Snow in different lights 5.xi.19

Created 5.xi.19

I do want to keep things, and particularly reasonable ‘photos of the amazing views, coming up here but it’s been a long work day and I’m tired and, without sitting down and thinking for a little while, I don’t really have anything to say other than that the light changed dramatically through the day and the views were glorious much of the time. So I’m just going to put up a collection of today’s ‘photos without even any captions. I hope they give someone as much pleasure as raising my eyes from the screen from time to time gave me! I think the point about the changing light will be self-explanatory. The snow on some is falling snow: none were shot through glass.

Snow has dropped in

Created 3.xi.19

When I got up this morning (3.xi.19) all the higher peaks were covered in snow. For an hour or so I got on with things and just enjoyed the privilege of such a view, then something struck me: it really was so fine that it was why I have a good camera. That view above is a telephoto view away toward the head of the valley. I particularly like that effect when the moisture in the air, and the rather dead, grey light through the thick high snow clouds washes out most colour and turns things into indistinct shapes. Here’s some more of the ‘photos as I pulled a fleece on and stepped out onto the terrace. As usual, click on the images and you should get a larger view and can scroll through them. You should see a short explanatory caption of you hover over an image too.

At that point there was a very clear snow line. In the distance it was 500 to 1000m above me I’d guess but looking south there was a light dusting of snow just above me. That meant that our wonderful deciduous conifers were standing out orange and yellow against the clouds and higher snow.

Then it all changed: in fifteen minutes or so, or so it felt, the snow dropped in and the view even below me was all shades of white and grey.

Stunning. I particularly liked that Chinese painting look in the far distance that I had in the morning before the snow dropped in. You can watch it all happen in the timelapse video of the day:

Aime2000: my strange home in the Alps!

[First posted 27.x.19]

Yesterday was a gloriously sunny day and I’m not sure how many more of those there will be before I return to the UK just before Christmas so I decided to go for a walk. My route was largely shaped by staying in the sun as much as possible as that was warm but the air in shadow was cool, uncomfortably so if you stood still too long to take ‘photos. (I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts but didn’t want to keep pulling on and off a light fleece I’d put in my little backpack.) I wanted to get on top of mapping walks and rides and getting the maps up here so I set Strava working on my French ‘phone and here’s the map courtesy of Google.

You should be able to zoom and scroll that to your heart’s content and you should also be able to change how Google displays the maps. That should show my walk in thick black on top of the map which should default to “map” format and “terrain” shading. If you switch to “satellite” format you get what it says (well, I think it might have been from a plane not a satellite) and there you can switch the labels on and off. Those labels, mostly lines, seem to be a rather odd mix of dotted red straight lines for lifts and buttons (the routes of the buttons straightened), solid blue and red lines for runs (a number of black runs completely omitted) and white for footpaths.

Here’s how Strava shares the same information. If you click on that it takes you to the Strava page and there’s a rather good altitude and speed plot, the latter showing how often I stopped to take ‘photos!

I ended up taking umpteen ‘photos and I have winnowed them down but let’s come back to my starting point: Immeuble Aime 2000 or Aime2000 (or A2k to me now). Here, zoomed in and in what I believe is a view from a plane, not a satellite, here is the extraordinary building that is now my home seen from above.

And here’s how it looking back from some distance away but early in my loop around it.

Aime2000 seen from above Plagne Centre

I like the way the ziggurat structure is both completely of its late 60s (opened 18.iii.1970) concrete “new brutalist” style but also catches something of the vertical and horizontal twists of the scenery (look back at that short from above and yes, it’s harshly linear but it also twists as the valleys and ridges do all around it). It’s so much cleverer than its neighbours.

Aime2000, Haut Bois and Club Med (L to R)

Haut Bois, actually behind Aime2000 and familiar to anyone who has watched any of my timelapse videos of cloud drama up here is at least not a technicolor shocker but the Club Med building really is horrible, shame on whoever allowed it and whoever designed it!

OK. I’ll leave this with a gallery of fond, if not always flattering, images from my circumnavigation of my French home. If you hover over an image you should see a caption for it. Probably the best way to see them is to click on the first one and scroll through. There’s a download button in the unlikely event anyone wants to download them. If so, as is my usual licence, the Creative Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike licence applies.

Just ‘cos it’s beautiful!

[Tweaked 24.x.19 to remove slider and stick with galleries for ‘photos.]

I’m trying to restart blogging, I even managed my first real blog post in my general work site yesterday. Here I want to get more ‘photos up, whether new ones or from my archives. Following on from the early morning ‘photos from the 18th there were more glorious sunrise colours on Sunday. I don’t think they need words really.

At the moment I’ve got the camera set to shoot off five different exposures each time I press the shutter release and I’m still playing around putting versions of the same view at different exposures up here. I’ve put captions on giving the exposures. All ISO 1600 for ‘photo geeks out there. Be warned, the full sized images may take a bit to come through if you’re on a slow internet link: the full images are 5472×3648 pixes and typically over 6Mb, if WordPress and the plugins I’m using haven’t compressed them.

Glorious early morning sun (and photography)

[Tweaked 24.x.19 to remove slider and stick with galleries for ‘photos.]

I was working yesterday morning.  It had been a lovely dawn but not that unusual but something caught my eye and I looked up to see an amazing rich salmon pink was colouring a set of clouds beyond Grand Assaly ahead.  I grabbed the camera and shot out onto the terrace but already the colour there had faded markedly, however, the sun exploding above the summit of Bellecôte and its little glacier was extraordinary.

The way we see, what brain gives us, with a bit a bit of pre-processing in the retina, is incredible.  We see both the intensity and the tones up in the sky where the light level is orders of magnitude that from the shadowed face of the mountain towards us.  The brain does an amazing job of intelligent post-processing so we see detail in all areas. 

I think it’s impossible for camera images to catch all that range so when we look at photos we don’t have the full information (actually of rather dubious photographic quality) that the eye gives the brain.  I could spend hours with an image editor and splice together the sky from one image at one exposure to get the depth of contrast there that I saw out on the terrace, splicing that with the slopes from another image at a different exposure that has the detail on the slopes.  However, I haven’t the time or skill for that, but also I don’t really want that to be my sort of photography. 

I can respect the skill and artistry of post-processing like that but I prefer that my images haven’t had that work and it seems to me that once you start working like that, then something is lost and someone looking at your best ‘photos never knows how much post-processing was involved in creating them.  When I look at ‘photos and feel unsure about that, something is lost for me. 

However, I just couldn’t throw all of these away (I did throw away others).  You have the original clouds up the valley, and the burst of sun behind the glacier. Here they are as a gallery, if you click on any image you should get the full image. The full images are large so may take a bit of time to come up on slow links (like mine!)

Oh, and you can see how fast the salmon pink ahead came and went in the timelapse video of the whole day. It’s hardly there at all (at 8 seconds between images and at 30 frames per second, i.e. 4 minutes compressed into a second). That whole video is pretty sensational too. Yesterday was a fine day visually.

Settling into my eyrie … and a cycle ride

Nearly two weeks since I last posted, let’s see if I can get to manage at least one a week from here on.  It’s been very much a settling in period.  It’s the summer season up here so some shops are open in Plagne Centre, the hub bit of the ski resort about 2km (and 114m of vertical drop/climb) below me and the little SPAR supermarket is open up here in Aime2000 as well as the slightly bigger one in Plagne Centre.  This means I can get good cheese and charcuterie from the cremerie/charcuterie in Plagne Centre and good bread and patisserie from the boulangerie/patisserie just opposite that. That’ll all finish at the end of August so I’m enjoying it while I can and also getting out on Cerise really in exercise mode, i.e. flying down the hairpins and crawling back up.  I’m pleased with how much the distance has increased day on day but also that I’m still keeping it fun. 

On that note, for anyone who has a bit over 11 minutes to spare, and wants a change from the speeded up motion of the timelapse videos, here is about 8km down the hairpins (to the bottom of the Olympic bobsleigh course here, la Piste de Bob in French, for anyone who knows La Plagne).

What I’ve said on the vimeo annotation about this is:

This is 11 minutes and 5 seconds of the descent down the main road from where I’m living in Aime2000 to the rather arbitrary point at which I decided that was enough for one day, i.e. enough of a climb back up! It’s a very juddery video, I’ll try mounting the camera on me rather than the handlebars at some point. I also suspect it’s scary for those of a gentle disposition. Be reassured, I’m too old to want road rash and Cerise has superb brakes and great tyres, the road was dry and visibility perfect: essentially zero risk but some fun and adrenaline! We hit 60kph going down. I crawled back up to Plagne Centre, not even all the way back to Aime2000 (stopped for good bread!) in 50 minutes of heart pumping hard but very satisfying pedalling. I can’t do this in South London! 

Hm, this is interesting, the cheap helmetcam device I actually bought for skiing is quite high resolution, more so than the old ‘phone that does the timelapse videos, so vimeo seems to offer different resolutions:
High def (mp4, 1280×720)
Standard def (mp4, 960×540)
Standard def (mp4, 640×360)

Hm, interesting.  The resolution is, surprise, surprise, noticeably better on my laptop in the “high def” than the other two, pretty much as you’d expect from those pixel counts (1280×720 = 921,600 pixels,  960×540 = 518,400 and 640×360 = 230,400 so the high definition is about 1.8x the resolution of the middling definition and 4x that of the lowest).  However, the high definition is clearly requiring a throughput at the upper end of what my pretty slow broadband up here can handle as there was a “spinner” on the image I think saying it couldn’t build many frames into buffer.  It did seem to run though.  If you have reasonable broadband, you might want to start with that but give it up if it’s stopping and starting and move down to lower.

Anyone now why vimeo calls two quite different definitions “standard”?!

Nearly eight months on and I restart

Wow, it was 8.xii.18 when I last posted something here.  That has been some hiatus but I guess that’s been the way of this blog.  I’m back up in the Alps and, apart from a couple of days back in late April, shifting back from the airBnB I’d stayed in through the ski season, this is my first return. So much has happened since then but I’m going to try to keep things simple here and just post this link to my first, incomplete, timelapse video of the view of Mont Blanc and the cloud theatre from my window:  More, including a more complete video, here tomorrow: I hope!

Tracks in the snow and making tracks back to the UK

It’s my last weekend up here, my train tickets are booked on Wednesday to take me from Aime la Plagne back to St. Pancras and thence home.  According to one of the skiing news Email systems I’m signed up to we’re forecast a metre of snow this weekend so I think we’re going to need more of this:

View below me, a week ago (1.xii.18)

That was a corner I took very carefully yesterday on Cerise going down to the shop in Plagne Centre probably for my last time in 2018.  The road was a mixture of slush, meltwater but also rock hard ice and snow on bits in shadow (not that particular corner, but the slush was treacherous enough!)  London is going to be very different.

It seems time for a bit appraisal of the adventure so far.  I’ve been out here: to
16.vii.18 to 14.ix.18
8.x.18 to now
So when I get back to London on Wednesday night I’ll have accrued 140 of the 183 days in France that I’d like to get in before Brexit day on 29.iii.19 (is there a real hope looming that we might yet not Brexit?   Down, down dangerous hope! Back to the point.)  So what have I achieved apart from the, nearly, 140 days?!  What marks have I laid down in the snow?

My tracks on the terrace

Oh dear, they’re pretty much invisible aren’t they?  They’re my tracks in pristine snow, that was already several layers’ worth, chronologically, out on the terrace alongside the apartment here a few days ago. The snow out there has ebbed and flowed over the last few weeks but never disappeared and is now about a metre deep across much of the terrace and I’d want salopettes (waterproof ski trousers) as well as my beloved winter walking boots to go out there now.

Maybe that’s not a bad metaphor: hard to see tracks, comings and goings superimposed (I like to tread in the same marks both ways) and themselves superimposed on layers with only the most recent visible.

  • Well, I have done a lot of work.  Since I came back out here I’ve worked 80 hour weeks and I have achieved things.  Not as much as I wanted of course, very few things are “finished”. 
  • Actually, I think I’m a bit more realistic now about managing things when many of my projects and collaborations aren’t ones with clear “finished” points on them.  I have nearly finished a few that are finishable (WordPress doesn’t think that’s a word, it may have a point).  Wow, I really don’t think I have completely finished any. That gets depressing at times. 
  • I have realised how depressed and angry I get when I feel that my volunteer labour is taken for granted or exploited and put a stop to some of that and set better and firmer agreements in place for some others.  Work still to go there, much, but real progress that. 
  • I have set up an IT infrastructure that is working much better and is much more robust than the one I had six months ago. More work to do there but it’s doable, it’s not dangerously overdue, and I know what it is: great!  

Time for a diversion …

Small stepping snoeshow steps below me 5.xii.18

It did seem time for a break from this self-centred list making.  I was amused a few days ago, looking over the edge of the terrace to the south to see three different human tracks clear in the snow below me.  I’ve got a pair of snowshoes here and you really can’t take long strides in them, in many ways it would completely undo their design if you did, but those do look very small paces but they’re definitely someone on snowshoes.  I’ll come back to that another time.  Back to the list

  • The penultimate work point is that I am getting better at using R ( my chosen statistics system.  I’ve managed some pretty challenging bits of work around complex data and I’m getting my head around a number of rather different statistical areas that seem to be pertinent to the work I’m doing.  I’m gradually understanding some of the ways R has evolved in the last ten years particularly and learning to use the good stuff and not keep recycling my old code.  There’s a way to go on this, it’ll probably take most of next year but it’s coming along.
  • The final work thing is that I think I can finally feel a clear turning point from finishing off, or nudging along, a lot of existing projects to integrating the whole and moving on to some of my long shelved ideas. That too is certainly going to take all of 2019: it’s more a huge bend than a turning point, but I’m moving around it.  At last!

OK.  More tracks:

Cross-country ski tracks 1.xii.18

Now that’s a very different way of getting around on snow: cross-country skiing, I think going from left to right up the slope with most force on the downhill pole below the ski tracks.  Next year I really will dig out both my snowshoes and my old, but I think still perfectly serviceable, cross-country skis!

Where have I got myself over these months, moving beyond the work?

  • é<I haven’t really improved my French at all but I think I am a little less anxious about it and just dive in.  The down side of that is that people rattle back to me overestimating my comprehension hugely.  Work to do there!
  • I’m much clearer about what I need to do on the anti-Brexit, pro-European front. The hurdles when I come back are to present myself with one bunch of documentation at the CPAM (Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie) to ask for my Carte Vitale which, while we’re still in the EU, gets me French government subsidy for health costs.  I have to go to Moutiers, a town a couple of stops south of Aime on the train. That’ll need evidence that I’m not about to be a gross cost to the French and it enables me to get cheap health insurance.  With those two I can move to the next stage and apply for a temporary Carte de Séjour (EU). That involves more documents including my birth certificate and an approved translation of that and a bunch of other stuff and involves going to the préfecture which I’m still trying to locate but I think it’s in Albertville, Chambéry or maybe Annecy.    Before the crunch actual exit date, I move through that lot to start doing tax returns in France (aargh!), I think register as a micro/auto-entrepreneur and get my permanent (five year renewable) 
    Carte de Séjour and then move on, at the five year mark, to apply for dual nationality.  I’m pretty sure that no-one knows how the Brexit debacle will affect all this but at least I know the broad route map if things stay broadly as they are now.  That’s progress!
  • Finally, and slowest and the tracks that are mostly beneath the snow: I think I’m a little clearer about who this semigrating, no longer clinical, autonomous researching person is.  But that’s work in progress.

OK.  I’ll finish with a few more tracks.

Skidoo tracks 1.xii.18

Now that’s something I don’t have and don’t feel any need to have one!

Alpine chough tracks outside the door on the terrace 1.xii.18

Enough already!

Someone switched the snow blowers on!

So I’m all snooty about not watching daytime TV but I make “daytime videos” and the biggest excitement in my life over the last three or four days is that someone has switched on many of the snow blowers around me.  Now this is where this could get very boring if you haven’t been infected with the bug of skiing.  If you haven’t you may even be thinking “Does he mean snow ploughs?  But surely he wouldn’t say ‘switched on’ if he did.  Hm, do they use snow blowers like leaf blowers?”  No, I mean things that blast a fine spray of water into the air which, as long as the air is below freezing point and the spray fine enough, will freeze in the air and fall on the ground as artificial snow.  Here you are:

So that’s the little green slope to the south of Aime 2000 seen from the terrace outside our apartment here.  The sun was beaming strongly when I went out to investigate the blowers yesterday but I suspect the air temperature was below zero and being out there in tee shirt wasn’t viable for long once I decide to record these things, a fleece and warm shoes were needed.

That slope is where we step out from the cave des skis in season, clamp on the planks and put hands in the ski pole loops and head off in season.  As you can see it drops away gently to the left and then the whole of the La Plagne domaine opens up for you. As you can see, a fair bit of snow is needed if people are to do that on 15.xii.18 when the season officially opens.  I’m impressed by how much snow the blowers have produced though I think that’s in at least two days of continuous running, day and night.  You can see the three puffs this snow centre left on the big competition pisted dropping down into Plagne Centre. I think those are bigger blowers than these but I could be misremembering.

This, in the video above, is where the cows were not that long ago, 10th of September actually.  Here’s the handheld ‘phone video I shot of them then.

Coming back to yesterday, here’s what zooming in gave me on the blower on the right there.

Sort of soporific to watch for 13 seconds?!  Interesting to see how high above the current ground level the crash padding is now.  I don’t think they rest on the snow in the season, there’s generally a bit of a scalloped out hollow around the bottom of the blowers, but I suspect that a good half metre of snow is needed there.  That blower is blowing onto the area at the end of the little button “lift” that gets people back up that slope and on the turning off “Sue’s run” (our name, you may have guessed) above and to the right, so it’s covering an area that gets a lot of use through the season.  Here are some more short videos of snow blowers in the sun in case, as for me, they’ll do it for you as daytime TV (or anytime TV, vimeo and my blog aren’t fussy about circadian rhythms!)

Sue was, is, a friend who came skiing with us and her children some, hm, many, years ago now. I don’t know how or why that slope got to be “Sue’s run” really. I must consult with the experts in the family with good memories. It’s almost the only skiing return route into Aime 2000 and a bit steep if you’re a complete novice so you can come back along that track on the left.

Here’s the whole of Sue’s run:

Snow blowers going at the bottom and at least three more up on the skyline at the top.  However, not on the run itself as it’s north facing and holding the natural snow it’s already acquired. It’ll need a lot more before it’s skiable though.  Here’s zooming in onto that skyline.

I love the way that was all caught in the low but intense sun. Less than a day later as I type and snow is falling steadily all around and we’re heading into white out.  Off behind the ridge at the top on the right there’s a black run (i.e. the steepest and most challenging of the official “on piste” runs.  “Les coqs”, how could I have forgotten.  I did it with tnp on his snowboard at the end of last season, me on my short skis much more suited to its moguls (mounds of snow up to probably 1.5m high on Les coqs and decidedly challenging, I remember doing a lot of very unambitious side slipping!)  tnp of course, just shot away out of sight making it look like a walk in the park, to choose a tired old cliché.

And finally, swinging back to my left from the terrace.

Hm, those are the same type of snow blowers on the main competition slope down into Plagne Centre. I know there are some other, bigger ones over there too but I think they’re hidden below the ridge, further onto that slope.  There’s pretty good snow cover in the relatively (or completely) sun sheltered slopes beyond, a mixture of on piste runs and off piste.  That’s the peak of les verdons in the distance. Over the top there and you drop down into the “Champagne-en-Vanoise” or just “Vanoise” extension of the La Plagne domaine back where I met up with friends in the summer in very different weather conditions.  OK, steady fine snow falling now and I must get on with work!


Being clinically retired but not watching day time TV yet!

I seem to be nudging forwards with this blog and my public musings again.  Here’s a sign of hope from a week or so back.  A rainbow down below me through snow/sleet.  It was a particularly bright one and a particularly vertical bit of arc.

Rainbow down below from Aime2000 28.x.18

OK. Sorry if that turns out to be the best of this posting!  Onwards though as I think this is a theme that has been running through things ever since that day in July, over two years ago now, when I had renounced my clinical vocation and pointed my bike off towards Compostela: what does it mean to be “clinically retired” or “retired from clinical work”?  What does that mean if you still find yourself working 70-90 hours a week, essentially unpaid as I can live on my NHS pension?  Should I be keeping up with the Kardashians and watching reruns of old TV programs with my feet up?

I confess I’ve watched some old “Lewis” and “Foyle” recently but one or two a week, when too tired to work effectively, is quite enough TV.

I headed into clinical work starting preclinical medicine in 1975 so in some ways I was on a clinical trajectory for 41 years.  I started in psychiatry in 1984 so did that, or parts of it, for 32 years, and though getting formally qualified took eight to 12 years out of that, I was doing some sort of psychotherapy for most of that 32 years.  How does it feel to just stop?  Well, as I’ve said here before, it seems to have left surprisingly little vacuum in my life.  I remember patients and colleagues, mostly with warmth and curiosity about what they are doing now and how they are, but it doesn’t dog me.  I would love to know much more about many, many of the lives that intersected with mine in that very exposed way that being a patient, whether medical, “psychiatric” or for psychotherapy puts one in.  However, it’s not my right to know more than I do.  I have occasional dreams that clearly relate in some way to my clinical work, let’s be honest, they’re always more nightmares than dreams and they’re not that frequent and I think the way they use that part of my past is “steganography”: hiding something else within another image or text.  What Freud thought was the “day residue”/”screen memory” part of dreams.  I’m sure he oversimplified that, and that I’m doing that too, but my clinical years don’t seem to haunt me.

I think a bit of that is because the cycle ride, which started this blog, started a sort of digestion process that is ongoing, in an irregular sort of way.  Though escaping the “cultural jail” of Brexit is real for me, and hoping to gain EU residency rights for my children also real, there’s an element of digesting “retirement” in my retreat up here inot the Alps.  You don’t just walk away from something that was that important to you, and varyingly important, from frustrating and disappointing to really quite helpful to many others, without some work on the change.

For me it’s sort of half a change as most of my clinical years, well, the last 30 of them, I combined clinical work and research work and it’s continuing to be a researcher that keeps me from the Kardashians.  Working around half/half in clinical and research work for 30 years meant that I built up terrible piles (or trenches, pits) of overdue work. For most of the 30 years I was also building up a list not only of started but unfinished things, but of ideas that hadn’t been started in some empirical way.  That’s a lot of unfinished business.  (Ouch, simple artithmetic teases me that it might be 15 years’ worth if I was trying to keep up with full time researchers all those years.  Help!)

Well, the arithmetic isn’t that simple but the dark slag heaps and pits of shame and guilt about overdue, neglected or abandoned collaborations are nasty and will take some years yet to clear, though certainly not 15 years.  The unstarted projects hang there like Tantalus’s grapes but I’m trying very hard to resist them until the worst of the backlog is done.

As I noted a week or so ago (Blog post: What does it mean to be a “clinical researcher” not “researcher” ) the clinical hasn’t gone, it’s there in the research as a connector, running through things and stopping me, I hope, losing the human and the relational in what I do, however abstract some of it may be.  I’ll keep chewing at that here.

Following on from the promise of that rainbow the other day, here, to sign off with, is the setting sun on Mont Blanc from earlier this evening.

Mont Blanc and lenticular (?) clouds catching the setting sun. Glorious!