My earliest memory is of running towards a little patch of snow, to see what snow was really like. I was two years old, I think–that winter was unusually snowy. It’s far too late now to know if I really recall it or if I reconstructed it from pictures, especially since my other memories from that time are extremely blurry. Still, it’s the first thing I ever remember: the wonders of a cold, white powder on the dark green ground.
Later on, snow remained an exceptional event. I remember my first snow fall, when I was maybe four or five. That’s when I realised that real snow falls as a kind of coarse powder, and not big snowballs like they represent it in cartoons. Snow never lasted for more than two or three days, and we made the most of it, walking around in the familiar, now snow-covered hills, failing to make snowmen with the few centimetres that covered the ground, finding refuge in the warm house.
I remember feeling despondent when the snow melted, because I thought it would never happen again. Every other year might as well be never when you’re five.
Then, like many people around Aix or Marseilles, my family got into the habit of spending one week every winter in the mountains, skiing and enjoying fresh milk from the farm and the many variations on potatoes, bacon, cheese and cream the cuisine from the Alps can offer. The snow was capricious and many stations had to rely on artificial snow machines (my closer encounter with one happened when I lost control of my skis and crashed into it as I tried to get to a flat space, but luckily, nothing was broken). I learned skiing, I learned that global warming was a thing even before I knew the word to say it, and I learn that if you want to make a decent snowman, you have to roll a big ball of snow around to make the head instead of trying to punch a heap of snow into shape.
Still later, I was studying in a prestigious course and we were having a snowball fight before the classes started. The professor saw us and tersely told us to stop behaving like children and get to work. I still consider that a particularly lousy move. Telling eighteen-year-olds that they have to work their eyes off their heads if they want to succeed and leave partying for another day is one thing, but ridiculing them for enjoying the annual day of snow? Uncalled for, and so, so sad, really.
Speaking of which, snowfalls always trigger a collective panic in South France, as we’re poorly adapted to deal with them. But I was surprised to discover a place farther North where they caused even more public confusion. In Cardiff, schools close as soon as three snowflakes land on the ground. I enjoyed my free ‘snow days’ just as much as my students.
Visiting my brother in Oslo one winter, we stepped out of the underground and into a blanket of golden snow. Lakes were iced over and turned into vast snow plains. The winter light in Norway is incredible. It looks like an exceptionally pure sunset, all in golds and coppers, and it lasts all day. All five hours of it. I suppose that must be the downside.
This past month-and-a-half in Québec, I may have seen nearly as much snow as in my whole life combined. There’s snow in quiet weather, which is lovely; rain falling on top of snow, which sucks; snow blanketting over ice sheets, which hasn’t got me so far even though I know it wants to; snow with wind, which is happening right now–I think that’s what you call blizzard, isn’t it? It looks lovely from the window, and I’m not going out for groceries until it stops or I have no choice, so I still don’t know what it feels like, but then I’ve had my breath start to make ice beads in my scarf as I walked around the city yesterday, so I’m not that eager to find out what it’s like with the wind on top.
Still, thank God and my brother for Norwegian underwear.