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Wednesday, 18 February 2015

What's a body for?

Fearing it would be cold in Stuttgart (see pre-Christmas posts) I opted to wear my super-dooper anorak. Going through the pockets I found the above rectangle of plastic and was cast down. Had I been closer to laughter than tears I might have echoed Cole Porter in Kiss Me Kate:

Where is the life that late I led?
Where is it now? Totally dead!
Where is the fun I used to find?
Where has it gone? Gone with the wind!


Twas my last ski-pass, bought in 2007 for the high slopes of Zermatt in Switzerland. It cost a fortune and delivered a cruel message. "You are," it said, "too old to ski." Thus the transition from "elderly" to "old - definitely old". A life of ratiocination remained.

People who haven't skied think skiers are twerps. It's dangerous, isn't it? Memories of concussion, a dislocated shoulder, a cracked scapula and a torn intercostal muscle rise to remind me. But heck, those were stretched out in time between 1978 and 2007. A small price. Applying myself differently I might have gone mad reading the novels of Margaret Drabble.

Why ski? To be transformed. To escape the lumbering body I was born with, to embrace gravity like a lover, to perform tiny physical adjustments and to emerge as a proposition in aesthetics. To glide, laughing at weight and friction among scenery that shouts out - I live! What's pain? I've caused other dinner guests to go green with nausea at my account of how Swiss doctors reduced my dislocation without anaesthetic. The power of vivid discourse.

Nothing comes for nothing. Passive pleasure is, in the end, circumscribed. There's nothing quite like letting go and depending on your instincts and what you've learned.

12 comments:

Blonde Two said...

I have only skied twice and that was at the tender age of 19. Even that twice gave me a sense of what you are talking about

I would love to do it again, know people older than I who have, but am also realistic. If my knees struggle on Dartmoor, they are unlikely to be able to cope on-piste.

Swimming almost does the same thing for me.

Sir Hugh said...

I have never skied but am envious of those that have - far from thinking them twerps (a good old word that).

My ideal would be ski mountaineering where one accepts the uphill stuff anyway, and downhill sections would be reduced to blissful seconds. How long does it take to descend 3000ft (the entry level height of a Munro)? Walking it would take an hour - I guess on skis only a few minutes.

I agree with your sentiments in the final paragraph, but not to be recommended literally for rock climbing.

mike M said...

I nordic skied first, never learned to turn properly with the "free heel". My first alpine or "downhill" experience was therefore revelatory....SO much control...one could fairly ski backward on gentle groomed trails. Very similar to small boat sailing in feel and uniqueness of experience. Never progressed beyond linked stem christies, but loved it all the same.

Roderick Robinson said...

Blonde Two: You're probably right about your knees; there really is no escape from duff joints when you ski. Which is a shame since I suspect you have the right temperament.

I went on to swimming after ski-ing. A mile twice a week. Two miles a day when we holidayed on a Greek island. Again the pleasure is ultimately aesthetic which is why it has to be crawl; all other modes are comparatively inefficient. Many people can't do crawl more than 100 m because they haven't got the breathing right. I must confess it took me a while but once mastered you reckon you can go on for ever.

Sir Hugh: Compared with going uphill, downhill looks easy. But the joints get punished even when you're expert. The aim is never just to get down but to do so elegantly. A perfect parallel turn with just the tiniest amount of upweighting is just like sex... perhaps.

There's a correlation with swimming. Most people can't do crawl properly because they haven't learned the breathing; many skiers only do a ruptured version of parallels because they don't upweight. Ironically I was still improving each year until my defective body got the better of me.

MikeM: It's all in the feel, isn't it? As with dinghy sailing.

I'm not sure I would have progressed with Nordic ski-ing. I've seen it done properly but it still looks weird: too asymmetrical.

Ellena said...

I could write a book about dislocating my shoulder.
Skiing, lying on the floor trying to clean under the washing machine, slipping on a wet rock,
getting my arm into a heavy coat and the last time ......yes. First time it slipped back on its own, the next two times my husband
pushed it back, the 4th time I had to explain to the emergency crew in the hospital how my husband used to push it back into it's place and the last time it popped back when they lifted me onto the stretcher.
No more skiing, no more tennis,
no more many things including such as holding on to handrail with right hand.

Roderick Robinson said...

Ellena: Could have written a book, could you? I didn't go that far but I did write a sonnet, Which you can CLICK if you like

Stella said...

Late as I am to the party........I would like to add my appreciation for your descriptive joy of the Alpine skiier. When the kids were young this is how we passed the Winters. Just recently I caved in and sent our ski outfits to the thrift shop. Yesterday I found a big bag of thermal underwear, neck warmers and mitts which is the last evidence of the era. That is, except for the chip that seems to be floating around in my kneecap, a reminder of how surprisingly you can wreck yourself on the hills.

Roderick Robinson said...

Stella: You too! I sold my fashionable shortie skis, gave away my boots (much, much more important than the skis) for peanuts. Never have burning bridges given off such an apocalyptic light; as if I'd deliberately unlearned my ability to handle the French subjunctive.

Ski-ing is pure sensation - mostly bad when the surface or the gradient or both combine to prevent us from arranging ourselves in the way we know we should. More rarely it is sublime, never so obvious as when the ski-edges hiss in that approving way, telling us we are locked into the slope and for a few moments can do no wrong. Perhaps it's a moral power, the assumption of a different "better" melange of skills and instinct.

I am truly sorry about the chip but I do hope it's not all loss. I hope there are days you can recall, forcing you to take a deep breath. And asking yourself wryly: what else would I have used that knee for?

Stella said...

Thankfully, I can disguise this post as a comment on physical effort, but it is really about something else. My day starts on the basement treadmill (not as thrilling as the downhill run) and I use the television as a distraction. Can you imagine my delight when, this morning watching an episode of 'The Story of Wales', I realize the host is.....HUW! How can he carry on with such confidence? Does he not sense the spells that encircle his majestic head? What a delicious joke that your loathing has crept across the globe and popped up in my basement. :)

Roderick Robinson said...

Stella: His doomed state may arouse Canadian pity; all I ask is that you keep it to yourselves.

Lucy said...

I remember the thrill of tobogganing enough to know that skiing must be the purest bliss, and that most certainly it is something I will never now do. I might still get to do some more tobogganing though, though another aspect of increasing age is that snow brings worry and problems more than delight.

Glad Stella finally got to see the blessed Huw-bach, who probably would have passed completely unnoticed had you not drawn such attention to him.

Roderick Robinson said...

Lucy: Garn, at your age I still had fifteen more years to go.

Huw-bach is good. I imagine it turning into hubcap when translated into English. He's the right shape.