Mountaineering boots or pointy Italian pumps? Or both? With luggage restrictions continuing to tighten, there’s only room for so much. And last week when I flew from NYC to Geneva, I had to decide how I’d lighten my load for a return to the Alps. I arrived in Chamonix, France a week ago with two checked bags and one small carry-on (British Airways doesn’t allow the “plus a personal item” anymore). It’s my third summer here, and I was so excited to be back in Cham that I didn’t care a bit about luggage by the time I stepped off the plane. It’s a good thing—because my bags got lost anyhow (typical Europe), so flip-flops and grimy clothes had to suffice.
Chamonix, most simply, is Europe’s playground. The city center is at an altitude of about 3,000 feet, and Mont Blanc (the highest peak) rises just under 16,000 feet above town. Chamonix is completely surrounded by mountains—and tourists come here to see them, tripping over themselves on cobbled streets while looking up at the dizzying needle-sharp summits. The peaks remain snow-covered all year, making Chamonix an alpine climbing destination in the summer and a hot ski spot in the winter.
I have been unable to get this place out of my mind since I first came here in the summer of 2005. In the intermediate two years, I have worked and saved up enough money to return twice—staying until (or beyond) that savings runs out. Last year was a financial disaster, as I ran out of money a few days after I broke my ankle here while climbing—and then I didn’t have all of the debt paid off until December. Obviously, I’m hoping that this summer isn’t such a money pit.
As an American in Chamonix, though, working is technically illegal, so I agreed earlier this week to help a friend stack a winter’s worth of wood outside of his chalet. He gave me tea and cookies in return for a morning of physical labor. And this is how things work here—with simple exchanges among friends. Last summer, I seemed to be the valley’s dog watcher, as I had a few gigs taking care of people’s pets in exchange for accommodation. It worked well, and I even taught Cou Cou how to climb (he already knows how to ski).
Anyhow, this is the beginning of the Chamonix days—so more upcoming. Oh—and the pointy Italian pumps? C’est dommage. They had to stay in the States.