Friday, March 28, 2014

I went to the Alps; Kenz cast bronze.

Song of the Day: Transistor Radio, Cloud Cult

London Stuff: What will happen to the Battersea Power Station?


Owen stayed with us on Wednesday night since he and I were leaving the house at 4:30am the next morning. Despite the early departure, we stayed up late, hanging with Celia and Kenz. We were too excited to go to sleep; it was like Christmas Eve. 

Everyone gawked at her powder mac'n'cheese. 

"Suppose that's that guy's real hair?" - OE

Spot of brekkie at Gatwick

In case you've forgotten, this trip was Owen's bachelor party. He'll be marrying Celia in May. We'd been back and forth about what to do for the bachiparty for several months, eventually deciding on a simple approach: snowboarding in the French Alps. We arrived on Thursday afternoon, flying into the Geneva airport and riding in a van for two and a half hours to Bride-les-Bains, France. We hadn't really thought about the fact that we'd be in France until our flight attendant greeted us, Bonjour!

The hotel beds were perilously close. 

The first day was spent traveling, checking into the hotel, picking up our rental equipment, eating lunch, walking around the town, eating dinner, and then making obnoxiously massive claims about what we'd do on the slopes the next day.

Owen speaks enough French to get by; I, on the other hand, stay silent. 

I made power moves, ordering two lunches. 

So did Owen.

We left our boards in the hotel's dubiously secured shed.

Neither of us is used to a bedroom with a television. We watched hours of French-speaking sports commentary.

Dinner was in the hotel's restaurant each night, which was surprisingly good.

We were among the younger patrons. There seemed to be a split: under 40 and over 60.

Dinner was always three courses; desserts were wonderful. 

We walked around town after eating each night in an effort to avoid the big-meal-sugar-coma.

Cold, fast water.

The town looks like perpetual Christmas, lighting up each night.

Our first day on the slopes was a sunny, 75-degree Friday. We rode a gondola for twenty-five minutes to get from our hotel to the slopes. We'd get on at 600m and get off at 1400m. The initial climb on that first day had me making involuntary anxious utterances in a somewhat childish fashion. I'm scared of heights and had spent the previous night getting nervous about falling off the side of a mountain.

We gonna get sunburnt!

Leaving our village.

Luckily, I picked right back up where I'd left off with my boarding skills. After a few easy runs, we were ready to graduate to...somewhat less easy runs, still avoiding the much harder (and higher) runs. The highest peak we could've gone to is 3266m; we hovered around 2000m.

It would've taken us seven days to ride every lift.

Owen shed some layers.

But, really, 2000m offered some pretty fantastic views.

We stopped for a rest and some coffee about two lifts up and found ourselves at a launch site for some paragliding. These folks would strap a willing participant to their back, skii off a ledge, and ride thermals for about twenty minutes. It was beautiful and horrifying at the same time. 

I tried a panoramic picture as one was taking off.

There's a small sliver of yellow just above the lower ridge line in the middle of this picture.

Ducks were loving it.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring around one third of the three valleys. We'd ride down half the mountain, and then pick up some random ski lift - each time saying:

Is this one okay? You wanna do it?
Sure! Why the hell not?
Okay, let's see where this takes us.

We were like kids in a candy store. Hours of endless up and down and up again, laughing, falling, sweating, and getting red necks.

Owen had a ham and cheese baguette each day.

First day, no injuries. Success!

Day two started with an ominous cloud moving, slowly, from our little town toward the mountains. Feeling much more brave, we traversed over to a new section of mountains and went a bit higher. Everything was great until, after lunch, it began to snow. By the late afternoon, the visibility was only about twenty feet at a time and it was quite challenging to tell the sky from the ground. On our final run of the day, the two of us were nervous that we were being idiots, about to get lost on the side of the mountain. Visibility had dropped to about ten feet, but we saw no other option than to try and creep our way back down the mountain in order to catch the gondola home.

Post-lunch lifts

Owen re-ups on energy with a bit of powder-yoga.

Happy to have made it down.

Dessert became an anticipated activity. 

Strawberry tart.

Again, post-dinner walks in a perpetually-lit town.

The third day began with big aspirations. We knew it had snowed the whole night through, and there was sun down in our little town. We were looking forward to a day of climbing to the tip-top peak and riding fresh powder all the way down.

What was once green was covered in white.

We heard dynamite blasting in the morning.

New snow! At least a foot's worth at the bottom of the mountain! 

Thinking that we'd done well in whiteout conditions the day before, the two of us immediately bypassed all the conservative folks getting off at the first lift and kept climbing. We had been snowboarding for two full days, after all.

We found little visibility again.

Like, really, really bad visibility.

And it was cold.

So cold that my beard was frozen after thirty minutes.

So, we went and got masks.

Now, you'd think that we'd be smarter. We're two reasonably smart guys. We weren't drunk. We weren't getting 'wild and crazy' on this bachelor party - just two dudes snowboarding within their limits, avoiding moguls, avoiding black runs, and getting lots of sleep each night.

Maybe the masks gave us some sense of deluded courage. Maybe we're not two reasonably smart guys. Whatever the case, the two of us headed back up the mountain as high as we'd been. Our plan was to take a run we'd done the day before, knowing that it was steep enough to keep us going in deep powder. We'd grown tired of the fresh snow slowing us down on relatively flat runs. We rode a series of lifts, stayed warm, and eventually made it to our piste.

The only problem was that we could hardly see the poles that mark the edges of the piste. In fact, we could hardly see each other. There was almost no one else around - few were stupid enough to come up as high as we were. We began, little by little, descending down the mountain, running off-piste every now and again, falling in waist-high powder, recollecting ourselves, turning, and heading back toward the piste itself. It was exhausting, but we'd been doing it all morning.

After about twenty minutes (only about 1/4 of the way down the run), Owen and I  fell simultaneously. He was about fifteen feet in front of me, a bit further off-piste, and I recommended he stand up and head down the slope a bit - to the right - toward the one sign both of us could just barely make out in the snow. Yet, he was so deep that I got bored watching him struggle to try and get stood up. I pulled out my camera to take a picture of him:

As you can see, Owen's not there. By the time I had put my phone away, I could hear him yelling my name. I yelled back:

David, where are you?
I'm still above you! Wait there and I'll come to you!

I slid down to the sign we'd agreed to work toward. I yelled for him. No response. I slid down a bit further and yelled again. No response. That bastard left me, I thought, and began to chase him down the mountain. The run was another twenty minutes and I flew. By the time I got to the bottom, I had grown worried. Surely, I would've caught him by that time. I was a faster boarder simply because I outweigh him by thirty-odd pounds. But, he was nowhere to be found. Panic began to set in.

I sat at the bottom of the run, watching and waiting for Owen, for about twenty minutes. Then I checked my phone; a voicemail.

David, uh, please turn on your phone. I'm...lost. I can't see anyone. I can't hear anyone. I don't know where I am. Ummm...could you...I me back? Because I'm a liiiiiitle bit scared. 

I lost it. Here we were, on a bachelor party where I'm the best man, responsible for the groom, and I've gone and killed him. How was I going to face Celia? How was I going to face Owen's family? They'd been so good to us since we've moved here and I've gone and killed this man on an idiotic snowboarding trip!

I called Owen five times. No answer. I sent him six texts. No response.

I went to the security office. I told them what run we were on, what happened, and even played the voicemail for them. They spoke among themselves, in French, and wound up telling me they may send someone out to look for him later, but that I should go retrace my steps.

RETRACE MY STEPS?! These French, I thought, I didn't lose my car keys. I lost the freaking groom! 

I had no other options. In full-on meltdown mode, planning my speech to Celia, I boarded a ski lift all alone. It had been an hour and a half and I'd nothing but a panicked voicemail. How was I going to find him if I couldn't even see past my own arm? Despite my uncertainty, I was on my way.

About halfway up the mountain, Owen called. I sounded like a hysterical mother, immediately asking:

Yes, I'm fine. I've found myself. I'm at the bottom of the run.

It had only been one or two hours, but we hugged as if it was the end of Castaway

Later, over dinner, we decided to believe that if there was an overhead camera recording what had happened, an audience would see just how simple our mistake was. It's likely that Owen was sitting by the sign and didn't hear me. Or, maybe he was sitting by the next sign down and I'd stopped yelling by that point. Either way, Owen spent an hour or two, trudging through chest-high snow, following the drift of his unattached snowboard to see which way was 'down', worried that he would have to dig a hole for the night to stay warm. He eventually heard a young frenchman who came to the rescue; Owen was so happy to see someone that he handed him all the money in his pocket.

We decided that was 'it' for the day, heading home in complete silence, our adrenaline wearing off, leaving us in mild, exhausted shock.

The mountainside explorer.

Our final day was similar to the previous two, but we made the best of it. Luckily, the snow had continued to fall, so we had fresh powder even near the bottom of the mountain. The binding on my board broke after three runs, sending me back to the room early; Owen stayed out for another two hours before finally calling it quits. We turned in our gear, packed our bags, took showers, and boarded a coach bus to return to the airport.

The Groom

All in all, it was a successful trip, filled with laughter, music, good food, a big scare, no injuries, sauna sessions, jacuzzi sessions, and a significant amount of French television. I'd go back tomorrow if we could. 


While we were in the Alps, Kenz was busy in the studio. She sent me a series of emails explaining the process of uncovering her bronze casts, which I think is pretty cool. Below is an excerpt from those emails:

So they poured the bronze yesterday, and today I got to cut out my pieces!

This is what it looks like after it's been in the kiln, surrounded by plaster. That hole in the top is where they pour the molten metal. Basically, my mold – the rope knots and straw connections –  is inside all of that. When it's put into the kiln, everything burns out. You wind up with what looks like an ant colony roadway system for the metal to seep through.

This is what it looks like on its side.
I have to remove all the plaster bits and the "hull" or "shell" that's around it (the shell is just made of burlap and a layer of plaster). It's thick enough to saw and then crack open with a hatchet and hammer.

Starting to get to the "ant hill" stuff.

It's so much plaster for such a small thing!  Remember that I only cast 6 knots of rope and each one fit into my hand! There's only 3 knots per huge plaster "barrel"!

Another shot of the 2nd barrel with both shells. (This barrel is shown upside down, so the hole where the metal was poured isn't shown)

Here you can see the 3 individual initial plaster casings. I made these initial casings around the rope knots (in other words, what I actually wanted cast). You can also see a metal straw poking out on the right side of the pic. It's broken away from the roadway system (ant hill). At the top, you can also see the metal cast of the paper cup I used at the top of the roadway system. Again, the paper cup and the straws were all burned out when it was put in the kiln to cook. 

I finally got them out! (After much grunting, hammering, chiseling, and general sweat!). Here's a detail. I still need to cut off my roadway system, wire-brush them to remove the rest of the plaster (if I try to chisel anymore I'll damage the casts), and then do some detail filing. Afterward, I'll have some beautiful bronze rope knots!!!!!


Since this blog started, I've done my best to keep a singleness of purpose: share the experiences Kenz and I have had since moving to London. In that time, I've tried to stay away from comments on pop culture, world events, and the three topics we're all taught to avoid at dinner parties. It hasn't been hard to do so; our lives have been full and it has been a pleasure thus far. Whereas this isn't a private blog, I'm aware that there's a small constituency of regular readers - mainly those who are near and dear to our hearts. With that in mind, I'm going to veer a bit off course in my sign-off today:

This week marks the thirteenth year since the passing of a dear, dear friend of mine, Caitlin. In sum, she was the brightest soul I'd ever known, the greatest friend anyone could ask for, and a light of love to everyone who had the gift of knowing her. 

I'm not one to make public performance of extremely personal experience, especially when it includes a party other than myself. I'm choosing to do so in an attempt to alleviate the resulting isolation that often accompanies grieving - both for myself and for those who may currently find themselves in the thick of it. It's a profound process, one that affects us all in different ways, and, as I have found, may never completely disappear. 

This morning, I spent some time thinking about Caitlin, reading a poem that reminds me I'm not finished grieving while, at the same time, providing solace. I share it in offer to those who may be currently experiencing or revisiting grief, not to advocate any particular point of view. I share it in hope that it may help someone else as it does me, not to suggest a particular course of action. 

I share it to honor my friend, as I know she would support this action if it meant bringing a smile - no matter how bittersweet - to someone's face.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, 
there is a field. I'll meet you there. 

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about. 
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense. 

- Rumi


That's it for this week. Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!

An under the weather Kenz says hi from Copenhagen.