Sunday, 22 March 2009

st jean d'aulps

and so we ate.

you’ve got to give it to the french – they know how to do this well. from the food you can buy in supermarkets, boulangeries and creperies, to restaurants half-way up mountains or by the lake, the food is consistently good.

we ditche paleo for the weekend because there is nothing worse than going to people’s houses and turning your nose up at perfectly decent food, or expecting them to go out of their way and prepare something special for you when you can eat and like what they're serving. plus i like eating too much too starve. so we see it as a carbs holiday, enjoy what we’re given, and get back to normal when we come back.

it started with a lunch in a converted stable half-way down (up?) a run on the st jean d’aulps circuit. we had to get two drag lifts to get there, which is a bit of a challenge with a boarder (it's much easier to fall off and we won't mention the meribel skidoo rescue). a big lunch is our reward. we ski down a completely empty red winding down through the forest, and it is beautiful. the sun is shining, it is warm, there is no wind, and we don't stop until the bottom. cheesy - but this is what life is about.

the restaurant is literally in the middle of the slope. it is certainly authentic – the original stable floor made of mismatched wooden slats has a groove running down the middle which was used for dispatching animal waste. there are framed photos of donkeys and crazy wizened old mountain people, and a wooden rake stuck on the wall next to what looked like a miniature plastic eagle with very realistic feathers. the chairs were so rickety i was worried i’d end up falling into the iron stove, which was, in any case, burning a hole in my thermals.

there was one other table of english people (old and posh, the kind who live in large country houses where women garden and men hunt foxes on foot or whatever posh country people do these days). the rest were french, having their very long lunches and very animated conversations stoked by bottles of wine and shots of eau de vie.

we order a plate of charcuterie to share, a cheese omelette for me and a steak with roquefort sauce for r. it all arrives at the same time. the omelette is amazing – still soft and slightly gooey in the middle, probably cooked for no more than a minute. the eggs taste like they tasted at home. i have no idea why that is, or how to describe it – perhaps it’s something the hens feed on – but i’ve not tasted an egg like that for a long time. belgrade eggs are nothing like it and neither are the organic ones i buy here. (i know i am turning into a bosnia bore, one of those people always going on about how much better stuff was then but some things really did taste better.)

the omelette arrives with a huge bowl of perfectly dressed lettuce leaves – the kind of simple salad that the french do so well and everyone else does so badly, especially the brits. i think part of it is because people are scared of fat, so there is never enough dressing and it's never mixed properly. r’s steak is enormous and it comes with croquette-like things resembling hash browns but with a lot more garlic. i never found out what they were called.

after a while, an old bloke appears with an accordion. he's got his ski boots on so i assume he's a punter. in fact, his bottom half is modern skier - gortex and shiny boots, but his top half is more like cows up to summer pastures - thick jumper that looks like it's been hand-knitted, and a grey moustache. he dips sugar cubes in a shot of brandy and starts playing, with random people singing along.


it's not hard to be enchanted by this very french scene but it is worth remembering they're all pissed.


when i go to the loo, i peek through the open door to the ‘kitchen’ and realise it’s no more sophisticated and certainly no bigger than a domestic kitchen, with a single stove and a bloke in a jumper weilding cast iron frying pans.

later, we eat crepes with nutella and drink vin chaud in the cafe at the bottom. can hardly justify it but the latter seems to improve my skiing immesurably.

in the evening, the locals do a crazy race uphill - yes, up hill, walking up a red run on touring skis and then skiing half-way down. it takes a bubble and a drag lift to get where they're walking and probably takes 15 minutes. the fastest man walks it and skis in 31. it's mind-boggling. everyone goes to a bar afterwards, where there is much beer, a man pouring brandy straight from a bottle into your mouth, and a sausage dinner for fifteen euros (no choice, you eat what you’re given - 2 large local sausages, some salty polenta, a bit of green salad and a pitcher of red wine. you can’t go wrong with that, really).

the next day, we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at home. dinner was going to be fish but we vote for cheese fondue instead. when in rome, and all that. the supermarket will select the cheeses for you and pre-grate them, which is genius. we pick up some bread, some local savoiarde wine called crepy, and various cured meats for starter. i also get a myrtille tart for dessert. somehow, we end up going to bed really late, after chocolate and sloe gin and jj's homemade plum brandy. seemed like a good idea but it takes a walk with the dog to blow the cobwebs away.
i wonder if i am too old to become a ski bum...

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