The bulk of the time I spent in France was out on the Atlantic Coast, in a little seaside fishing village/resort town. The next closest big town was named Royan, and seemed to be about the size of Portland Oregon.
To get there, we had to drive with our friends, Jeanne & Antoine, from Paris in a Rental car. Specifically, we were driving a Ford Fiesta. Don’t confuse this with the Fiesta of the late 70s early 80s, this is about the size and shape of Ford’s last version of the Escort here in the U.S..
We pick the thing up from Hertz in downtown Paris … the Hertz place is like rental places everywhere, fairly clean fairly efficient and fairly dehumanizing, like the DMV is it ran properly.
The Fiesta is a small displacement four banger, that easily swallows fur adults and all their luggage, maneuvers through the early morning streets of Paris with ease, Jeanne at the controls, since there was a charge (natch) for each additional driver, and out onto the motorway.
This is what the French call a freeway, and what you and I, the red-blooded, God-fearing American car guy would call a race track.
I don’t know about you, but I spent a lot of time growing up at race tracks, and comparing a race track to an American freeway is like comparing a Marine’s K-Bar to a steak knife, and the same can be said for a French motorway.
Four lanes wide with lane-sized shoulders on each side, the all blacktop motorway is built on a roadbed of poured concrete 12 feet think. It’s as stable as the Pyramid at Giza and smooth as Willie Mosconi’s favorite table.
We pull out onto this thing, the loaded down Fiesta humming along nicely at 120 clicks and WHOOSH, there goes a black Audi A8 at tremendous speed in the left lane, heading towards central France faster than a Cessna. It’s just like a freeway over here, there’s trucks and sedans and hatchbacks, and they\’re all getting along amazingly well, and everybody is driving noticeably faster than here.
The Fiesta was faultless the whole way there. The heating and AC worked, it got great mileage, we were comfortable. Sure, it was boring in comparison to something like that A8, but it worked.
Of course the French have a much more well defined sense of lane discipline than we do. You do NOT camp in the left hand lane. If you are in the left hand lane and someone pulls up on your ass, you move over NOW, and you especially do it when they flash their lights … oh yeah, and by they way, flashing your lights is NOT aggressive driving, setting your fat ass in the left lane and chugging along at 140, THAT’S aggressive – aggressively stupid, so MOVE OVER MORON!!
Everything Flows, everybody moves along quite nicely because they are paying attention and driving their cars. They’re (by and large) not talking on their cell phones and they are most definitely not yelling at the kids, while eating, and trying to put another DVD in the player, while discussing home finances with their spouse.
When they’re on the road, they’re driving. It works better that way.
So that’s the way the drive went all the way out to Royan, a nice little French city in the middle of the Atlantic coast.
It’s about the size of Portland, and all of the architecture is notably new, and of the slab concrete/Le Courbusie/Brutale school.
“Interesting Architecture,” I say to Antoine, our host who had partially grown up north of Royan.
“Oh yeah. That’s cause they had to completely rebuild the town after the war. You’ll see. The beach it really broad and flat, so the Germans though that when the allies would invade, they might do it here. So to keep the Germans thinking that, the British bombed the town to the ground. The RAF tried to make a memorial here for all the pilots that were killed, and the town would let them. They’re not big fans of the British here, since they reduced the town rubble.”
I can understand that.
So we’re driving through Royan and … huh! That sounds familiar. It sort of sounds like a big block V8. And then around a corner comes a sage green 1967 Mustang fastback! What the hell! In France! And just when I’m getting my mind wrapped around that, 100 yards later comes a pristine 1956 Chevy Bel Aire. A four door, not the coupe, sadly, two-tone white & red.
Both of them had French license plates.
It was completely unbelievable.
But there it was.