WHITE SPACE

For the third year in a row we went skiing with our neighbors. We returned to the Austrian Alps during spring break. My husband, Allan, who was between jobs had traveled to Austria two weeks earlier. My son, Andy and I would take the overnight train to Saltzburg where my husband would pick us up. I was looking forward to the week of intensive Dutch.

FRIDAY 17th February

The taxi I ordered the night before for 6:10 arrived in the a.m. instead of the p.m. I told him he was 12 hours early. Normally I would have a neighbor drive me to the train station but they were all already on their way to skiing.

I was antsy watching the traffic jam grow and grow. It’s basically a mass exodus to Germany-Austria-Switzerland-Italy for skiing during the school spring break. During the winter, with no leaves on the trees I have a view from our upstairs windows of one of the main arteries out of Amsterdam. It looked like a parking lot. I kept hearing sirens. To pass the time I decided to treat my new granite kitchen countertop with an impregnating solution. It stank like solvent. My son became nauseous from the smell.

At 4 o’clock I decided against taking Andy across town to his judo lesson. I wasn’t sure I could get back. The traffic was THAT bad. It’s possible to take a short cut from the highway through our village so I expected it would be a slow nightmare to make my way across town. I was tense enough expecting the train ride from hell without this extra added headache. There is a direct train but it had to be booked a year in advance. I would have to change trains 4 (four!) times during the night to get Salzberg.

When the taxi didn’t arrive by 6:15 p.m. I started calling the taxi company in a panic. The line was busy, busy, busy! So were all the other taxi company’s phone lines! Oh dear! I had lied and said my train was at 6:30 when really it was at 6:55 but still! A taxi finally did arrive at about 6:35. The driver apologized immediately for being late and then told me it would be impossible to get to the nearest train station. Due to the signals being out of order all the roads to the train station we blocked by the arms that come down over the road.

Luckily I had the entire train route printed out with me so we decided to try to catch the train at the first stop. The driver didn’t know if the signals were or weren’t working there either and speculated on how far he would have to take me to make the train. I thought, ‘I wonder what outrageous amount this will cost me? ‘When he saw how many stops we would have to make he said, ‘Oh honey! Why didn’t you fly? I could get you to the airport easily and you’d be there in two hours.’ Sheesh!

With the help of this taxi driver we did make the train with almost no time to spare. Allan and I exchanged some rather terse text messages. Andy and I had to sit in a smoking section for a few hours. Next to us was an over tanned looking women. She was listening to Madonna on her cd player so loud that I could recognize the song. I still don’t know how anybody could enjoy such bland music. Something made me look closer and I thought, ‘katoy’. I didn’t have to pinch Andy to wake him up at midnight to board our last train. I had brought blankets and one pillow case to help us get comfortable in the couchette sleeping chairs. It wasn’t too hard to get Andy to sleep but then I realized I should have brought two pillow cases. Duh! I unzipped the hood from my jacket, stuffed it into the string bag I had brought to carry the blankets in and tried to get in a position where I could sleep. I woke with a terrible lower backache and a strange pattern on my face. I attributed my headache to nicotine withdrawal.

SATURDAY, February 18th

Allan met us on the platform. We drove about an hour to his hotel where I took some Advil and crashed for a few sweet hours. I think it is so amazing that I can be in so much pain that I’m afraid that I won’t die and one Advil and a twenty minute nap later I feel fine again. I tried to eat some of the cold cuts at breakfast to get my protein in. But there is something very icky and ‘liverish’ about Austrian pork. My husband doesn’t do ‘leisurely’ it’s always, Go! Go! Go! So we put on our skiing things and made our way to the Asitz lift. I’ve found that if I put three socks on; two on my left foot and only one on my right that makes my ski boots fit properly. I truly regret at this point not buying those new ski pants at Christmas. But the price took my breath away. So I just don my size 14 clown pants. I can’t even pretend that they are snowboarding pants they are just too huge.

I skied as gracefully as an albatross. I felt like Jimmy Hoffa complete with concrete galoshes- all the time burping icky pork. This was NOT what I’d been taking three years of lessons for. We enjoyed a nice lunch sitting outside in the sun. For a time we couldn’t find Andy at the end of the day. He’d followed Allan down on the last run but when Al turned around, Andy wasn’t there. After a short frantic search we found him playing in the snow.

I was so disappointed in myself. I could not turn. At the end of the day we traded my skies for some that were slightly shorter. Hopefully that would do the trick.

My shins were sore from the vain attempts at turns. I tried to take a shower. But everyone else in the village tried to take a shower at the same time. Which over taxed the local water pressure. So nobody got any water at that time. Since I’m naked anyway I pose a bit and admire my ‘fed’ state in the mirror. [a fed state is when your muscles are full of carbohydrates and also therefore water]. Nice.

Dinner was ‘chicken helper’ with ice cream for dessert. Andy- the quintessential picky eater ‘wasn’t hungry’ but managed to eat all his ice cream and most of mine. I like the food where we stay. It’s simple, and plentiful. I am so not into pretense.

Andy lost a tooth. He’d had a loose one for some time and was very happy to have it out. He left it under his pillow for the ‘little mouse’ to exchange for cold hard cash. He normally gets a Euro per tooth but since we were on holiday he rated 4 (four!) Euros. He really grilled me in the morning about how can a mouse carry that many coins?

[serve the people: be a cannibal]

SUNDAY, February 19th

Are we having fun yet? I was so tired from using the too long, too heavy skis the day before that I didn’t really do any better today. It was quite cold at the bottom of the mountain in the morning. But as we went up in the gondola we came out on top of the mist into a beautiful sunny day. We took one of our favorite routes, the Viehoven route that is 7.5 kilometers long. It’s a fairly easy blue that isn’t usually very crowded. Right turns and side slipping were a breeze- not so on my left. I dared to go as fast as I could as long as there was no one in front of me. At one point the group had stopped to let the slower ones catch up. I turned and saw Andy sitting in the middle of the slope. He must have fallen on a patch of ice I noticed there. Petra, our neighbor skied by him and told him to get out of the middle of the path.

Petra was a bit miffed at her youngest daughter, Nina. Nina loves to ski right behind you and Petra found this irritating. Nina HAD fallen twice already that day and wasn’t too happy about it. Petra joked about going to Aruba next year instead of skiing.

I saw Nina hit a bump in the same spot where Andy had fallen. She leaned backwards, which is wrong! Wrong! Wrong! And then did a cartwheel out of her skis. Our kingdom above the clouds was shattered. We could easily hear her 150 feet down the hill. Nina has umm, quite a piercing voice.

Allan was bringing up the rear and he stopped to help Nina. He encountered a full frontal refusal, which is not unusual for a seven year old of course. So Nina’s father, Ben walked back up to her. It just about killed him. He vowed to give up cigarettes. We decided to call the rescue squad, just in case she really was hurt. I guess you could call her, ‘the little girl who cried, ‘torn cross ligament.’’ Ben rode down on the back of the snow mobile while Petra skied behind them.

We went on to a restaurant a little way further where Petra called from the bottom warning us that it was quite slushy and unpleasant at the bottom.

It’s. Not. Fun. To. Ski. In. Slush. You can’t go. You can’t stop. You can’t turn. It’s awful. And tiring. I got to practice my side slipping. A lot.

The reason the Viehoven run is usually not crowded is because there is no lift at the bottom. You have to take a bus. Petra called from the hospital to tell us that Nina hadn’t broken or torn anything. She was to take a day off and then could try to ski again in two day. A very big articulated bus took us to the Schonenlieten lift. It’s kinda like you hear how Japanese commuter trains are. There are attendants at the bottom to help push as many people as possible into the gondola cars. We got shoved into one where a lady was holding a very scared, quivering small dog in her arms.

The group split up between the beginners and the more fool hardy i.e. the children and Paul, another adult in our group. Al, Ingrid and I waited and waited at the appointed meeting place when finally Paul’s wife, Ingrid called him on her mobile phone. He’s gone the wrong way and had to bring the children up on a T-bar lift. That couldn’t have been fun for him.

I fell and fell and fell the rest of the day. In the morning the freshly groomed snow is rather smooth but by the end of the day after everybody has skied over it the slops get lumpy. Unfortunately my years of lesson on an artificial slope did not teach me anything about what to do in different snow conditions.

I decided I’d had enough skiing for the day and to take the gondola down Asitz Mountain instead of skiing.

I had had to pack our things two weeks in advance so Allan could bring them with him. That way I wouldn’t have too much to carry on the train. It was a brash act of optimism for me to pack my size 4 Gap low rise flare jeans to wear in the evening to dinner. Thank goodness for lycra spandex! I know now what toothpaste feels like before it squishes out of the tube.

MONDAY, February 20th

Allan went with boys. He had one walkie-talkie and I had the other. I stayed in the hotel to leisurely drink coffee with the girls and Ben. I wanted a quiet morning after the first two intensive days of not really skiing as well as I expected I could.

After a truly horrendous wait at the bottom of the gondola we decide to go against the crowd. The day proceeded in an extremely relaxed pace. I didn’t ski much. But I did ski well. I thought, ‘No power in the ‘verse can touch me! With the shorter skis, I could turn. Now that I was rested I could perform somewhat better.

I turned on my walkie-talkie and tried to set the channel. After ten minutes of pushing different buttons I gave up and handed the radio to Sascha, a 10 year old in our group. I swear she pushed one button and viola! The radio was set to the right channel.

I enjoyed skiing until around 2:45 in the afternoon when we lost the light. You could no longer make out the contours of the snow. It truly was flying blind. Snow blind. Quite scary. I decided it would be foolhardy to continue.

[Why don’t you ever see Christian flavored lion food?]

TUESDAY, February 26th

We decided to start really early to avoid the horrible morning crush. The three of us skied all the way to Saalbach. I was never scared. Never tired. Which is quite a major coup for me. I did fall though. Around eleven we stopped for a break where I had cottage cheese strudel swimming in a pool of vanilla sauce. After that much sugar I was raring to go. I love being this fit. There was more slushy snow at the bottom of the mountain.

Serendipity is being the first to come across a freshly groomed slope in the middle of the day. Skiers gather there like birds over a freshly plowed field.

When we got back to the room around 4 I crashed and told Allan to wake me for food.

Runs are rated from easiest to hardest as follows;

Blue

Green

Red- Red runs rawk!

Black

WEDNESDAY, February 27th.

Stink-a-thon. Remember Allan had been at this for two weeks before we joined him. And without an adequate shower we both were pretty whiffy. The forecast for the day was for colder so I put on my angora long underwear.

We repeated the previous day’s route but this time with the whole group.

I was going great guns when a man sped by me followed by [presumably his] two children. The last one only had eyes for her papa I expect and she didn’t see me as she skied over the tips of my skies. I went down. And was very very angry. Why in the world am I spending a fortune on lessons for my son just to be knocked over by some fool kid who skies once a year behind her idiot father? The group that caused me to fall didn’t even stop. Righteous indignation.

I tried to revive myself with an enormous bowl of spaghetti and then some hot chocolate but again the slushy snow left me extremely tired.

Paul had a thermometer on his ski jacket that read 15 degrees C! At lunch I went into the bathroom and took off my long johns. Today we would avoid the new chair lifts with the heated seats instead of seek them out like we had done previously.

I don’t like moguls. I should have taken today off. Stubborn cuss that I am I still skied halfway down Asitz to get back to the car. I was smart today and took a shower the minute I got back to the hotel. It. Was. Nice.

I didn’t think much today beyond the tips of my skis and the next place to turn. It was white. And slushy in some places. Which meant I couldn’t overcome my inertia to go and once I finally did get going it was like skiing on ball bearings, there was no way to stop my momentum. That’s it. Flow. In the zone.

My knees hate me.

THURSDAY, February 23rd

It was a foggy cold morning. We ‘borrowed’ a teenage snowboarder to keep Andy company since it was just the three of us again today. I couldn’t see. I wasn’t recovered. I stopped for some fortified fruit juice. Then tried some tea with honey. It seems like I’d developed a case of ‘alpen trots’ from the chili I’d had for lunch the day before. DON’T HAVE THE CHILI FROM THE BERGHUT!.

My body still doesn’t trust what my brain is telling it to do.

FRIDAY, February 24th

I am appalled that Allan has lived in the Netherlands for 18 years and didn’t know the Dutch word for homesick. It’s cold. But the red runs at the top were nicely groomed in the morning. We do them over and over. Allan takes some video of Andy and me.

We take the viehoven run one last time. Andy takes a rather spectacular fall when he hits a patch of ice, loses a ski and slams into the icy side of the slope. He cries a bit but is revived with some candy.

There is an interminable wait for a table at lunchtime. The last run down all the other skiers seem like nuts to me. There are just too many out of control people out there for my taste so I stop. Allan does one last run while I load the car.

Now it’s time for me to squeeze my fertility goddess hips into my jeans and return home.

After ‘Tiroler Evening’ where we stuff our faces with far too much good food, we left at 3 am and arrived home about 11 hours later. Which gave us plenty of time to span the gamut of songs from Allan’s iPod. I kid you not we listened from yodeling to Hare Krishna music. I now have an unbelievable amount of laundry to do. Bring on spring!

The Trouble with Testosterone by Robert Sapolsky (book review)

Well, I’m a Sapolsky fan now after reading “The Trouble with Testosterone.” His style of writing reminds me of Natalie Angiers (The Beauty of the Beastly & Woman, an Intimate Geography)

It’s funny that I read it just after ‘The Songlines” which has some of man’s innate wanderlust as the heart of the story.

As a mother with a young son my heart just ached for male 273 (a baboon)

He was badly mauled and, in a poignant act, crawled for miles to return to his former home troop to die near his mother.

In the chapter ‘Circling the Blanket for God’ I just had to stop reading periodically to wipe the tears of laughter out of my eyes. He presents the (not new) argument that religion, schizophrenia and OCD are all related.

Put succinctly, it is not usually considered to be a sign of robust mental health to hear voices in burning bushes. Or to report that you’ve spent the night wrestling with an angel, or that someone who had died has risen and conversed with you.

He has a diagram of Rice Krispy treats and shows how it is innate human nature to want to always leave a straight line on the treats left in the pan. This really tickled me. I’ve always known it as ‘cake straightening’. No one can leave a jagged line of cake in a sheet cake pan. YOU JUST HAVE TO EAT cake until there is a straight line left.

For schizophrenics, it’s not a matter of trees and forests. Instead it’s habitually seeing only the bark.

This guy sure makes science accessible.