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Category: travel writing

reminiscing far from home

France’s national car museum

Musée national de l’automobile

In my book, French License, I detailed in the chapter on Car Culture how little France cared about the automobile. I contrasted French attitudes toward motorised vehicles with those of their neighbours and the USA, where I come from. The differences are stark and plentiful.

So, on a trip to Alsace this week, I was stunned to learn that France claimed the world’s largest, most prestigious and valuable car museum, the ‘Musée national de l’automobile’ in Mulhouse. I just had to see it. Perhaps I had sold the French short, and this place would be the exception to the rule.

First of all, where’s Mulhouse? It’s so far East, it’s almost in another country. You could throw a rock one way and hit Switzerland. You could throw a rock another way and reach Germany. Their international airport serves the three countries. When you land at EuroAirport, you can literally walk to exit in Mulhouse, France or Freiburg, Germany or Basel, Switzerland.

In fact, Mulhouse was a part of Germany from 1871 to 1919, and a couple times before that. During this period, in the 1890s, the automobile was born. Many French manufacturers participated in creating the industry. The Peugeot factory in Mulhouse is still running.

Pulling into the parking lot of the museum, we saw license plates from Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and a few from France. Mind you, this is just after deconfinement from Covid-19, and the French plates were still a minority.

The brothers Fritz and Hans Schlumpf were brought up in this heyday of personal motor vehicle invention, and they never lost their passion for it. Swiss nationals, born in Italy, they moved to Mulhouse, Germany in 1908. They took over their father’s textile business in Mulhouse in the 1930s and became very rich. Neither ever married nor had any children, so they could consecrate their vast fortune on buying rare automobiles. They focused exclusively on European brands, especially those from the very early days of creation. Their greatest affinity was for the maker of the most luxurious and powerful vehicles in-between the two wars: Bugatti.

Ettore Bugatti was an Italian immigrant who worked for several car manufacturers before establishing his own factory in Molsheim, Germany, in 1909, now in the Alsace region of France. He obsessed over every detail, seeking perfection in both engineering design and style. While Rolls only ever aspired to luxury and Ferrari only to speed, Bugatti wanted it all for his models: class, power, beauty, sophistication and innovations galore. Bugatti vehicles were winners of races at the highest levels in the ‘teens 20s and 30s. Bugatti customers were royalty and heads-of-state across the world. Even when the depression, and war hit, he refused to make concessions, continuing to build the most exclusive cars in the world.

During WWII, his factory was requisitioned by the occupying Nazis. Ettore got back his factory, but never recovered, and died three years after the war. His brand and company changed hands several times since, today owned by Volkswagen. You can visit Ettore Bugatti on my first Chairfather tour of Père Lachaise: https://voicemap.me/tour/paris/the-chairfather-pere-lachaise-part-i 

A buddy of mine from the area got to ride in several of the Schlumpf cars as a youth, including two Bugatti’s which were the most luxurious, and the fastest of their age. His parents were friends of the Schlumpfs, and Fritz would pop by and offer a trip to Seppala. The boy only found out years later just how lucky he was.

At the end of the museum tour, you’re invited to cruise in a classic car on a closed circuit. There are several Italian, German and French makes to choose from. Count minimum €40 for 7 trips around the track.  

So, to summarise, what I wrote in the Car Culture chapter about French disdain for cars still stands. The ‘Cité de l’automobile…’ 

  • is located in a border town that’s almost in Germany
  • represents the personal collection of two brothers from Switzerland
  • contains a large majority of cars from an Italian builder, whose brand is now owned by VW
  • attracts most of its visitors from outside France

I rest my case about the French attitude toward cars.

But the museum has a very, very good case to be made as the biggest and the best. More than 400 classic cars are on display, and more than 150 others are in storage, allowing the curators to rotate in some others from time to time. Nobody else has so many which can be seen at once. But what about prestige? Here’s just one example. The most priceless vehicle on the globe is the Bugatti Royale type 41 released in the late 1920s. Just one of these cars is worth at least €40M and probably closer to €100M. Nobody really knows because they hardly ever change hands through purchase. No matter which Rolls Royce or Ferrari you pick, you’d need to trade several Silver Ghosts or 250 GTO Berlinettas to get just one Bugatti Royale. They only ever made six of the Bugatti Royale. This museum has three. Oh, and 120 other Bugattis. And 14 Rolls, including Silver Ghosts. And 13 Ferraris including GTOs.

It’s well worth a visit. I came expecting to spend an hour, and ended up lingering for four hours… on an empty stomach during lunchtime. That’s how captivating I found the exhibits. I’m certain you will, too.

To plan your visit, here’s some practical information:

Cité de l’automobile

192 ave de Colmar, Mulhouse

+33389332323

https://www.citedelautomobile.com/en

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Album #5 of 10 albums which marked my life

Album #5: Jethro Tull living in the past 1972

Still my favorite band, and Clive Bunker my favorite drummer. Listen to him go wild on Dharma for one. It always seems like he’s about to go off the rails. Despite missing the skins on some hits, he stays on track, and keeps rising throughout his solo. What energy! My kinda guy. 

Discovered the group in high school, and this album about a dozen years after it came out. Since it’s a mix of a ‘greatest hits’ plus live album, plus a couple originals, it was a fantastic primer for me to acquire a taste for the group. I went on to buy 15 of their albums, 10 of which I really liked, and continue to listen to to this day.

This is in response to a challenge from Alain Cournoyer of the Homebuddies to post 10 albums which marked my life in ten days. 

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Just desserts at restaurant

turning the tables

When I was a teenager I was either a jokester or surly and holier than thou, pointing out the foibles of the adults around me.

I was in the latter mood on a family trip to Hawaii when we sat down at the restaurant. The waitress brought the menus and introduced herself as Carol. When she came back with waters and took our orders I looked at her name tag and noticed it read Susan.

“I thought you said your name was Carol?” I said.

“No it’s Susan,“ she responded.

When she left, I turned to my family and kept talking about the switcheroo. “Carol and Susan sound nothing alike,” I explained. There’s no way I could be mistaken.

Nobody else recalled what her name was and wondered why I was making such a big deal about it. My dad gave me one of those looks as if to warn me this was not going to be another of my incidents to ruin a family outing. But I just wouldn’t drop it.

“Something fishy is going on and I’m going to get to the bottom of it,” I said. She can’t pull the wool over my eyes.“

I got up to go to the bathroom and wash my hands, but what I really wanted was a closer peek at that sneaky Carol/Susan. She was happily chatting with her colleagues behind the counter and looking at order slips and plates as if nothing untoward was going on.

“What could be the purpose of this chicanery?“ I asked myself alone in the washroom. I couldn’t think of any advantage besides fooling the tourists. Even though it wasn’t my money, it was the principle of the thing. You don’t mess with people who come a long way and spend a lot of cash, a good part of it going to your salary. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you in a restaurant.

I came back to the table to see that Carol/Susan was setting down our plates. When she came to me I made sure to look at her name tag. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here I had caught her red-handed.

“Powtip!?” I exclaimed.

The waitress started cracking up.

“There’s no way your name was Powtip before! Just what are you trying to pull here?” It was the beginning of a tirade that aimed to be better than that of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith goes to Washington.

But I stopped when I looked around and all of my family was laughing too. I was stunned and didn’t know why they were guffawing when we were the object of ridicule. It was then I learned the joke was on me.

“We asked the waitress to change her name tag,” my Mom chimed in.

“What, do you mean from the moment we entered the restaurant?“ I said. “But that doesn’t make sense…”

“No,” Mom said. “From the moment you made such a big deal of it. You misheard her name at the start, or you just weren’t paying attention, and then you wouldn’t shut up about it. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard!“

Upon leaving, my father set down double the usual tip for Powtip.

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Sexgiving

It’s turkey day in America, which means that most of us in France 
have to work.

However, we do get extra compensation in the office today in the
form of belly laughs when our French colleagues wish us a happy
Thanksgiving. They inevitably pronounce it as “apple sex giving,“
and who could refuse that invitation?

For added fun ask them to repeat this phrase back to you,
“We want you to focus on Thanksgiving now.“
When you respond, remember it’s your duty to “give thanks.”

Today, I’m thankful we don’t all speak the same language in the
same way. Vive la différence !
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Grammy

I lost my Grandma Barbara recently, who passed from this world at 95 years old. In her memory, I’d like to share an episode of our lives together. It’s entitled:

Not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas

I’m going to break a rule here and reveal something that happened in Las Vegas.

Grandma Barbara was born on April Fools’ day, and me a day apart, in the same town, Van Nuys. This lent us a special affinity, and we would often call or see each other to celebrate together.

One day when I was 20, Grandma Barbara called a couple weeks before our birthdays to invite me to go to Las Vegas. 

So we set off in her car, just the two of us. I think it was a burgundy Chrysler automatic sedan, and she let me drive. It was a road-trip weekend to remember! She knew just what I needed to do my 21st right: gambling, gin+tonics, girls… and grandma.

Raising exclusively boys, and coming of age in a man’s world, Grandma Barbara assumed all males had these vices, and had no problems with them. Who better to introduce me to the world of 21-year-old legal sin than grammy?

We checked into our room, then went downstairs to the main floor. Grammy always played the slots, and I fed the machine beside her for awhile while we drank bloody marys. She generously paid for everything. 

I wanted a bit more variety and asked to play the roulette wheel. She agreed, dropping something like $200 on the table. She never complained when I lost it all, and it didn’t take long, either. We finished the day by gorging at the buffet table and getting a buzz on from more mixed drinks.

The next evening, Grammy had a surprise for me. She reserved a cosy table for two at… a girlie show. Picture a room with red velvet everywhere, arranged in half circles starting from and ending at a wide stage. Gram and I are in the middle. The table is so small, our knees and toes often touch. Needless to say, we’re the only couple of our kind there. 

In my mind, I’m preparing how to react when the curtain goes up. I want to show my appreciation for her kind gesture, but don’t want to come off as a lecher gawking at the gals. I want to be non-chalant, demonstrating that I have actually seen a breast in the flesh before this day, two of them even, but never so many all at once in the same place, for which I’m very grateful. However, I anticipate a challenge in conversing with grammy openly about my powerful passion for the appendages.

The show starts and thankfully we’re far enough from the stage, and there are so many sparkles and feathers that I can’t even make out if there is also nakedness. Acts rotate through, all in much the same soft-core nature. I feel relieved. I just may survive the night without an embarrassing incident.

The grande finale begins with much pomp, when in the middle of the number, some of the girls descend the stage to walk among the tables. No wait, ALL of the girls descend to walk the concentric half-circles, and they’re coming our way! I’ve got bouncing breasts to my left and my right, only one foot away from my face in both directions! Feathers brush my cheeks, ears and neck. There’s no decent place to turn my gaze, so I look wide-eyed straight toward Grandma Barbara, who’s looking back at me!

I needn’t have worried. Grammy enjoyed the show’s artistic merits and was open to whatever reaction I might have. That’s one thing which made her so great, she just let you be yourself, and always showed she enjoyed your company.

Now, I know there are quite a few grandmothers out there reading this, and at least a couple grandsons who are not yet 21. Why not go on a very awkward trip together? I’m sure Grandma Barbara would approve.

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Faure teaser video

What’s it like to go on The Chairfather tours? Here’s a taste, visiting Félix Faure at Père Lachaise in Paris. 

Look at the old boy’s sculpture, laid out almost as if his body was found this way, minus the ‘banane’ or enormous grin he must’ve had on his face.

Before Bill and Monica, there was Félix and Marguerite, the President and the female admirer who went down… in history.

Desiring a reprieve from those pesky justice-seekers calling for clemency in the Dreyfus affair, President Félix Faure asked his mistress to come over at 5 o’clock. Marguerite Steinheil arrived in the ‘blue room’ at the Elysée palace in the afternoon. Faure dropped his drawers as she applied the presidential ‘pipe’ or enthusiastic fellatio. Marguerite did her job only too well, as moaning Félix reached climax, and in the same instant, stiffly dropped dead.

Their screams brought the rest of the house rushing immediately into the blue room, where Marguerite’s head was seen twisting near his manhood, struggling to remove his convulsed fingers clutching her hair. There were too many witnesses to hush the scandal, and soon all of Paris knew what the papers couldn’t print. 

Rival politician Georges Clemenceau had a field day, joking of Faure, “He wanted to be César, he ended up being Pompé,” which used as a verb translates to ‘pumped.’ Marguerite was tagged with the nickname of ‘la Pompe Funèbre’ which is a double entendre with the act and a funeral ceremony.

That catty Félix showed us that you CAN have too much of a good thing!

 

It’s time to zip up our affairs, cross over to the other side of the Avenue Principale. Walk down six steps, then across the avenue and up the six steps on the other side and turn left. Counting from Le Bas column our next host is 7 down on the right.

 

I’ll guide you to 50 final resting places on my @VoiceMap tours of the Père Lachaise cemetery, and tell stories from the fascinating lives of painters, performers and pompous politicians!

See funny souvenir pictures and text from our picnic together in The Chairfather book.

The passed have never been more alive!

Book a lunch date with the fallen famous NOW!

Or later…

Really, it doesn’t matter. Their agendas are quite open.

#VoiceMap #WalkingTour #audioguide #atyourownpace #Paris #tourism

© 2018 Copyright Joe Start. All rights reserved.



 

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Strogonoff teaser

What’s it like to go on The Chairfather tours? Here’s a taste, visiting Strogonoff at Père Lachaise in Paris. 

Approach the gigantic structure at the top of the stairs, which houses only one overblown person.

  Born a Russian baroness, Elizaveta Démidoff-Strogonoff became a countess by marriage, and then followed the count on a diplomatic mission to Paris. They were ardent supporters of Napoleon, which became inconvenient when the little Corsican decided to invade her homeland. She didn’t get along with the count, and returned by herself to live in Paris, where she apparently had a terrible fear of being alone. She died, on a date with three eights, which any internet source will tell you is proof that she was a vampire.  

  Far be it from me to repeat one whopper of an unfounded rumor.  So, I’ll give you two.

  Her will allegedly stipulates that the millions in her entire fortune would go to the person who stayed by her side in the crypt without leaving for an entire year.  Apparently, nobody lasted longer than a night, getting creeped out and running away shrieking that the place is haunted.  I’ll let you pause the tour now if you’d like to give it a shot.

  On the other hand, if you’d like to continue…

 

Walk down all 64 stairs (I know, 66 would have been spookier, huh?). Make a left on the cobblestone road at the bottom. 

I’ll guide you to 50 final resting places on my @VoiceMap tours of the Père Lachaise cemetery, and tell stories from the fascinating lives of painters, performers and pompous politicians!

See funny souvenir pictures and text from our picnic together in The Chairfather book.

The passed have never been more alive!

Book a lunch date with the fallen famous NOW!

Or later…

Really, it doesn’t matter. Their agendas are quite open.

#VoiceMap #WalkingTour #audioguide #atyourownpace #Paris #tourism

© 2018 Copyright Joe Start. All rights reserved.



 

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All Saints’ Day

Today is Toussaint, or ‘all Saints’ Day’ in France. Everybody goes to cemeteries to remember.

What’s it like to go on The Chairfather tours? Here’s a taste, visiting Modigliani at Père Lachaise in Paris. 

Go past Madeleine Goukassof on your left and the tall monument to the family Kanjovnzeff on your right.  Our next host is the second on the left just after the pine.

 

Amedeo Modigliani was an Italian master sculptor and painter furiously active at the beginning of the last century.  He liked to paint reclining nudes of beautiful young women, and who can blame him?  Apparently, Parisian police, who closed his only solo exhibition for obscenity on opening day.

Hey, why the long face?  Is it because angular figures are a distinctive feature of the works of Modigliani?  Or is it because the artist died too soon from a degenerative disease at the age of 35?  Or because his young model and lover jumped from a 5th floor window to join him in the afterlife?  Both are reunited under this stone.

His is another incredibly tragic story of a starving artist who passed away before receiving the accolades and riches he deserved.  Who else has both a sculpture, and a painting, among the Top 10 most expensive auctions of each medium?  Not Matisse.  Not Picasso.  Modigliani stands alone.

When you’re ready, go back out to the main cobblestone road and continue walking downhill. 

 

I’ll guide you to 50 final resting places on my @VoiceMap tours of the Père Lachaise cemetery, and tell stories from the fascinating lives of painters, performers and pompous politicians!

See funny souvenir pictures and text from our picnic together in The Chairfather book.

The passed have never been more alive!

Book a lunch date with the fallen famous NOW!

Or later…

Really, it doesn’t matter. Their agendas are quite open.

#VoiceMap #WalkingTour #audioguide #atyourownpace #Paris #tourism

© 2018 Copyright Joe Start. All rights reserved.



 

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French Property News reviews French License book and hosts contest to give away copies

The October 2018 issue of FPN is here, and it features a review of French License!

I’m also partnering with them to give away copies to two lucky readers. Here is a link to the competition which is live now:
http://www.completefrance.com/competitions/french-license-book-competition-1-5703397

Here are more links to check out my travel memoir French License.  Read a sample.  Buy the book.  Keep a copy in your glovebox just in case.

© 2018 Copyright Joe Start. All rights reserved.



 

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5 kinds redux: how to visit Père Lachaise the smart way

Père Lachaise cemetery is one of the most popular attractions in Paris. I’ve been there more than a hundred times, because there’s so much to see. However, I continue to see tourists there who are frustrated and confused. They’re not getting the most out of the experience. They’re not even getting the least, the basics, the minimum two or three tombs on their list; so they leave having seen nothing they had planned to. In an effort to help them find their way, I’m re-posting my best advice.

A caravan of lost souls.  I’m not talking about the permanent residents of Père Lachaise cemetery.  I’m referring to the tourists, the day-trippers who trip aimlessly throughout the park.  Is this the way they wanted to spend their precious vacation day?

Yet here they are, wide-eyed, dumbfounded and hopelessly far from their cherished celebrity.  You can categorize them by their level of distress, from greatest to least.  Here’s a look at the 5 kinds of tourists you meet at Père Lachaise:

The Wanderer

  “Hi, can you help me find Jim?”  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked this question.  It’s been asked of me in all four corners of the 44 hectare park.  It’s all I can do to hold back saying, “Buddy, you have no idea how far off you are.”  It doesn’t matter what country the person is from.  They just showed up at Père Lachaise and thought they could wander around the 70 000 sites and bump into Jim.  People are strange.
rating: zero tombstones

Dora the Explorer

  This person has only one thing more than the Wanderer: “I’m the Map, I’m the Map, I’m the Map…” and it gets them nowhere.  You see, for a map to work, you also need markers in the physical world.  You know, like signs, landmarks, distinguishable objects.  Père Lachaise hardly has any of these things that people are used to.  Are you a fan of Geocaching?  Most adults don’t like to play hide-and-seek, but that’s exactly what Dora plays at Père Lachaise because she doesn’t have the right tools.
  First off, more than half the signs are missing.  Many of the ones which remain are pointed in the wrong direction, making you think path A is really path B.  To top it off, a lot of the paths change their name while still heading in the same way.
  A huge problem-creator is that Père Lachaise isn’t organized like a city, with storefronts on the avenues.  Instead, it’s carved into ‘divisions’ which are the plots of land in-between the avenues.  These divisions all have different shapes and sizes, and each one of the divisions contains thousands of graves.  A paper map will get Dora fustratingly close to the site she wants to see, but it will remain out of reach almost all of the time.  She’ll probably bump haphazardly into Wilde or Colette.  There’s no way she’s finding Piaf, Modigliani, Chopin, Morrison or hundreds more that will miss her gaze as she turns her paper uselessly before her nose.
rating: 1 tombstone

The Bookworm

  This person not only has a map, they have a book, containing pictures of the graves and information about the departed.  Well, I guess they could play the match game, where they look at the photo, then glance around them to see if anything looks like the picture.  In French the game is called “Qui Est-Ce?”  This isn’t child’s play.  It’s an exercise in futility.
  Heck, even I wrote a book about Père Lachaise, called “The Chairfather.”  I carry no illusions that the book will help anybody find the sites; it won’t.  It’s a comedic recollection for folks who are familiar with the place, and a tongue-in-cheek text for fans who already know the life stories of the stars.  The Chairfather photo book does have pictures of four dozen tombs, but the photo will only help you distinguish the right one if you’re practically on top of it.
  At least the Bookworm has the stories.  But they might as well read them in the Jardin de Luxembourg, for all the good the book does them in getting to the tombs.  They’ll remain forever far from the people in the tales.
rating: 3 tombstones

The Geek

  “There’s an App for that.”  Uh, no.  Google Maps?  Useless at Père Lachaise.  What about any of the four with ‘Lachaise’ in the title in the iOS App Store?  They all have the same flaw: total reliance on GPS.  Also, they’re not all in the same category, spreading across Entertainment, Reference, Travel and Navigation. This means they don’t all have the ambition of getting you to the sites.  You’re on your own.
  The best Père Lachaise navigation App I’ve found is called “Super Lachaise” and it was developed by a guy I used to work with in Paris.  I use it myself when I want to find a site that’s not among the 50 on my own tours.  It gets me near the right tomb about half the time.  Why only a 50% success rate, for somebody who’s been all over Père Lachaise at least a hundred times?  It’s that civil GPS systems are still woefully inaccurate for this purpose.
  An example.  Let’s be generous and say your phone’s GPS gets you within 10 meters (or 30 feet) of your target.  That puts you in a space of 314 square meters (A=pi*r2).  Do you know how many graves you can have within 314 square meters at Père Lachaise?  ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY.  1 – 5 – 0.  No App will get you close enough.  Only a trusted voice can take you the last several steps to your rendez-vous.
rating: 6 tombstones

The Pack Rat

  This person thought ahead, and reserved a guided tour.  They joined the pack and followed an expert.  They are guaranteed to see at least a dozen of the sites, and hear fascinating stories about the people underground.  They won’t get to choose which people they’ll visit, nor what day or time it starts.  They’ll pay a pretty penny for the privilege, about €20 per hour.  But it will be worth it.
rating: 12 tombstones

There is a better way…

What can you do if a guide isn’t available when you want them, or in the language you speak?  What if you have very limited time, less than an hour?  What if you have just a handful of specific sites you want to get to, right away, at 9:30 a.m. before you need to check out of your hotel and catch your flight?

There is a better way, and the folks @VoiceMap have found it.  It’s more than an App.  In addition to GPS, they record the voice of expert guides.  The expert’s voice takes you those last 10 meters, so you’re never lost.  The tour starts right when you want, no waiting for a guide, and you proceed at your own pace.

But that’s just the beginning of the journey.  While you’re at each site, a story unfolds in your ears.  A narrator speaks while the live-action movie passes before your eyes.  It’s an immersive experience unlike any other, personal and intimate. It will make your time at Père Lachaise unforgettable!

A VoiceMap tour costs a fraction of the price of a guide.  Don’t waste your precious vacation days like the 5 profiles above.  Get right to where you want to go, in carefree style.  Listen to The Chairfather.

rating: 50 tombstones

(this is the number of sites The Chairfather will guide you to in under 3 hours)

 

I’ll guide you to final resting places on my VoiceMap tours of the Père Lachaise cemetery, and recite stories from the lives of these notable personalities.

© Copyright Joe Start. All rights reserved. © 2018



 

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