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A Chance Encounter in Rural France

Flag FranceA Chance Encounter in Rural France

Drive-by Snapshots   |   Published at Speedhunters.com


Renault Alpine A110

Early morning, night fades into a grey and foggy morning.

The Toyota 12H‐T turbo diesel engine hums its sonorous melody and the rugged tires sing a slightly melancholic song about the coarse asphalt of old French highways. A light rain begins to fall and upon activating the windshield wipers, a dissonance gets mixed into the trust‐inspiring symphony of analog machinery.

Dried solid by the sun in southern Spain, the wipers lazily try their best to wipe the fine raindrops from the glass with a nerve-wracking rattle. It may have been a good idea to replace them with a set of new ones, but who thinks about wiper blades for a 2,500km road trip while buying a 1988 Toyota Land Cruiser HJ61 on a bright blue day in Malaga?

The cruise control keeps the speed slightly above the legal limit in France, and with minimal corrective input via the thin steering wheel I help the mighty Land Cruiser to follow the road in a straight line.

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We are alone. Nobody travels in the other direction or passes us. The time stretches and I ponder the question how long it will take until the sun burns a hole into the monochrome grey, turning it into a bright blue sky worthy of Sunday in June. A sleepy voice from the passenger seat asks for coffee and we decide to take a break in the next village, once the rain stops.

When traveling with my parents as a young boy, they taught me to always start searching for culinary treats near a church when traveling in France. Et voilà, the old habit yields a positive result once again. On the other side of the church, right across the side entrance, we spot the typical French combination of bar and restaurant. The sun peeks through the clouds and illuminates the gorgeous time machine parked in front of the establishment. I grab the camera to capture the first colors of the day in this wonderfully picturesque setting.

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The hot beverage we’ve been longing for is immediately forgotten and the smell of hot Toyo Proxes R888 semi-slick rubber compound enters our nostrils. The air above the engine cover is blurry from the escaping hot air, and the only noise is the crackle of the drivetrain cooling down. It almost feels that the petite old lady is quite happy to take a break after a spirited morning drive. Respecting her need to rest, we head into the bar.

Upon entering the bar, it seems like Mademoiselle Alpine has not only enchanted us but also teleported us into the last century. Dim light inside barely illuminates the bar furnished from dark brown wood. A man with flared jeans, brown leather jacket and sideburns leans on it, holding a Gauloise in one and a small glass in the other hand. Le Patron is busy polishing a wineglass in the background. A scene straight out of a movie with Jean‐Paul Belmondo.

Both men scrutinize us skeptically and focus on the camera in my hand. A little nervous, we say ‘bonjour’ and order café au lait, chocolat chaud and croissants. An indeterminate tension lingers in the smoky air. Not in the least hostile, but noticeable. We sip from our hot beverages silently and nibble on the delicious pastries.

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Fortunately, I speak French and try to break the ice by asking whether the man is the owner of the beautiful Alpine A110 outside. Slowly, a conversion starts and after explaining why two tired Germans travel in a classic Japanese 4×4 with Spanish license plates, he smiles and begins to tell us the story of his relationship with Mademoiselle Alpine.

The two have been inseparable for decades and look back on a rich history of shared adventures on the small roads of the surrounding départements. Every Sunday morning, while most other people are either in bed or in church, he picks up the old lady from her garage to go dancing together. They carefully start at a leisurely pace to warm up and eventually accelerate to dance faster through familiar curves. Once she has reached her operating temperature, he gladly fulfills her wish to fly over the deserted hinterland roads, where she screams on top of her lungs in joy, feeling like a happy young sports car again.

Wherever the wild dance takes them, the cool-down lap always ends with a well-earned rest at the Bar Les Colonnes.

Have you ever met an idol of your childhood? Although he obviously wasn’t Monsieur Belmondo, it somehow felt like he was. Not only did he look like he still lived in the good old days, he actually had neither a cellphone nor an email address at the time of our chance encounter. When asking if I could post the pictures of his Alpine on my blog, he responded “Un blog? Qu’est‐ce que c’est?” but didn’t mind.

This is the forgotten joy of living in an analog world.


Sebastian Motsch

sebastianmotsch.com   |   Instagram drivebysnapshots

[This story was published on Speedhunters.com in September 2019.]