Victoria Jelinek


The Baby Diaries 24

“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age.” Victor Hugo

Boy-George-001A friend invited me to go and see Boy George in Chamonix last Friday night. Yes, that’s right – Boy George of the Culture Club fame, the iconic girlie-man in the pop band of the 1980’s – was in this wee village DJ’ing, or ‘spinning.’ When I remarked on how bizarre it was to have Boy George in town to my husband, he tried to give it the ‘big un’ about how Chamonix is a cosmopolitan place, a destination for many, and that I underestimate its appeal…that Boy George probably saw it as an opportunity to go snowboarding for the weekend, hang out in a “cool French Alpine village,” and do his DJ’ing. Hmmm. I later found out he was paid 15k, which makes more sense. Curious to see what he looks like now, and a little anxious to prove to myself that I’m not only a rapidly aging mother, I agreed to go. Then I found out that he wasn’t scheduled to begin till 1am. If I’m up at 1am these days it’s cause my little tyke has wet or pooped himself, had a ‘night terror,’ is hungry, or has indigestion. Moreover, if I’m up at 1am these days, it means that when my day inevitably begins at the crack of dawn, I’m going to be even more fatigued than usual. Not wanting to disappoint my friend, however, or myself, I decided that on the night of the show, I would go to bed at the same time as my son (shortly after dinner), then wake up at midnight and go to the gig. All went as planned, I got a few hours of sleep, got dressed, made a coffee for myself, took an ibuprofen, (god I’m lame), and set off for the nightclub.

Nightclubs still smell like the teen spirit of my youth – sweat, alcohol, hormones, and the close, stale smell of an interior that never opens its doors for a spring-cleaning. This one is downstairs in a cave-like space below a two-story magazin. I couldn’t help but think that if there were a fire none of we club goers would be able to escape and it’d be a tragedy noted on the AOL homepage. Many of Chamonix’s expat ‘society’ were out for the gig – middle aged, middle class, dressed up in heels and ‘hip’ tennis shoes, already drunk in celebration of being away from their respective hearths-and-homes, in denial of the next morning and the demands of children and the household. Boy George didn’t come on until 3am (he must have been snoozing before his set, too) and he looked good: he had a sequined butterfly flower makeup design on half of his face, eyeliner, white foundation make up, and a pink, glittery fedora, with a simple black suit. Like the rest of us, he’s put on a bit of weight over the years. There was a charisma and energy around him – you could sense him moving through the crowd even before he entered the DJ booth. Immediately there was a tight knot of people around the little booth, which would have made me claustrophobic. Hyper-realistically, cell phones were over the heads of everyone standing around him as they took pictures and made videos. Boy George didn’t do much other than bob around while his partner actually DJ’d, then he, himself, started spinning. He chose ‘poppy’ riffs, which were good, and the music he chose had an energetic, non-aggressive beat, but after awhile, it was repetitious, and, well, boring. I wasn’t the only one to think so either ‘cause the club drained of folks pretty quickly. That said, maybe the crowd left because they were knackered in the small hours of dawn?

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The Baby Diaries 20

“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” Albert Camus

pussy willow in winterClear, crisp air that feels like it’s cleaning your pores. The squeak of your shoes in the snow. Mountains on all sides rising so high against blue skies that they look false. Glacial run-off creating rivers that you can feel the cold emanating from when you walk near them and can hear in the quiet of the night. Little crosses and chapels dotting the hills. Chalets with snow logs on their roofs to keep the snow from falling on their inhabitants. Red shutters. Copper roofs. Darkened and aged wood on the older homes. Sunshine that tans the face even as you wear several downy layers. Pussy willow trees. Skiing and waffles and chocolat chaud. Beaufort and Tomme cheese made by special cows in the Alps and local farmers, sold at the market each Saturday. Men in thick wool sweaters smoking while driving their snow plows and tractors. Mountain lakes so clear that the colors range from dark blue to aqua. Population explosion in the winter and summer bringing big, fancy 4wd BMW’s, huge tourist buses and queues for the gondolas. Paragliders, climbers, skiers, hikers, bikers, snowboarders. Helicopters overhead. The sound of avalanches and the explosion of dynamite to set off controlled avalanches. The smell of pine and wood- burning stoves. Nights so brightened by the moon that you don’t need artificial light and your body casts a shadow. The single light on the mountains indicating the snow machine levelling the pistes (ski areas). Tartiflette, fondue, and cremeaux in the evening as Haute Savoie fare. Quiet nights. Starry skies. Snow and ice.



The Baby Diaries – 13

There was never a child so lovely but his mother was glad to get him to sleep. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mama & baby ape asleepThe sleep situation with my baby boy has caused a lot of strife in our household. When I first came home from the hospital after having a c-section, I was unable to move in bed, and it seemed ‘safe’ and easy to let my baby boy sleep in the crook of my arm, which I laid upon a pillow to keep it level. Every well-meaning woman whom I know told me this was unacceptable and dangerous- my baby could be smothered by me or by my husband in our sleep! Websites confirmed this. But it also seemed as though most of this death-by-smothering was a result of a parent being intoxicated in bed next to them. And almost all of them were a result of the father. For me, it seemed natural, and practically speaking, it seemed to be the only way to get him to sleep.

After many ‘discussions’ with my husband, however, and his dissatisfaction with the sleeping arrangement, we moved the baby onto this little cot that was cut at an angle so that his head was higher up. On each side, there was a little velcro’d buffer to keep him on the wee bed. This little cot fit right in between the pillows where my husband and I rest our heads, and also seemed to work for awhile. I liked having the boy so close, because it allowed me to hear his breathing over the snores of my husband. Even so, my husband expressed repeated dissatisfaction with this arrangement and after many ‘discussions,’ we bought a ‘co-sleeper’ that we put on the side of the bed. To be honest, I never liked this situation because my boy seemed close but very far, too, and it seemed rather pointless to have him on my husband’s side of the bed, but he claimed it made it ‘easier’ for me to sleep. Finally, we put the boy in a crib in the corner of our room and hoped that this would be a fine option. The boy was able to sleep in the crib, but he woke up every couple of hours, anyway, to feed, and going over to the crib, picking him up, bringing him back to the bed with me or sitting in a chair to nurse him seemed tedious and I’d be wide awake afterwards.

The doctor told us that the baby can literally smell the milk of its mother if it’s in the same room, and this is why the baby was frequently waking up throughout the night. Consequently, my husband and I put together a sleeping schedule. Because my husband goes to bed early each night, anyway, I would be the ‘point-person’ to attend to the boy when he cried in the evening and early night while my husband would sleep in the guest-room and get several hours of uninterrupted rest. At about two am, after being awaked for another feeding, I’d nurse the boy, we’d change places, and I’d sleep peacefully until morning, and when our son next woke up, he’d be fed a bottle of formula by his father, the rotation manoeuvre completed!

To be honest, when I was in the room with the boy alone, I’d simply take him back to bed with me and feed him while I was lying down and then doze off at some point till his next revival. I could have gone on like this for a number of months, but my husband has badgered me to put the boy and his crib into a room of his own so that we can sleep in the same bed together like a ‘normal’ couple. Because I can’t think of a logical reason not to, and I’m really too tired to argue, I have complied. The first few nights that the boy was in his own room were hideous. He cried at an ear-splitting pitch and I nearly had to be tied down not to go to him. These last few nights, however, have been blissful. It seems to be true what the doctor said about his smelling me in the room, because he does not wake as frequently as he once did. As a consequence, I am feeling a renewed sense of energy and wakefulness that I have not known since I was seven months pregnant and could still sleep at night!



The Baby Diaries – 11

Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died. Erma Bombeck

071030 DVD SAGES FEMMES.inddThe sage-femmes (mid-wives) at the hospital were great. Through them, I learned to nurse and to bathe my child, as well as to take his temperature. They were also the ones who would come and relieve me, or check on us during the night, making me feel that my baby boy and I were tended to.

But the sage-femme assigned to me by the obstetrician for pre-and-post-birth care was useless. Before my boy was born my husband and I went into her office, and sitting before her little desk, waited for several moments to see what she would do because we had no idea what we were to do. She didn’t say a word. Finally, we asked some tentative questions about the care in the hospital that we should expect, which had already been answered by my good doctor, but we wanted to be polite. She would answer them as an adolescent might, with as few words as possible and giving no opportunity for elaboration. It was a struggle and that 15-minute appointment seemed to last an hour.

Post birth, however, one is meant to go to the sage-femme for ten visits in order to properly recuperate. It’s actually prescribed by the paediatrician at the hospital before you leave, and the l’Assurance Medicale, the health bureau, reimburses you for the visits 100%. This is a very good and holistic approach to the birthing process that I highly commend about the French system in theory, but I’ve gone to this sage femme a few times now, and I still find it useless. On one such visit she put a long towel, sheet type-of-thing around my lower back and near my pelvis, and pulled it tightly around the area. I asked what this was for and she told me it would help ‘reshape’ my womb. On another visit, she pulled out an appliance that looked like a combination between an electric razor and a vibrator and proceeded to put it into my vagina. I asked her what this was for and she told me that it sent out electrical currents that would help ‘reshape’ my vagina and womb. On another visit she had me practice getting down and up off of the floor and doing sit ups. I’d ask her questions that I thought she might know that were relevant to me, such as about the blood blisters on the breasts, and the left breast’s drying up, and the lack of sleep, and doctor’s visits, and she was not able to provide any answers. She doesn’t have children. I could be her mother. Oh! I did find the visit in which she took out the stitches from my caesarean very useful.

Perhaps finding a good sage femme is akin to finding a good psychologist? This is very American of me, the land of people who seek to discuss their problems (and why not? I think the world would be a better place if one could unload all their worries and problems on a person they paid to listen to them and to keep quiet about it all, and who then eliminated the need to unload on your friends and family). Anyway. Perhaps it’s like a psychologist in the sense that if you get a bad one, an incompetent one, then it will turn you off of ever going again to one. I would have stopped going to this sage femme, but at the end of every visit I had with her I felt bullied into making the next appointment, so I would make one in order to get out of the room. After several visits, I decided I didn’t want to go anymore and tried to tell her that it just wasn’t ‘my cup of tea’ and it ‘doesn’t seem to be working for me,’ and I don’t want her to ‘waste’ her time on me anymore. She gave me an angry lecture on how irresponsible I am being to my body by giving up the visits before they’re over! I listened to her quietly, and then suggested we call it ten visits, as prescribed, submit it to the relevant authorities for her to be reimbursed, and I’ll give her the co-pay in cash. To her credit, she immediately agreed.

As much as I’ve appreciated other medical care in France, I’ve found my sage femme visits the least helpful. I will presume that she is an anomaly.



The Baby Diaries – 10

The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not. Mark Twain

FR pharmacieToday I went to the doctor with my boy for a check-up and we had an interesting conversation. She is a ‘stand-in’ for our regular doctor. Originally from Marseille, she loves the mountains and her husband works for the mountain rescue. Normally, she does research on frostbite for a national study and she’s also six months pregnant (and looks great. Unlike the bulk I was, and remain – I’m still wearing my maternity clothes!).

After she’d checked my boy’s weight, vitals, and head circumference, etc., we got to chatting about life in Southern France (I hold onto the idea that I will live there one day, put perhaps it won’t be until I’m in my 50’s, like Colette). From there, we began talking about the state of French industry. Recently, France has lost two manufacturing company contracts, which were employing/would employ thousands of workers because of inefficiency and the demand for guaranteed lifetime contracts, respectively. After that, we segued into the dire state of the French healthcare system. I’m a great admirer of their system – a winning combination of socialist and capitalist care – and I’ve been the grateful recipient of many medical services in France. Nonetheless, I am aware the system is bankrupt. That it has been so for thirty years. It seems to me that to raise the cost of doctor’s visits, hospital stays, and long term care, SLIGHTLY, would help the system immeasurably. It may even save it. Aren’t the French meant to be collectively oriented? Why isn’t this happening?

What she told me was surprising. Particularly from a French person. She said that the French complain about the 23e or 28e they must pay for each doctor’s visit, which is the amount one pays before being partially reimbursed. In reality, only about 10e per visit goes to the doctor. Unlike their American counterparts, for example, doctors here are not getting rich through their vocation. She told me that when the doctor is unable to process a Carte Vitale (one’s personal health card which is registered with the health authorities, is run through a machine at the chemist, the hospital, by doctors at every visit, and then is automatically reimbursed for a given treatment) and must give them a brown form to fill out and send to the l’Assurance Maladie (health office) for reimbursement, instead, the French patients complain about having to pay for the price of a stamp in sending the form in for reimbursement.

She is very pessimistic that anything will change in France, despite the dire state of affairs within the medical arena and the economic problems for the country as a whole. She believes that in general, the French believe that they are “entitled.” They do not care whence their rebates, subsidies, incentives, reimbursements, and retirement plans come from, only that they receive them and pay as little toward them as is possible. She believes that short of a huge philosophical shift in thinking, which is not likely to happen as the general population in France refuses to accept that there is a problem that requires everyone to adapt, the French medical and economic systems are doomed. I want to believe this is not so.



The Baby Diaries 6

It’s the friends you can call up at 4am that matter. Marlene Dietrich

water trough FRMy close friend of 20 years has come over from London to help me with the baby while my husband is off to work as an accompagnateur en montagne for the first time this summer season. E was a highly paid nanny for many years, working for an illustrious broadcaster and a journalist, respectively, before moving to another profession. Shortly after arriving at my door via transfer from Geneva, she exclaimed that she’d expected me to look like the crazy cat woman from The Simpsons, but was relieved to discover me showered, dressed, and composed. She told me that as she’d been traveling from the airport, gazing out the window of the van, she’d kept noting it was ‘gorgeous, gorgeous scenery, yet completely not Victoria’s natural habitat.’ C’est vrai, mais je dois etre ici pour maintenant.

E happily cooed and exclaimed over my ‘beautiful, beautiful’ boy, and he immediately took to her with her large bosom and animated face. We went out for lunch and a walk, which is a mission with an infant in tow because one must bring every conceivable item one might need for an excursion. Lunch was a good catch up. E made me laugh by not even attempting to speak French with the waiters, instead, she irreverently mimed her needs, such as putting her hands to her lips and making the noise ‘num, num, num, num’ to indicate she wanted to eat. I work so hard to be polite to the French, aware of their disdain for the outsider, and am often met with blank or disdainful looks for my efforts. When I began breastfeeding the boy at the table, E quickly raised my scarf to shield the world from my breast, which she declared is like a woman in National Geographic: “Jesus H Victoria! The size of that nipple! It’s the size of my little finger! Good grief woman, cover that up, you’ll cause a traffic accident!’ That said, she stopped nursing her own boy when he started giving her (what she thinks were) lascivious looks. After lunch and during our walk, my boy pooped three times. I worried we’d run out of nappies and wipes and have to wipe his bottom on the grass, or dip it in one of the basins provided in the countryside for the animals to drink from.

Over the course of her stay, E has been most useful as a sounding board for my thoughts and worries. I can completely be myself with her at a time when I’m not sure who I am anymore. She advocates a mother maintaining her sense of self and her own interests, even as she puts her child, or children, first, which I’m receptive to. E encouraged me to have fun with the boy, and to do things the way I want to, and when I want to, in order to ‘create the child you want.’ To this end, she’s encouraged me to let him cry and not to jump at his every cry, in order to retain my sanity and to allow him to soothe himself. She’s been teaching me to get him to sleep alone. Thus far, I have had to hold him, or sit touching him while he falls asleep, and its almost as though he has a sensor because he realises when I move away and then wakes up. E has shown me to sit with him for a moment or two, coo and talk softly to him about sleep, and then slowly move away. The first couple of times I’ve tried this he cried, but E encouraged me to stay away for five minutes, go in, assure him, then leave, and repeat in ten minute intervals. It’s really difficult to hear your baby cry for you and not to go to him, but it’s well worth the liberty of being able to go and do things while he sleeps. That said, I still check on him every two minutes, despite a baby monitor at hand, causing E to laugh at my expense and telling me ‘You won’t be like that for long! You’ll let sleeping dogs lie soon enough!’ Further encouraging some semblance of autonomy for us both, E has also taken to feeding the boy with formula once in the night so that I can sleep. This is very helpful, I feel revived, and my boy doesn’t seem to mind. During a trip to Italy, she taught me to simply let him cry when we’re driving, particularly as stopping just makes a journey tedious. Knowing I’d need some logic to back up my doing this, she would remind me to note the checklist: ‘Is he hungry? Is he sullied? Is he ill? Is he cold or hot? If none of these apply, he just wants you and there’s nothing to be done for it while you’re driving…’ I do see the sense that an attentive mother is not the same as a hovering mother. And that a happy mother contributes to a happy baby.



La Montagne Fait Son Cinema

The second of the La Montagne Fait Son Cinéma movies is showing on Wednesday night at the Cinema Vox.

The mountain film series La Montagne Fait Son Cinéma has been put together by Association des Amis du Cinéma, and is inspired by a book about films shot in and around Chamonix. The series showcases films by local directors, climbing and mountaineering documentaries, and a few recent productions, including a film from the Kendal Mountain Festival.

“The Blizzard of Aahhhs”, is a “Rock-u-mentary” style “cult classic” from 1988 that profiles little-known and famed heroes of the ski world, from Chamonix Valley to Squaw Valley in California, in a humorous and personal manner. The first of its kind, “The Blizzard of Aahhhs” is cited as the inspiration to reside in Chamonix from many current expats living in the valley.

Guest Glen Plake, one of the skiers in “The Blizzards of Aahhhs” and also one of the judges in this week’s Nissan Outdoor Games, made a name for himself with his huge Mohawk and punk style of skiing, and is still a passionate enthusiast who spends half his year in Chamonix.