I have met the Dalai Lama. His name is Giles.
Ok, perhaps he wasn’t THE Dalai Lama but he was definitely a lama of some sort. The sort that winds up being a French ski instructor in Meribel.
Kimberly and I had finally realised that skiing is not an intuitive thing, and that you actually have to be taught how not to kill yourself while hurtling down a mountain on slippery pieces of whatever skis are made of these days. And so, despite the eye-watering cost, we booked a private lesson. We told the trendy young woman behind the desk that we were of two very different standards and asked if an instructor would be able to handle us both at the same time. After all, Kimberly’s goal was to conquer black runs, while I would be perfectly happy to not cry at any point while going down a red one.
Most definitely, she said. She had just the man for the job.
Kimberly, having seen some fairly amazing ski instructors, asked if he was good looking. The woman, obviously stunned by such a suggestion, blurted out ‘NO’ before recovering herself and adding lamely ‘…that is, he’s not my type’.
Well, that was a bit odd. We looked at each other, shrugged, and went outside to meet Giles.
He was older than I am.
We hadn’t seen that coming, but smiled, introduced ourselves and told him about our different levels of skiing. He answered in something that may have been English, and skied off. We didn’t have anything else to do, so we followed and eventually wound up sitting next to him on a ski lift.
Where he said nothing.
Kimberly and I, getting a bit unnerved by his silence, started babbling a bit, as one does, while looking at him from time to time to see what he was doing.
He wasn’t doing anything. Just sitting.
At the top of the lift, we got off, gathered ourselves together and prepared to learn how to ski better.
Giles started by teaching us how to breathe. Apparently you do it in through the nose and out through the mouth.
Kimberly, who was paying a week’s salary for this, stared at him in total disbelief and announced that she knew how to breathe. That she had, in fact, known how to do it for as long as she could remember. And that she was there to learn how to ski down black runs.
Giles might have heard. It was hard to tell.
He proceeded to ski across the mountain. Well, not completely across, there must have been some slight downhill element to it or we would still be there. I suppose.
Half way down he stopped. And stared off into the distance. And pointed, at the eagle that was riding some air wave. I thought it was amazing. Kimberly looked as if she was going to spear him with her pole.
Since we were already stopped, he decided to give us a little talk, vaguely about skiing. Basically he told us that everyone had to make their own way down the mountain and that the important thing wasn’t how long it took or how it looked, but what you saw and felt along the way.
Eureka, I thought. That’s me done.
Giles did not agree. While we may all be finding our own paths down, there are, apparently, some things we should all be doing, and not doing, along the way. He had a list of things I needed to work on, and another one for Kimberly.
How could he possibly have picked all that up while skiing sideways and watching out for eagles?
I have no idea. Perhaps it had something to do with the breathing.
Anyway, we finished the run, and did a few more, each working on the things that needed working on. Finally, I announced that I was going to sit down and perfect my breathing for awhile, and they peeled off.
As they went, I could hear Kimberly ask Giles what he did in the off-season.
“Do?” he said. “I don’t do. I am.”
“So that would be nothing then”, I heard her say as they passed out of sight.
I fear she has a lot to learn about being Zen.
But, slightly less to learn about skiing. Because, however it happened and whatever he did, by the end of the weekend she was happily going down black runs. And I could do reds, while stopping every now and then to look at the scenery.
Which was spectacular.
Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)