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Tour Eiffel, Paris, by Barbara Redmond

Tour Eiffel, Paris, by Barbara Redmond

If you’re feeling fancy free, come wander through the world with me, any place we chance to be, will be a rendez-vous.

“Two for the Road.” Music by Henri Mancini, lyrics by Leslie Bricusse from the 1967 American movie, Two for the Road, which takes place primarily in France.

Paris-Deauville road trip

Downshifting, cutting into the corner, accelerating and exiting wide―driving flat-out on a wave-like run. Between outbursts of high-pitched chatter and hours of animated singing, we change drivers every now and again and usually slip into thoughtful conversation. We adore road trips, my sister and me.

Although this trip has hardly begun, I’m already dreaming up another. In between tunes, I make the pitch for her to meet me in Paris for a road trip to Deauville, the elegant seaside resort located on the Normandy coast of France. Tucked in my tote will be two champagne flutes, two forks, table linens, and a Michelin map of France.

When she arrives in Paris, we’ll purchase leather driving gloves that fit like a second skin; a Cashmere car robe and silk-twill scarves; an extraordinary perfume; and sassy French shoes. The day before our journey, we will take a stroll through the Tuileries; get a makeover and end the day with cocktails at the Ritz.

We’ll drive from Paris to Deauville and stop along the way for a warm baguette and the traditional foods for which Normandy is famous―Camembert cheese, fresh apple and pear cider, and Calvados. We’ll sing, Mustang Sally, in honor of the lipstick-red Mustang she used to drive. And, for the hundredth time, I’ll tell her about my first car―a 10-year-old white convertible 1960 TR3a with red leather seats―and how it was de rigueur to sit, ladylike, on the edge of the trunk and swing both legs over the sloping curve of the door and shimmy down into the seat. Next fall, Paris to Deauville!

Paris-Deauville vintage car rally

Since 1967, Deauville hosts the Paris-Deauville vintage car rally whose ambition is to recreate the splendor of the Roaring Twenties. In France, called années folles (crazy years) when the flapper redefined the modern woman and the Art Deco style was at its height. Pre-1940s vintage cars, coupés and cabriolets designed before 1960, les automobile, from the Bugatti Grand Prix racer to the classic Peugeot models, to the Citroën CV Torpedo and Renault Dauphine will assemble at the Place Vendôme in Paris to begin their trek to Deauville. The 44th edition Paris-Deauville Rally will take place 1-3 October 2010.

Deauville is one of the most prestigious beach resorts in France. Since the 19th century, it has been an international playground to the rich and famous from Josephine Baker and Maurice Chevalier to Colette and Coco Chanel. In 1913, Chanel established a boutique in Deauville there she introduced clothes suitable for leisure and sport.

Renault Dauphine: the Crown Princess

“Ladies, you can leave your jewels and your haute couture at home. Now, you have La Dauphine!” reads Renault’s 1957 automobile manual.

As a promotion for Renault and the legendary jewelers Van Cleef and Arpels, Renault worked together with Jacques Arpel to design the car’s beautiful dashboard. The well-known Parisian textile artist Paule Marrot (1902-1987) approached Renault asking if vibrant colors wouldn’t enliven the dreary collection of automobiles in postwar Paris. Soon after, Marrot became a member of the Dauphine team and proposed new body and interior colors. She turned to Paris’ textile houses, and together with her team, created stylish interior fabrics for the seats and door panels with names like “rouge montijo,” “jaune Bahamas,” “bleu hoggar” and “blanc réja.”

Marrot attended Paris’ famed L’école des Arts Décoratifs. In 1925, she was awarded a gold medal at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes and had received a 1928 Prix Blumenthal. Later in her career, she was awarded the French Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honor).

The debut of the Dauphine in 1956, as reported in The Independent, “Proved an almost instant success across the globe: the new coachwork was deemed highly elegant, the price low, and the Dauphine’s overall size was still suitable for congested Parisian streets.” In 1968, the last Dauphine rolled off the assembly line.

Road rallies in France

The 1894 Paris-Rouen Horseless Carriage Competition, Concours des Voitures sans Chevaux, ushered in a phase of the city-to-city road races in France and other European countries. At its beginning, road rallies were held on highways open to everyday traffic.

The Paris-Bordeaux-Paris Rally in June of 1895 and the Paris-Madrid race in 1903 were among the earliest races. The Tour de France, which originally took place in 1899, was celebrated between 1906 and 1937, before being revived again in 1951. In 1911 came “the Monte,” (Monte Carlo Rally) which was not restored until 1924 after the First World War. In 1956, Corsica’s Tour de Corse, 24 hours of non-stop driving on narrow and spiraling mountain roads was the first major rally to be won by a woman, Belgium’s Gilberte Thirion, in a Renault Dauphine.

First international rally driver: Camille du Gast Crespin

Camille du Gast Crespin (1868-1942), who raced under her maiden name Camille du Gast, was the first woman to race at an international level. In 1900, she watched the start of the Paris-Lyon road race and in 1901 entered the renowned Paris-Berlin motor race finishing 33rd out of 47 finishers.

In 1903, she entered the tragic Paris-Madrid race. Stopping to aid a seriously injured Englishman, she continued to finish 45th overall in the race, which was shortened by the French government at Bordeaux due to the number of fatalities. After that event, open road racing was banned. In 1904, not wanting to incur the risk that a woman would be injured, the Commission Sportive banned women from racing, so a year later, Madame du Gast turned to motorboat racing in Monaco.

French rally driver: Michèle Mouton

Michèle Mouton (born 1951 in Grasse, France) is the most successful and renowned female rally driver in motor racing. Beginning with smaller races in her native France, Mouton quickly advanced to larger-scale competitions.

She was the first woman to win a round of the 1981 FIA World Rally
, the Rallye Sanremo, and won a total of four World Championship rallies in the 1980s. In 1984, she was the first woman to win the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb race in the United States. She won it again in 1985, breaking a record. In 2010, she became the first President of the FIA’s Women & Motor Sport Commission (WMC) (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile).

Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles: Off-Road rally for women only

For twenty years, the Moroccan desert has attracted women to its sandy dunes to compete in a nine-day, off-road adventure―the “Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles.” Women in teams of two, race with four-wheel-drive trucks, crossovers, motorbikes, and all-terrain vehicles, striving to reach five to seven daily checkpoints marked by red flags in the landscape while covering the shortest distance possible. The teams rely on maps from the 1950s and a compass to guide them. Global positioning systems and cell phones are not allowed. The rally is open to any woman who wants to test her endurance and navigational skills.

More than 100 teams compete on the approximately 1,550-mile journey that begins in Meknes with the finish line in Essaouira on the Atlantic coast in southern Morocco. The rally is conducted in French, for the most part, and is covered daily by media in Europe and North Africa, but receives little attention from the United States.

No prizes are awarded. The money generated from Coeur des Gazelles (heart of Gazelles) helps to finance doctors providing medical care for people in the remote areas of Morocco. This year 4,582 people received free medical care. Teams receive financing from sponsors that would be otherwise unknown to motor sports, such as women’s magazines.

“The rally isn’t just any other race―it’s a commitment and dedication,” comments its founder, Dominique Serra, who is based in Paris. Serra organized the first women’s rally in 1990 as an image campaign to dispel prejudices. “I think women are important,” says Serra. “I thought, if you put them in a context that isn’t their habitual context, I’m sure they’ll figure it out and get something out of it. And that’s what happens.”

Now, the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles, is one of the most prestigious motor sports events in France. Eighteen countries are represented, including Germany, Congo, and Cambodia. Even some celebrities participate―Penélope Cruz has been seen zipping through the dunes on the back of a 4x4s.

Road trips are like that

In the mid-1970s, leaving Vienna for a road trip east, my companion and I were moments from our first sight of communist Hungary. We were on the crest of a hill and before us lay green rolling hills without end. I was driving flat-out on a wave-like run when Duke Ellington began playing on the radio.

It wasn’t a race, and I didn’t have any competitors, but I’m certain I felt the same passion that Mouton and du Gast felt―the road, a motor, and the sense of adventure. Road trips are like that.

Vocabulary: French to English translations

De rigueur: Absolutely necessary
Rendez-vous: Meeting place

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Text copyright ©2010 Barbara Redmond
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