Réveillon in the Alps

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Today I spent a New Year’s Eve like no other. This morning saw me make the ascent of a mountain in the French Alps.

I took the easy way up – the funiculaire of course! The closest experience to this, as one fellow passenger suggested, might be taking the tube on the Victoria Line at rush hour. Except, the carriages this morning were full of people dressed in salopettes and heavy boots and carrying skis and ski poles. Jostling about in a jam-packed carriage like this made things interesting. The reward? At 3,032 metres above sea level, we emerged to drink in a stunning wrap-around view of brilliant snowy peaks: majestic and white as meringues. All this against a sky of the truest, unsullied blue. Think rich cornflower; the colour of painted shutters. Or flax blossom tinged with campanula. Everything bathed in the golden light of a lofty winter sun.

Un chocolat et un vin chaud plus tard I made the descent of the mountain in my now familiar underground carriage. It travelled à toute vitesse, this time minus the myriad skiers, who had taken to their ski legs to make their way down. My less energetic descent made successfully, I walked through the ski resort. At its edge sits an alpine lake, entirely frozen. This generous expense of white was criss-crossed with other walkers. Twenty minutes in crisp air took me across its snowy surface to the village on the other side where I made for a homely perch à la terasse d’un joli restaurant, ordered un vin blanc and am now happily ensconced writing this.

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I’m surveying a scene of winter activity worthy of a Richard Scarry Busy Book (for those of us who remember such publications), or maybe even “Where’s Wally?”. Multicoloured skiers of all ages and sizes are weaving in and out. Parents in bobble hats pull toddlers on mini sledges. Cable car bubbles move upwards and downwards from mountainside to mountainside. Spindly sapins are sprinkled across the slopes like sprigs of faded rosemary or thyme. Snowmobiles zoom by carrying officials on pressing missions. Pedestrians dressed like eskimos carry snowboards and Spar bags. A tele-skier lands soundlessly somewhere in the middle of it all and a young woman prepares to scuba dive into a hole cut out in the ice close to a cluster of life-size igloos. Diners on the terrace debate and discuss over soup and salad and Savoyard delights. Dogs scamper around in the snow, chasing scents. All of this sits in relief against a mountainous canvas of white. This is one way to see out 2018. According to the brochures, a giant ice-born party is planned to celebrate this evening’s Réveillon. There will be music and dancing and fireworks.

The story of this place is remarkable. When the inhabitants of the original valley farming community learned that their dwellings were to be submerged under water upon the building of a dam, they were determined to survive. The route they chose was diversification but on an ambitious scale. Farms were transformed into lodgings and leisure spaces and this new Alpine resort was launched in 1957. Symptomatic of the twentieth century perhaps, but one can only admire the spirit and success of their venture. For this wintry playground, with its infrastructure and engineering and industry, must surely have exceeded their dreams, welcoming holiday makers like us by the thousand each week.

I walk back across the icy surface of the frozen lake and think of the stone houses and farm buildings that lie beneath its depths. Places where people lived and worked. I’ve read stories like this in books, but this one is real. Is reality the stuff of stories or are stories the stuff of reality? No matter. I’m glad I’ve had the chance to experience the blessings of this day and its amazing, uncommon, Common Grace. The grandeur of this place with its blue sky, its craggy mountains and the welcome Alpine sun.

As I write down these thoughts and as we move towards 2019, I want to wish all my friends and family in their different places a Happy New Year. May we know True Joy, the Light and the Blessings of God.

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