Category Archives: Camp Ecole Champlain

Lake Effects 2: French Lessons

Lake Champlain view from Kingsland Bay State Park by Julia Parent.  The park was created after Ecole Champlain met its demise.

Summer is, for all intents and purposes, over.  But as the temperature still soars to near 100 here in Washington, DC, I will transport myself to the lake of my childhood for a couple more summery memories.  Fast forward from my earliest recollections of Lake Champlain in my last post to my teen years, as a “kitchen girl” at Camp Ecole Champlain, where wealthy sunburned girls learned French at the feet of instructors with sexy accents cutting across the Francophone world.

Alas, I have no extant photos from my two years slaving away in the Ecole Champlain kitchen, but believe me it was a thrilling time, living away from home above the kitchen in a vast rustic attic divided (just barely) between male and female dorm spaces.  My fellow kitchen girl, Rose from Montreal, supplemented my high school French with peppery phrases like “Ferme ta gueule!” (an unsavory way of saying “Shut up”).  My boyfriend du jour, a nice farm boy from nearby, brought me a pet rabbit, dubbed Little Bunny Foo-Foo, who never did master the litter box.

Even as lowly kitchen staff, we were allowed in our off-hours to partake in classes, all taught in French.  I don’t recall any judo instructions in French, but I do remember at least one horseback riding command: “Deposez vous etrier!” (drop your stirrups).  I didn’t last long at horseback riding, falling unceremoniously off one day and pulling a huge muscle at the top of my leg, my agony garnering no sympathy from the imposing instructor.

One night stands out in my memory, and not in a good way: the night I learned never to mix your liquors.  Starting out with a concoction of kalhua and milk (which the older but dubiously wiser cook called “a milkshake except crunchy!”), then progressing to a couple of beers, and finishing off with straight Scotch.  I don’t recall how I made it upstairs to my bed, but I do recall waking up in the middle of the night throwing up. Several times.  And the misery of having to help serve breakfast the next morning. Warning:  do not try tomato juice as a hangover treatment.  It burns all the way down.

The lake was ever-present during the Ecole Champlain summers, as its shore wrapped around the grounds like a cool and inviting compress on a hungover brow.  The swimming beach and watercraft were accessible for us laborers, and we availed ourselves of their use frequently.  But it was more of a scenic backdrop to the Upstairs, Downstairs antics of the camp than the main attraction.  Just as to this day I cannot stomach the smell of Scotch, the Ecole years are buried in my psyche and resurface at a turn of certain French phrases, or Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection album which we often played while mopping the dining room floor.  Where to now, St. Peter?