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I BOUGHT THE BOOK A Spring Fortnight in France some years ago because its first chapter is about Le Mans and its last one about Tarascon. I know of Le Mans, of course, from its 24-hour endurance race first run in 1923. I know about Tarascon from a childhood tale in French about Tartarin the cap hunter. Here are tidbits about Le Mans and Tarascon, gleaned from experiences of an evidently charming American ex-pat living in France more than a century ago.
Josephine Tozier was a early 20th-century travel author. Her other books include Among English Inns, 1905; The Travelers’ Handbook, 1907; and Susan in Sicily, 1910. All are deemed “selected by scholars as being culturally important, and … part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.” That is, they’ve been reproduced in modern editions. My copy is a slightly fragile original.
Meet Angela Victoria. Angela and her sister Georgina are in Paris and discussing a woman’s solo travel: “Very well,” Georgina says, “if you insist upon going alone, you fortunately speak the language, and have enough grey hairs to protect you.”
“I don’t mind the grey hairs,” Angela says, “I like them. I shall see that everyone calls me ‘Madame.’ Who knows! Some one of the friends I meet may bring me back to you riding in an automobile!”
It’s 1907. Angela “was approaching middle age and had passed a good slice of her life in France.”
Quelle femme formidable!
Le Mans. “From Paris to Le Mans the distance by road is two hundred and eleven kilometres. The train, if it is a very fast one, takes about four hours. The highway is smooth as a floor and without dangerous places, running between waving trees and over pleasant streams, and is an irresistible temptation for those who ride in motor cars to put on full speed.”
Wouldn’t you love traveling with Angela?
Angela possesses another endearing habit: Whenever visiting new places, she muses about people who have previously lived there. In Le Mans, it’s Berengaria, queen of Richard Coeur de Lion.
Berengaria of Navarre, c. 1165–1230, married Richard the Lionhearted in 1191 and was the only English queen never to set foot in the country.
The house, Angela relates, “has, like all ancient Angevin dwellings, a peep-hole over the entrance door, where the guard of the house looked carefully out before he admitted any swashbuckler who might be seeking entrance in the rude and rough times of Richard the Lion-hearted.… Under the richly carved casement, out of which the Queen may have gazed many times while watching for her tall lord, is now a shop window, where cheese, eggs, and cream are displayed.”
Tarascon. The train trip from Arles to Tarascon was so rapid “that a lady in the corner who was telling her beads to put herself to sleep hardly got forty winks before the guard threw open the door and called on them to ‘Descendez.’ ”
Angela “was not nearly as familiar with Tartarin of Tarascon and his doings, so minutely described by the witty Daudet, as she was with the deeds and private life of Richard Coeur de Lion….” But she soon makes the acquaintance of “a very old man sunning himself while he smoked.”
He “asked her if she was a stranger to Tarascon. She told him that she was and that she had come because it was the home of Tartarin. He laughed merrily and shook his head.”
“Ce coquin [This rascal] de Daudet! At first we of Tarascon were very much incensed at his nonsense, but he has sent us more tourists than Beaucaire, King Réné and Ste. Marthe all together.”
My Tartarin. And, of course, it was Le Mans and my reading about Tartarin the cap hunter that introduced me to Angela. Coming full circle, and not giving too much away, I note that Angela finds romance at the end of A Spring Fortnight in France through an automotive encounter, in Tarascon. ds
© Dennis SimanaitisSays.com, 2022