Sunday, December 15, 2013

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

     It’s only early December.
     And it’s already snowing.
     And I’m not prepared.
     I don’t mean prepared with snow boots and snow shovels and ice for the driveway.  I mean prepared in my head.
     When I was a little girl I lived in western New York, which New Yorkers call “Upstate”, even though it’s not “up”, but more “to the left”.  Between Rochester and the Finger Lakes, to be exact.  If you like snow, that’s the place to be in winter:  in a northern state, and east of a Great Lake.  You want snow?  You got it!  The clouds travel over Lake Erie, picking up water as they go, and when they hit land.... bingo!... snow.
     I was shorter then, so the snow probably seemed higher up my young legs.  But it wasn’t just an illusion.  The average snowfall for that part of the world is between 92 and 115 inches (2.3-2.9 m), with annual fluctuations.  On a chart of the top 101 cities in the entire United States (Alaska included) having the highest average snowfall in a year, Numbers 1, 2, 4, and 7 through 12 are all in that general geographic area.  So I knew about snow.  When we moved to southeast Michigan, the snow seemed piddling in comparison.

And then I moved to Paris.
     All of the sudden, no snow.
     The very first year, I took a trip by car through northern France and across to London around Christmas time.  To my amazement, the grass was still green.  In the part of America that I’d left behind, grass disappeared before Santa arrived, not to reappear until spring, and even then it was a tired straw-colored yellow.  Here the grass wasn’t growing, but it was still a lush green.  In spite of the fact that Paris and London are at the same latitude as Labrador.  As Yul Brynner said in The King and I: “Is a puzzlement!”
     Over my thirty-some years in Paris, green winters were transformed from a puzzlement into the norm.
     And then I moved back to Michigan for part of the year.  Including part of the winter.
     Which is why I’m sitting here, looking out the window, on the 14th of December, as the fifth snowfall of the year blankets everything in what is already 4 inches of snow... and will probably keep accumulating for 12 more hours.
     Years ago, my daughter was born on tomorrow’s date and the window of the hospital was cracked open.  A ladybug flew in and landed on the sheet as she came into the world... a sign of good luck in West Indies culture.  The window will not be cracked open tomorrow.  The sky will still be low, the thermometer as well.

There have been many winters between that first French one of the lush green grass and the one outside my Michigan window today.  Most of them I gazed on from my fifth floor apartment overlooking the gardens of the Sacré-Coeur.
     Paris winters don’t usually involve snow.  And when they do, the snow rarely lasts more than overnight, or occasionally a day or two.  In 1970, it lasted a week and no one knew what to do.  I was still fresh from my North American training so I found it only bothersome because I didn’t have the right boots and it was the slushy kind of late March snow that ruins shoes.  I was living eight floors up then, in a tiny maid’s room with a view out over zinc rooftops the same grey color as the sky.  It was just boring.
     Then came the move to Montmartre and the park view.  Whenever it would snow, the park guardian would come and lock the gates.  Of course, they were only about waist high so it was fairly easy to climb over them - and people did - but at least the city wasn’t responsible if you hurt yourself; they had done their due diligence and you were trespassing.  People would come with pieces of cardboard and slide down the slopes.  Some even strapped on their skis.  I laughingly called the Funiculaire that usually ferries tourists to the top of the Butte “our ski lift”.  It was a fun scene to watch, and when he was older my son even climbed the fence one night and made a snowman.
My apartment hidden behind the snow tree
   Lately, winters have been getting more snow-filled in Paris.  Two years ago, friends were sending me videos of people snowboarding the sloping, winding streets of Montmartre.  And last year the cold lasted long enough to kill most of what until then had been winter-hardy plants in my new apartment’s garden, probably because it got cold before any snow fell to keep them warm.  (I’ve never quite understood how snow could keep things warm, but evidently it does.)  This winter promises to be more of the same.  Why, it even snowed in Cairo, Egypt!
      Ah, ma brave dame, il n’y a plus de saisons!  Yes, dear lady, the seasons have gone beserk!

So I’ve just brewed myself a hot cup of Earl Grey tea and I’m sitting by the window, watching the snow fall as dark descends.  It’s very quiet, because snow has excellent muffling qualities.  And it’s beautiful.
     But I’m just not ready for four months of this.  And tomorrow there’s a snow shovel with my name on it so I can get to the mailbox to collect all those Christmas cards.
     I think I’ll call the airlines to check on flights to Paris.

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