Tag Archives: Courchevel

Playing with death

Mountains are often very boring to photograph, especially in winter, because they’re white on white on more white and their scale, their enormity, their eternal beauty is often lost.

Mountains are very difficult to paint correctly. A friend of mine who lives in the Alps is always ready to point out artistic mistakes that reveal the artist had no knowledge of how a mountain shoulder or ridge had been shaped by tectonic shifts, earthquakes, and millions of years of tear and wear. It can be tearfully painful for a professional mountaineer to see artists deforming nature.

Mountains are very difficult to establish a relationship with. Men can climb mountains, litter their tops with cans of coke and cigarette butts but when mountains decide to severe the relationship, they simply kill men.

Let’s watch a man-to-mountain relationship, from outside, at a safe distance. We’d need to climb a little up this mountain top for seats at the stalls:

This is a clickable hi-res image

What we see there is a bowl with perfect snow:

This is a clickable hi-res image

It is not a static picture. We’d have to look closer to see dynamics in it.

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This is a grassy slope. Cows don’t go there in summer, so grass grows long, which makes it easy for snow to slide down in winter. You see, the slab of snow that slided down in the big avalanche left almost nothing in its wake:

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When the avalanche stops, the snow often gets compressed so hard it becomes concrete. An unfortunate skier can’t get out from under the snow mass, even if it is only a few dozen centimetres deep.

Now you can appreciate the strength of character utter stupidity of skiers who decided to play with the mountain choosing the path between two avalanches.

skiers

What’s even more dumb, is stopping on the slope with other skiers starting directly above. If they trigger an avalanche, the guy beneath them is doomed.

These people made it down to the bottom safely.

A week before, two men (experienced pisters) were killed by avalanches in neighbouring valleys, all in one day.

The mountaineer friend of mine, who was with me that day, wanted to go skiing there. But he knew it would be a risk too great to test the relationship with the mountain. It was better to watch the bravely suicidal skiers from the outside.

Somehow, watching these guys, and, of course, the mountains made me think of Turner. He was afraid of and respected the power of mountains. He could paint it in a way that makes professional mountaineer shudder.

J.M.W. Turner, Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, 1812.

J.M.W. Turner, Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, 1812.

In this painting, the mountains are one with the skies, with the clouds raising from the mountain tops like ancient spirits, re-examining their attitude to human ants scattered around. Few artists could express the deadly power of mountains better than Turner.

Winter beauty: happy New Year

Great art, deep thinking, involving stories – all this can wait, for there’s winter beauty to behold. It can be man-made during the night (Gallery 1) and nature-sponsored during the day (Gallery 2).

I wish  all my readers, followers, and occasional visitors a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Gallery 1: Man-made beauty

Gallery 2: Nature-sponsored delights

Cheesy Books or Bookish Cheese?

I don’t know if the cheese shop decided its customers might develop an appetite for books to read while chewing on smelly cheese or the library thought if it was selling cheese, its clients might want to revisit their policies of not returning books they borrowed, but here it is, France, a village in the mountains, Fromagerie + Bibliotheque = A practical lesson in brand extension.

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Anyway, it is a novel way to push two cultures. The culture of consuming cheese and its distant relative, the culture of reading books. Bravo!

24 hours, or getting back from paradise to normality

Caller: My name is Ivan and my mother-in-law has gone on a holiday. I’d like you to play a travel song for her
Radio DJ: Specially for Ivan’s mother-in law: Chris Rea with Road to Hell! 

Holidays are never long enough to get homesick, and I get instantly nostalgic the moment I return. Nostalgic about the places I’ve just returned from. A few snapshots I took in the 24 hours before my return to Moscow. Go through them to understand how my Mountain Deficit Disorder enters its acute stage as I get further from the mountains.

Courchevel, France, at night. Oligarchs, bankers, models. The warm window glow coming from cosy hotels and chalets priced anywhere from 1,500 to 30,000 Euro per week can make anyone cold-hearted about the banker bonuses that they get for managing money of Saudis and Russians acquired from sales of their oil and gas to the average Briton or Frenchman, including the ones living on benefits. It’s complicated, and somehow feels unjust, but as most unjust things in life, it is perfectly legal.

The average Russian oligarch and his girlfriends do not ski. They use these beauties to get to the mountain restaurants.

But the thing is, if you don’t ski, you don’t get to see this, the forming of a storm at 3500 metres. Yes, it is hiding in the towering cloud on the left.

And that’s something that takes your breath and mind so much away you are tempted to raise your ski poles to draw in a few lightnings. This is why being on top of the world for too long is bad for any politician. It doesn’t make them gandalphs, and when they start brandishing their metal-made weapons, some real god often gets curious about the effect of stray electricity on human arrogance.

And, of course, this view. Something you can’t reach even on skis. You have to ski and then walk along a ridge to get to this view.

Leaving Courchevel is not easy. Yet, the road to Geneva offers a lot of pleasures, most of which (like great apple pies, superb cappuccinos and nice clean toilets) can be found around the lake of Annecy.

You might have already seen this castle in my blog (in an article about Cezanne’s approach to painting it), but in the evening light it is especially charming.

Horizontal:

Or vertical:

Which one do you think is better, the horizontal or vertical?

And then, Geneva.

Its somber neon signs for things adored by corrupt politicians:

Its 140-metre high fountain on the lake, surreal at night

And then, the next morning, Moscow:

You know what are these things? Cloud generators. Makes a better view from the Kremlin. You know, just a blue March sky is not as picturesque as a blue March sky with a few white clouds.

No. It is just a power plant. One of the few built inside Moscow, surrounded by houses where people actually live. Not as long as those who live in other places, but, you know, one has to pay for a nice view outta one’s window.

Now, I am mountain sick again. You may understand why. So, in a few days, we’ll get back to talking art!

Corrupting pop art

Having received the commandments,
Moses comes down from Mount Sinai to his people.
He says to the nervously waiting crowd,
“I have good and bad news for you, guys”.
“What’s the good news?”
“We agreed to cut if off at TEN”, answers Moses.
“And what’s the bad news?”
“Adultery is in”

Matisse wanted art to provide serenity to the viewer; Picasso wanted art to brush the daily dust off our souls; Oscar Wilde thought art was the only way to realise our perfection. We have gone a long way in our understanding of art since then, and now it includes everything, even the empty space of a gallery.

Pop art especially has migrated a long way from what it used to be. At the beginning, it was art that wanted to be understandable by the ordinary public. Entertaining, emotional, nice, fun, whatever. Something that does not require a curator to stand by and explain what it all means, what the artist wanted to say, etc. Generally, it was about good things. At the beginning.

Today, pop art is about two main things:

  • imagery that helps to create desire for expensive stuff produced by premium brand owners
  • imagery that provides justification for various sins with a focus on adultery
  • imagery that helps to start hating your current life and habits and then to start desiring expensive stuff to be used to get more power, money and sex

Today’s popular (exhibited and selling) pop art is addressed primarily to men, and it is about women, sex and adultery – but never about love and simplicity.

And what is the best place to exhibit it? The focus of glamour and sin of course, the small village of Courchevel 1850 in the French Alps!

This year, they show these creations by DAVID CINTRACT, a Parisienne artist who created “a glamorous and slightly nonchalant young woman but one who is full of self-confidence and many surprises. This is Mademoiselle Courchevel”, as the village’s web site proudly announces.

Yes. Of course. Many surprises. In a ski resort teeming with prostitutes (oh, not prostitutes, but the girl-friends, imported by rich men from all over the third-world countries for “company”), the biggest surprise would be the price tag this “company” involves. A few years ago, Lyon police arrested one of Russia’s biggest oligarchs and a dozen (or a few dozens) of girls he airlifted to this village. A Russian Xmas party a few years ago featured two men framing the entry to a nightclub, with two girls giving them rhythmic blow jobs. All for the excitement of the entering guests.

Russian, Ukrainian and Kazakhstan tourists absolutely love this art, for it provides the ideal and justification for their lives. They photograph themselves in front of these girls and rarely a moment can be seen when people are not queueing to be pictured with it.

I expect there’s a special department in hell for artists like David Cintract, really. Not for helping oligarchs find their girlfriends, but for making it attractive and desirable.

Plunge, walk, explore

A successful enterprise, be it in life, art or business, requires the courage to plunge:

…the stamina to walk the way:

…and the will to keep exploring:

This is what I enjoy about off-piste skiing in total wilderness, even though sometimes it is very difficult to make the first step. Because it can be very scary, kind of animal-like frightening, when all your reflexes protest against doing it.

 

Violent violet and racist remarks

Some X-mas trees in Courchevel are apparently coming from Hell, and that’s quite understandable, for the Demon of Glamour and his cousin, the Demon of Consumerism rule this village in winter, especially during the so called “Russian week” (the first week of January). At this time, the village is flooded by Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs and corrupt government officials with their wives, lovers, prostitutes, and bodyguards. A few years back, the Russian president firmly advised his minions to spend their winter holidays elsewhere, but they still come en masse, in force, and in the state of constant drunkenness. Hell can seem an attractive place if you are possessed by demons.

Violet violent

Speaking about Hell, here’s the racist remark issue I’d like to hear your opinion on.

Today, my son complained he’d gotten furious on a chair lift, when a Russian lady was complaining to her daughter about James, my son’s snowboarding instructor.They just happened to sit through the lift on the same chair. The lady said she was feeling uncomfortable around negroes, because they seemed dirty to her, among a few other comments about James’ black skin. I think I would have translated her words to James, and then called the police. If that Russian lady got her visa cancelled that would be the least punishment she could hope for. I believe racist remarks of this sort are a criminal offence in France, aren’t they? What would you do, if you happen to know two languages and happen to be on a chair lift with a racist doing these remarks in his or her native language, expecting no one to understand what he or she was saying? You have to take into account that the lady was with her husband, a burly man, probably a corrupt KGB officer or similar.

Fortunately, not all Russians are corrupt officials or thieves on a grand scale, and there are still a few places in and around Courchevel that can be enjoyed in unglamorous way. Besides, I have friends there, true friends who can be called in the middle of the night. I can stand glamour, if I am friends with these guys.

Good friends are like this inviting warm glow of lights:

Come in, but wipe you feet from snow

And, of course, the mountains.

The mountains don’t care about race, gender or persuasion. They entertain, survive and occasionally kill anyone, regardless )

P.S. Courchevel 1850 is a ski resort in the French Alps, a part of the Three Valleys skiing area, the largest in Europe.