Last weekend was the 24 hour car race in Le Mans, France. I don’t really understand car racing terribly well so I can’t explain how it is different than NASCAR or Indy Car racing (I am not sure I even know how those differ other than in spelling). At this race, basically the drivers (3 of them) get into a car and drive around a track to see who can get the most laps in 24 hours. The race is set in a lovely little city near the Loire Valley, a region of France know for chateaus inhabited by the aristocracy before the French Revolution repurposed them. The ones that survived the French Revolution dot the landscape in majestic and grand fashion. Just like the wines of France, you could write an entire dissertation on the chateaus of the Loire Valley and I am guessing many people have.
We weren’t there for the Chateaus though, we were there for the racing. Like most adventures we have embarked upon in France, ours started with a train. As it were, we were on the same train we had taken 2 weeks before to Normandy so we felt confident as we started the trip. My son in particular was thrilled because he knew the train had strong WIFI (by the way, it is pronounced weefee here) so he could amuse himself by gaming with friends and watching YouTube. When I came to France 20 years ago as a student, all I had was a CD player and a binder full of CDs. I would listen to the same CDs over and over again as I rode through the French country completely lost in thought. These days, my son plays games with friends from the States and France as if they were sitting right there on the train with us.
My husband is much better than me at staying in contact with old friends. In my own mind, I am the one who stays in contact with friends more than he does but as with many things in life, he is so much better at actually doing what he sets out to do. My head is full of intentions and plans but my will is a little shy on execution. Luckily, as is the title of this website, a quote from my grandfather, I often forget any regrets I have so I don't seem to dwell on those unexecuted intentions. But that said, we met up with a former colleague of my husbands at the race. He flew over with his family to explore France a bit and we joined them in Le Mans. They have children too so it was great for my son to have children around. He gets a little tired of being with 2 adults all of the time. Apparently we don’t have the stamina he does.
We arrived on Friday afternoon just in time to see the parade of pilots (car drivers) as they went through the streets of downtown Le Mans with their drivers. The teams threw beads (à la Mardi Gras), fans to keep cool, magnets, plastic bracelets, T shirts, hats, flyers, and all kinds of other things. I don’t what it is about kids and trinkets but they loved being on the front line screaming for free “merch”, as they call it. And like all good festivals in France, they were serving beer and champagne. I love that you can get champagne or sparkling wine at just about any event.
The next day was the big race. We had to take a tram from downtown Le Mans to the race track which was about 25 minutes away. The tram was packed to the absolute max, body to body. And still at each stop, more people would find a way to squeeze onto the tram. Once we got there, my husband and his friend went into the grandstand to see the start of the race, while the rest of us explored the vendor booths and “merch” that is not free. My son claims he bought the softest shirt in the world so it was worth the money. Hmmmm....
While we were buying our items, the race was getting started. Some of the French special forces flew in on a helicopter and then rappelled down to the track from the helicopter. The helicopter then literally put it’s nose down by tipping forward 90 degrees giving the appearance to a non-military person that it was going to crash. It then shot forward rotor first at maybe 100 feet off the ground directly in front of us. We could actually feel the wind as it passed and I was a bit terrified that something was wrong with it. When I looked at the faces of the children and other spectators, it was clear that they too felt like something was wrong. But then off it went, everything was fine, and the crowd roared with approval.
After the exciting start to the race, we enjoyed an afternoon of hot dogs, churros, ice cream and of course champagne in a souvenir glass. That’s my version of good “merch”. Although the race is 24 hours, we only made it to about 4 of those hours and I am not sure I watched more than 10 minutes of it. My son and husband watched a bit more but I don’t think even they watched more than an hour. We did however meet many interesting people, mainly from England and the United States. From what I learned, I guess the race is quite population with the Brits. So, even though the race wasn’t the focal point for me, I had a great time. The next day we hopped on our train with great WIFI and were back in Bordeaux in time for dinner. This last big trip outside of Bordeaux was a great way to end our weekend travels during this time in France.