Home > 1990, CENTURY, Ferrari Marco, Italian Literature, Novella > To the revolution in a Citroën 2 CV

To the revolution in a Citroën 2 CV

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Alla rivoluzione sulla Due Cavalli by Marco Ferrari 1995 French title: En 2CV vers la révolution. I didn’t find it in English.

April 25th, 1974. When Vasco, a Portuguese young man who studies cinema in Paris hears about the uprising in Portugal, he runs to his best friend Victor and talks him into driving to their native city, Lisbon. So the novella is a road trip in a decrepit 2 CV from Paris to Lisbon, through the quiet of the French countryside, through a Spain closed up in fear, full of policemen along the roads and to the disquiet in Lisbon. Communists or revolutionaries or separatists? Who are they, the ones who help Vasco and Victor cross the border between France and Spain through the Pyrenees?

What struck me is how French people seem to live in a bubble:

A quatre heures de l’après-midi Poitiers n’est qu’un jeu d’ombres et de lueurs, la moitié des toits embrassée par le soleil, l’autre moitié obscurcie par Notre-Dame-La-Grande. Les gens se promènent dans les rues piétonnes, discutent dans les cafés, les hommes boivent le Pastis, les femmes le thé, les enfants mangent des tartes : on dirait un monde à l’écart, intangible, sans émotion au regard de ce qui se passe autour, le garrot franquiste, la révolte portugaise, les assassinats en Espagne, les bombes italiennes, les lamentations du Chili, les cris de l’Europe de l’Est. At 4pm, Poitiers is only shadows and lights, the sun set half of the roofs aglow while Notre-Dame-La-Grande shadows  the other half. People stroll in the pedestrian streets, chat in cafés, the men drink pastis, the women drink tea and children eat pies. It seems a world apart, intangible, without any emotion regarding what happens next door. The pro-Franco gag, the rebellion in Portugal, the murders in Spain, the bombings in Italy, the lamentations in Chile, the cries in Eastern Europe.

Ferrari_2CVThis was certainly true there and it is still true now. How little we hear about the economic situation in Spain, Portugal or Ireland. I’m not talking about statistics or complicated negotiations in Brussels. I’m thinking about people’s everyday life. I was in a meeting in Madrid recently and I arrived earlier than expected. No traffic jam. My host explained that with the high level of unemployment, more people staying at home means…less cars on the roads. Reading regularly collides with reality. The same week I read this book, I read an article about Portuguese students and their attitude towards recession. The journalist mentioned the irony of these young people emigrating again to find a job. He also pointed out incomprehension between today’s youth and their parents who grew up under the dictatorship. Vasco’s children, I thought.

Marco Ferrari is Italian; I don’t know why he chose to write about that particular spring in Portugal. I’m too young to remember about the time Europe included dictatorships; this novella made the dictatorship in Portugal more tangible. I realized I didn’t even know the name of the political police in Portugal, the PIPE and I wondered how it is possible to ignore such a thing about a European country. It reminded me how I felt after watching The Lives of Others; to think it happened so close to home without a real consciousness of it was unsettling. Perhaps I understand better why the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the EU now. Troubled times are not that far away.

This book put me face to face with my ignorance of the history of other European countries. In addition to these thought-provoking details, this novella is full of encounters with more or less nice, serviceable, crazy, nasty human beings. Ferrari’s prose is rather funny and strong emotions pervade through the text. For Vasco, memories of the past mingle into his present, interrupted by his internal monologues to François Truffaut. There are beautiful passages about cinema. And the 2 CV is a character in itself. A classic car by now, a cheap, reliable popular car by then.

Sur la route, la 2 CV est une cible toute désignée pour les policiers. Selon eux, les propriétaires de 2 CV jaunes sont des exhibitionnistes, et, pour cette raison, ils les ont à l’œil. Une 2 CV couleur sable est tolérable, passe encore pour une anonyme 2 CV blanche, ou bien violette, style féminin, mais cette couleur si évidente, si particulière ou recherchée, presque provocatrice, ne peut être que la marque d’une excentricité certaine. Les flics la coincent au fond de l’avenue : ils l’ont repérée pendant qu’elle doublait la file de camions qui semblent presque endormis après la pause du repas chez Les Routiers. On the road, a yellow 2CV is an easy target for policemen. According to them, owners of a yellow 2CV are exhibitionists and for this reason, they keep their eyes on them. A sandy 2CV is tolerable, so is an anonymous white 2CV or a purple one, feminine style. But this showy colour, odd or studied, almost provocative can only mean powerful eccentricity. The cops corner her at the end of the avenue: they have noticed her as she was overcoming the long line of lorries who seemed almost sleepy after their lunch break at Les Routiers.

Note: Les Routiers is a kind of cheap restaurant where lorry drivers (un routier) go. They serve traditional and filling food.

Vasco praises the qualities and the endurance of his 2 CV, how these cars are involved in treks and rallies. Once she breaks down and they find help in a member of the local 2 CV club. (Note to foreigners: there isn’t a widespread automobile club in France like The AA in England) This car is a symbol of these years, it’s the car Mafalda’s father buys in Quino’s comics. It reminds us the time when owning a car meant social status and freedom.

I bought this novella in a second hand bookshop (the French word for this is bouquiniste, like bookish-shop, isn’t that nice?) The title caught my eyes and the blurb hooked me. Of course, the irony of a writer named Ferrari writing about a road trip in a 2 CV wasn’t lost on me. Sometimes compulsory book buying leads you to funny and unexpected books.

  1. December 23, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    Great commentary Emma.

    Among other things it sounds as if this story explores something that I can understand, that is the emotional connection that one can have with a seemingly very modest automobile.

    Like

    • December 24, 2012 at 10:38 am

      Thanks Brian,

      I enjoyed this book.

      Vasco is kind of funny with his car, but his behaviour is rather common among men. Sorry but I don’t remember seeing a woman polishing a car as if it were a work of art. That’s why I used “she” to talk about the 2 CV. It’s become a classic car now. Oddly, I took a picture of a 2 CV with French registration plaques in… Carmel, California.

      For me cars are good as long as they start in the morning and don’t have breakdowns. For the rest, I don’t care.

      Like

  2. December 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    I always thught that France included much more information on other Europena countries i their news than Germany or Switzreland for example.
    I think Portugal is really one of those Europena countries I know the least of. Less than Italy or Spain. There is an economical top ten and those at the top make the news no matter how important it is. Or is that only my impression.
    I haven’t read Ferrari but it sounds good.
    I can’t really comment on the car front – I can’t even drive but knowing me and other things I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be polishing it.

    Like

    • December 24, 2012 at 3:46 pm

      You really think we hear more about other countries here?

      I agree with you about Portugal; it’s a shame, I had a friend from Portugal in high school but I never asked any questions.

      PS: how do you do without a car?

      Like

      • December 24, 2012 at 5:48 pm

        In Switzerland you really don’t need it. I live in the center of town, work is a 10 minutes walk… For a holiday I take a plane and others drive.
        Sometimes I watch the news on different channels and compared to German news I find France includes more other countries.

        Like

  3. December 24, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    Too bad it’s not in English as it sounds like something I’d enjoy. Interesting about the Citroen. I’d heard something about that-it’s a bit the same with VW Beetles.

    Like

    • December 25, 2012 at 9:43 pm

      I thought about you when I read it; you would enjoy it. Too bad it’s not translated into English.

      In France, the VW Beetle, the 2 CV and the 4L date back to the same period and are now classic cars.

      Like

  4. February 21, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    Le Monde, which I used to quite like as a newspaper back when I could barely read it, seemed to cover European news much better than any British newspaper. The sad truth is all countries’ press seems to be a bit parochial. We get far better coverage of the US elections here, English speaking and theatrical, than the German which actually impact us much more.

    This sounds good. A shame it’s not available in English from the sound of it. I think I’d enjoy it too.

    Like

    • February 22, 2013 at 10:50 pm

      Being a reader of The Guardian, I suppose you’re in the marketing target of Le Monde. You always say you don’t speak French but reading Le Monde is a strange way of not-knowing to speak French. 🙂
      I’m surprised by your comment, and Caroline’s. I’ve always thought our news are self-centered. Apparently it’s worse elsewhere.
      You could probably read it in French, it’s not that difficult (or try it in Italian?)

      Like

      • March 2, 2013 at 7:04 pm

        My (reading) French used to be much better than it is today. Should I ever get to retire, many years from now, re-learning French is among my key goals.

        Perhaps other people’s news is always better, or perhaps exposure just allows us to see the flaws of our own more accurately.

        My Italian sadly has grown too rusty too. Too little exposure. Oddly I could read French much more easily than speak it, always the opposite with Italian.

        Like

        • March 2, 2013 at 7:17 pm

          Italian is easier to speak because you pronounce all the letters, if I’m correct. In French (and in English) it’s more complicated.

          Don’t wait until you retire to resume reading in French, by then your brain will not be as fresh as today to learn something new or almost new. I can already see that I don’t progress in my piano lessons as quickly as I would have at fifteen. And I’m about your age, I think.

          Like

          • March 2, 2013 at 7:19 pm

            Pretty much, and there’s generally only one way to pronounce anything. If you know a word, you can say it.

            I know what you mean re slowing up, but it’s a question of time. I barely have time for my existing interests (I don’t really). If I were to learn a language, I’d have to give something else up and nothing immediately suggests itself. Perhaps I need a sabbatical…

            Like

          • March 2, 2013 at 7:20 pm

            And good luck with the piano lessons!

            Like

            • March 2, 2013 at 7:22 pm

              There’s nothing more soothing than letting your hands run on piano keys. Stressful days just vanish in the background. And I’m not even good at it.

              Like

  1. No trackbacks yet.

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: