Chamonix: A Daily Pilgrimage

The wandering French essayist Jacques Reda reminds himself before he leaves his Paris apartment every Sunday morning for his long strolls around the city to see one new thing.

—  Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

The meaning of pilgrimage has evolved from a strictly sacred, religious experience to a journey of personal significance. For me, Chamonix provided a trifecta of personally significant experiences: France, mountains and amazing writers. At the Mont Blanc Writing Workshops, I studied under the tutelage of Alan Heathcock, Pam Houston, Erin Belieu, Cheryl Strayed and Michael Dahlie. All while in eyeshot of the Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc.

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Reda’s reminder above, to see one new thing, is easy to live by when traveling, whether on an official or unofficial pilgrimage. But for writers and other creatives, seeing one new thing is an oft-repeated, glorious experience. We are wired to collect images, ideas, interesting anecdotes, or, as Heathcock would say, we are “curators of our lives.”

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Do I know which of my experiences in Chamonix will filter their way into my work?

Will it be my discomfort of feeling old and fat and having to work my way through those feelings? Could it be my concern about some of the young women and the way they seemed to be throwing themselves at an older man? Hiking above the treeline past snowbanks as parapenters and blackbirds sailed on the breezes below? The taste of melted raclette on boiled potatoes, with the added crunch of a perfect dill pickle and pickled onion?

Perhaps it’ll be my conversations with a woman from the Loire Valley? The French man in the Laundromat who expressed his sorrow about the tragedy in Orlando? The Polish family atop the Brevent lift who understood my great-grandmother, my babci, had emigrated from Poland long ago and who happily let me take their Christmas card picture? The young couple from New Zealand who gave me contact information about a chemistry instructor in New Zealand to pass along to my professor husband? Attempts at using my minimal Spanish with a couple climbing up from the Mer de Glace? Or will it be that delicious feeling of being partially immersed again in my favorite language, French?

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Mindfulness – attending to and being aware of your life – is a trendy topic today. Reda’s reminder to see one new thing is a simple call to be mindful. All the time. Wherever your feet may take you.

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Pam Parker was born in a VW beetle in a driveway in Easthampton, MA, but now lives in a suburban home in Milwaukee, WI. She co-edited the anthology, DONE DARKNESS. Her short stories, essays and poems have appeared in numerous print and online publications and have been featured on WUWM, a Wisconsin Public Radio Affiliate.

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