Victoria Jelinek

The Baby Diaries 22

“It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in the our air and water that are doing it.” Dan Quayle

Mont Blanc TunnelLa Vallee de l’Arve, which is the region that encompasses the village I live in, has very polluted air. I believe that Paris and Marseille are the only other French places that have worse air (and they have a few more people). This is ironic, given that the area became a tourist destination – its primary source of income – in the late 19th century when the Victorians would come here for ‘the mountain cure’ of fresh air. The problem is primarily the result of transit through the Mont Blanc Tunnel, home heating (bad wood, fireplaces and chimneys that aren’t energy efficient), and the fact that the valley is so deep that it traps the air in it. All the expats complain about the air and attest that this will be the reason they leave the valley, ‘Poor little Junior can’t breathe and always has a cough.’ It’s true. My infant son often has a cough and after several visits to the doctor because of it, we’ve been told ‘C’est comme ca…c’est le Chamonix toux…” (It’s like that…it’s the Chamonix cough…). I, myself, am always congested here, and I find it odd when I return to London that my nose becomes clear again.

Recently, my husband and I received a letter home from the crèche (nursery) letting us know that they would no longer be going outdoors with the kids on days in which the pollution index was too high. Mon Dieu. Then, almost all of the doctors in the region signed a petition addressed to President Francois Hollande, stating that the air pollution in La Vallee de l’Arve is a health issue, particularly for the vulnerable, such as infants, children, and the elderly. I signed and sent this petition to everyone I know globally in the hope that by having folks of other nations sign it, maybe the powers-that-be would think that the tourist money will dry up if they don’t do something (god forbid they do it for the inhabitants).

Now there’s the proposal for a second Mont Blanc Tunnel, or, alternatively, the expansion of the current one, to increase the amount of transit and goods through the tunnel. As an aside, those that own the tunnel – a 50/50 partnership between ATMB France and SITMB Italy–pay for its upkeep and all of the overhead/salaries associated with the running of the tunnel, in the first six days of every month, so the rest of the month is pure profit. A second tunnel, or the widening of the existing tunnel, would be dire in terms of air quality. Ten years ago there was fierce opposition by local residents against plans to widen the tunnel, but it seems it’s back on the table again. The Swiss are busy building tunnels for trains through their country in the hope of increasing efficiency and not destroying the environment. But the French, and Italians on the other side, are extremely reluctant and claim it will cost too much money.

So, this last weekend there was a demonstration in Chamonix against the pollution, in which the highway, La Route Blanche (The White Highway), leading up to the Mont Blanc Tunnel, was closed so that protestors could walk it. I sent emails and text messages to all the expats in the valley I know (not many, granted, but a couple of dozen), many of whom are regularly complaining about this situation. But on the day, there were five expats I recognized there. The rest of the crowd of, perhaps, 150-200 people, were French, and included Chamonix’s mayor and various council folks. A disappointing turnout for the valley of 10,000 regular inhabitants and 90,000 saissonaires, but, then again, it was a good snow day. I did receive numerous text messages from my pals with various excuses about why they couldn’t participate, but they reflected their hypocrisy. At the march, I carried a HUGE sign with about 13 other people for the entire demonstration. It was very heavy and awkward to carry, but the spirit of the crowd was one of camaraderie, and the line of us carrying the sign joked together, often as a result of the French ‘lovey’ next to me calling out to folks passing in cars or on foot ‘cause she seemed to know everyone and was really charming. We marched down the highway and into town, then to the Mayor’s office where there were a bunch of speeches (of course). Yesterday, the Mayor travelled down to Paris to meet with someone in Hollande’s cabinet about the situation. I look forward to discovering what’s next. I’m still hopeful, despite my instinct telling me that apathy and commerce will rule the day…

The Pregnancy Diaries – 7

“I don’t mind that I’m fat. You still get the same money.” Marlon Brando

I went to secondary school in the Highlands of Scotland. My parents were teaching there, I was the youngest child, my siblings were at university, so I went with them. Anyway, a friend of mine from there and then, whom I’ve kept in touch with for over twenty years, came to visit me this last week in France. She had her only child when she was 16 years old, so her daughter is already out of the home and working. I’m three months pregnant with my first child. I’ve been having all these health ‘issues’ around pregnancy and am trying to relax (I feel like Peter Sellers’ character in I Love You Alice B. Toklas when he’s walking down the beach with the hippie guru) so I’m not the best person to hang out with at the moment given my concerns and my relatively ‘clean’ lifestyle, particularly in contrast to my behavior historically.

Even so, I wanted to show her a good time and one day I took her to a wonderful spa in Italy, Pre St. Didier at the base of Mont Blanc. I had to drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel, get lost several times with the Italian exits and directions (she was no help at all, lending credence to the stereotype that women are not concerned with directions), and sign waivers when I went to the spa so that they’re not liable if my baby cooks in my belly like rice in a bag. I was excited to go ‘cause my belly is JUST beginning to show…it’s hard and rounded and low. I find it miraculous. It’s so fundamental and animalistic. I feel like I’m the same as the horse with the foal, the goat with its kids, the cat with her kittens, and the dog down at my local café whose titties are heaving she’s so full of puppies. I’m proud of my little bump and even as I’m fat at the moment, I wanted to show it off. Keep in mind that I went to the spa to show my Scottish friend a nice day out. So we went in, it’s spacious, clean, and rustic yet modern, well organised, relaxed, and has gorgeous views, and a variety of spa activities and pools. However, I spent my day at the footbaths and the leg invigorator (you walk down one side with hot water up to your thighs, turn, go down a few steps, then walk down the other side with cold water up to your thighs). And, contrary to having a remarkable belly, almost all of the Italian women there had the same belly as I do! Not once did my friend crack a smile. When I asked her if she’d had a good time she rather stiffly replied, “Yes, ta.”

Later, upon return home, I had to go into the guest bedroom for something and I saw my friend’s open suitcase and various things splayed about the room. In this array, I saw at least FOUR pairs of different coloured, high, high-heels pumps! What had she imagined I could do when I was three months pregnant? Go dancing and clubbing? (Can I go dancing and clubbing?) I realised at age 17 that I’d be bored out of my mind at a club unless I was ‘mash up’…should I have gone anyway despite the inevitable boredom and the possibility that my child would have been traumatised by Euro dance music in order to entertain her? Dang. A day out at Pre St. Didier must have seem very tame, indeed, for her…