This past weekend was my first spent in the Alps of Torino, a jagged line of sharp, snowy tops slicing Italy and France directly down the middle. The place in which we stayed was called Sauze D'Oulx, a mountainous town snuggled in the centre of the Mountain Community Alta Valle Susa. Though the name is obviously French, the town lies on the Italian side of the border -- evidence that the frontier between France and Italy is really less defined than the nationals of each would like to think. It is apparently a destination which every Torinese tends to frequent at some point in their life. Just how every Italian knows someone named "Andrea," it is impossible to live in Italy for more than a month and not find someone who has a cottage in Sauze D'Oulx.
Initially, I expected that I would be skiing on the weekend, and I dressed myself accordingly -- long johns, tank top, t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt and puffy coat - six layers in total, to be precise. In the end, I didn't ski at all (no great loss), but the six layers were more than appreciated. The snow reached as high as my waste in some parts, the wind when it blew was bitter, and the temperatures were comparable to Toronto in the dead of winter. It was a bit of a shock for someone who, puffed up with Southern Ontarian pride, turned her nose up with a laugh when told it would be freezing.
For me, most of the weekend was spent dancing, drawing and playing "mama and baby wolf" with Anna who, being only three, was unable to start skiing lessons. Pietro and Marta, on the other hand, were bundled up beyond recognition in preparation for ski school - the younger squealing in joy and the elder in misery at the prospect of spending an entire two days in the cold on a snowy mountain top. As it turned out, the school was extortionate, charging 40 euros for one child to ski twice, and so the next day, after cancelling their reservations at the school, the entire family went skiing together while Anna and I spent our first three hours out together alone.
These three hours were probably the most challenging for me so far, for many reasons. First of all, it was the first time I had ever taken a three year old out on the town without another adult around to lend a hand. Secondly, Anna gave definition to "separation anxiety" by wailing on and off for an hour after her parents left to ski. Thirdly, I had been charged with not only getting this sobbing child a specific type of chocolate croissant and a specific store which I had never been to, but also with buying a massive package of paper and a newspaper -- all in very broken Italian! The entire time I was on edge, but I found that as I checked off each "chore" on the list, the easier spending time with Anna became. I attribute this to the fact that I am becoming very familiar with the various ways of distracting Anna's attention from things that instigate her crying spells, like missing her parents. (For instance, whenever I pick her up from school these days, I tell her first of all that her mummy is at home waiting for her, even if she isn't. Then, when we arrive and tears start to well up in Anna's eyes, I tell her that her mummy has gone to buy some milk for her baby bottle. This prospect always seems to delight Anna (perhaps it is the idea that her mum is doing something especially for her?), and she usually quiets down.
As for the scenery, it goes without saying that my mouth was unhinged in astonishment the entire time. Unfortunately, the first day was rather snowy so most of my photos took on a misty blue tint, but the next day was clear enough to take some excellent shots. My favourite moment was sitting at the ski coffee shop after completing a long walk up the highest ski slope in the area, looking out over the town of Sauze D'Oulx -- a mixed bag of little wooden apartments from the 70's, ski stores, Christmas lights, and a cute miniature church plopped appropriately in the middle, centred against a backdrop of almost exaggerated beauty -- peak after peak of harsh rock and snow, remnants of previous landslides, precarious roads winding around each cliff face, and the brilliant sun forcing its reflection onto the blinding whiteness that covered every pike. I was cold, but it was a moment of true happiness.
Our next visit will be in about three weeks time, so I hope that I will be able to tell you more of this beautiful area of Italy soon.