30 December 2010

The Lost People of Mountain Village

Is it better than Guffman? Probably not. It might tell a more relevant story, though. This came my way via a Telemarktips thread and I've wanted to post it for a while. Seems like the last day of the first decade in a new millennium is reason enough to watch a film about an extinct species of humans. Happy New Year!

More info about the film is available on this website.

17 December 2010

There's a Tear in My Eggnog

For the second annual Home Is Where Your Skis Is Christmas music compilation we're coming in off the sagebrush desert of last year and heading straight for the bar. The lucky number is thirteen and it's filled with tearjerkers and certifiable holiday classics. Hope you have your stack of quarters 'cause it's gonna be a long night. Have a honky-tonk Christmas.

And while you're waiting it out for last call be sure to pay homage to the skier's best friend, Little Sandy Sleighfoot. The link to the song is now fully restored.

15 December 2010

I Washed My Face

Really, then, the question is whether Tom T. Hall imitates life or does life imitate Tom T. Hall?

09 December 2010

Literary Skiers 10a


They stopped for icicles to cool their drinks. Suttee clambered over a low stone wall and dropped into deep snow. Down the slope the firs stood black and brambly in their white shrouds and a fine mist of snow was blowing with a faint hiss like sand. He pissed a slushy yellow flower in the landscape, standing there with his drink in one hand, looking out on a wild white upland world as old as any thing that was and not unlike it might have looked a million years ago. Just when he would have said that nothing lived in these frozen altitudes two small gray birds flew. They came from a clump of snowbroken heather below and crossed the slope in a loping flight like carnival birds on wires and vanished in the forest.

He walked up the road, his shoes crunching in the packed snow. Under an overhang of icebound rock where sheer palisades of opaque crystal walled up the black forests above and he could hear the wind suck and moan in the trees. He reached to pluck small icicles from the rocks until he'd filled his glass with them.

Back in the cab she covered him with the blanket and rubbed his hands. You're icy cold, she said.

At Newfound Gap there were skiers, a bright group bristling with their poles and skis about the parked cars. They pulled in to watch them, goggled madmen in clouds of powder dropping down through the fir forests at breakneck speed. She clutched his arm, them standing there with their drinks and their breath swirling in the cold.

They went back in the early blue twilight, ghosting down the mountain with frames of snowy woodland veering inverted across the glass. They made love under the blankets in the back seat like schoolchildren and later she sat up and talked into the silent cabman's ear and made him promise not to tell what they had done and he said that he would not.

--Cormac McCarthy, from Suttree, 1979

27 November 2010

The State of Affairs

There are two giant piles of leaves in the backyard that are now covered with snow and will probably remain there at least until spring. I haven't written anything of substance for months on end. Three cords of wood need to be stacked. There is a squeak from the front end of the car. I didn't make it to the top of La Barillette this year. We have no chicken stock. One thing is certain: tuning skis with a bottle of Marsannay and a wall of music can only mean that all things must pass and that it's time to turn and face the strange.

The 2010-2011 season begins tomorrow.

25 November 2010


Though living abroad, here at Casa de Hatcher we still pine away for Home Sweet Home, especially on the forth Thursday in November. Rome, Georgia; Athens, Texas; and Paris, Tennessee. More appropriately: Paradise, Utah; Bliss, Idaho; and Beverly Hills, Nevada.

Happy Thanksgiving.

16 November 2010

High on a Mountain


To run in mountain fog is to dream while awake. To feel somewhat lost in a world so familiar. To sense the drifting weightlessness of the cloud yet to absorb the direct pressure of a larger weather system. To listen to music at once incongruous but also consistent. There is solace knowing that everything above you is white.

30 October 2010

I Put a Spell on You


Screamin' Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell on You


(Note: Apparently two days ago, 04 November, someone sent Blogger a complaint about this post. Blogger took the post down, put it in my 'drafts' folder, and told me they did this which, I suppose, is better than what they used to do: delete the post into oblivion. I assume it's because I put the Screamin' Jay Hawkins track up "without permission" and it had nothing to do with Hank's pictures that I also put up without his permission. A quick Google, Hype Machine, or Beemp3 search for other Screamin' Jay Hawkins tracks shows that they are readily available, ready to be downloaded, all, I also assume, "without permission." I guess the internet police haven't quite completed their rounds yet.)

23 September 2010

A Good Woman is Hard to Find

Some mornings when you wake up all alone.

There's not much room to go more crazy.

Why should my past keep haunting me all through the years?

Blood spilled out from the hole in your heart.

I'll dance at your funeral if you dance at mine.

The way toward the crop of gold is not far from the snow.

There are some mornings when the
sky looks like a road.

Being good isn't always easy.

You know I don't lie. Much.

10 September 2010

Pleasant Valley Sundays

It's been a busy summer though I feel I've done little more than nothing. Maybe that's the beauty of summer, a hibernation of sorts until winter. A summer spent outside. A summer of creatures. A summer of conflict. Alone and surrounded by others. A summer of food. Clouds. Resolve.

Sights and sounds of a summer wasting.

I don't know why but I spent a large chunk of time listening to old Belle & Sebastian and The Magnetic Fields albums. They're both depressingly summery kind of bands which is to say that they're summery in a breezy, wistful, major chord kind of way but dour and brokenhearted, like being stood up at a pool party.

At times it seemed the heat wouldn't quit. And it came from all directions. When it won't the best you can do is to keep occupied, whatever it takes to keep your mind off temperatures.

Food helps and there was always plenty of it to go around. Friends are good, too. The combination of both is a perfect prescription.

Yo no soy marinero.
¡Soy capitán!
¡Soy capitán!

Then there were clouds. And if there is one thing you can count on in Europe, it's a cloud.

So many things I would have done but clouds got in my way.

Something's lost but something's gained in living every day.

In many ways I wish this particular summer never happened. But that is naive thinking. In truth it was probably inevitable, just as it is true that next year summer will return. Better then, I suppose, to deal with it directly and get it over. Thankfully, we each come equipped with our own resources--like clouds and other things of profound beauty.

And if and when things of profound beauty fall short there is always humor. Life is a Cosmic Joke best experienced without hesitation or guilt.

The end is near and it couldn't have come at a better time. It's cooler now, and calm. It won't happen again.

Спасибо, Людмила, for pictures 5, 8-13. ¡Precioso!

29 August 2010

Literary Skiers 10: An Autumn Wish


That afternoon he crossed the watershed and started down through a dark spruce forest. Ravens flew over the vast high country, the slopes falling away all heather and gray weather wood into the clouds below. He made a fire beneath a shelf of rock and watched a storm close over the valley down there, ragged hot wires of lightning quaking in the dusk like voltage in some mad chemist's chambers. Rain fell, leaves fell, slantwise and wild, a silver storm blowing down the eaves of the world. He'd found a few wild chestnuts and he watched them blacken in the coals. He cracked and cooled them. All things contained of tree therein, leaf and root. He ate. He'd no food other and he thought his hunger would keep him awake but it didnt. He could hear the long wild sough of the wind in the high forest as he lay there in his blanket staring up at the heavens. The cold indifferent dark, the blind stars beaded on their tracks and mitered satellites and geared and pinioned planets all reeling through the black of space.

In the morning there was snow at the higher elevations, a fairyland dust on the peaks. He had bound up his feet with the crokersack and now he simply wrapped the blanket about his shoulders and went down along the ridge, a hermetic figure, already gaunted and sunken at the eyes, a week's beard. Going shrouded in his blanket through the forest beswirled about by cold gray mist, gray weather, cold day, moss the color of stone. The wind sharp in the dry bores of his nostrils. Down through the pale bare bones of a birch forest where the claw-shaped leaves he trod held little ferns of ice.

--Cormac McCarthy, from Suttree, 1979

02 August 2010

Living History

The Brits at Lonely Planet describe Ballenberg as "Disneyland-like." My only guess is that maybe the intrepid travelers haven't really visited Disneyland, opting instead to circumnavigate the small world and allow its own reputation to precede itself. Disneyland is iconic and it almost seems unfair to compare anything to Disneyland except Disneyland. It's especially hard to imagine the horrors of Disneyland's long lines in blistering heat; oversized puppets that keep reappearing throughout the day like an animated version of The Hitch-Hiker; odors of stale soda baking on asphalt; and the sweat, the grime, and fiberglass to be "like" anything at Ballenberg. But I had my doubts.

When our Swiss neighbor was asked where he would take someone who had never visited his country before, he answered without pause. Ballenberg. He made it sound like a village with some distinct architectural curiosities surrounded by beautiful mountains. I referenced the Lonely Planet and read "Disneyland-like." I had my doubts. Upon visiting, my doubts were abated. The Swiss call Ballenberg an open-air museum. In the U.S. it would be called a living history museum.

Ballenberg is located in the Bernese Oberland near the town of Brienz, just above the Brienzersee, Interlakken's eastern lake. Spread across 160 forested acres Ballenberg displays the unique, varied, and traditional architectural styles found throughout the whole of Switzerland. All of the geographical regions are represented as are most of the cantons. Buildings are grouped according to their regional styles and a stroll between the clusters makes for a vivid contrast. In a country about the same size as Elko County, Nevada, but with four official languages, the differences between building designs are distinct and even severe.

In addition to the framework of the buildings--often saved from demolition and restored only when and where necessary for the integrity and life of the structure--rooms within the structures are recreated with furnishings from the appropriate time period.

An 18th century warming oven and bedroom from a farmhouse in Heitenried, Fribourg canton:

Dining room and child's toy from a Bernese Midlands farmhouse built in Madiswil, 1709:

As the name living history suggests, Ballenberg is also a functioning farm that features agricultural staples from the various regions of the country. Fruits and vegetables, herbs and grains, tobacco, chestnuts, corn, and grapes all find a breeding ground here. Crops are grown in the vicinity of the regions appropriate to the plants.

An alpine herb garden next to a 17th century grain storehouse from the canton of Vaud:

Our visit coincided with a gathering of vendors selling various homeopathic and herbal remedies made from wild and indigenous plants harvested throughout Switzerland. A plot of medicinal herbs from the Bernese Midlands:

Riesling vines from an 18th century vineyard owner's house in the canton of Zürich:

Corn drying racks from Ticino:

There are also four eateries within the park that serve food and drink from their respective regions like the wine, cheese, and cured meat bistro from the Vaud; the 19th century guest-house from the canton of Zug; or the 19th century Alter Bären inn from Rapperswil in the canton of Bern. We chose to eat risotto and sausages and washed it down with White Merlot in the 14th century Novazzano estate from Ticino:

No living history museum is complete without a collection of artisans whose work and machinery is associated with the place and time period. Switzerland is deeply rooted in its agriculturally-based products and handicrafts and Ballenberg is a perfect venue to highlight them. Each cluster of buildings features several craftspeople who work at a regionally-specific trades that emphasize both the industry from the area as well as the natural resources available. In many cases--watch-making, for example--the craft or art was borne out of a need for supplemental income and took place from within the same barns and storehouses that saw day to day use from farming operations.

Making cheese in an 18th century alpine dairy barn:

Two types of weaving machines. The first from within a Bernese Midlands farmhouse, the second from a house from Blatten in the Valais dated 1568.

Tool tree from a 19th century Bernese Oberland blacksmith's shop:

A basket weaving bench waiting for its basket weaver in front of the Wissämmeli farmhouse, Lucerne’s Entlebuch region:

A 19th century water powered sawmill from Rafz in the canton of Zürich:

A 17th century, 2.5 ton wine press from Fläsch in the canton of Graubünden:

Alpine trades: making charcoal in proximity to a lime kiln and resin extractor:

Bee house from the canton of Bern:

We entered the museum grounds just past 10 a.m. and walked out about 4 p.m. Though the parking lot was full we never felt rushed, pushed, overwhelmed, or crowded. We strolled leisurely, stopped often, and kept our own pace. We saw no large mice. There wasn't a single strand of cotton candy. In fact, other than the restaurants and the artisans, there are only two small gift shops at each entrance where you could spend any more money than what it cost to walk through the gates and these, too, were filled mostly with similar handcrafts produced within.

I couldn't call Ballenberg a theme park and even the word 'museum' offers a slight disservice. Ballenberg is alive and minus a few modern upgrades is not much different than the twenty-six cantons of Switzerland today. The country moves and grows slowly and it seems to believe in mastering a few skills rather than succumb to the jack-of-all-trades theory of global industrialization. Cheese, filigreed textiles, animal husbandry, metal and wood works, and all things agriculture play as important a role in contemporary Switzerland as they did in 1291.

History is alive and well in Switzerland and its living traditions demonstrate a country sure of itself and its place among peers. If anything, Ballenberg illustrates just how Swiss Switzerland really is. There are no fake Matterhorns here, just keep climbing up the ridgeline and eventually you will see the real one. There are no fanciful kingdoms, flying elephants, Caribbean Pirates, or visions of places that never were. In fact, even today you could probably ramble through any number of small alpine villages and experience a singular (rather than the concentrated whole) version of the museum. That is, without its residents opening up their doors to you. What you see is what you get and what you get is Switzerland in a highly cultivated nutshell then, now, and forever.

While often I feel that Switzerland's rule-based orderliness verges on socialist oppression I take comfort in the fact that it will be as pretty and utilitarian in the next 700 years as it has for the last 700 years. For better or for worse Swiss citizens work diligently to ensure this; it is their creed, and the idea of the sanctity of the whole--the all for one, one for all spirit--defines and determines their country's path. Not surprisingly, Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno (German: Einer für alle, alle für einen; French: Un pour tous, tous pour un; Italian: Uno per tutti, tutti per uno) is the unofficial national motto. It's a small world after all, probably best to do things right the first time around.