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Category: relaxation

On the Move

Ciao belli!

A few days have passed since I last blogged. I’ve been molto busy, some of it just trying to get places, be it by foot or by train.

When I last posted, I was in Aosta, I believe. Aosta was a cute-ish town, nestled in a valley at the base of the Italian Alps. It’s an Old Roman city with Roman arches intact surrounding parts of the town. Staying power, those Romans had. By the time I got to a hotel and got to dinner that night, many people were out and about for their passegiata — an evening stroll for window shopping and chatting. So I saw lots of people milling about. It’s a lovely Italian tradition, and great people-watching.

The next morning I was off to the stazione for a day-long journey to get to Fidenza, where I planned to pick up the Via Francigena again. I learned yesterday I’ve been grossly mispronouncing this word. Of course depending on what country you’re in it’s said differently anyhow. But now it’s pronounced Frahn-SHAY-jayna. I still struggle to get that right!

Anyhow, I spent the day swapping trains (four in all), and got to see the terrain I was intentionally bypassing, and was glad I chose to — very flat, very boring, mile upon mile of mostly rice paddies, interspersed with corn fields. I finally arrived in Fidenza, located not far from Parma, in early evening. I can’t say I was bowled over with the place. Just sort of overall “meh” impression. Buildings seemed a combination of rundown old and just ugly 1960s architecture. There is probably a good reason that every Italian gave me a resigned shrug when I said I wanted to get to Fidenza. Without fail, they’d all say “Firenze?” (meaning Florence), to which of course I really want to go, but not that day, and then they’d look at me like I was nuts to opt for Fidenza instead. Clearly they were onto something.

The accommodations for the night were at Albergo Ugolini, above a pizza restaurant. Think upscale prison. Actually, mercifully Italians are super super clean, so even a dismal hotel room is impeccably spotless, which does my heart good. Though to see some of the riffraff who showed up later in search of a room, it gave me pause to think what I was resting my head on that some of these dudes also might have shared. My standards have diminished substantially — amazing when you’re tired enough what looks downright cozy. Ish. The pillow did have a bit of a sour smell, though honestly I think it was a vinegar-based cleaner as the towels smelled the same the next day. Though all were starched and as white as snow. My hosts were lovely and friendly, so that helped me feel right at home in the relatively grim environs. My room was what you’d expect a “hotel ” room to look like if you raided your basement or scoured yard sales in the barrio to decorate an attic space above your pizza restaurant. Sparse & weathered. And the locale, well, naturally with the incumbent noise you’d expect on Friday night after a bunch of hairy guido-types watched football in the bar below. Shouting outside til wee hours.

I asked around for the piazza where the church was where I needed to get my “credenziale” stamped (each town you walk to/from you get a stamp in a sort of passport to show you’ve done the walk, this enables you to get official dispensation at St. Peter’s in Rome). Oddly NO ONE in this town knew where the piazza was (though it wasn’t far from the central piazza. Go figure.

It was friday night so I went into the centrale, the main part of town, the piazza, and a band was set up to play, so I was going to sit down at an outdoor bar and have a drink and enjoy the evening, but once the band started to play (they seemed to be in a perpetual state of warming up, I’d noticed, as I wandered around), they were painfully loud, playing headbanger music. Perfect for a Friday sunset…

I’d asked a group of folks earlier at a wine bar near my hotel for a restaurant recommendation, and they gave me a place actually quite near the church I needed to find (but I didn’t realize it till the next day!), and I scouted it out and it was totally empty. So I decided not to go there at first, returning to the piazza with the too-loud music and tons of cigarette smokers. It was enough to drive me back to the empty restaurant, thank goodness. I knew it was still early enough that only outsiders like me would feign to show up for dinner (was about 8 pm), but the chef was so enthusiastic when I got there, I knew it would be good, and he didn’t fail. I felt peer-pressured into his warm capon salad for an appetizer. My mom used to make capons when I was young but I hadn’t seen one in 35 years. It was fabulous, braised on top of mixed greens with balsamic vinegar (the good kind) and sultanas. Yummm. Followed by amazing homemade gnocchi (sorry Kendall!) and another delicious semifreddo, this time with some nougat thing going on. Italians sure do know how to cook (as long as you avoid the touristy places).

After dinner I wandered amidst the weak passegiatta (much less interesting than in Aosta), interested that many people were on bicycle. Definitely a biking town at least. I then headed back to the Ritz, where there were shouting matches going on outside beneath my window, perhaps from the pool hall across the street, till probably 2 a.m. Reminded me of long ago when Scott and I attended a wedding in San Francisco and the affianced couple had found for all of the guests a newly renovated yet affordable hotel, outside of which was a hangout for hookers all night long. While our room was clean enough, albeit spartan, we listened to prostitutes and pimps hollering at each other all night long. Ahhhh, memories.

So Saturday I loaded up my stuff (which takes SO long, considering I have that one backpack). It’s a daily struggle to put the pieces of the puzzle back together with that thing — my own little Humpty Dumpty.

It took me I swear an hour to find that darned church that should have been obvious to anyone who’d lived in Fidenza for more than a day, and then follow the route out of town. On the edge of town was a Saturday market, so I stopped for fresh fruit, which turned out to be the high point of the day…I figure I waste an hour a day packing up my backpack and an hour a day getting lost. Weird how boiling things down to simplicity make things more complicated sometimes. At least in my car I’d have that nice woman on my GPS telling me where to go. And at least at home I can just leave things in one place and not lug them again and again. I’d not make a good vagrant, of this I can be sure. I keep thinking my load will lighten, but it seems 1/8 ounce of shampoo and conditioner I use a day doesn’t cut into that much. I’ve been coveting my slight stockpile of power bars and chocolate, knowing there will be legs of the walk in which there is no food/drink for 28 km, but damn, yesterday, the chocolate all melted in my pack! It was that hot! I wonder if there’s some metaphor for life in lugging so much stuff: you weigh yourself down with so much unnecessary crap (not just physical but mental: worries, fears, anger, etc). Much easier to keep it light and easy…

I am a huge Asker of Directions. Makes most people nuts, but reassures me. Of course that means you get too many answers, one of which almost sent me on the wrong path. God forbid I trust my overlapping and confusing and sometimes failing maps (or my gut, for that matter). When you make the wrong turn while walking, you pay for it with backtracking, which honestly sucks when you’re hot and running out of water and there’s nowhere to get more. And then you realize you have to walk two more miles.
The path was well-enough marked, but I stupidly didn’t realize I’d misplaced a page of my directions, so they made no sense after the first two miles, and I was baffled as to where the hell I was going for a while until I figured that out. That was totally my bad. I was climbing through the foothills of the Italian Appenines, and had expected gorgeous panoramas, but while parts of it were certainly pretty, it wasn’t anything that took my breath away by any stretch of the imagination. Much of the route was on pavement, and while technically country roads, still each car that passed did so at terrifying rates of speed and without obvious consideration for 50-year old women lugging too much shit in a backpack. There was no shoulder whatsoever, so no room for error. It was about 95 degrees on the pavement, which didn’t help matters. My one bright moment was walking down a hill and encountering a woman with a cute puppy she’d taken out to her back patio to pee. The sign on her fence showed a menacing German Shepherd and warned to beware of the ferocious dog, however her dog was all of 8 pounds of puppy and was happy to nibble at my fingers through the fence. I think the woman thought I was truly pazzo for loving on her dog like I did. Oh, my other high point yesterday was I walked by a massive field filled with San Marzano-type tomatoes and I lifted one from the vine. It was delicious: meaty and flavorful. Way better than when they end up in a can at the grocery store.
Sometimes as I’m walking I realize I am as slow as an old granny (make that great granny) with a walker. But I’m so paranoid about not losing my footing, I try to be ultra careful. But it makes for slower going, which means there are places I have to pick and choose where to curtail on this walk. But all good, as I knew there would be a lot of unknowns along the way.

Fortunately I knew that Tuscany was far prettier, so when I arrived in Costamezzana, I made a quickie executive decision. The town was dead, the hostel at which I was to stay wasn’t to open till 6 pm, which meant that I had to kill about four hours with no where in which to kill it. Instead I tucked into a bar, asked if there was a way to get a taxi to a train station, and a lovely waitress offered to drive me back (!) to Fidenza, which seemed counterintuitive, but was so smart for me to do. I was able to hop on yet more trains (this after walking for 8 hours all day) and with a number of potential glitches with train changes, managed to land in Lucca late last night. Thank goodness!

The trains I rode went through the areas I would have been walking for some 7-8 days, and honestly after having walked through the Alps, it paled by comparison. Sort of reminded me of the mountains in Pennsylvania, which never once motivated me to trek them for a week while growing up, with good reason. Even as we coursed through the mountains, the bodies of water were still, no rushing torrents cascading to the bottom. Only lazy streams. More tall hills than stark mountains. In Pontremoli, a sleepy town in which I didn’t want to sleep, I raced to change trains only to find out there was no train to change to (despite the directions of the ticket man in Fidenza). At least I wasn’t the only one running stupidly — several others did as well, and they were locals. Almost got stuck there, which would have bummed me out. I had to laugh because at that stop, it seems that everyone on the sparsely-populated train deboarded for a smoke, including the conductors. My next confusing stop was at a station in a suburb of Pisa. Completely empty, dark settling in, and no train to Lucca on the schedule. With a minute to spare I ran across two sets of tracks (I know, bad idea) and boarded the small local train which, thank goodness, also went to Lucca. I was hollering to the conductor “aiuto!” (Help!”) and he kindly reassured me I could still get to Lucca.

Upon my arrival,ca delightful Italian woman who lives in Pisa but spends her weekends with her boyfriend in Lucca helped me to find my impossible to find hotel, for which I was immensely grateful. Lucca is an exquisite historical walled city, just large enough to be interesting but small enough to navigate readily. Had a so-so late meal at a tourist trap near my hotel.After spending the morning figuring out my new agenda, with the help of Paolo, the awesome owner of the hotel, I wandered into the Piazza MIchele, found my way to bike rentals (they’re plentiful) and rode a bike around the city all day. You can ride up on the wall (I’m assuming yet another Roman one though haven’t read about that yet) and really get a chance to see it from on high. I even met a fellow pelligrina — someone making the pilgrimage — a young Irishwoman named Mary who was beginning her walk tomorrow from Lucca.

On my bike I stumbled upon an American woman who lives in Lucca and got a recommendation for what she said was the best restaurant in Lucca, named Osteria Leo. she told me to tell them Lulu sent me. Lulu from Lucca to Leo…It was wonderful and non-touristy, which was perfect. I can’t help but people watch as I’m all alone and I was transfixed by this slack-breasted, aged Luccese (sp?) woman with but one tooth jutting from her lower jaw like volcanic rock in the middle of a dark ocean, busy holding court at a nearby table. She was very loud and evidently very opinionated. It was funny to watch her go on and on to a number of people at different tables. I was so surprised as she was getting up to go and the man with whom she’d apparently shared a table said “piacere conosco” which meant “pleased to know you” — evidently she’d just plunked herself down at his table and started yapping. Turns out he was from Barcelona and on a motorcycle tour of Tuscany, didn’t even know the woman. Also interesting to watch the pregnant woman at a nearby table smoking away…

Tomorrow I divert to the Cinque Terre for the day, then Tuesday resume walking, bypassing the first leg from Lucca as it’s on busy roads. I learned from Lulu that it is common for pedestrians and bikers to be hit and killed in Italy and usually no one ever even gets in trouble for it. She said there is callous disregard for those along roads who aren’t in cars, so that was warning enough for me to be wary. Plus after having walked most of 8 miles on hot pavement, I’m learning what to avoid. Still looking for those meadows perhaps?

As I sit outside of the main piazza writing this, a group of about 10 people has pulled up in a van, unloaded supplies, and set up shop with some sort of political protest. they are very intent, stringing up signs and preparing their musical selection for their presentation. So curious what they are protesting, it’s MoVimento beppegrillo.it . Must look that up. Frankly someone has been playing that Frito Bandito song on a harmonica for the past hour so this protest might be a refreshing change.

After being gone a week now, I know one thing that I already knew, but is only reaffirmed: I am a people person so it’s very foreign to me to be by myself. I’m frankly bored with me! I feel like a Labrador retriever let loose in a vast human-free forest. I may soon become a little too desperate to speak with people, despite a strong level of communication barriers thanks to my tepid Italian skills.

I have found it refreshing to not even consider “shopping” anywhere. No need to acquire needless tchotchkes and certainly nowhere to put them. As it is my pack is too full. (though, um, I am going to search the Piazza Barberini if I remember correctly in Rome for a little wine shop that sold good balsamic vinegar and olive oil, as by then I’ll happily lug it home!!). Rather I guess I am figuring out a new level of self-sufficiency at this late date, and simply experiencing the experience. And learning how to navigate public transportation when need be, in another language, which can be challenging. Part of my plan, learning how to get around fearlessly. Or should I say less fearfully?

Though I have a newfound empathy for turtles, lugging everything on their back. No wonder they lay eggs instead of carrying babies on top of all that!

I will say yesterday I had a few near-meltdowns. In my head I kept thinking: Dear Diary: The Amalfi coast is sounding sorely tempting right about now.” Though honestly I don’t know what I’d do there for 3 weeks! Plus the best part of the walk should be in Tuscany, so I just needed to ditch the part I wasn’t enjoying.

So far on my walks, once I’m out of a town, I see exactly no one, save for an occasional farmer. I can be contemplative but it can also get to be boring. I’ve listened to my Italian book on my iPod (trying to erase the rudimentary french that had resurfaced from the recesses of my memory while in Switzerland), and listened to hundreds of songs as well, as well as thousands of chirping crickets. Not so many birds, unfortunately. I’ve seen very few animals, and I’d expected to see far more. Instead I’ve seen dead bugs galore, dead butterflies, and a dead bird, unfortunately. And I’ve seen more grasshoppers and crickets than I need to know exist in the world. Yesterday plenty of fallow and tilled fields and many views blocked by walls, fences and tall trees erected by people who owned the nice villas outside of town.

We pause for this brief message: Please remember I’m attempting to raise money for the IRC with my walk. I’ve been remiss in promoting this much but I just got too busy as I was preparing to leave for my trip, just bit off more than I could chew. Link is .

Oh, by the way, les you think I’m brave or admirable for this quest, you should know this: I miss my rolling suitcase. I miss my down comforter and feather bed. I miss my reliable hot showers. And I miss my family desperately. I’m bored with me! I’m a people person with no people: I’m that lost Labrador, aimless in the woods. And I’m lugging too much crap!

I hear the UVA football game was delayed by thunderstorms yesterday — that seems so crazy! Never hear of such a thing!

I’m glad I’m in Tuscany, love it here, it’s so beautiful. And again tremendously grateful that my husband has enabled me to undertake this adventure! Grazie mille ;-)

Ciao for now!

I WAS TRYING TO UPLOAD PICTURES BUT THE INTERNET IS TOO SLOW SO I’LL JUST POST THIS AND TRY TO POST PICTURES LATER!

Relax Your What?!

Sometimes I’m startled that I am as old as I am. Because despite the maturity that comes with age, I can’t help but occasionally revert back to juvenile middle-school behavior that I’d thought I’d outgrown.

In my attempt to be mature and worldly, I enrolled a few years ago in my first yoga class. I needed to learn how to chill out a little bit, and figured being in touch with my inner Zen would help to center my balance, achieve yin-yang, and maybe I’d get a little feng-shui thrown in for good measure.

It was great. First class, I learned my sun salutation, stretched limbs so tight from lack of use that they deserved to snap like tree branches. My instructor, a former type-A New Yorker-turned-Yogaville devotee whose chosen Yoga name, Suraya, more closely resembled that of an Indian guru than someone from the Bronx, was very serene. His soothing voice tranquilized even the tensest of class members: me. In his calm coaxing tone, he encouraged us to rid our minds of any pollutants, to focus on our center, and be at peace within. Fine, I was on the same page at this point. I’d really started feeling that I could change, become a woman unfettered by the stresses of life.

The final fifteen minutes of class were devoted to complete relaxation. Cool, I thought. That is right up my Type-A alley. We all lay on the floor, eyes closed, focused on our own inner universe. The mesmerizing music on the boom box washed over me as Suraya talked us through letting go of whatever tensions remained. He began with the toes, worked his way up ever so gradually to calves, knees, thighs.

And then came the clincher.

“Relax your anal sphincter,” he said, as serious as an executioner, not even remotely cracking a smile.

What? That’s impossible. First of all, It defies the laws of nature. And secondly, even if we could, just think how nasty that would be! We can’t do that, I thought. Like a naughty kindergartener whose head is supposed to be face down on the desk during naptime, I snuck glances all around me. No one but me thought that was the funniest line ever uttered.

I could feel my laughter erupting, and from my unrelaxed belly it rose. I tried desperately to suppress it, but it was of no use. I cackled so loudly that the entire class opened their once-relaxed eyelids and glared directly at me. Even Suraya looked a bit uptight.

As the class drew to a close, the peaceful silence destroyed, I slunk from the room, somewhat embarrassed at my level of immaturity. But I actually felt more relaxed, having belted out a good chuckle.

Yes, I realize I have gone from middle school to middle age, but isn’t it nice to know that you don’t always have to totally grow up?

I read recently about a new yoga craze: hot nude yoga. Please, dear Lord, let’s hope Suraya’s not teaching that one.

Ski? Me? Are You Nuts?

**In honor of the Olympics I unearthed this piece I wrote several years ago–the last time I went skiing. Now I know to just watch other people kill themselves going down a mountain, rather than joining in the folly…

This is SO not me on the slopes (or in the air)
This is SO not me on the slopes (or in the air for that matter)

A few months ago when my husband suggested a ski vacation for our family of five, I willingly agreed, with instant visions of being all dolled up in ski togs, sipping hot chocolate fireside, schussing down the mountainside, and gazing admiringly at the wintry wonderland outside, all swirling in my head.

Reality clocked me over the head with a big, fat snowboard as our plane approached the small mountain airport a few hundred miles north of Denver, in the early evening hours.

“Folks, I’ve got some news for you,” the captain reported from the cockpit. “Uh, seems we need a mile and a half visibility to land this thing, and right now we only have a mile. If things don’t change in the next few minutes, we’re gonna have to turn back.”

That would be back to Denver, where we would have to huddle to stay warm in some dreary airport lounge, eating gummy bears for sustenance until clearer weather prevailed in a day or so, while our luggage ended up in Stockholm and our minimal vacation time whittled away.

Not five minutes later, a hurried captain announced, “Uh, folks, seems we have a mile and three quarters so we’re gonna land this puppy, fast.”

With a gulp, I made sure all of our seatbelts were fastened, and braced for the smooth landing I’d hoped for.

Mercifully this was not our plane
Mercifully this was not our plane

As the plane was battered about the sky, I noticed our flight attendant, a large young man, wedged into his flight attendant perch, eyes squinched closed, hands clasped in what appeared to be the universal prayer position. My confidence in the pilot diminished at that point, realizing as I did that even the strapping young flight attendant was sweating bullets.

Fifteen minutes and some seriously gnashed teeth later, we landed mercifully, the jostling of the plane at some point merging with the blare of the engines on the small craft to create a death Zen that assured me that the fiery crash would be painless.

Alas, luck was on our side and we landed into a blizzard–a good sign that we landed despite the lack of visibility, and, as my ski instructor would intone incessantly the next day, whoo-hoo! Snow! was greeting us, in spades.

I’d spent the previous month visiting a physical therapist thrice weekly to diminish the pain from a pinched nerve in my lower back, something that threatened my success on this ski trip. And so it was with some trepidation that I donned my skiwear the next morning to head out into the new foot of snow that had fallen.

But just getting into the outerwear and attempting to put on the ski boots was challenging. At some point I assigned tasks to my kids: one, help get my socks up, please; another, you hook up my boots, mommy can’t bend forward, etc.

Finally, decked out and ready to go, we haul our load of gear down the unwieldy flight of steps and out the back door of our ski-in-ski-out condo, and attach the skis, heading off into the vast winter wonderland.

It’s amazing, the untoward effects of aging on a person’s skiing potential. As I wobbled, propelled unnaturally forward down a narrow isthmus of snow, buffered on either side of me by rocks, brambles and cliffs, feeling as steady as a newborn colt, I wondered why my legs seemed as if they were being warped unnaturally inward by the positioning of the boot to ski.

I also wondered why my butt wanted to jam itself in the sitting position–no doubt a survival instinct honed by millions of years of skiers before me. And then I wondered why, in this day and with my advancing age, I wouldn’t have opted for a sunny Caribbean vacation, where one could so easily slip into a bathing suit–although, truth be known, that, too, is a psychologically damning action for the less-than-svelte me–and just lounge poolside with a good book.

We all signed up for ski school–I knew without that peer pressure, I would have hightailed it back to the condo to hide under the blankets for the rest of the day–and were separated within minutes by skill level.

Now, I don’t take personally a professional’s assessment of my skiing ability–or lack thereof. But the snickering that went on was a little bit unnerving, I will admit.

We were grouped with like-abled skiers, and directed to the first ski lift. As I sat on the icy, slippery lift seat, with no reassuring bar to pull down to keep me from plunging to an untimely death in a crevasse in the mountain, I realized that a skiing vacation is not ideally suited for one with severe fear of heights.

It was bad enough for me back home at our nearby sleepy little ski resort, with the short lifts that don’t lunge skyward at rapid acceleration rates.

so peaceful, tranquil, deadly (this is not my lift, which was twice as high off the ground)
so peaceful, tranquil, deadly (this is not my lift, which was twice as high off the ground)

But here in Steamboat Springs, the lifts thrust us upward and fast, easily two hundred feet off the ground, and with the dreadfully slow ratcheting along those mammoth support poles that are the only thing between me and death, I gain a true sense of how very far it is to the ground, judging by the height of those towering poles. In my head I think happy thoughts: bunnies, kitties, puppies; but then my thoughts are transformed into a more macabre scene: bunnies, kitties, puppies, splattered along the boulders below, victims of the slippery seats of the ski lift.

Eventually, despite my fears, we arrive at the top of a mountain, only to learn that we must take another lift to get to the top of the mountain. As if one top wasn’t high enough. This day promises to be a real challenge to my psychological stamina.

Fifteen minutes later, we are at the summit. I feel like Sir Edmund Hilary reaching Everest. Well, not exactly. But still, as we arrive at the top, we all notice that the sunlight has disappeared. As has the sky. As have any people beyond five feet of me. We are lodged in a soup of fog so thick that I can be certain my plane would not be able to land, even with our ambitious pilot.

“Whoo-hoo!” Our instructor enthuses, in only a way that someone with an unnatural proclivity for an untimely death can. “Well, everybody, looks like it’s gonna be a foggy day.”

I look up and see that chunks of snow are beginning to drop from the sky, not little baby flakes, but tufts of snow the size of clumps of hair being pulled from an unwilling head.

“Whoo-hoo!” Our instructor trills. “Snow!”

She then announces that these are, without doubt, the worst and most dangerous conditions in which to ski for intermediate skiers of our level. It seems that beginners are smart enough to not get themselves into such hot water (or rather, bitterly cold blizzard), and advanced skiers take it as a healthy challenge to their demonstrable skills, and boldly tackle the elements.

With that little boost of confidence, we’re off. Flailing effortlessly down the mountain, with no more control than a pubescent boy with his hormones atwitter, my body jerks side-to-side, my butt, with a mind of it’s own, thrusts back, no doubt preparing to be landed upon, and I slam into snow pile after snow pile, fully confident that I have no idea how to get to the bottom of the mountain, and scared to death for that reason.

My thighs burn like the forest fires I imagine alight in these very same mountains during the summer months. I think how warming those fires might be right about now, as my fingers are so cold I can’t feel them.

We encounter a wet, barefooted snowboarder, who’d proudly jumped a cliff into a creek. Would he do it again? We ask. “Dude! You bet!” he beams.

tried to find image of barefoot snowboarder, to no avail
tried to find image of barefoot snowboarder, to no avail

After several hours of professional training, after which time I feel no more confident in my skiing ability, I call it quits and head to my scheduled massage, something my physical therapist insisted I have.

I sit down in the waiting room of the spa, relaxing to the dulcet tones of nature, as recorded and studio-mixed by someone who thinks that nature should sound like this. The plink-plink-plink of the mandolin between bird tweets and waterfalls makes me feel almost relaxed.

The masseuse beckons me into the room, and as I stand up, I realize that I can’t stand up. My muscles are frozen in position. She must recognize this condition, as she laughs and comes over to help hoist me from the couch. How embarrassing.

To me it is no small feat to return at the end of the skiing day intact and injury free. I feel the blood of relief pump through me when I can successfully count each of my brood back from their treacherous journey.

Apres ski involves my family jammed into a hot tub with at least twenty five other people from around the world, carting along with them every bacteria, virus, and parasite that can be transmitted by hot, bubbling unclean water. The relieving Petri dish does wonders for my aching bones, but I close my eyes after I see one too many unidentified floating objects tumble past me beneath the water’s surface. I hope that we all don’t end up with some horrible communicable disease, or at least that impossible-to-cure without liver-toxic medicines toenail fungus they show us on t.v. when we don’t want to be grossed out.

It’s been more than a decade since I last skied out West. Back then I was admittedly more fit and vital than I am today. And so I was ill-prepared me for the level of fatigue that was to befall us all by day’s end.

An exhaustion blankets us all as if we’d just wandered through a field of poppies in Oz. Yet mine is to remain an unrequited exhaustion, as sleep eludes me. For that matter, sleep eludes us all, for my daughter has sprung a dry relentless cough that refuses to be tamed by even a codeine-based cough suppressant. Throughout the night–and day, for that matter–she hacks away, each sound causing a reflexive flinch for the rest of us as the poor child tries desperately to breath unimpinged.

I awaken about fifty times due to the uber dry Rocky Mountain air and the altitudinal adjustments that my body doesn’t seem to want to make. I feel like I’m suffering from the worst hangover of my life, every drop of moisture having been sucked from me by atmospheric conditions beyond my control. It’s as if I’m some vacuum-sealed version of myself, freeze-dried for eventual defrosting come spring. I’m pounding water at the rate of a gallon an hour, and the only thing this makes me do is have to pee continually.

By morning, I am so poorly rested I feel a sense of despair. Trying to rise out of bed requires a crane, or at least the optimistic manipulations of a chiropractor. Alas, I don’t have one of those with me. As I creak from room to room, retrieving the myriad articles of ski gear I need to start this torturous routine all over again, I wince from pain in places I didn’t even know existed on my body. My back, well that goes without saying. But my glutes, my knees, my shins, my feet, my thighs, my hips, wrists. I think even my teeth hurt. About the only thing not hurting right now is my left armpit.

But it’s my duty to go out and ski again today, and so obligingly, I do so. Plus, I don’t want my family to see me as the weenie I’ve truly become. Today is even harder than yesterday, because not only do I not have much of an improvement of skill level, but also I have the muscular failure of yesterday taunting me.

The sky is the cerulean color of a bluebird, my favorite bird. I take this as a good sign. The fir trees atop the slopes are adorned in gowns of glimmering snow. Were it not for the fact that my stated goal is to mount and then ski down slope after slope and that I am freezing my ass off, I would almost enjoy myself, based on the natural beauty of the place alone.

I run into my ski instructor on one of the slopes, and she enthuses to me, “Whoo-hoo! Today’s what we call and ‘ego ski’ day! You get to show off your stuff in prime ski conditions.”

I can’t help but wonder whose ego is to benefit from these conditions, because I know it’s not going to be mine. Rain or shine, blizzard or not, I look like one of those ballerina hippos from Fantasia on the slopes. Graceful, I am not.

Today the fir trees atop the slopes are adorned in gowns of shimmering snow, contrasted starkly against a cerulean bluebird sky. Distant stands of trees cast a five o’clock shadow on the mountain face: some a youthful brown, others an aged ice-grizzled. It’s exquisite.

From the lift I can see vistas I had no idea existed yesterday. Whereas then I could see just as far as my instructor’s face, today I can see far enough to realize we are so bloody damned high up from sea level that my nose should be bleeding. Strewn below are the littered remains of naively ambitious skiers and overly confident snowboarders committing gravity-defying acts of insanity, and I shake my head in dumbfounded wonder. Do these people know something I have not been privy to? Unlikely, I reassure myself.

No doubt they are charter members of the convocation of the Let’s Get Together and Die Young Club, soaring down the mountain on boards not much wider than my thighs (alas), seeking huge mounds of snow and steep precipices from which to launch themselves into the nebulous space before them.

Meanwhile, my kids are drunk on youthful invincibility, unconcerned with risking life, limb and orthodontia in pursuit of the perfect run.

Yet I’m poisoned with a toxic dose of maternal paranoia, knowing that it’s hard to retrieve missing white teeth from equally white snow.

As they negotiate the mountain, I say a little prayer. Who, I wonder, is the patron saint of alpine mountain sports? Saint Bernard?

Now I know why those dogs carry rum casks on their collars: so that people like me will return to ski another day.

A family photo at the summit delivers the final blow to my fantasy: Dashed is mental image of Jen as snow bunny; in its stead is Jen as Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Where’s that St. Bernard when you need him?

By trip’s end, we remain mercifully injury-free– except, perhaps my bruised ego.

Would I do it again, you ask? Dude! You bet!