Archive for the ‘Cars and Driving’ Category

A good day is when the sun is out and you can sense that spring is on the way.

Septfontaines, Lux

A good day is when you escape from the chateau, as nice as it is, for a while and drive out into the countryside.  The photo above doesn’t quite do justice to the blue sky and the emerging green grass; or maybe I just wanted the grass to be especially green today.  Why, by the way, the French name of this village–Seven Springs–after all the places like Niederkorn, Solange, and my own favorite name, Pissange?

A good day is when you see a beautiful old barn that has been patched repeatedly over the centuries but is still in use and standing strong.

A good day is when you were speeding seriously through the countryside, pushing Das the Auto more than ever to get the feel of the car around the curves, then slowed down but not enough as you went through another town, then were stopped by the cops (65 kph in a 50 kph zone, or about 43 mph in a 33 mph zone), who dealt with your nervous French and did not give you a ticket.  No, I don’t have a photo of the cops, but they looked absolutely sharp in white, blue, and red uniforms with high black boots.  Vous parlez quoi, francais?  What do you speak, French, one asked?  Yes.  Show me the car’s documents and your permission to drive, he said, and seemed very interested in the Ohio driver (sic) license.  Maybe that’s why he let me off.

A good day is when you still have a job, even if the BS is flying thick and fast (and I don’t mean here at the chateau).

Good day, messieurs, mesdames, mesdemoiselles.


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Back from a week in Italy.  Bari on the Adriatic Coast, Cetara on the Amalfi Coast, and many a hill town in between.  Pompeii and Ravello, fabulous cathedrals–I’ve come to like the details of carvings and interiors more than I care about the architecture–to each his own.

To get to my apt./hotel room in Cetara, I had to climb 95 steep steps.  At Amalfi, Metara, Ostuni–up and down, over the steps and cobblestones.  No place for sissies, and I wonder how great all this is for old people.  They should move to flat places, but people can’t afford to move in any event.

The first rule of Italian driving (I rented a little Lancia, which more or less held its own, except that after a while on mountain roads in second gear, it was really hard sometimes to get the car into third) is not “never look behind you”; it’s never look beside you.  If you did, you’d freak.  There’s no room to get by the truck coming up the hill, but you do.  People and cars dart out from side streets, and that’s your problem, not theirs.  The streets are narrow, cars and scooters are parked everywhere, people are walking everywhere–it’s nuts.  I have seen the like before, e.g. in Jamaica and Turkey, but a week of Italian driving will cure you of worrying about peripheral vision.  Don’t bother.

By the way, Western Europe is absolutely car crazy.  There is good public trans, but everyone wants a car, and it seems that most people have one.

Got back to the chateau at 3:30 AM this morning, and today felt like I was walking through jello.  So I’ll just put up a few pictures and call  it quits for now.

Positano, Amalfi Coast


bodies at Pompeii, preserved in a plaster process

Chimneys, Matera

pulpit, Ravello church (begun 1080)

carvings at Trani Cathedral, begun 1097

Happy to be back in my home away from home!

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There’s good days and bad days, eh wot, and good hours and bad. This morning I graded some papers and worked on a chapter of my lynching book. That seems long ago. Had lunch with a charming, truly, Luxembourger who teaches here. Excellent English, as so many people here speak it. The food was good, various pieces of fish on rice. I could identify only the salmon. Everything well cooked, nothing dried out or translucent, as some Americans say fish should be. Barf. Actually had pretty good espresso at the restaurant where we ate. And I had already talked to the Lux. prof, Haag, a little about coffee, so he insisted on telling the head waiter that I was a coffee expert. “Nut,” I corrected him. But then the maitre d’ actually wanted to know my opinion of his coffee. Good crema, says I, it sticks to the spoon and returns to the original shape in the cup when you push it away with a spoon (although, as my coffee guru Geoff Watts says, crema can be overrated). Good body and flavor. Not layered, like superb espresso, but I didn’t say that. I just babbled a little about how lighter roasts and single origin beans are the latest twist in espresso, and how it’s a whole world unto itself that I didn’t know anything about until maybe a year ago.

After lunch hopped in Das and zoomed over, or tried to, to get an x ray for the bureaucracy in a nearby town. Crazy hours for the clinic there. Well, once again, driving around the center of these old burgs is NOT FUN. So I got there pretty late and, after sitting around waiting to be called in, decided that I had to leave to get back to the chateau for a 4 PM faculty meeting. I did not want to be late for the very first meeting. So a useless 1 1/2 hours and car trip, unless you count the educational value of failure.

And, would you believe it, faculty meetings here are just as dull as in the US! Can anyone be concise?!? Do we have to have the difference between the cost of copies and cost of printing materials, and who pays for what, explained 6-7 effing times??

Afterward a reception in the dean’s apt. There the food was again up to Euro par. Excellent cheeses, wonderful ham twisted onto extra thin bread sticks, salmon on rolls, little pieces of lettuce-like curly leaves (endive?) with tiny shrimp and onions in the middle, nice wine, champagne. And, fighting shyness all the way, I actually spoke to the two dames d’honneur, American sisters who had been here in separate years in the early ’80s. Pleasant people. What do most people put into their lives?

Then to do my laundry in the pit of despair, aka the faculty/staff laundry room. I’m the only one who dares to go in there, let alone to do laundry there. And I broke the rules to do it in the evening; don’t ask. As I was trying to sneak back into the chateau, the dean and the concierge spotted me and made me take all the leftovers home. That’s not bad, but then it seems that I’m the only one left in the chateau tonight. Das in the only car in the courtyard. So I watched French tv, which was almost useless, and played with Ms. Tom Tom for a while–finally got my up-to-date maps, which took hours to download. After that, countin’ flowers on the wall, that don’t bother me at all. Statler Brothers? Can’t remember.

It’s good to be lonely sometimes. It makes you appreciate people.

And tomorrow is another day.

Have a happy social occasion soon.

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I’ve got one more silver Volvo

And the road goes on forever

But I’m not gonna let ’em catch me now

Not gonna let ’em catch the Midnight Rider.

with apologies to the Allman Brothers

I do own the clothes I’m wearing, and I have a bunch of credit cards. But I don’t know how much money I’m spending. I save all, I mean all receipts in a bag, so I’ll figure it out someday.

Yesterday taught my class at 8:45; went to a local grocery store; went to the bank and arranged an account, in French (zut alors!); went to the weight room; finished cooking dinner for 3 guests; served it and had a good time with them; watched parts of In Bruges (which is not esp. funny, but is good!); went to bed. Felt virtuous and damned tired.

I’ve got a really classy lady riding with me now, not the hottest I’ve ever been with by quite a long shot, but one knowledgeable dame. Yes, I have developed a tight relationship with Ms. Tom Tom, my newly purchased GPS system. Enter an address, most of which it will find for you–it seems to know every street in every town in W. Europe, and probably quite a few in the e. part of the continent–and it will guide you there turn by turn, warning you that turns are coming up, telling you which lane to be in–HOW do they DO that?? Then to come home, push the screen in the right place a few times, and it figures out how to get you to your door.

Today Ms. T T and I went to Trier to visit my friend Rita Voltmer, who fell and broke her ankle in December. It was a really bad break, so the doctors operated on her for hours, put all kinds of plates and screws in her leg, kept her in the hospital for 6 days, and sent her home to stay in her apt. for several months with her leg elevated except for visits to the doctor and the physical therapist. She gets 70% of her pay while she’s laid up. Now that is health care!

Of course Ms. T T got me back to the chateau without a hitch, except that like a dummy I turned to follow a sign to Differdange, disregarding her advice. You do have to do a little thinking for yourself, e.g. not turning too soon when she says turn.

So Tom Tom should be clear. Ton ton ton, I learned today, is what the Germans say instead of knock on wood. The Russians spit, or pretend to, over the left shoulder 3 times, while making a sort of tfoo tfoo tfoo sound. Don’t know what the French do; must find out.

Here are all the electronic gadgets that I brought or have bought here:

stuff without which one could not cope

So how did I live without these things? When I first came to Europe, and for several more times, even decades, there was no e-mail. No computers. No phones except in the post offices. I could get mail, usually poste restante–meaning that they would hold it for a long time, until you showed up–at post offices. Many years ago I learned, in a crummy hotel room in Tunis, that my father had died weeks earlier. My friend Marousis went to the PO to get our poste restante letters while I stayed in bed. Now I am constantly charging things, and cords are draped all over. But yes, life is much easier. The two computers are . . . oh, never mind.

Allez tout droit! That is, straight ahead, except when Ms. T T says turn.

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A real car from a real crash "at a high rate of speed." The passenger didn't walk away, but he had only very minor injuries.

T+1, Jan. 4, 2010.

What was billed as a Volvo “branding tour” turned out to be fantastic promo for the company–hey, I could only buy one car, and I don’t get paid for this–plus wild statistics and info about crashes and auto safety.

The picture of the kid on the scale illustrates how much someone “weighs” at certain crash speeds.  I assume that means how much weight would be exerted by that person’s body on a stationary object–for instance, the windshield, or the front end of a car.  We, the group of Volvo purchasers, were really surprised at the weight figures for crashes.

weight of kid in kilos at crash speeds in kilometers per hour. Kilo= 2.2 pounds, kilometer = .66 mile.

The girl, who weighed about 50 pounds at rest, in a crash at 16 mph or 25 kph would weigh 600 kilos (1320 pounds).  At 34 mph or 55 kph, she would weigh 1080 kilos (2376 pounds).  Put that on the roof of your car sometime.  Since this is an exponential expansion, adults become like several elephants.

crash equivalent tower of chairs

Or, to get the feeling at home of what a crash impact would be, pile up some chairs as per the photo and jump off them, making sure to land on your head on a hard surface.  From the highest chair, you would only be simulating a wreck at 30 kph, or just above 20 mph.  So there is reason to wear seat belts.

I won’t try to go into Volvo’s safety features here.  You can check out the ratings see what the company says it has accomplished as well as their ideas for the future.

As for me, I just want to be focused on driving when I’m behind the wheel.  The guide at the safety tour said 95% of all accidents are caused by distractions.  Hmm.  I’d like to see that documented.

Good driving to you.

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Volvo meets Boy

My Volvo S40 Jan. 4, 2010

Jan. 2 and 3 sucked, as usual for trans-Atlantic flights. Sat in Dulles airport for 8 hours. Got to Copenhagen with some time to spare, dumb SAS person told me to wait in a check-in line to get a new boarding pass for the flight to Gothenburg (Goeteborg). Turned out I didn’t need a new pass, but then had to run (on no sleep) through the airport to get on the flight to G-burg. Then SAS only delivered one of my suitcases.

I can’t go to sleep immediately when I get to Europe. But I did have a shower, an expensive  (Sweden ain’t cheap) if barely adequate meal, then walked around some. Dark by 4-4:30, but the city (2nd largest in Sweden), seemed cheerful, brightly lit. Lots of black kids around; I suppose they are the children of immigrants, because everyone seemed to be yakking in Swedish. Brown kids, too; of Turkish immigrants, I suppose. The African and Turkish diasporas spread ever more widely in Europe. Without them, no population growth, I suppose.

But then I slept well, and SAS actually brought the missing suitcase to the hotel in the morning; that’s more than I can say for 3 other sets of people I met. Then at 9 a driver with a stretch Volvo limo–no kidding, very cushy–took me out to the factory delivery center. All went well there. I like the way the car drives, although it will take some getting used to, esp. which of the six speeds to use, how much gas to give it when starting out in 1st, etc. Finally left the factory around 3; not too much daylight was left. The freeway was in fairly good shape, except that when it got dark I was wary of stuff, maybe just slush, maybe not, in the left lane. Had to run the wipers and the windshield washer often. Finally gave up around 6 PM, having covered maybe 125 miles. Let’s not play with fate too much on day 1. Found a hotel for a mere $180–nice, but I just stayed in one nicer in Chicago, just off the loop, for $85.

So today in the car passed without incident. I haven’t really tested its acceleration yet, but I can tell it has guts.

Volvo interior. The car will never be this clean again; it certainly isn't now.

Check out the Volvo Safety post for crash stats and pics.

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Vehicles I have known

Here’s a list of all the vehicles I have owned and when I got them; at least, I think I remember them all.  Engine and transmission details and fate of car, if any of those have the slightest interest.

The '58 Corvette

1966:  a 1958 Chevrolet Impala convertible, 283 cubic inch V8, 3 speed that someone had modified from the column to the floor; Hurst Mystery Shifter.  A very heavy car, a Cleveland special with bad rust, e.g. almost no floor boards left in the back.  I put a lot of body filler into it, had it painted for $29.95 at Earl Scheib, and sold it.  A great cruiser for a teenager on warm evenings around the city.

1968:  Honda Super Hawk motorcycle (1965?), 305 cubic centimers.

1968:  ’61 Pontiac Catalina, 389 cu. in.  Abandoned in central Wyoming after it threw a rod or something equally horrible.

1969:  Plymouth Valiant station wagon, slant six engine, stick on the column.  Paid $100 with a friend for it.  We loaded a Matchless motorcycle basket case that I had bought, like an idiot, in Chicago.  The bike parts were too heavy for the car; we slid off the road in Utah in light rain while my friend was driving.  We rolled over sideways but were unhurt.  The car had no seatbelts.

Bought a ’59 Chevy wagon for $100 in Heber City, Utah.  That got us to San Francisco, where it died on the Oakland Bay Bridge.

’58 Buick, electric everything, all of it waiting to stop working.  ?  maybe paid $200.  Got me from Kansas City to Chicago, died there; had no reverse by then.  I abandoned it on a Chicago street.

’64 or so Ford Falcon.  6 cyl., I guess.  Reliable, started in the Chicago winters.  No synchromesh into first gear–a real pain–had to slow to almost nothing to downshift into first.

1970:  bought a used (’69 maybe) Norton Atlas motorcycle in London.  750 cc, 2 carbs.  Got me to Istanbul and back to the Netherlands.  Gave it to a Dutch friend.  Long story.

1972:  Pontiac Catalina, 1966, bought in Ann Arbor.  389 cu. in.  A comfortable road car.  It overheated in Death Valley in August.  A trucker stopped and told me to run the heater full blast–it acts like an extra, small radiator.  That did the trick–I got out of the valley, where the temp had been about 116.  Driving with the heater on full blast, you feel that.

This car got me around a lot; cross country and back.  But had to abandon it to the Queen in Canada.  Wonder what she did with it.

1976: bought a well-used Mustang from a friend in Ann Arbor.  Pretty well rusted, but bondoed it and had it repainted.  It actually ran well.

bought a ’69 Ford F100 in Ann Arbor.  Had a 360 cu in V8 (yes, Ford made one for a while).  3 speed on the column.  Had a camper shell.  Fixed that up with carpet, a bed, cupboards with closing metal mesh doors, even curtains.  Drove it across the US through various national parks, up and down California.  Sold it in Palo Alto.

Ford F100 before redo

1977:  bought a ’58 Corvette in LA.  283, 4 speed.  Basically a small Chevy sedan.  Handled terribly but fun to drive; turned everyone’s head.  Had it redone, engine, trans, new manifold and Holly 4 barrel carburetor,  brakes, drove it to DC.

For some reason, girls liked the 'Vette

There finally had the steering fixed, rechromed, painted.  The interior was still trashed; even the console had been ripped out.   So far from original that it wasn’t worth much.  Tried to sell it through a consignment place in Northern Virginia; they made me take it back after the cops looked it over and couldn’t find any serial numbers anywhere–of course it had been stolen at some point.

The truck rehabbed

Buick predo

Buick redo

Buick Skylark convertible, 1967, small V8 (? 302 cu in).  Had it repainted, new carpet and upholstery.  Looked and ran great!  Drove it from DC to LA, sold it there.

1979:  Chevy Monte Carlo, 1970.  350 cu in, 250 horsepower (or so a decal on the air cleaner said).  This car also overheated in CA in the summer, in the desert near San Bernadino.  This time my wife was along.  We made it to my mother’s house in LA with the heater running.  We must have drunk a gallon each of water and lemonade when we got to my mom’s.

The Buick shines

1985:  a new car!  Bought it in El Paso.  Too bad it was a doggy, a 1985 Chevy Cavalier with a 4 cyl. engine and an automatic.  I think it was rated at something like 85 horsepower. Well, it was okay for a fairly long time; didn’t have much trouble with it.  We went to Boston and back.  I once drove it 750 miles in a day by myself.  Yeah, yeah, you’ve done more; but that’s as much as I ever want to do.  The car was dying when I got rid of it in Cincinnati in 1999.

1989:  Chevy S10 pickup, about an ’86 ; nice small truck with a V6, automatic, shell.

1994:  a new Chrysler Concorde.  V6 and adequate power.  Really comfortable; great road car.  It did have problems; had to have a new trans fairly quickly.

1999:  leased a ’97 Buick Regal GS 3.8 liter pushrod V6 with a supercharger, leather.  This car would fly in a straight line.  Maybe not like a true muscle car of the ’60s-early ’70s, but fast.

2004:   a new Subaru Forester, turbo, 210 hp.  Very sure-footed small SUV.  Pretty quick, pretty much a pleasure to drive.

2005:  Ford Focus with about 6,000 miles on it.  Virtually a trouble-free car to this day.  Go Ford!  Yes, a dog, but reliable, cheap transportation.

And that’s all, until I catch up with my Volvo in Sweden.

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