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Leaving Home by Frank Fehmers

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Introduction

Some babies see birth as a relief, an escape into the world. Others like me are bewildered upon casting glazed eyes upon this life.  Why?  What had I done wrong?  That feeling has influenced my entire life — what have I done wrong?….Mumbling,  “A good deed never goes unpunished.”

My parents loved me but did not spare much time for the things that interested me.  Instead, they dressed me up for my Catholic communion party, and every year they went on holidays, together, without me.

During my parents’ holidays I was generally parked for two weeks with one of my mother’s six sisters.  I recall only one holiday with my parents alone. I still believe that I have been sort of a loner ever since

My parents sent me to boarding school when I was 11.  That was an important mistake of my own doing. It so happened that my only brother was at boarding school and he hated it.  As a “room” single boys had a chambrette, which is a small wooden open-air box with a bed and a curtain.  But if brothers were enlisted they got a small room, a real room. Of course my brother knew this and persuaded me to keep begging my parents — and in fact forcing their decision by behaving miserably — to send me to this expensive boarding school.  When I had finally made my presence intolerable enough, I was kicked out and admitted to the boarding-school where my brother lived.  Three months later my brother was kicked out and I was kicked out of OUR room, and for the next three years I stayed in a chambrette until they also “dismissed” me. From there I went from school to school and from boarding house to boarding house.

By graduation time I had amassed a tally of 4 schools and 6 guest homes. The last family I stayed with was certainly the best — for a change they did not do it for the money.  When my “stepmother” had her birthday I showed my appreciation by painting all the bulbs of the street-lanterns red. This became my first encounter with the police.

When I was 17 my real mother died of cancer, just a few months before I, at last, passed my final school exams.  Ready to leave home? Sort of. I was drafted into the Royal Dutch Marines. Nothing to lose but your life — the final departure.

I must admit that the Marines did me a lot of good. The film they kept showing about the 1944 Normandy invasion I found less entertaining.  Not coming home started entering my mind. After two years in the Marines, I embarked upon a book publishing career invited thereto by a publisher of religious and philosophical books.

To further my education I studied these subjects for 2 years in Freiburg, Germany. Back in Holland and even more confused I worked for a year in publishing in Holland. I then moved to a similar publishing house in New York, where 4 years later I started my own business as a publishing consultant. I moved that enterprise to Holland a year later. Two years after that I started my own publishing house, creating and handling international co-productions of children’s books, which developed into a company producing children’s animated films. These activities allowed and forced me to travel the world for 25 years. I retired to Southern Spain when I was 55.

These stories contain some of the adventures I encountered during those fulfilling albeit turbulent years.

I hope you enjoy.

A Very White Christmas

New Mexico, USA 1989

My son Derek, after studying in Colorado, spent several winters as a ski-instructor in Taos, in the mountains of New Mexico, USA.

My phone rings in Amsterdam.
“Daddy it is beautiful here, come and spend Christmas with us. No one else will invite you anyhow!”
Hahahaha, smart Alec, wise- guy son.
“Us, who are us?”
“Well…my friends and I, what’s the difference – you don’t have other plans anyway, hahaha.”
If there is ‘ hah..ha..’ in a conversation between parent and child there is a lack of respect. Even when in this case the son was right.
Better than ‘ blah..blah’.

Taos (/ˈtaʊs/) is a town in Taos County in the north-central region of New Mexico, incorporated in 1934. The town is close to Taos Pueblo, the Native American village and tribe from which it takes its name. The name is also referred to by the nearby ski resort of Taos Ski Valley. The English name Taos derives from the native Taos language meaning “place of red willows”.

Sounds interesting…..

When I arrived from Amsterdam, hopping from stop-over to stop-over, finally at the nearest airport, 4 hours from Taos, it was a scene of a beaming son meeting a gloomy father.
Father was in no mood to travel any further.
He pushed me into the car.
When we finally arrived at (close to) his “place” halfway up a snowy mountain on a road in the middle of nowhere, we stopped and parked.
From there on the road was no longer drivable.
I was completely worn out.
He unloaded my suitcase (my travel mate Tommy) and smiled, “Here comes the fun!”
The house is there, he pointed up the mountain, and in between de stars I did see some lights.

 

 

Derek

 

 

 

He tied my suitcase around his shoulders and grabbed a rope that lay down the steep slope disappearing somewhere in the fog up high. “Follow me.”

Following meant:  Get the rope and haul yourself up, only about a hundred meters.
I did, mumbling to myself, “ Just the job for a very ex- marine.”
Aided by my cursing and Derek’s gentle prodding we made it.
I met “Us.”  “Hi folks, this is my dad.”
I looked like shit and felt worse.

“Hi Mr. Fehmers, welcome, Derek told us you are a great guy and you would buy us booze and food, ha..ha, and you must be tired, ha.. ha, and we made you a bed.”
They pointed to a couch. “But have a drink first.”
So we did and I went to bed, nicely tucked in by my son.
The kids partied on.

The next morning they — all ski -instructors — had left but there was a heart warming note from my son:

Good morning on this Christmas Eve day!
Hope you had a good sleep.
See you tonight, before midnight, at the pizza parlor in Taos Pueblo.
The keys of my car are on the table next to you.
Enjoy your day.
Love you.

 Christmas ! Pizza?
Ah, just as well as I probably would be paying for the lot.
I enjoyed the day. Lovely sunshine. Beautiful mountains and views. Life was good. I made a fire because it was freezing cold and in the afternoon I went back to sleep.

 I woke up at around 21.00 hours.
Outside it was snowing hard. A blizzard.
More wood on the fire and time to kill with a few drinks.
At 22.00 I took a hot shower and dressed properly for the Christmas Eve party.
I borrowed some ski jackets from the rack, and headed into the wild blue yonder.
Though blinded by the fierce blowing snow, I did find the rope to guide me downhill.
Falling, holding, cursing my son, sliding, I reached the road.
Note to self: never wear leather loafers with beautiful leather (slick) soles when doing extreme mountaineering.

All the cars on the road were completely snowed under.
All four wheel drives, all looking the same…… but I did find Derek’s car.

The keys.  THE KEYS OF THE CAR!?
Next to my bed on the table.

I felt so cold and in the middle of nowhere that I cried and reminisced about my last hours on earth, huddled under a car.
Not run down, like most drunks, not even that feeble honor.
Dead under a frozen, abandoned, snow covered car.
Christ is born and Frank freezes to death.

But….

Easter came to mind.  Resurrection.
There is no glory in freezing to death, let alone a future, so after ten minutes I muttered,  “You can do it!”
I found the rope and hauled myself up the mountain: 2 yards forward, 1 back.

Home again, the fire was still full of heat, unlike me.
I was cold and needed a drink.  A new life after near death.
At almost midnight I felt very guilty.
No telephone to be found.

You can do it.  Your son who loves you, (hmm… funny way of showing it) is waiting for you.
“The keys, don’t forget the keys my friend.”
I found the keys but not the rope. Amazing what alcohol can do.

In an avalanche of blurred vision, shivers, and sheer ex-marine determination, I slid down the mountain. Found the car, brushed it of, got it started and turned around, managed to not drive off numerous cliffs on the way down, and found the pizza place.

“Where have you been ?”
Nobody seemed in the least worried.
“Oh, I spent some quality time on my own,
Happy to be here though!”
What type of pizza shall it be?”

 

 And it was all just perfect.
  I can recommend pizza for Christmas.

 

 

Needless to say, the next week of my visit I rarely left that cabin. Tucked into a nice blanket, a roaring fire, music and some fine scotch I spent my time reminiscing, writing, and coming up with a number of tales about my life. Tales which I’ve had the fortune of sharing with you in these pages…….

 

Frank Fehmers
Leaving Home © 2007 Frank Fehmers.
All rights reserved


Ischa Meijer

Ischa Meijer

Frank Fehmers op bezoek bij Ischa Meijer
– 30 June, 1992  (Dutch interview)

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Celebration Time – Egypt

CELEBRATION TIME

EGYPT 1991

Every year a complete circus of publishers of children’s books meet at the International Children’s Book-fair in Bologna (Italy). Party time indeed because throughout the year we already meet several times during other book-fairs or “normal” biz-visits.

We all loved Bologna. Bologna was special because the city meant party time!

The fair opens at 9 o’clock and around 11 o’clock the first publishers gather around the bar to have an espresso with a hangover grappa.  During one of those encounters my friends Josh Gaspero (US), Michael Morris (UK) and Sigurd (Norway)) had found out that we would all turn 50 the next year, and that called for “BIG party time.”

The next year about 200 guests arrived in Egypt for a seven day cruise on the Nile, which had been organized and paid for by Josh, Michael and Sigurd.

In Egypt once you have seen one pyramid or a king’s grave you have seen them all. Remember, this gang of guests published only children’s books and in slightly out of tune with their demographic had an appetite for liquor and fine food — definitely not one for learning and culture. After the first excursion most of us stayed on the ship reading the brochures.  Publishers seldom read (why help the competition?), but they will use it as an excuse for not having to see another pile of stones in blazing heat and sand.f

I had invited my good friend Richard, a writer and play director, to join me on this journey because for me this was a tax deductible business trip and his wife had recently passed away.

Richard summed it all up with the following lament:

Tutankhamun rented a room
at the Mea House Hotel,
He gazed with awe
at the great stone to’r
and said, ‘ I must give that Giza a bell.
Said the king with a smile,
as he studied the pile,
“That Giza’s out of his head.
If he wanted crap,
why built all that!
What’s wrong with a wooden shed?”
He rang him that day,
especially to say,
“Why the great stack of rocks?”
But Giza never replied,
the poor schmuck had died
and was in the middle of the pile in a box.
Tut returned to Aswan
a thoughtful man,
“A pyramid is an awful bother.”
Quoth he “I’ll dig a burrow,
a bus ride from Cairo,
out of reach of a potential robber.”
It so came to pass,
when Tut breathed his last,
a boy of mere eighteen.
It has been said,
he’d been bashed on the head
by his sister, who was also his Queen.

Millenniums he lay undisturbed
until a couple of crass nerds
named Carnarvon and Howard Carter
burst into the room
and there in the gloom
catalogued everything pro rata.
The king in the hereafter,
glared down on old Carter
his rage the heavens did render.
So he spelled out a curse
which was infinitely worse
than is visited upon the opposite gender.

Within a few months
Lord Carnervon got bumps
and expired with great deal of sighing.
Wisely, Carter gave up
the jewels of King Tut
Bit it did not stop him from dying.

Things went from bad to worse 
at the spread of the Curse;
those involved their lives did lose’m.
So the Brits gave it all back
including the mat
and it is now in the Cairo Museum.

So if you visit Tut’s tomb
and you stare at the room,
the legend to try and unravel,
You are told it is King Ram.
Quite a different man;
Because you booked with Eagle Travel.

So Frank and I make a toast,
without a hint of a boast
we have enjoyed ourselves sincerely.
sharing a bunk and 
if this ship had been the old Nubian Queen 
We’d had been looked at very Queerly.” 

King Tut’s curse is still around and hits those who do not pay him royal respect and damns whoever enters his tomb.
At the end of our trip we left the boat and took a bus to Cairo, to a “real” hotel, for our last night’s stay and a farewell dinner. From the bus I saw that my suitcase was still on the platform. The Eagle Travel tour guide told me not to worry, it would arrive with the next bus. Four months later a friend of mine had to go to Cairo and he, understandingly reluctant, agreed to fetch it at Eagle Travel’s headquarters. Fortunately I was very fond of my toothbrush because that was about all the suitcase contained when I got it back.

Ten years later, to celebrate our sixtieth birthday,  Josh invited 200 guests for a four day celebration at his “castle” in Altomonte, Italy.

Altomonte lies’in the middle of nowhere ‘ about 50 km from Naples.
Let me try to explain nowhere.  Me, from Spain, zinx that it means “Now Where?”

To get to No where, you fly from Malaga to Milano, from Milano you fly to Napoli and from Napoli you take a train.

My good friend Tony Hutchings, a well known artist and illustrator of children’s books who also lives in Southern Spain, Lina and I ended up on the train. Our first class seats we changed rapidly for the second class, which, also empty, was much cleaner. Our train stopped sometimes for 20 minutes. Would we miss our welcome party upon arrival ? Panic. Just goats passing.

We stopped at a station where our second class cabin was stopped 50 meters beyond the platform.  Was this it? Tony rushed up to ask the conductor. “No, another 20 minutes.” We counted the minutes and we deducted the stops. You can trust the Italian railways. Perfect.  Now we were cooking on gas, as the Australians national hymn says.

Back to nowhere. Outside the train station there stood lots of taxi’s. It was now 23.00 hours and we had promised Josh that we would arrive by mid-night. To the waiting taxi drivers we mentioned, again and again, Alto Monte.
“Where?”
“Alto Monte!”
“No.”

You now understand where nowhere comes from. Finally a young kid offered to take us for fifty euri. Deal.

Tony in the back with Lina. Me, co – driver, cleaning the front seat. After an hour our driver told us he had to make a detour to get gasoline, but he would make up for the time lost by taking a short cut. After we had paid for a full tank we took his short cut. It was 02.00 by now. At 03.00 he told us he was lost and when we saw a farm with lights on he rang the bell for instructions.  Off we went into the direction we had come from. After another inquiry, really annoying the master of the shed, we went in the opposite direction again.At 04.00 Lina and Tony were asleep trusting that I would kill the driver and take over. Tony, always on the ball and to the point, kept mumbling that Josh had instructed the staff of the hotel that we would arrive around mid night and that they would await us with lots of Bacardi Cola’s.

At 05.30, with the sun rising, so was our anticipation. Although timing, (re: the Bacardi’s) was of the essence, time as such is also relevant. When one has a holidays for e.g. two weeks, the first week seems to last 10 days and the second week 4 days. Still two weeks.

I call that my interpretation of the relativity of time, although recently my theories were shattered by the Cern experiment, which indicated that my analysis might be slightly slower than the speed of light. But that is now, this is then.

When we finally arrived at 06.20 at the hotel, lo and behold, the staff welcomed us with Cola Gin. It was easy to muster up a grin.

From there on, every day, there was an exciting program, a new adventure, each day ending with a big dinner (music band flown in from the US).


Lina and Frank’s dinner costume

For moral counseling Josh had brought Reverend Pete from NYC who wore a T shirt with the text “Get your ass to Church.”

The N.Y.Times:

“It was the kind of weather tailor-made for a wake. As lightning streaked the night sky and sheets of rain turned Ninth Avenue into a muck-filled canal, the Rev. Peter Colapietro climbed the stairs of a funeral home in Hell’s Kitchen, knelt before an open casket and whispered comforting words 

in the ear of an elderly Croatian woman burying her son, her only child. Twenty minutes later, his vestments and clerical collar replaced by a Yankees cap and a pin-striped Oxford shirt, Father Pete, as he is widely known, was ministering to a glass of bourbon and a cigarette, enveloped by a flock of journalists and sports-world celebrities at Elaine’s, the famous watering hole on the Upper East Side. ‘If I was ever to convert to Catholicism,’ said Elaine Kaufman, the restaurant’s omnipresent owner, ”It would be because of Father Pete.”

And for sexual counseling, Josh had invited the well known television sexologist Dr. Ruth with whom I danced, her head reaching just above my waist, which when dealing with someone so profoundly schooled in the arts of love, can be slightly disconcerting. And although Dr. Ruth was a lovely woman, and charming and such, I do have to mention that she is not the most attractive woman in the world, and so where did she amass this profound knowledge about sex to begin with?

About Dr. Ruth: “Because of her diminutive height of 4 ft 7 in (1.40 m), she was trained as a scout and sniper. Westheimer (Dr. Ruth) was seriously wounded in action by an exploding shell during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, and it was several months before she was able to walk again.”

PS:

I am very sad to report that in August of 2011 my very dear and unique friend Michael Morris passed away. He will be very much missed.

Frank Fehmers

Leaving Home © 2007 Frank Fehmers.  All rights reserved


De Ouderhoek

New York 1986

At the ‘”First (Dutch) Exhibition of Old Dutch Ships,” (1911)  there were on display many ships, models of ships, and paintings of ships.

One painting caught the attention of a wealthy textile baron. It showed a flat-bottom, a ship without a keel but with sideboards, which are, in fact two keels, one on each side. These ‘keels’ could be raised and lowered. As a result the ships could sail in very shallow waters.

The ship shown on the painting was ‘extinct’ and this gentleman decided to have one built. He commissioned a wharf in Amsterdam to build a Zeeuwsche Poon with a length of 11 meters. This ship’s type was that of a cargo freighter, with a length around 18 meters. Our “baron” had the Poon built as a yacht in oak wood. He also engaged a naval (interior) architect) who in those days was famous for his very decorative and ornamental interiors of the ships of the Holland America Line. In 1914 the Zeeuwsche Poon, De Ouderhoek (named after his estate on the river Veght, near Amsterdam) was baptized and launched.
                                                 After the war,  in 1919

In 1975 I became the seventh lucky owner of De Ouderhoek.  Lucky, well hmm, I spent a fortune on a complete (14 month) restoration which was beautifully done by Roelof van der Werff in Workum, Friesland (Holland).

                      Proud owner….pondering the “Hole in the water” analogy.

De Ouderhoek , without mast, on a canal in Amsterdam

I could write many stories about my times with this beautiful yacht during the 18 years that I was the proud owner of this but one event certainly stands out and that was the “Liberty Centennial Celebration” during the Fourth of July weekend  in New York, 1986.

This was a huge international nautical happening and the City of New York, having been Old New Amsterdam, extended an open invitation to any Dutch sailors who wished to attend. When we informed the US authorities that we had the “absurd” idea of attending the parade with a fleet of Dutch flat-bottoms the reply was:  “Since the Dutch bought the Island of Manhattan for the absurd amount of 24 dollars they welcomed any further “absurd” ideas from Holland.”

As the official memorial album later told us:

One of the more charming stories of Liberty Weekend concerns the participation of the Dutch fleet. It began in Amsterdam in the fall of 1985, when a large 38 Dutch families, responding to a newspaper ad, said they wanted their fleet of flat-bottom boats to be involved in the Statue of Liberty celebration. The Dutch fleet arrived in New York a week before the festivities began. About three dozen vessels crossed the Atlantic snuggled in the belly or perched on the top deck of a ‘mother’ ship that had no distinctive features of her own. Pulling into the port with little fanfare, it was no until this docking ship began to unload her ‘cargo,’  a small family of brightly varnished, gaff-rigged, nearly double-ended sailboats bobbed into the water, that one could appreciate the unique contribution this fleet made to the centennial.

Flat-bottomed boats are traditional Dutch vessels designed for the shallow waters of the canals and lakes in the Netherlands. The widening of the under-bodies resulted from restrictions on overall hull dimensions posed by the numerous locks which one had to pass through to traverse the Dutch lowlands. The wider the bottom, the flatter the sides, and the fuller the bow and stern, the more cargo a vessel was able to load.  For Operation Sail the Dutch fleet sailed in block formation down the East River in the parade of small ships on the morning of July 3. For the duration of the Liberty Weekend, they could be found docked en masse in Manhattan’s North Cove at the lower end of the Hudson River, where their quaint elegance was a spectator’s delight.”

                             De Ouderhoek, leading the parade

And so it was. A spectator’s delight.

We got sick and tired explaining what those “ears” on the sides were for and how we crossed the ocean with a boat built for shallow water.

When me mentioned the dock-ship people were VERY disappointed.  Even the fact that De Ouderhoek was only from 1914 disappointed them. So we quickly changed the day of its birth to 1672, when the Dutch beat the English with ships like this one (Now you’re talking!) and yes indeed, some parts of the Atlantic crossing were rather nasty…

“Pieter (first officer Den Haan) do you have that photograph we took in the Azores?”
I then showed them this photo taken on a lake in Holland. 

“Wow man, you are a tough lot!”

The Accident

On the Fourth of July there was another parade in which almost a thousand ships took part. All ships were sailing/motoring in flotilla’s according to size and class. During this spectacular event we would pass the aircraft carrier SS Eisenhower on which President Reagan stood to acknowledge our salutes, which consisted of lowering the jib and our national flag.

I had invited 32 guests — well, actually only 19 but my guests brought their guests….

As you can see: A full load afloat….

We sailed with a reduced main sail with the boom pretty far out.

Suddenly from behind us a sailing yacht under full sail and full engines tried to squeeze through our fleet.  Her stay caught our boom and she dragged us forward and sideways. The boom bent and bent and….BOOM! It snapped and swept back across the deck.

Resulting into: 

The coast guard was perfect. They reached us within a minute and arrested the crew (drunk, the lot) of the ship that had hit us. Shit happens but this was all very sad.

After we cleaned the mess on our deck a unanimous decision was made to continue on the engine, say hello to Reagan and make the best of the rest of the day, which I spent below deck, mostly crying.

Almost the End
The Dutch Navy had invited us to a party and after the captain had heard my sorry accident tale he casually mentioned that the Navy could also repair wood and if I needed a bit of help.

We certainly could!

We brought De Ouderhoek to their dock, and they worked on it through the night and the next day. Lo and behold! We could sail again, saving the rest of our holidays during which participating ships from the ‘Royal Dutch Rowing and Sailing Club’ would visit all the ‘fancy’ Yacht Clubs around the Long Island Sound, from which we received heart warming receptions, not to mention innumerable toasts to one of the most legendary sailing countries the world has ever seen.

THE  END

During the festivities in New York a friend of mine and fellow participant with his own flatbottom agreed with me that it was of the essence to the success of this mission that there was enough alcohol. Considering his NOT under the influence position with Heineken and Bols Jenever could he possibly…????

Yes he could.

Every evening around 20 hundred hours: Dutch fleet only, a truck arrived with beers and jenevers. Plenty and more than much too much for all of us, which most of our fellow ships stored and stored and which we drank and drunk.

When the Dutch fleet came back to Holland and the ships were back into friendly waters again out came the Dutch customs patrol boats.

“Gentlemen, we are here to inspect.”

The first boat got his wares confiscated and paid the fine. During that inspection the other boats emptied their bottles (pollution!) and yelled at the customs officer: If you want REAL booze, have a look at De Ouderhoek.

And so they did. At 3 o’clock in the morning!
“Welcome officers! Can we help you?”

With flashlights they searched the ship, becoming more and more irritated as they came up empty…

“Can we offer you a drink?”
“WHAT?”
“What would you like to drink?”

They then took half the ship apart, and found nothing.
“A cup of coffee perhaps?”

They left without saying good-bye, leaving the other boat owners bewildered.

How did we do it?

There’s a moral to this story:
Sometimes it’s better to drink and not think,
than to think and not drink!

PS:  I have been asked why the minor ( sort of) accident was mentioned on the front page of the New York Times. Obviously not out of respect for the ship or pity for me. The answer  is that the guest who broke his nose, and his wife in hospital, was Mr. Wolfensohn.

A very precious nose and the boom that hit him could not miss…
I am still grateful that ‘ no charges’ were filed. A gentleman !



An Adventure in the Snow

Courchevel, France, 1978

The mother of my children was born in California.  She could ski and I, being from Holland, could skate and we could have lived happily ever after if we both had not done either. But she wanted me to ski before she would learn to skate. Every winter she mentioned skiing and I said no. That became a bit boring so one winter she said skiing and I said “OK next year we go skiing and this year we go skating,” — a major break through and an even bigger mistake, for skating has limited potential for catastrophe, and skiing….well…

The next year some friends of ours rented a small chalet in Courchevel, France, and wanted to know if we would like to join them and split the cost.  Aptly I told them that perhaps next year we’d go — my favorite answer — but my wife reminded me of my promise from the previous year, and that this year we’d go.

I did not say anything, realizing that I needed a bit more time to come up with the perfect excuse. Alas, I had no time to think, because the next day our friends showed up, with a book: Pre-ski-exercises. That did it.  While they did their exercises, complaining about muscle pain, my “No” became a justifiable “NO!”:  skiing was painful and expensive.

Two weeks later my wife and I set out for France, by car. We drove off in the morning and arrived at Courchevel that evening at 9 o’clock.

We landed at a very nice chalet, good location, with the fireplace burning. That was more like it! We had brought a few bottles of cognac, “It can be cold out there,” and I opened a bottle.

My friends yawned, and said they were going to bed because…  tomorrow morning will be an early rise.  Then my wife went to bed and I kept enjoying the fire and the cognac.  After a few hours of sleep something very funny was happening in the middle of the night: eggs and bacon. It was eight o’clock in the morning!  I must be in the wrong comic strip! But low and behold, at nine we set off to rent skis and get ski passes.“Frank you don’t need a pass yet, because that comes with the ski class.”

The brochure read:  The lift system is also very modern, fast and efficient. Ski schools abound and offer classes in 8 languages for every standard and discipline.

“The what?”  An hour later I joined a class, consisting of children and very elderly children. I then had lunch by myself as the wife and friends would have a nice lunch up the mountain, where it was beautiful.

Afternoon class was the same: me sliding down a 50 meter bump and picking up, as unofficial assistant, my fellow class mates.  I was king of the bump.

I was also two hours early for our rendez vous for the après ski. Skiing was not so bad after all. Eating out was out of the question because ski passes etc. were expensive enough and we had a kitchen.

I continued “skiing” in the bar, while they did the shopping. “How about a game?” I said after dinner, while reaching for the brandy.  They all yawned “No, we’ll make it an early night.” Next morning: eggs and bacon.

Me: “Have a nice day, see you at après ski!”

I bought a one-day pass for the lift system. From king of the bump and bar to king of the mountain. Yes!!!

I judged my options. That pulley looked like the best starter.

The line was filled with wimps. l queued up for my turn, and caught the bar and whoops, I was on my face in the snow. Lift stopped.  With a big smile to the waiting queue I tried again.

Whoops. Down again. Lift stopped.

The French are not known for their patience and ski-folk want to go from A to B as fast as possible. I got the message and casually walked off the lift. There must be an easier option. Well, look here, a chair-lift that slows and stops while you climb in! But in following the trajectory I noticed that those chairs were dangling very high above the ground on their upward journey, and as I suffer from serious vertigo, I decided to look around some more.

That’s when I saw a floating bus. That’s me! I entered the bus and secured my skis behind a holding bar and moved immediately to the middle pole not daring to look outside.  When the bus finally stopped,  I got busy trying to untangle my skis, but before I could exit, a few more people came in and the doors closed. Pretending that I had also just arrived I replaced my skis in the rack and we continued upwards. The five of us stared at each other, judging. I practiced looking very disapproving.

I got hold of both of my skis and studied them very carefully (Damn, I forgot to wax!) and when we stopped we all got out. At this altitude it was snowing and decidedly colder.

I stood there pretending that I was waiting for a friend on the next lift, meanwhile studying what to do next by watching them zoom off.  I learned a lot. They put on their skis, shuffled to the rim, took a deep breath, did some stretching and slowly went down hill, gaining speed and after 50 meters made a turn and went out of sight.

After they had all gone I put on my skis, which on the icy snow was not so easy.  I lost one ski, which slid down the mountain.  By the time I had recovered the ski and was ready to go… another lift arrived. I took one ski off intently looking as if to see if my friend was amongst the new arrivals. He was not.

When alone again and nobody could see me I put the skis on and went to the side, took the deep breath and practiced the knee bending. Piece of cake…this skiing…

I slid down. I was skiing, very fast actually.

My friends from the lift had made a left turn, and so should I.  My skis (typically French) refused to make a left turn. On the first tree that I hit I lost my skis. The next tree broke my shoulder bone and on more trees I fractured my ankle and cracked most of my ribs.  My body and ego were badly bruised, whilst realizing that, for the moment, I must give up skiing.

I screamed and cried for help.

The hospital was beautiful.  A nice sunny terrace where I spent the remaining days of the vacation. Good long nights sleeping, breakfast at normal hours, no closing time…

I enjoyed avant, during and après ski with fellow top athletes, playing chess, cards, reading and drinking. My friends and my wife came to see me daily, of course, and what boring stories they told me. Up and down, down and up.

After seventeen happy years of not skiing my two sons became ski instructors. In Courchevel of all places. Both sons have been in the same hospital., family discount.

 

 

My son Michael

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