Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Le Mans

We live in the Pays-de-la-Loire region of France. Regions are a bit like states in the U.S. Each region is comprised of several departments. Our department is known as the Sarthe. I guess a department is a bit like a county, although bigger, and each department has its own individual character. The capital of our department is Le Mans, famous for the world's oldest endurance car race. So our area is very well-known for driving, beautiful cars and racing. We have some of the nicest roads in all of France. It's not unusual to see the Place in front of our house filled with old classic cars like the ones pictured above. Many car clubs breeze into town for the day, have lunch in our local restaurant and leave their gorgeous vehicles outside our front door. For me it's the old cars that have the most charm. But of course for the 24h race, it's all about modern. Once a year, on the second weekend in June over 250,000 people flock to Le Mans and watch while about 50 drivers race around a circuit of closed public roads for 24 hours straight, going, in that time, the distance of about a drive between San Francisco and New York City. A few of those 250,000 people stay at Maison Conti. It is one of our busiest times of the year and always filled with lots of adventures and an international variety of fascinating people. Race fans are a passionate and hearty bunch. We get the vicarious excitement of the race without actually having to take the trouble to brave the huge crowds! This is a much different kind of race than one that just requires a car to be fast. If a car is to survive intact after 24 hours of the grueling pace required, it can not spend too much time in the pits for the refueling and tire-changing and all the mechanical tweaking. The car must be aerodynamic, fuel efficient and very well-designed. For years and years the German Audi has won the race but this year the French Peugeot took both first and second place. Of course this is a national victory and the French are really thrilled. Le Mans is a beautiful city which has history going back thousands of years. It has always been a cross-roads, even in prehistoric times, between the east and the west and the north and the south. It was an important Roman outpost. The old town section of Le Mans has one of the best preserved Roman walls in Europe. On top of the walls populations built consecutively so that the old town is like a layer-cake of history with examples of beautifully-maintained architecture from various epochs. The town was the movie set for the 1990 Cyrano de Bergerac staring Gérard Depardieu.

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