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John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly

Well, well, well.

I guess it’s time we all started learning Russian, on top of Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese.

It’s all there in black and white, with a splash of color besides, on the printed pages of the local newspapers, at least as far as the Russian, Spanish and Portuguese are concerned.

Ever since I came to this part of the world, Aspen has touted its premier status among international skiing resorts, at times openly admitting that if it weren’t for the foreigners on the slopes, the Aspen Skiing Company wouldn’t be making money.

Although I never heard it mentioned, in hindsight it looks as though Aspen’s international reputation was an early ripple of the rising tide known as “globalization.”  Perhaps that’s also true of the entire sport/business of skiing.

After all, skiing was an international sport from the get-go. From the ancient Laplanders and their long boards, cruising over the frozen wastes of northern Scandinavia, to the high-society splendors of the Swiss, Austrian and French ski resorts, it became a polyglot thing that attracted the best and the brightest for a little fun on the chilly, sun-drenched slopes and high ridges of the Alps.

Thanks to a European war that required soldiers to learn to ski as well as fight, the resortification of the high, snowy reaches in the U.S. followed on the heels of World War II, and here we are.

What’s this all have to do with learning the Russian language?

Glad you asked.

Attentive readers undoubtedly have seen the ads running in the local papers, full-page spreads touting luxurious chalets and high-mountain building sites, but stated in a funny-looking, blocky script that seems closer to Greek than to English. Well, actually, it is, and it’s a sign of the next step in Aspen’s international development.

The ads are realtor Josh Saslove’s acquiescence to the rising fortunes of people whose native tongue is Russian, and whom he clearly believes represent the new wave of people wealthy enough to afford a modest slopeside cabin in which to entertain their oligarchic circle of friends.

I happen to have been to the Soviet Union a couple of decades ago, along with a couple hundred other gringos and an equal number of Soviets. We all came together in the Ukraine for an International Peace Walk that lasted a month and touched the lives and imaginations of thousands of natives between Odessa and Kiev. Actually, I went on two such peace walks, in 1988 and 1989, and there were other peace walks in other parts of what was still then called the Soviet Union.

More relevantly, I happened also to learn a little Russian, more like a survival vocabulary than any kind of full appreciation and understanding, but enough to recognize the text in the ads for what it is.

I don’t see that as a problem, I should point out. Not in the slightest. I enjoy learning new languages, and might even take up Portugese, since I already have a good enough grasp of Spanish to make myself understood in all but the most intellectual or political of conversations. Portugese, you understand, being the language of Brazil, a country also featured in recent ads in the same local papers urging people to “Ski Brasil.”

And it seems to me that all this is a good thing. The Roaring Fork Valley lost its whites-only chic a long time ago, as Hispanic workers arrived here in droves and changed everything from the dominant sounds in local bars to the foods prepared in local kitchens, the issuance of orders on construction sites and the directions from head housekeepers in local hotels, to name just a few venues. Spanish is approaching parity with English as the language of locals.

And as China ramps up its economic engine and sheds its historic isolationism, we may well see a day when Chinese is spoken by enough visitors, and perhaps workers, that the overall noise of life here will take on a decidedly exotic tone.

All this, of course, can be construed as either wonderfully enlightening or horribly invasive, depending on one’s interpretation.

Me, I just like the noise it all makes, and am happy to know this ain’t the Colorado it once was.

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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