Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Bastille Day Greetings from Wig & Pen!
Je me souviens! On an extended August weekend in 2002, only nine months before American supermarkets would begin bowdlerizing “French” from French fries after France’s refusal to buy into the mess in Iraq, Amherst, Massachusetts welcomed an unprecedented invasion of Francophiles.
More than 1,000 owners and enthusiasts of schlumpy Citroëns descended on Amherst and the University of Massachusetts for the International Citroën Car Club’s annual convocation. The first such gathering outside Europe, the event attracted owners from that side of the pond and others who had trekked in their marginally dependable autos from as far away as Washington State, British Columbia, and Mexico.
With exhibits at the university’s Student Union and Campus Center and hundreds of Citroëns parked around the campus pond, the gathering reached full strength on a 90 degree Saturday afternoon. Every owner had a unique tale to impart of how and where he had purchased his Citroën, his Job-like patience in securing replacements for malfunctioning parts, and his survival on the road in an oversized kitchen appliance.
Like antique car owners, Citroën drivers don’t drive—they motor. By necessity, they are resourceful mechanics. And their bricolage extends to amenities. One owner proudly showed me a phonograph secured on erector-set brackets in the crawl space otherwise known as the back seat. A second revealed an oddity under the dash of the passenger’s seat that looked like an ensconced aquarium with a spigot. It produced cold Orangina.
The gathering disbanded on Sunday morning. That afternoon on a drive north to Greenfield via Route 5-10, I noticed a disabled Citroën on the side of the road. Several miles later I saw a second and then a third. From that point on I looked away. Two days earlier, meeting up with a supercilious Belgian in Antonio’s Pizza in downtown Amherst put things in perspective. When I joked that Citroëns would struggle in Nascar, he sniffed, Monsieur, it iz not ze speed, but ze nuance of your adventure that matters.