Tuesday, February 05, 2008

On The Piste

Sorry for not writing for a while but last week I went skiing with my brother and my father (it's funny how, even though I snowboard rather than ski, I still find it more natural to say that I went skiing). It was my first time on the pistes in 8 years and I was naturally initially rather apprehensive and worried that I would fall flat on my face and make a fool of myself. I was, however, surprised to discover that I hadn't lost any of my (limited) ability and was not only able to get down the mountain without falling, but also to control my descent and enjoy myself. And no matter how cautious or sedate we may be there is something visceral about speed that gets the adrenaline rushing. And although some things don't change others very clearly do. Now it would be a great stretch of the imagination to say that I am old, but this holiday certainly did make me realise that the arrow of time, unfortunately, goes only one way. I remember the halcyon days of my youth when I didn't understand the point of warming up for exercise as my young body was immune to the painful after-effects of physical exertion. Not so any more as after (not even a full) day on the piste my calves were letting me know that they had earned their keep and then some. As my (elder) brother keeps assuring me, "it's all downhill from here".

We were staying at the (relatively) small Italian resort of Livigno, just over the border from the swanky Swiss resorts of St Moritz and Davos. Though unlike the exclusive clientele attracted by the latter Livigno's duty free status (and subsequent cheap booze and fags) made it a magnet for eastern Europeans: Poles, Czechs, Russians and Ukrainians especially. Although I'm not particularly enthused by apres ski shenanigans I did apperciate the local cocktail called a Bombardino, composed of equal parts of egg liqueur, whiskey and milk, heated up and served with a generous topping of whipped cream. It may sound rather sickly but is in fact the perfect drink for warming you up in the chill winter nights. There was enough snow but no soft powder so beloved of us boarders - just hard-packed groomed pistes. Then, as if to rub our noses in it, the morning of our departure it started to snow heavily, big, fat flakes, soft as eider down. But we couldn't stay as Mark and I had a plane to catch. And this is where Livigno stabbed us in the back. We left early with plenty of time to spare (we Jelinek's are notorious and managing to create delays out of nothing when travelling) and headed for the tunnel that connects the Livigno valley to Switzerland. Because it's quite a remote corner of the country far from the main roads the tunnel linking the countries here has only a single lane, and so cars have to be let through from one side at a time requiring coordination from both sides. Apparently there had been a falling out between the Italians and the Swiss who jointly administer the tunnel and when we were wanting to pass the Swiss let a huge convoy through the tunnel causing traffic on the Italian side to snarl up and come to a complete standstill. In the end it took over 3 hours to inch our way 4km to the other side of the tunnel, by which time our chances of catching our plane were laughable. And so, sure enough, we stumbled into Munich airport forced to buy ourselves new tickets to get back home. I certainly was not amused.

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