Christian Manie: Love American Style
It’s a Monday afternoon, and Christian Manie is enjoying an après-ski burger and beer at the Sky Hotel. He’s surrounded by graying men in ski boots, women with designer bags at their feet, waitresses struggling to cope in the near-chaos.
On any other day, Manie would be serving a similar crowd next door, at the Little Nell. But today is the young Australian’s day off, and after a week serving Aspen’s vacationers he enjoys the chance to join their ranks.Manie decided to come to Aspen in December 2003. A struggling writer living in Sydney, he had just broken up with a longtime girlfriend and was looking to escape. Skimming through a local newspaper, he saw an advertisement to work for the Aspen Skiing Company, ski pass included.”Of course I had heard of Aspen – from the movie ‘Dumb and Dumber’ and ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,’ that sort of thing. But to be honest I just wanted to escape. If the ad had been for work on a cruise ship on the Nile I would have taken it,” he says.The Little Nell hotel sent a representative down to Sydney to interview prospective employees. After securing the job, Manie applied for a J-1 training visa, an 18-month pass to come to America and train in the hotel field.
The idea that Manie was training for a career in hospitality was a farce at least tacitly acknowledged by both Manie and The Little Nell. The visa required Manie to spend three months in different sections of the hotels – at the restaurant, reception, banquets, etc. – but he has spent his whole time in the restaurant. Not that he minds.”It was a way to get over here. It’s such a pain getting a visa. I reckon it cost me $3,000 to make it here to Aspen – the cost of going through the visa process, the airfare, stuff like that. It’s not cheap or easy, that’s for sure.”When Manie arrived in town, he lived with three other Aussies in a two-bedroom apartment in Aspen. Both at work, on the slopes and around town, he often heard the familiar Down Under accent.
“There’s certainly a lot of Aussies working with me at The Nell. But with the dollar being so weak right now, a lot of Skico’s business is international. We often serve Australians at the hotel. I think it gives them a sense of home,” he says.Manie is dressed casually but smartly on his day off. His tight T-shirt, faded jeans and gelled hair – a trendy, European-inspired look – distinguishes him from the scattering of young Americans in the bar. The writing on his shirt – “Guns don’t kill people, mustached men kill people” – playing as it does on the National Rifle Association slogan, further speaks to the outsider’s irony with which Manie views Aspen and America. Asked if he ever thinks about American politics while living in Aspen, Manie replies: “Aspen didn’t re-elect Bush, we know that much. The whole town is a little different than the rest of America. There’s virtually no gun violence, no fat people, there’s only one fast-food restaurant. This isn’t the America we hear about in Australia.”Manie’s visa expires in July. As so often happens, however, the politics of government and society conflict with the politics of the heart – Manie has fallen in love with an American girl. His relationship now faces a deadline – what to do come July.
Manie says he and Isadora (Izzi) Gailey, his girlfriend, plan to travel to India or Thailand, perhaps assisting in reconstruction efforts following the Indian Ocean tsunami.If Izzi decides she wants to stay in America, however, things get complicated. With his training visa expired, a new visa will be difficult to come by. An English friend of Manie says black market green cards – through phony marriages – are available. But the women who offer them charge as much as $20,000 to marry. It’s not something Manie says he’d consider.”Izzi and I have talked about getting married and how that would solve the visa issue. I found my girl here and we’re planning to stay together. If we have to get married sooner than we’d like, well, we’ve discussed that. That’s a small price to pay for meeting here in the first place,” Manie says.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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