The summer of 1969; while most of the world watched the Apollo 9 lunar landing I read about it in the French newspapers. Only problem, I did not read the French language so well. So instead, my step-Grandfather, Papa, bought me an American Time magazine. That helped and kept me connected with the States. But unlike the US, where it was a remarkable event and covered by Walter Cronkite, in France it just seemed to be distant, kind of like it did not really happen, at least for me anyway. I guess it was because I did not get to witness it on TV, but got to read about it weeks later. Somehow that historic event seems disconnected.
We were staying near Canne, actually on a hill overlooking the famous coastal town. We lived in a large house located right in the middle of a fig orchard. I remember that we had fresh figs a lot… For some reason, I also remember the name of the lady who farmed the orchard and took care of the house, I remember it as Mme. Vache, which I know means Mrs. Cow. I am pretty sure that was not her name, that is just how I remember it. But the image I have of her is being one with the land, it seemed like she sprang right up for that orchard. She had a flat face and the ruddy complexion of someone who worked with the earth. But she was kind and laughed easily and on more than one occasion took this strange American boy into the orchard to help her pick figs. Honest work, rewarded with a cold drink of sweet lemon-syrup flavored water. My favorite!
My Step Grandmother, Mameé had family that also took part of their summer vacation near Canne in the village of Juan-Les-Pins. One of her Sisters had married a famous concert pianist and they had an apartment right on the beach. I remember listening to him play for hours on end. It was beyond me really, classical pieces played with perfect pitch and cadence. I was more of a Beatles man myself. On more than one occasion he took me for a ride in his 1968 Mercedes 230SL. It was cream colored with a red leather interior. It may have had a top, but in the south of France, in the summer, I never saw it. What I loved about it was it had jump seats, one directly across from the other. It was so cool sitting in the back sitting sideways. The Mediterranean Sea breeze blowing through my sun bleached blond hair. I was slowly but surely becoming a French kid.
My Step-dad had an older brother who was recuperating from an injury sustained while riding a horse. He was in a competition and was thrown during a very high jump. His hospital was situated near our house, only a short walk away. So I spent a lot time with him as his English was very good and he was most interested in this young interloper who had been deposited into France, into his family. So we debated…about everything; US Government vs. French Government, American food vs. French food, American music (really British Music) vs. French music and of course cars. He had a vastly superior intellect; it must have given him great pleasure besting a 9 year old…
He had a Citroen DS 21 and at the time my Step-dad had acquired a 1965 Lincoln Continental. So according to me, the Lincoln was the best car in the world. According to my uncle, the DS 21 was. The debate was endless. The Lincoln was powerful, the Citroen was economical. The Lincoln had Air Conditioning; in France…you did not need it. The Lincoln had power windows, doors and mirrors, the DS did not need them, because these things only broke. The Lincoln rode smoothly; the DS had a hydraulic suspension and floated on the road. The Lincoln had a leather interior and was huge beyond belief; the Citroen had front seats that made many an easy chair seem old and uncomfortable.
Weeks later, he was released from the hospital and I had the chance to ride in it with him. It did float down the road, better than the Lincoln, its front seat were a revelation in comfort, they were perfect, and it was the better car. Shit, he was right… I hated that he was right; I wanted to win just one battle.
Until next time…