Monday, April 21, 2014

FAQs for the Auberge de Stowe B&B

You have questions. We have evasive non sequiturs: FAQ’s for the Auberge de Stowe B&B

What does Auberge mean?

It’s the answer to a Hibernian riddle: What’s drunk, Irish, covered with hair, and eats hapless hikers? O’Bear-shje…

Actually, auberge is French for “inn” or “hostel.” In France, travelers might find places called “Auberge de jeunnesse,” which are youth hostels. But the traditional meaning, according to Le Petit Larousse (1996) is “Etablissement simple et sans luxe situe a la campagneet offrant le gite et le couvert pour une somme modique.” Which roughly translates to “An simple and essential establishment in the country offering a room, a bed, and food, for a modest price.” Which pretty much sums us up. 

The etymology of the word is interesting. It comes from the Provencal language still spoken in parts of the south-central region of France (Provencal is one of the eight Romance languages): alberga, which means “hut” or “camp,” thus explaining the humility of the word. The berga part has the same shared sense found in Germanic languages, which means “to protect.” The al part seems to suggest Arabic influence, which wouldn’t be crazy, given Provence’s proximity to Spain. The word auberge enters the French language in the 16th century, just after the 1492 conquest of Grenada, which ended 781 years of Moorish Islam on the Iberian peninsula. 

Berger is also the French word for shepherd, which would also be consistent with its meaning. “To the shepherd”--in other words, the shepherd will offer shelter and food out in the country--ties in nicely to the theme of auberge. There’s certainly a sense of humility and nurturing that we strive for present. 

How do you pronounce “auberge”?

“Janofski.” All the letters are silent. 

Actually, see the Hibernian riddle above. 

Why did you choose such an un-American, unpronounceable name for your inn?

Chantal was born and raised in France. We’re just an hour from the border with French-speaking Quebec, which is a big market for us. We wanted to reflect our francophonic/francophilic nature and heritage. And the meaning of the word (see above) fits nicely with our mission: Stowe’s most affordable B&B.

Plus, we didn’t want some meaningless name, like Moose Babbling Brook Daisy Butterfly Scotchburger Inn, that sounded random and inorganic and designed for marketing efficiency. 

So why the un-American name?

Because “The Freedom-loving Americans Who Love Freedom and all the Free Things that Make Us Free Inn–dot com” was already taken.

What’s for breakfast?

Food, usually, but sometimes that’s served with information, humor, and thoughtful discourse. 

But seriously, we serve a Continental breakfast that is sometimes augmented by a hot baked egg dish, homemade breads (banana, cranberry), hard boiled eggs, oatmeal, cereal, juice, and all the coffee I don’t drink first. 

Why don’t you serve a fancy breakfast? Isn’t that the point of a bed & breakfast?

Who says so? Where’s that written down and enforced by law? The exaggerated, cosmetically-pumped, 3,000-calorie, super-sized breakfasts that seem to be the rage just aren’t our style. Plus, due to a weird arrangement between our restaurant license and our permitted water and sewer capacity, we’re only supposed to serve a Continental breakfast. But we fudge that a little. See above.

Why aren’t there televisions in the rooms?

Because this is a bed & breakfast, not a bed & television & breakfast. Besides, why would you come all the way to northern Vermont, one of the most beautiful places in North America, to watch television? That makes no sense.

But what if I need a television to fall asleep?

Then you should be spending your money on psychoanalysts and pharmaceuticals, not B&Bs.

Is your inn close to the road?

Good question. Thanks for asking. 

Do you accept pets?

No. We’re happy to put you in touch with other inns or hotels in Stowe that do accept pets, but we don’t. We don’t have enough guest rooms to dedicate one or two for pets. 

Besides, Max, our dog, and Jimmy Jazz, our cat, are really parochial and clannish. Oh, heck, let’s just come out and say it: they are intolerant of other critters. It’s odd because normally they barely tolerate each other. But when there’s another animal around, they become a tag team of terror, the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff of pets, unleashing fang and claw with shocking violence. Max has gone through doors and walls to get to other dogs, squirrels, crows, fisher cats, great blue herons, crawfish, ungulates, bi-valves, motorcycles, and maple trees that had the misfortune of having the breeze blow through their branches and shimmer their leaves. Jimmy Jazz is the matador to Max’s picador, waiting for the dog to soften up the quarry with terror before swooping in with a slashing, eviscerating attack. We once caught them dismembering a red squirrel in the basement. It was medieval. 

So, no pets. 

What if I try to take a shower and discover that there’s no hot water?

There’s always hot water. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t make it from the hot water tank to your shower. This is usually due to a ruptured pipe somewhere, which hemorrhages the water into the ground, or worse, the basement. So there’s always hot water, but sometimes this old house decides to redirect its course. 

In that event, feel free to enjoy our reviving, cold-water showers at no extra cost to you. You may also enjoy our 40-grit, exfoliating towels to dry yourself off.

Do you have free wifi Internet access? 

There are so many adjectives in the question my head hurts. But yes, we do.

If we buy some food, can we use your kitchen to prepare it? 

I’ll let the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem answer that one:

I’ve been a wild rover for many a year
And I spent all me money on whiskey and beer
But now I’m returning with gold in great store
And I never will play the wile rover no more
And it’s no nay never!
No nay never no more!
Will I play the wild rover
No nay never no more!

What was the question?

When we check out, should we lock the door and leave the key in the room?

Are you kidding? Why would we want you to lock the keys in the room? Did you leave something valuable in there as a gift for me? Do you think roving gangs of bed thieves are a problem this far north?

We’d like to leave a review of your after our stay. What do you think of the review sites?

(The sound of crickets chirping.)

Do you have a hot tub? 


Is it outside?


What if I forget my bathing suit?

(The sound of crickets chirping.)

Does that mean I can–

Hey, hey, hey, this a family place. If you forget your bathing suit, you are welcome to borrow one from the box of loaners we have at the front desk. (Please don’t ask how we ended up with a box of bathing suits.) Or you can go in naked. This is Vermont. We actually get tax credits for spending a certain amount of time naked, outdoors, in water. 

But whatever you do, don’t go in the hot tub with clothes on, and this includes underwear. Your clothes retain enough residual detergent to turn the bubbling hot tub into a giant, sudsing washing machine, resulting in a complete water change and a pissed-off innkeeper.

Okay, one more question: How did you decide to become innkeepers?

That’s a story that will cost you a two-night stay. But I can tell you that it has to do with the Ring of Kerry and Irish ladies named Mrs. O’Sullivan and a love of meeting and talking with people and being ski bums. You can book directly from our website:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hans Seisl

Note: If you were born between 1960 and 1980 in eastern Massachusetts and you ski, you probably encountered Hans Seisl or his skiing style at the Blue Hills Ski Area.

And you are probably better for it.

I recently learned that Hans Seisl died two years ago. In addition to being the director of the ski school at the Blue Hills Ski Area from 1967 to 1995, Hans also owned an operated a successful ski shop in Canton, Massachusetts. But those things were ancillary to my relationship with Hans, because Hans was my ski meister. A ski meister isn’t a ski instructor; I already knew how to ski. But I didn’t know how to be a skier; Hans taught me that.

In 1989, I was at loose ends. My relationship with my girlfriend was falling apart. My fledgling commercial painting company was falling apart. My relationship with my mother, whose house I’d moved back into, was falling apart. Only my dog, a nine-month old yellow lab named Nikki, seemed to be able to deal with me. More as a reason to send me on my way, my soon-to-be-erstwhile girlfriend saw an ad in the paper for ski instructors at the Blue HIlls Ski Area. Correctly marking me as a ski bum, she urged me to apply for the gig.

I had no business being a ski instructor; I’d only been skiing for three years. Self-taught, I’d spent most of my skiing weekends sliding with hockey stops down the icy slopes of New England ski areas until apres ski, which is where I really shined. But I loved it. I loved everything about skiing, the geometry of it, the mountains, and the people. It presented a complex challenge, and the more I learned, the more deeply I was hooked. So I went up to the ski instructor orientation, and, with little else on my plate for late November and December, I started showing up for the instructor clinics.

Hans ran the clinics. A statuesque Austrian with a heavy accent and a shock of thick, white hair, Hans Seisl looked and played the part of the playboy ski instructor. Hollywood should have cast him in the biopic of his own life. Women gathered around him like isobars circling a weather system. Hans could make you feel like you were the most important person in the room--or in the line up each morning.

“Shawn,” he would say to me, after I earned my instructor certification, “I have a little honey for you this morning. What do you think of that?”

Hooting erupted from the ranks of instructors. Barks. Grunting noises. Moans. Somebody howled. I smiled.

“So, here she is,” said Hans, waving a ski pole like a magic wand, and there, staggering up behind him, was some little toddler, a five year-old girl, trailed by her mother. The little girl was already crying.

More hoots, as I sullenly slid down to my pupil. “At least she’s got a yummy mummy!” someone called. Barking, grunting, etc.

And Hans, a glint in his eye.

When he skied, Hans made the most extraordinary noise I’ve ever heard on the slopes. His skis sounded like Tomcat afterburners. He stood on their edges and carved deep grooves into the man-made crust of Blue Hills, showering us with pellets. There were stories about his childhood: he had to ski back and forth to school every day; he lived on the tip of an Austrian alp; he was half goat.

It didn’t matter. He was iconic. On Saturday mornings, he led instructors in a weekly clinic, drilling us on one facet or another of ski instruction. “Shawn!” he said, singling me out, as he often did. “You must get the women to turn on their skis!” Except Hans said, “You must get za vimen to turn of zere skis!” He demonstrated the movements, something beyond a Stem Christie in the days before shaped skis. He exaggerated the up and down movement of weighting and unweighting the skis. “Up and down! Up and down, Shawn! Ven za tits are bouncing, zey are doing it correctly!” I’ve never forgotten that advice. I’ve tried to apply it to other areas of my life, with mixed results.

And after a long day of teaching (that season, 1989-1990, I skied 109 days consecutively, working eight to ten hours a day on my 195 cm K2 TRComps), Hans would join us in the ski school shack, where we played Austrian blackjack (“Gimme the sieben!”) and drank buckets of cheap white wine. Some nights I slept in my truck.

Though I hadn’t seen Hans in about ten years, knowing he’s not around anymore makes me a little more conscious of my skiing, as if I’m representing a little part of him up here in Stowe. And every time a woman skis by me, I’ll here his voice: “Up and down, Shawn! Up and down!”


Sunday, March 23, 2014

As Long As I Can Drink Coffee

As long as I can rise before darkness tries
Stealing the shadow without its light
Save my heart from the night
Leaving without memories.

As long as I can feel your breath
Lufting between the covers
Starching the fetid night air
Sneaking life into my lungs.

As long as I can stare in the dark
Smell the breeze in colors
Slowly grope toes into toil
A finger points to where the moon was.

As long as I can drink coffee
One half the crepuscular ritual
The hours above and below
Roasted, infused, agitation of life.

As long as I can drink coffee
Legal love racing through my veins
Bitter tangle in my nose
I close my eyes and drift away.