Cyrogenic, and Salève

My blood has thinned, and I’m sure of it.

Coming to California from Sweden, I thought I had conquered being cold. In California yes, it rains, but you can be assured of sun within in a matter of days (or hours). Not just patchwork sun, either, no. In California, you expect it to come on full power, explosive, rapturous, unyielding. It’s the kind of sun that makes budded trees pop before March and makes them wilt by June. In California, I shunned jackets, I slept with the windows open, I rode my bike while wearing short sleeves and short fingered gloves.

In Switzerland, a pause in the rain finds our team enjoying the daily espresso out of doors.  Sitting at that table in the middle of sodden Europe, I begin to sense that either my blood or my jacket is too thin. It’s not even the kind of cold you feel in your bones, I think, it’s just normal cold. Someone remarks that I look like I am freezing. I most certainly am, but of course I grit my teeth and reply:

“I am not cold.” I don’t know what it is that’s in me that has always made me feel I need to prove that I can endure low temperatures. Possibly it’s the uncomfortable truth that really, I can’t. But I won’t swallow that, no: I will freeze until my blood rethickens.

In my defense, it really isn’t warm: On these last few mornings as I ride to CERN, I’ve taken a look back at our local massif. Le Salève is a marvelous color-changing upheaval of glacially carved sediment, but these few mornings, it has been graced by a delicate layer of snow. Something I’ve never before seen on Le Salève. By my evening commute, if enough light is left to see the Salève, the snow is gone, to be regenerated, by this  sorcery called ‘weather’ come dawn.

Le Salève. I rode up it, at last. On Easter sunday, after attending an unadorned, French-Language Calvinist mass in St Pierre Cathedral, I got on my bike and rode towards the massif. Eventually found my way up. I climbed forever and then some, but when I reached Col de Les Coisettes I turned around and there were the Alps: a symphonic panorama in ascending indigo shades accented in broad and beaming shields of white yellow snow. Once in the small village of Les Croisettes, I found myself in a familiar setting: the tail end of an amateur road race. A man loading a Cervelo onto a roof rack sized me and my old mountain bike up before uttering a ‘Bonjour.’ I smiled back but was more fascinated by the emaciated young racers, their faces clean-shaven, lean, and strangely apelike; their fiercely luminous eyes peering out of the back windows of small cars. I tailed them down the mountain. On the switchbacks my hands froze to the bars and my mirth froze in my chest to be released in a burst of laughter at the sight of early blooming raps blossoms and a train of thought: Raspar, skåne, vår. Vår! Spring!

I did, in fact, speak Swedish with a physically present, living person today. Well, he spoke Finlandsvenska and I probably spoke a little Skånska, but that hardly matters. It’s wonderful feeling in the mouth, to speak a language that one can still hear the sounds of, a language that is not so disenchanting as the international and purely functional brand of English* that is, for the most part, my default operating mode.

Here’s to hoping that speaking a Nordic language will act as a blood thickener, and we can all get on with our lives.


*My matter-of-fact German flatmate has expressed to me that “English is so simple,” I believe he meant sparse, incomplete, exiguous, limited.  He went on: “You can’t really say everything.” Ahh, yes (such it is with any language) but that is only because you don’t know all of the words!


2 Responses to “Cyrogenic, and Salève”

  1. michael9murray Says:

    Wonderful writing – and the description of the Alps simply stunning!

    Language – ah, don’t we all love our own best! A born English speaker I find I value, say, Welsh for its sounds, French for its sensuosity (?), the Scandinavian languages (even Finlandsvenka? Ok) for a certain mysteriousness.
    But at the same time don’t find any language capable of full expression, that what we ‘mentate’ has no language, and that maybe language is only a translation of sorts, anyway. (An on-going thing with me, sorry.)

  2. tornspira Says:

    Language as a translation of thought, a translation of the real or imagined: Yes, indeed! See Tranströmer and his ‘language but no words’; the direct conveyance of meaning in nature vs. the indirect conveyance of meaning through human tongues 🙂 Also, Finlandsvenska is a dialect of Swedish that is the mother-tongue of a minority group of native Finns.

    And I have to agree Welsh is pretty cool, though I don’t get the chance to hear it often (or ever).

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