The excitement of embarking on an adventurous holiday pales in comparison to the grim reality of having to come home when the calendar says so. It's an adult version of "I don't wanna go to school" and I'll never find comfort in the fact that there will be a next time no matter how often I'm assured. To that end it's utterly critical to my happiness factor that the next endeavour is mapped out as soon as possible.
The New Year's excursion that materialized shortly before Christmas was particularly special. Not only because I got to spend it in the company of the passionate, expressive and loving people of Italy, but because it was Christmas and I was there with family. For me this time of year is normally reserved for an annual return visit home. Grabbing a barstool and a pint in the old pubs you used to frequent and revising the year you spent away, then recalling the years you spent together. It's not that I don't enjoy it but when you're having a mid-life crisis it's a kind of social prerequisite that's run it's course in a lot of ways and makes me feel like nothing has changed even when so much has.
This year I was able to stay in Galway City in the new Wilson abode which was a welcome change of pace. Shortly after which, we made a return visit to Amy's family in Monticello Brianza in the northern province of Lecco. The district was beautiful during Summer, and breathtaking during Winter. Having not rained for two months, the day the snow finally broke, we were there. Quite literally walking around outside and ski season began. This was pretty helpful given that the latter part of our trip was to be spent in Courmayeur, a town and commune in the autonomous region of Aosta Valley at the foot of Mont Blanc. From this point and using the various tunnel systems you can reach Geneva in Switzerland or Lyon in France, you could even grab a cable car into French Territory without knowing you had crossed the border.
The area itself is already elevated to over 4000ft when you're on what feels like the ground level, by comparison that's 500ft higher than the tallest point in Ireland, and it's not even considered to be in the mountains yet. Making your way to the upper regions of the range itself will leave you feeling instantly dizzy and disorientated. A bit of time at that height and you'll become acclimatized, but it's a stern lesson in the unseen physical struggles which mountain climbers and explorers endure when tackling the likes of Everest and K2. Both of which I've been intrigued by since coming home and if you have Netflix I urge you to watch The Summit as soon as you can. There's a powerful story in there revolving around Irishman and explorer Ger O'Donnell which most of us likely missed when it was making headlines. All this talk of mountains and I'm sad to say I didn't include so many photos of the actual peaks themselves. I'm still working through a great many photos I took of the landscape, a sight which absolutely stunned and captivated me from the moment we arrived there. I'll be making a separate post with those shots at a later stage and I'll go into the photography aspect in more detail.
The village of Courmayeur is exactly what you would expect it to be. A quaint hearthfire exterior with a high-end neoliberal consumer economy built into it's trappings. The isolation of such places is always likely to promote a sense of entitled monopoly among business owners, where else are you going to go, right? That, coupled with the fact that ski resorts tend not to be geared towards folks like myself who aren't exactly rolling in it. Unless "it" refers to debt, both personal and state imposed, in that case I'm up to my eyeballs in "it". However if you can put such woes to the back of your mind you might actually enjoy the fact that instead of a billboard depicting a top tier sportscar you'll never be able to afford, in Courmayeur you can admire them in all their glory. That is thanks to the "3D" billboards of products like the new Maserati Gran Turismo which are just parked in the middle of the pedestrian galas, covered with a tin roof and some fancy drop lighting. It's misguided trust and affluence on a grand scale, but it was nice to admire an outdoor 24/7 showroom without having to bump shoulders with members of the Justice For Jeremy Clarkson Support Group.
Skiing was both a terrifying and epic experience. With absolutely no experience we were able to rent some gear and get on a beginners slope for a day of falling, laughing, learning and more falling. I have a newfound respect for the shell-suited and ski booted types I always took to be a wimpy. If you're on ski's or a snowboard, that terrain is going to punish you again and again until you learn that you're it's gimp for the day. Thanks to the easy education of our instructor Piero, the hour of day one basics we learned put a stop to the deathrattle of rented ski's and got me thinking ahead to the day I graduate the black diamond slopes in the northern valley. They'll probably make a statue of me and recant tales of my early days here on the kids slope, glorious.
As it is with ice cream and yellow snow all good things must come to an end. Just when I was getting the hang of chaining up the tyres on the rented people carrier it was time to head home. Stopping off in Milan on the way back was probably a cultural speedbump for me. It's lurid tackiness, consumer exclusivity and harsh societal difference are contrasted to extremes like in every european city. But it was probably the sight of a homeless skateboarder trying to find some comfort on the cold granite floor outside a major banking firm that knocked my ill fitting and recently gentrified mentality on the head. The decompression from the peaks of Mont Blanc isn't just the air pressure it seems.
Despairing economic analysis aside, I'll always have a soft spot for fast food kiosks and vending machines, the heart wants what it wants.
I hope you enjoy the photos as much as we enjoyed shooting them.