16 February 2010

Vacances d'hiver...

...aux sports d'hiver. Winter vacation and winter sports. I forgot. "Everybody" in France is on vacation. The schools all over the country close for two weeks in February, and people, at least those who have the means to do so, head for the hills. The mountains, that is, as in Alpes or Pyrénées.

I should have realized that was what was going on. On Sunday more than a week ago, we were invited to lunch by friends in Blois. These are people who have several daughters and a son living in the Loire Valley region, and a slew of grandchildren.

Half of the conversation at lunch was about daughter Véro being at one Alpine ski resort with her husband and children, and daughters Corinne and Marie-Do being at another Alpine ski resort, where they had rented a suite of apartments for parents and children.

Close-up of a crêpe

There is much talk of avalanches and possible new requirements that children wear helmets when they are on the slopes. A 10-year-old was killed yesterday or the day before because he crashed into a post and wasn't wearing a protective helmet.

Our region's winters vacation is now more than half over. Winter vacation for the schools and families in the Paris area just started over the past weekend. A third region's vacations will start this coming Saturday. And everybody gets two weeks, but it's all staggered so that the autoroutes don't become parking lots and the ski resorts don't overflow with people.

Some with cherry preserves on them...

As an American, I forget how this works in France. Not having children in school, and not working 9 to 5 at a job, I tend to ignore all the news about heavy traffic heading to the ski areas and the special weather reports on the snow and fog conditions at Alpes d'Huez or Val d'Isère.

But French people don't. They go, whole families, on vacation together, and enjoy skiing or hiking or just eating cheese fondue or tartiflette in the mountain resort towns.

...and some with plum jam

That includes people who install and repair boilers and furnaces and heat pumps. I called Savelys, the company we have a maintenance agreement with for our boiler, and talked to Béatrice. She apologized, saying she had been out of the office for a week. She put me on hold and went to ask her boss out where our case waits in the queue.

She came back to the phone and apologized for her chef too. He had responsibility for two Savelys offices last week, she said, and il croule sous les papiers — he is buried under a mountain of paperwork. I imagine half the company's employees took off for their annual vacances d'hiver — winter vacation. Even people who can't afford to go skiing take time off, because their children are out of school.

The lesson in all this is how important it is to remember what the culture is like. Don't let your boiler break down at inconvenient times, like when the schools are on vacation. This whole situation resulted from poor scheduling on the boiler's part, or poor planning on mine.

Roll them up with jam inside, put them in a baking dish,
and heat them up in the oven, dribbled with melted butter.

By the way, don't worry about us shivering in the cold. The boiler continues to work in short spurts, which is enough to get the radiators warm and heat up the house. And the wood fire burns intensely, even as the wood pile outside diminishes rapidly. We are staying warm enough. the temperature this morning is slightly below 20ºF.

Béatrice at Savelys called just after lunch yesterday and said our cost estimate paperwork is complete. All it needs is my signature. I'll drive over there this morning and sign on the dotted line.


  1. It's pancake day for us today and my dad is coming round this evening for his dinner. The pancakes will be for pudding and I think I might copy your idea of rolling them up and reheating them altogether to serve them.

    Usually it's a sort of marathon of dashing from the kitchen to the table to dish them up as they come out of the pan.

  2. I had to look at my french calendar and sure enough, it is crepes day again with Mardi Gras.
    Glad to know your boiler will be
    fixed soon. The weather will probably warm up by then.

  3. Ah, how refreshing that the French allow the government to organize sensible rules for school vacations. Here there would be horrible screams about "big government" and "Socialism".

  4. I'll bet you guys spend a lot of time in the kitchen now.

  5. Good to know that you'll soon be warm as French Toast again. Is there such a thing, by the way?


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