Opinion: Green Light


An Alpine Christmas with Our French Family

By Tom Osborne

Our Laguna-born and bred younger son, Todd, lives in the quaint French village of Sallanches, located about a half-hour’s drive from the world-class skiing mecca of Chamonix.

He’s now a French citizen, which is a likely outcome of marrying a French woman, Pauline, who wants their very young children to fully imbibe her homeland’s culture.

Todd and Pauline live in a large chalet with her parents, Charly and Francoise Mottet. Charly Mottet is a French national bicycle-racing hero, having finished fourth in the Tour de France twice, come in second in the world championships in Colorado, and briefly in the 1980s, secured the number one world ranking in racing. A street in Sallanches bears his name.

Jet-lagged at the time of this writing and yawning repeatedly, I’ll do my best to relate coherently my top three takeaways from ten days of connecting and bonding with our French family and their spectacular physical environment overlooked by snow-crested Mont Blanc—seen from their living room’s sliding glass door. 

First and foremost, family time. This was one of my wife’s and my best Christmases ever. Our older son, Brooks (also Laguna born and bred), flew in from the San Francisco Bay Area with his family, which includes his wife and their two children. With Todd’s two very young children, the chalet where we assembled for meals, chatting, and chess matches for some of us was abuzz with energy and, yes, sheer joie de vivre

Second, food. My wife and I are not foodies. Our fare at home in Laguna is simple and healthy, meaning basically vegetarian. But there is nothing simple about French cuisine. Our daughter-in-law’s parents prepared highly involved, multi-course meals paired with wines and finished off with an array of cheeses and a dessert. A savory turnip-based soup was enjoyed by all, as was an exotic bacon-wrapped, mold-shaped and baked creation called farsement that took nearly half a day to prepare. Besides these home-cooked feasts, nearly all our excursions in and outside Sallanches included restaurants or other eateries where we bought lunches. On one occasion, our family of ten lunched at a so-called “refuge “in the Alps near Sallanches. The rustic and cozy old inn, with heavily beamed ceilings and a log fireplace aglow, was necklaced by snow. There, we enjoyed a vintage multi-course, country-style French repast served and consumed over a leisurely two-hour period. 

Third, a vanishing glacier. A major takeaway for me was seeing France’s longest and largest glacier—Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice). 

Poster-sized photos at a view site overlooking the glacier showed the rapid melting that has been occurring in recent decades. European climate scientists have written much on this of late. From the London Guardian, dated March 7, 2023: “Luc Moreau, a local glaciologist who has been studying Chamonix’s glaciers since 1987, [asserts] every glacier in the valley has melted significantly since the 1990s. His simulations suggest that by the end of the century, with the Alps heating at a rate above the global average, all the glaciers under 3,500 metres will have disappeared.” Some of these scientists project that, based on the current melt rate, by 2100, Mer de Glace will have vanished, only to be seen in historic photographs. The local winter sports economy is already being hit hard by planetary heating. That said, I feel odd saying that the beauty of the French Alps in winter is still enthralling, even knowing what is occurring.

Our French and Bay Area families will be visiting us in Laguna next winter. In the meantime, my wife and I will have to come up with some meal recipes that may rise to French standards. If readers have suggestions (and, better yet, recipes), please forward them to me. Merci, in advance.

Tom Osborne is writing a book-length history of California’s environmental leadership. With his wife, Ginger, he co-leads the Laguna chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. [email protected].

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  1. It’s a testament to our times that of every wonderful thing to speak of in the world, climate change is woven throughout. No one in Laguna has really considered how CC will affect Broadway and Forest avenues. High tides will flood and business as usual will shut down, maybe even in the near future, Local inspectors will check ambient heat emanating from our homes from the over use of appliances . I long for the time when I could read something hopeful without the mention of this man-made oncoming disaster. I guess I could just become a Republican and just ignore Climate Change.


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