It has finally snowed in Strasbourg – only a few centimeters, but it has actually stayed on the ground, and looks to remain there, in snow form, for at least a few days to come. It’s only a few centimeters, nothing like the drifts that have accumulated in my parent’s backyards that are allowing chickadees to march up to a birdfeeder normally suspended four feet off the ground.
While I have been regaling wide-eyed Europeans with tales of –40 temperatures, and blizzards that force Canadians to use second floor windows to enter their homes, I must admit that winter here poses its own challenges.
The trick to surviving winter is to be prepared for it – I am not. Cocky about Euro-temperatures, when I moved here I failed to bring a winter coat, and even now own only two decent sweaters, both of which have been in heavy rotation for the past month.
My forecasting failings are nothing compared to Strasbourg’s. Despite being located at a latitude nearly as far north as Edmonton’s, the city appears to own but one salting truck, at which children stop and stare when it passes, startled that such a thing exists. Sidewalks are not salted, and are rarely sanded. If there is a snowplow operating anywhere in the vicinity, I have seen no evidence of it. Needless to say, no one owns snow shovels: I saw one poor soul trying to clear a driveway with a leafblower.
The “storm” started yesterday – I biked Amynah into her work, seven kilometers along a bike path that follows the Rhone-Rhine Canal. It was cold, but there were only a few isolated, innocent-looking flakes. Over the course of the day, these ominously increased in number and before long it was clear that they were here to stay.
I had a French class at Amynah’s institute that afternoon – since I knew she’d have to get her bike back, I decided to ignore my (largely hypothetical) better judgment and pedal in, so that we could bike back together. For the most part, it wasn’t a problem: I was well covered, I had headphones keeping me distracted from the cold and I had the whole path to myself.
However, because nothing is salted, sanded, or plowed, parts of the route had been compacted by car tires into pure ice. Unheeding, the Beastie Boys “Sabotage”on the iPod inspiring me to foolish feats of velocity, I attempted to make a left turn.
What happened was the bike rotated ninety degrees, but did not change course at all, its momentum carrying it – and me – forward over the ice. The wheels went out from under me; I hit the road and proceeded to slide about three meters on my side in a dramatic powdery-white explosion. Had I been in a race I’m sure I’d have made “Wipeouts of the Week” on some sports channel. However spectacular my fall, there was little damage done – I’ve wrenched my left shoulder, but it doesn’t seem serious (of course, I thought that the last time I fell off my bike here, only to discover I’d broken my arm).
Worse than any physical damage is the loss of any authority I might have had for making fun of how the French drive in the snow.