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The Weapons of the Spirit


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American Spectator:

The chefs, or leaders, of this group were three young men, one of whom doubled as chef-de-cuisine, cook, and two young women who seconded him while keeping an eye on the half-dozen girls who had joined the camp, as we called it, and who of course had their own room apart from the larger room where the rest of us, ten to 14 boys as I recall, bunked. The chefs had their sleeping bags on the straw in the attic, which they accessed through a narrow spiral staircase in the corner of the common room whose two pieces of furniture were a long table and benches made of what must have been oak and a poêle, what we would call a Franklin stove, that ran on fuel oil and was the only source of heat outside the kitchen, which is why we all spent most of our waking time there when we were not out of doors on the mountain.

This was not formally a scout camp but it was a pure emanation of the scout movement as it existed then in France, except for the girls and their young chaperones. The oldest of our chefs was not 24, already had done his service militaire, and his two assistants, close friends actually, were waiting the call-up of their class. The girls had come along this year due to some subtle or not so subtle pressures from parents upon the elders of the church that sponsored the troop to which most of the boys including the older ones belonged, or maybe it was the older boys who pressured their elders or maybe some girls in the church said they wanted in, that it was not fair there should be one winter camp every year and it was only for the boys. But I do not think it was that either, because some of the girls were Catholic and one was Jewish, which actually left just three Protestants plus the two older girls, making five. I think it was just a case of friends; the older boys had invited friends or girl friends whom they knew from the church or more likely from school and the elders or whoever was ultimately responsible said, "After all, why not, there are two rooms in that cabin, aren't there?" and Jean-Luc, who was the top man and had organized trips to the same place in previous years and was 24 years old and back from Algeria where he had taken a slug in the leg, said, "Of course there are two rooms, you do not think this is an Israeli kibbutz, do you?" He did not say anything about the attic because they did not ask him and he figured what they did not know would not hurt them.

I did not know anything about kibbutzim, nor did anyone in fact, but Jean-Luc was extremely interested in them and though he had not been to Israel he was planning a trip and already had the contacts with Mapam friends and others he knew. He was very big on the kibbutz movement because, he said, during one of the grandes discussions into which the evenings around the Franklin stove usually evolved after dinner and a few songs and some board and card games, it represented a fulfillment, or at least a stage on the way to fulfillment, of the message of the Gospel, on which he was keen.

Most of us kids, 11, 12 years old, did not follow very well and anyway we were exhausted by the time les grands, the older ones, got into these big serious bull sessions, having been rousted at dawn to wash up with cold water and get assigned tasks, the most popular of which was to run down the hill with Mathieu, the cook, to the bakery to get the day's supply of bread. By the time we got back another team had set the long table with big bowls in which you poured either cocoa or coffee and warm milk and plates on which to spread margarine and jam over your bread. Blessing, thanks, as fast as possible, gobble up, half-listen to Jean-Luc's announcements regarding anything we should know, and off in a rush to the shed where the skis were kept except for the young chaperones who stayed with the cook to clean up -- breakfast cleanup being the one task we were excused from due to the ski-school schedule -- and caught up with their wards later, not that it really mattered since at that point they would be under the strict eye of the moniteurs, instructors, the tough old mountain men and women whose idea of teaching you how to ski included making you walk up the mountain with skis on the shoulder.snip
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