Both at Once: Postcard from the Mont Blanc Tunnel

Photo: © Anna Foran. All rights reserved.

I’m wondering if you remember this.

You and I showed up in the Alps when it was dark. We only knew it was the Alps because of the tiny pockets of light, suspended like candles in the sky. The pockets weren’t far enough to be stars, weren’t low enough to be car lights. Soon we realized they were houses—floating houses—lodged in mountains we couldn’t see. The minute we knew this we felt them. Slumbering giants at our shoulders.

It became too dark for you to drive. Or rather, you became too tired to keep going. We came across a ski lodge, followed its signs to the top of a hill. The chairlifts hung empty. There was no one else around. We parked the car and you spread out your blanket outside, as you did. I slept curled in the backseat.

When we woke up it was like our blindfolds had been pulled off after weeks of journeying. Nothing was familiar, nothing what we thought. The ski lodge was painted in red. A pile of snowboards leaned, unattended, against a small wood cabin. Most importantly: the mountains. The mountains were more imposing than we could have imagined. Snow capped giants stood up from their slumber. Still there was no one else around. We stood like tiny specks in the crater of the slopes. Our eyes adjusted, we pulled toothbrushes from our bags. Your shoulder ached from a night spent on cement. My head was full from lying with my feet partially raised. But we knew we couldn’t linger. We got in the car and I searched the radio for a song to drive us forward; the stations crackled between French and Italian, German and English, all of which you spoke.

We knew where we were heading: the Mont Blanc tunnel. We had saved up our money for this ride, this straight shot between Italy and France, built after two crews from two different countries met somewhere in the middle of a mountain called Mont Blanc. We were on our way to your childhood home in Paris. Time was tight, we were running out of fuel. You couldn’t have known—we drove the miles and miles in total silence—but when we soared through the tunnel I felt a sensation I haven’t experienced since: below the ground and within a summit, the highest one in the Alps, both and all at once. Like a submarine in water, flying below the depths.

At the end of the tunnel you snapped a picture. Do you remember? One hand on the steering wheel and the other hand holding the camera at the windshield. It’s blurry, nothing but a stretch of road and the semblance of slopes on the horizon.

When we emerged from the ground we were landed in France, having once been in Italy. But the mountains looked the same.

Anna Foran is a writer and artist based in Toronto, ON. Her visual work has been exhibited at Laura (Chicago), COLLABO, and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. Her writing can be found at Hyperallergic and F newsmagazine. She is at work on a novel that was recently supported by a residency at the Vermont Studio Center.

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