The first few years I lived in France, I struggled mightily with the country’s vacation rhythms. You can forget about accomplishing anything during the month of August and for large chunks of July, too. Four years ago, having become a parent, I listened in terror as some older friends explained how every six weeks, all French schoolchildren take a mandatory, two-week vacation. “And what are the parents supposed to do?” I asked. “Just stop working?” The truth is, there are options, including special classes and school programs that stay open for an additional fee. Some people have full-time nannies, while others lean on grandparents. But just as often, especially in February, many Parisian families take the opportunity to ski, making sure their children learn the slopes as early as age three.
This seemed like another extravagance until this year. In the throes of a deep winter blues that was compounded by—and I know this sounds ridiculous—a severe case of Seasonal Affective Disorder, I found myself calling my older brother and begging him to come over on short notice with his family during winter break. I wanted us to go somewhere, anywhere, in the sun.
My brother is not exactly the type to say, “Aw, you sound down, what’s wrong?” But luckily for me, he is precisely the type to say: “Yeah, I think we can do that.” Which is how, for the past week, while our daughters learn to ski, we’ve found ourselves at Baqueria-Beret, deep in the Spanish Pyrenees, snowboarding across magnificent fresh snow set against blue skies lit by a ferocious Barcelona sun. I have for a while now believed that Spain is criminally underrated as compared with Italy and France, and this trip has confirmed it.