. It must get to be second nature after a while, but at the moment, it is disconcerting.

The SkiMasters version of the Norovirus seems to have run it’s course. Both of our victims are skiing today and no new symptoms are reported. We have had no injuries (your reporter declared a Personal Day to allow a return of the knee to normal size after two 8-hour days on the sticks) and there can’t be a better report than that. At least until dinner!

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