Last night as I walked down a boulevard in Geneva, a young man passing by nodded his head and wished me a « bon froid » instead of good evening. Can a « good cold » exist ?
We are having a record breaking cold spell in Europe. Parts of the Danube, Europe’s busiest waterway flowing through ten countries, closed due to ice blockages. Canals across Holland froze turning the entire city of Amsterdam into an open air skating ring. Strong winds whip across Switzerland, reminding me of back home in the Windy City and open plains of the Midwest. Once a tough kid, I turned into a big sissy. I love winter, but hate cold. Even though I am part Norwegian, I lack the fortitude of my Viking cousins living up by the North Pole.
In Switzerland, a northeast wind, called the Bise, blows shutters off houses and branches from trees. Everyone knows I love to exaggerate, but no kidding, docks on Lake Geneva look like chiseled ice sculptures, cars turned to blocks of ice and steel train tracks froze halting traffic.
The cold even penetrates the walls of our concrete home and I am literally chilled to the bone. My lips turn blue, my fingertips grow white and my feet never thaw.
Snow and ice, crunch and crackle, underfoot, as I trudge to school reflecting on childhood when snow drifted as high as window ledges. As it nips my face and stings my eyes, I lean into wind. I feel rugged like Grandpa Mac who cleared a path through five-foot high snow banks to light a the fire in the pot belly stove of the one room school house where my grandma first taught.
The howling wind rattles the window frames of my school room under the tiled, mansard rooftop in the attic of the one hundred year old international school, where I teach without heat. Each room has a space heater, but if we plug in more than one appliance at a time, the lights go out and computers shut down. My colleagues and I toss coins to see who’s turn it is to freeze. On my Ice Day, I wear a hand-knit Norwegian sweater, three sweatshirts,long underwear, wool mittens and a scarf.
Brrrh. I don’t want to leave my house ; I don’t even want to leave the bed. Like the ground hog who sees his shadow in stark sunlight in a cobalt sky, I long to retreat to my burrow under a down comforter and hibernate for another six weeks.
My joints ache ; my fingers and toes go numb. I think I am suffering. Me, with a layers of clothes, heated lodgings and a hot meal every night. I wonder about the unemployed, poverty stricken street people without a roof over head or food to eat. How do they survive the night? Many don’t. Already over 600 people have died in Europe from the extreme weather.
I stop grumbling about winter and feel grateful. I am gifted. I have a home.
more winter pictures of Lake Geneva, Switzerland: http://gallery.me.com/geraldlechault#100343&bgcolor=black&view=grid