Smells Like Melted Cheese
In July and August, the whole of France migrates to the South for their own little piece of institutionalized summer vacation. Between February and Easter, they pile up on gnarly mountains roads to eat some pow in the French Alps.
Memories of childhood trips to Méribel, Les Arcs, Les 2 Alpes, rush through my mind.
Memories that smell like melted cheese, because everything you'll eat there will have that on top.
Memories as bright as my awesome yellow ski suit, itself as bright as the awesome bright pink chap stick I coated my lips with in the 80's.
The whole family would go for a week. Our parents registered us for mandatory ski lessons with the ESF ("École de Ski Francais", the National French Ski School), to perfect our skiing techniques: flexion, extension, and let's not forget the mythical pole plant I spent hours chasing. The instructors were as warm and nurturing as jailers, and all of us children dreaded going to ski school every single morning.
But this is what we did, as descendants of my grandfather René, a pure product of the French Alps. Born and raised in Haute-Savoie in the 20's, grandpa is a real mountain guy, as tough and resistant as can be. He'd bike 130 miles down his mountain to pay my grandma a visit in the plains of Burgundy. They don't make them like this anymore.
So you see, there was no way out of learning the secrets of the pole plant and passing each level with flying colors, which was really quite easy compared. We certainly did not want to disappoint the alpine family by missing our yearly ski test, which of course I did. I was being tested on my slalom and botched it under pressure. I failed to bring home the coveted Second Star title and to this day, the empty space on my ski suit where the missing pin should be is still searing like a scarlet letter.
As you grow up, you quickly learn that skiing in France is as much about the Après-ski as it is about the ski.
The mulled wine and beer breaks are mandatory, often. After a long day of roaming the mountains like the name suggests (après means after in French), but also during, and for lunch, and mid-afternoon for a little respite.
Skiing buzzed is the best. Don't tell anyone I said that.
Evenings spent around the cheese fondue pot were lively. The belly full of gooey goodness, we'd play card games or read books. Nestled by the fireplace, we'd feel the tingle of the blizzard on our burning skin still, and nurse it in anticipation of another day spent up there, up in the mountains.
The ski vacation movie to watch
Every year at this season, whether I am in the mountains or not, bringing back these memories is in order. And to do so, I watch the cult movie,
Les Bronzés Font Du Ski ("French Fried Vacation 2").
Some films, just like the National Lampoon's Vacation in the United States, left indelible marks on the culture and stayed anchored in people's minds for generations and generations. They actually became pieces of our cultural heritage, and most everyone in a certain age bracket will know at least one quote or one scene by heart.
For my family and I - as for many French people - this movie is Les Bronzés Font Du Ski. The 1979 flick follows the adventures of eight tourists and friends who reunite for a skiing holiday.
Everything cliché you need to know about skiing in the French Alps in the 70's (and the 80's, and the 90's) is there.
The humor may seem simplistic, but it is third degree at its lowest. The soundtrack will haunt you forever.
And the fashion... the fashion is on point, rich with fur coats (it was the 70's, people!), earmuffs and ski pants too tight for anyone's good. Proof is in the pudding:
Rent asap and if you watch it, leave us a comment.
May the mountains be with you.
Words: Cécile Charlot.