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Aspen's Calm Before the Storms

Jamie Lynn Miller's picture

French films make me want to go the grocery store. The sumptuous rounds of fine cheese, fresh baguettes on the counter and a carafe of red wine, haphazardly placed on the wooden table in the doorway which looks out on the garden and the warm countryside. I’m hard pressed to find the warm garden but fortunately, City Market is one of the few places in Aspen still open a week this time of year. It’s the very core of the off-season.

Now I always have a hard time finding someone to go see foreign films; it’s something about the subtitles, I suppose. Personally, I don’t mind them. I lived in France a lifetime ago, so I like to go to French films and see if I can guess what they’re saying right before glancing at the subtitles, if only to congratulate myself on my nuanced comprehension. Then I wait too long stumbling over to be verbs and when I look down, the subtitles are gone and I totally lose the plot. Merde.

This time, however, I can’t find anyone to accompany me because I can’t really find anyone. Town is pretty quiet. The man behind the velvet curtain, Film MC Jon Busch, comes out onstage to say a few introductory words before the film. He apologizes if he’s a bit spacey tonight; he’s been out of town, in Honolulu for the Hawaiian International Film Festival and just took the red-eye back to town.

“You don’t look tan at all!” someone yells from the audience.

The audience consists of about 6 people, a private screening at the Wheeler for those of us who holding down the fort. You know town is quiet if the Movie Man is off basking in the rays of Hawaiian movie projectors.

But it’s definitely winter, and Aspen is readying itself for the on-season. Earlier, I walked through town at my customary winter snail’s pace, deliberately lifting each foot and placing it down, as though it were dipped in tar, while I make my way into the tractionless crosswalks. I remembered to look three blocks ahead before crossing the street because cars need a little more time, too, to adjust their clip on the winter roads.

Tonight’s film heroine is a cleaning woman by day and a closet wildly talented painter by night, who renews her spirit by taking in her surroundings; a walk in the woods, a tree hug, a moment in the garden as the French country breeze passes through the flowers. The moments that mark the film are without dialogue or frenzied plot thickening.

Off-season is kind of like a French film. There’s less action and more stillness, less chatter and more background. There’s more time and more room to look around at the mountain and the new snow and the change in the air and the sunshine and the stars, which are somehow different from night skies in other places. A local friend recently moved to Savannah and told me what she misses most are the Colorado skies.

It’s Monday night, a week before Opening Day, and the streets are wide open. I get rock star parking right out front of the Opera House, leaving me a little time to spare. I wander and see what’s open, hoping to stave off the cold night air. I peek into the Royal Street Gallery on the Hyman Mall, lit up with lush oils and primary colors. There’s a bouquet of flowers painted with chunks of red and purple and big yellow globs that jump off the canvas and make you want to squish them.

I control myself and walk across the street. I wave to the kitchen staff at Bentley’s, relaxing in the backroom while the bar bustles with drinkers, not necessarily eaters, this time of night.

There are signs of life after all.

People are still here and places are still open and while the pace has slowed, there’s always something on the horizon.

Try the free public programs at the Aspen Art Museum, Poetry on the 17th, and Dance on the 19th; the Crystal Palace Players perform at the Wheeler on the 21st, to benefit Lift Up; there’s a food and drink reception Friday the 20th and a film screening of Locavore, a documentary on the art and need of locally grown food.

And then, it’s early season. Thanksgiving Day, the ski hill opens while the Women’s World Cup makes the most of the rather plentiful November snowfall. The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s presents its annual holiday treat, The Nutcracker, December 5 and 6, featuring local kids and professional performers alike and you’re invited to the Anderson Ranch Arts Center Holiday Open House on the 8th. And of course there’s our French film, Seraphine, at the Wheeler again on the 17th and a slew of other remarkable upcoming movies, to fill those Colorado night skies.

So if you find yourself visiting Aspen during the calm before the storm, count yourself in the know. It’s a good time to see the heart and soul of Aspen, get behind the places and the people who make it work. The storm of activity will be here in no time so cherish the lull on your overstuffed couch with a wedge of brie and a glass of pinot, in front of your yuletide log or wood-burning stove or ever-reliable baseboards.

The French take two hour lunch breaks, and we take off-season. I may still be crossing the street but by the time I get to the other side, I’ll be wearing ski boots.