On June 12, 2024

Lessons abroad, Vermont recharge

By Marguerite Jill Dye

Building a Killington Dream Lodge, part 17 

What a difference a year can make. I was really excited about the changes taking place in our Killington ski lodge while I was away attending Schiller College Paris my sophomore year and Graz Center for the second summer. Meanwhile, in Vermont once the roof was done, Dad worked inside, regardless of weather, building a staircase, preparing for plumbing, electric wiring, and installing reclaimed kitchen and bathroom cabinets while I was off in Paris and Austria. It was 1970.

I received a half tuition work scholarship to attend Schiller College on the Avenue de Ségur in a mansion near Napoleon’s Tomb, Les Invalides. I worked the reception and student library. Students came from all over the world, like a mini United Nations. Our director was a hero from the French Resistance who escaped a Nazi concentration camp in Yugoslavia when he was 13.

He invited famous figures to speak like André Malraux, author and France’s first Minister of Cultural Affairs under President Georges Pompidou. Our professors were professionals in their areas, like an Austrian UN diplomat who taught international relations. 

He said, “The greatest contribution to the world you can make is to solve the global refugee crisis.”

My French literature class met in a café in the French tradition of Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Camus, Hemingway, Picasso, and the Surrealists. Paris was our classroom.

My friend Gigi and I shared a room in a modest hotel on the Left Bank. We dined on market fruit and yogurt and an occasional café plate of steak and peas or an omelette with French bread and mustard (our vegetable). Since culture surrounded us and student tickets were cheap, we attended musical and theatrical performances.

One of my favorite discoveries was Shakespeare and Co, an English language bookstore in the Latin Quarter that Sylvia Beach opened in 1919. It was frequented by Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce (who Beach published), and carried banned books in the ‘20s. The bookstore closed when Sylvia Beach was imprisoned by the Nazis but reopened years later under a new owner. I loved to make a cup of tea upstairs, lounge on a sofa, and absorb the vibe, like in Vermont’s varied café-bookstores where the written word is also treasured.

We thrived exploring Paris, from the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Latin Quarter alleys, to our favorite museums. The Louvre covered the classical eras, Monet’s “Water Lilies” covered the Orangerie’s walls in the Tuileries Gardens, and the nearby Jeu de Paume held my favorite Impressionists. Our college was blocks from the Musée Rodin.

Bridges across the Seine River were significant in history and design like Proctor, Vermont’s stunning marble bridge. Paris’ wide tree lined boulevards, gardens, parks, and the Bois de Boulogne offered natural retreats like the Green Mountain State. Another similarity was the abundance of free thinkers, artists, writers and intellectuals with diverse, stimulating, inspiring viewpoints. Like Paris, Vermont was ahead and set trends for the rest of the nation.

I traveled to Austria to continue my summer studies at Graz Center, but first stopped at Zelle-am-Zee to summer ski on Kitzsteinhorn Glacier. It was a glorious sunny day. The Austrian Alps sparkled against blue sky. The slope was challenging. Its edges weren’t obvious like at American ski areas. I skied past a sign “Achtung spalten!” and soon learned it meant “danger, crevasse.” I found my way back through an avalanche area.

That afternoon, dark clouds blew in, covering the sun and limiting vision. I could barely see six feet ahead of me. Then the thunder and lightning began. I started to side step up towards the cave that led to the ski lodge elevator. At the cave entrance, I held my skis, out of breath at 12,000 feet.

A sudden explosion and flash of lightning blew out the cave lights and shocked me through. I began to shake, terrified but alive. My rubber-soled ski boots saved my life.

Graz Center was much calmer. Between weeks of classes we traveled to Yugoslavia to an international folk festival with colorful costumes, lively dances and music from Yugoslavia’s six republics, two autonomous regions, and other nations. We were serenaded on the violin in Budapest, by the King of the Gypsies, Sandor Lakatos.

I flew home to spend a month with my parents. Vermont recharged my batteries, as always, and prepared me for my  junior-senior year.

Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between Vermont and Florida. She loves to hear from her readers at jilldyestudio@aol.com.

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