Thursday, May 24, 2012

La Contessa gets her Citroen on

At dusk, the last glimpse of day before nightfall, life truly begins for bon vivants such as La Contessa. For it is then that the Citroens come out to play.

How delighted we were to come across an impromptu meeting of the Citroen Autoclub Canada and their remarkable cars. Ah, the memories! Has there ever been a car as enchanting and practical as the Deux Chevaux? As a young pup in Montmartre, it was my daily driver. If cars could talk, that set of wheels could spill volumes.

Peering out of the flip-up window, my whiskers quivered at the marvel of design and engineering at my paws. From the outside, the Bauhaus-inspired curves appear at once utilitarian and stylish. Yet, they conceal an interior which can accommodate a French farmer with a top hat, on his way to market with a dozen eggs on his lap, driving across a freshly ploughed field. Oh, and it can also accommodate a Princess Johanna's Court Dog and her entourage after a wicked afternoon on the Champs d'Elysee ...

The 2CV is minimalism at its most chic, with a thousand other innovations to make it affordable, fuel efficient and easy to maintain. What else would you expect from the country that gave us moving pictures, the little black dress and the bikini?!

Later, we hung out with the Citroen Autoclub, who own a fleet of the French lovelies between them. These fellows know their vehicles, and we swapped stories late into the night. The adventures we have had with our beloved Citroens! Then there is Cousin Madeleine, who makes her deliveries in a pastel blue Fourgonette in Aix en Provence. I have been sworn to secrecy about her precious cargo and what goes on after the drop-offs. Mon dieux, others might think her quite bohemian but Madeleine is simply an artiste, mais oui?

Of course Citroen is a beloved French brand, and no less than General Charles de Gaulle himself credited a DS 19  for saving his life - when would-be assassins killed two bodyguards and shot out the tires, the chauffeur was able to drive to safety, thanks to the ingenious DS hydropneumatic suspension system. These cars were even able to drive on three wheels! 

And so I was not surprised that the latest French president, Francoise Holland, recently chose the Citroen DS5 Hybrid 4 to launch his term. He follows in the footsteps of predecessors Georges Pompidou, who rode in the marvellous Citroen SM, which was also used in parades by Giscard d'Estaing, Mitterand and Chirac. In 1995, Chirac opted for the CX Prestige and then later, the C6.

For centuries, the French have led the way in living and loving with style and grace. Let others be subverted and seduced by noisy engines that can devour distance in minutes... and for what? How bourgeois and arriviste. La Contessa knows that time is precious, but a grand entrance is worth its weight in horsepower.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

La Contessa and the Ford Focus

Mon dieu, the things they expect from a simple chien. Just because I have a pedigree as lofty as the tour Eiffel, I am an expert in all things mechanical?

Let me introduce myself. I am La Contessa, a very rare Princess Johanna's Court Dog. In the old country, I am indulged and flattered for my blue-blooded link to the crowned heads of yore. But on this common continent, I must work like, well, a dog, to earn my keep.

And so it is that I have been dubbed the Designated Dog, and schlepped around in a 2012 Ford Focus SEL for a full week. As I was thrust into the comfy leather seat, I was mesmerized by the centre control panel – it could rival the cockpit of La Concorde, where my cousin Olga often criss-crossed the pond.

Such a luxe European ride, it took me back to the old days in Gstaad. I was almost lulled into a sleep, when – ach du lieber! Such bumps! Was I in the backlanes of the Red District? No, it was merely Dufferin Street, which was recently voted by the CAA as one of the worst roads in Canada. We slalomed our way around the potholes, rather than schussing through.

As luck would have it, the torture test continued. There are cobblestone streets in Amsterdam that are smoother than Lawrence Avenue, another title-holder in the CAA worst roads listing. I feared we would disappear into one of the potholes, but our luck held. Actually, it was not so much luck as the well-heeled chassis and suspension on the Focus, which has been tested for its durability on a Lommel Proving Ground in Belgium and Michigan Proving Ground in the U.S. Anyone who has driven in Brussels (dear cousin Sasha and I romped there regularly) can attest to the brutality of the roads.

Then it was on to my favourite park at Cherry Beach. Here I could examine the Focus from every angle, as was my job. A clever set of wheels, it was, stylish and roomy – I could accommodate a whole litter of puppies in the hatch! But mamma mia, the beeping back-up system hurt my sensitive ears – they really must change the tonality to something less aurally invasive.

And then - какого хренаWhere was the gas cap? I sniffed high and low but couldn’t find a knob or switch for the life of me. But my aristocratic snout (which can discern a fine merlot from 100 metres) led me to success! There it was, cunningly hidden behind a rear quarter panel.  Bravo, Ford engineers, you almost had La Contessa.

A light rain fell on our way home, but the rain sensing wipers – moving inwardly – kept our windscreen clean. It made me misty for cousin Manuel’s Benz, which featured the same wiper pas de deux.

It’s late now. The Focus is gone and I need to count my names. I remember there being 16, but I’m not sure about the last one. Now that I’m in America, perhaps I should cut down?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Commuting kills

Even a wheezy old beater can be fun to drive on the open road, under a gorgeous blue sunshiney day. But when driving becomes commuting, life behind the wheel becomes hellish and downright deadly.

Oh, not because you’re going to ram another car or mow down a pedestrian (or be the mowee), but because of the stress and strain of too many drivers behind you, beside you and especially in front of you. This charming infographic which takes nine pages to print out, claims that if you commute, your risk of a heart attack triples and in fact, 96,000 heart attacks in the U.S. are attributed to traffic.

This Gallup poll shows that the longer your commute, the more you suffer back pain, high cholesterol and obesity. If you spend 90 to 120 minutes commuting, you’ve got a 30 percent chance of being obese. Nice to know you can’t blame it all on Sara Lee, unless that’s what you’re snacking on in the car.

According to Statistics Canada, the average Toronto driver has a time-sucking commute of 27 minutes. And - apparently 82 percent of Canadians drive to work.

This state of affairs is likely to get worse before it gets better. It has less to do with infrastructure, the price of housing or the price of eggs than it does with human nature. We think we’re invincible. We’ll keep going until we keel over.

Perhaps the best solution is to have pop-up medical units along our highways and biways. Sort of like the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M.A.S.H.) popularized in the film and tv series of the same name. That way, there’s no need to call an ambulance when drivers inevitably collapse in their cars. We could call them M.E.S.H. – Mobile Expressway Surgical Hospitals, or M.U.S.H. if they’re located by an Underpass.

Doctors could make a killing. All those medical students that have been vamoosing to the U.S. would be flocking to sign up for front-line duty at a pop-up unit which of course, would be privately billed. OHIP would be loath to endorse this manner of facility – and what government wants to encourage deadly traffic?  

Some of us would finally be able to get a family doctor. We’d just have to learn to drive.