Driving Miss Dolly

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I have just found the original of this piece written in 2003 – I couldn’t resist reposting it.
I have just driven over 1500 km in two days. Hearing you say that your Land Rover or Audi could do that standing on its head is fine, except I have completed such a distance in my wife’s sixteen year old, 506 cc, Citroen 2cv known to all as “Dolly”.

Living in the Southern Europe I have found a compelling urge to share this glorious place with as many people, or things, as possible. Moving here a year ago from Wandsworth, leaving family and friends to battle the Congestion Charges, the M25 and the May Day riots, the only thing that wasn’t put on the back of the removers truck – and God knows we stuffed it – was our cherished 2cv.

There came a time when seeing our re-built classic rotting in my Mother’s Surrey garage became all too much.

[2019 Addition: Aestheticons readers will know of my adoration of these characterful and timeless little cars – and their big sister the Citroen DS]
Having lain dormant for 12 months, the points having been flooded by previously abortive attempts to start her, I asked Mark Waghorn at MWR in Battersea – a 2cv expert – to give her a full service. I wasn’t about to undertake a trip across two international borders in a car that hadn’t run for a year.

Booking on line the Dover/Calais leg I decided to play safe and also book a French Motorail trip from Calais to Toulouse. I tried to book the next leg on the Spanish equivalent from Barcelona to Malaga but that gets booked up seconds after going on sale, three months ago. So I had to face up to driving home from Toulouse – around 1500 km.

To make sure I got to Dover, I decided to drive there mid evening to find a B&B and wake refreshed for my 10.00 am crossing. At least I could push the car onto the Seacat, if necessary.

B&B’s in Dover now don’t really exist in any meaningful way. They have been seized by the Immigration Service to house the influx of asylum seekers. The locals now call the Old Folkestone Road, “Asylum Alley”.

I had visited the site of David Blaine’s most recent inexplicable stunt. He is encasement in Plexiglas overlooking new look London. His main views are the Mayor’s rotund office and the new Gherkin.

He had been boxed for 4 days and 21 hours by the time of my visit and was condemned to watch the British public hurling insults and golf balls at him as he slumbered scribbling in his journal. I would come to appreciate David’s predicament a whole lot more after my ensuing days of intimacy with Dolly’s minimal grey velour seats.

The mileometer at Dover read 66228.

The Seacat was a breeze – except for the loudest and most strident lady passenger who didn’t draw breath the whole of the one hour crossing. Her main pre-occupation was a solution to the asylum seeker problem. Perhaps she should be retained by the British and French Governments who thus far have struggled to solve this thorny issue.

I arrive at the Calais/Motorail terminus about six hours ahead of boarding. So if you have six hours to kill a visit to Calais centre ville is a must.

The Town Hall, is the home of the Rodin statue known as “the Burghers of Calais”. It features a number of wizened individuals bearing keys and such like. The depiction is of the proposed sacrifice of a few senior citizens of the town in return for Edward III lifting the blockade on food supplies. The old folk were saved by the swift actions of Queen Phillipa of Hainault – top aren’t they – those Essex girls.

Loading of the cars is a haphazard arrangement. The SNCF employee has never had the joy of driving a 2cv and stalls a couple of times before lurching Dolly’s into her resting place behind a Mercedes whose hazards are already flashing. The late evening calm is punctuated by screaming car alarms and the fulfilment of earlier placed orders for “pique nicque”. This is essential as we are told that the train has no catering facilities. The 20.30 pm train this evening is the last of the summer from Calais to Toulouse.

We set off 45 minutes late.

The carriage compartments on Wagonlits are box like – about as deep as I am tall – 6 feet – and close to four feet wide. There is something military about their regiment throughout the carriage there must be at least twenty or so cells. All the fabric seat covers, the ceiling, walls and blinds are all khaki.

The top bunk is open and very neatly turned down. There is a small oval basin with neat “Wagonlits” ancient publicity packed soap. Beneath the basin is a plastic commode which when its retaining door is closed deposits its contents directly onto the rails – via a wide mesh

There is a steward in a smaller cabin at the end of the carriage. He explains the operation of the lights and wakes you moments before you destination. For the rest of the time he smokes, drinks from short green cans of Heineken and read l’Express.

We are towing around thirty cars arranged on car transporter like carriages. At least six pairs of tiger’s eyes continue to flash and alarms sound. Their batteries will have nothing left to get their occupants to Beziers or Perpignan.

The first third of the bottle of Beaujolais Village bought at the station buffet and uncorked by their staff when picking up the excellent “pique nicque” kicked in shortly after departure. Sleep and Toulouse await.

Before dawn we arrive in Brive.

As first light breaks we are greeted by dense forests and quaint villages with their beautiful stone towers and red tiled roofs. We emerge from a long tunnel high over the Dordogne a stunning Norman chateau is perched high behind us.

We are following the Lot peppered with caravan sites through Cahors, with its stunning three squared towered stone bridge. Past low built houses fused onto higher and ancient pigeon lofts. Field after field of fruit trees and sunflowers discolouring in the late summer morning light.

We follow the back of several towns along the Canal into Toulouse. On every available space there is graffiti. One particularly good artist has “signed” more than fifty walls in a twenty kilometre strip with his distinctive “tag” the word, “Arse” – it cannot mean the same.

In Toulouse it takes an hour or so for the cars to be off loaded. Unfortunately, the road to Montpellier and Barcelona is shut “pour travaux” and a “diversion” takes us around the city to be released back onto the E80 an exit or two further out.

Finally, I am on the E80 “hurtling” at a maximum of 65 mph through Carcassonne, then Perpignan and over the Spanish border – where for some curios reason one of the Guard regards the car as of Italian origin and waves his arms shouting “avanti!”.

I am in Spain – well that was reasonably easy. I am about 250 kms into the journey and its late morning.

The peage through France may be costly but the Catalan tolls are even more expensive. At each toll booth driving a right hand drive car can be perilous. I have to stop, run around to collect the ticket or pay the fee and get back into the car before the barrier falls.

The E15 (the same road that runs through Malaga) is easy driving and Barcelona with its pistachio and baby pink tower blocks and canary and black taxis looms mid afternoon.

Barcelona has its own new Gherkin under construction complete with exterior crazy paved walls and incrementally small terraces for the top five or so penthouses.

On crossing the Plaza Cataluna, I spot a car park showing a “libre” sign so seek to enter. Shouting and waving ensues as the gate keeper explains that he does not allow right hand drive vehicles to enter as they tend to scratch the other cars – great logic.

La Rambla district has a “scalextric” shop with a huge window display and an artist in white robes and make up sitting on an un-plumbed loo. There is a wacky tiled Bullring and the famous multi-spired cathedral.

It’s worth a longer visit but come by train.

The exit road signs seem to refuse to use the same numbers as the official road numberings. They are replaced with a “C” preface. There are no signs for Tarragona – yet alone Valencia or Alicante. As a result, I get back onto the North bound E15 taking me probably 40 kms out of my way before I can change direction.

South of Barcelona become thick with grapes in the Penedes region – grapes then rock and then open plains as I head towards the hilariously named Tossa del Mar and onto Peniscola!

Arriving in the Comunitat de Valencia every available square meter is planted with orange and lemon trees.

I have seen 11 magpies by this time. After “10’s a bird you must not miss” does it start at “One for sorrow” again?

Having exceeded the boundary of my boredom threshold and with fading light I decide to stay at a road side hostel near Castellon.

I am back on the E15 by 7.30 am and by 8.00 the sky is blood orange.

I have already seen two magpies – “joy” – that’s good.

I wait until 9.00 am – it is Sunday after all – before the first of many calls to the family. At one point they were every half an hour as boredom really set in.

I scoot past the huge Valencian tile and porcelain factories and hill top fortresses.

Rainbow coloured pipes extend over the road to greet your arrival in Valencia. Your departure is marked by a road side flock of monochrome metal sheep.

The Manhattan skyline of Benidorm is incongruous but rising as it does majestically above an arid plain I guess it’s the closest thing Spain has to Las Vegas.

The heat of the roasting road is seeping into the car and I am drinking probably a litre of water an hour.

Two more magpies.

Clearing the toll booth at Alicante – a hiccup.

For a while I have been trying to ignore that Dolly is over revving. The only way to stop it is to lift the accelerator pedal with your foot. As I leave the toll booth she’s screaming, so I pull over and lift the bonnet.

She cools quickly and I notice that a spring has rusted away and is lying against the engine casing. A quick clip and twist with my Swiss army knife’s pliers and a new spring is formed. It works perfectly allowing the accelerator cable to return. Now could you do that in your Land Rover or Audi? I don’t think so.

As my wife will tell you, my mechanical skills are minimal, so I am feeling a sense of achievement as Mark Waghorn confirms over the phone that I have cured the problem.

There follows a lengthy stretch passed Murcia towards Almeria where an arid moonscape has been created by the constant excavation of the hills to provide a raw material for the Curtidos factories.

A fifth magpie.

The mileometer hits 66666 so I speed up to 66 mph to give some shape to this numerical wonder.

I am very, very bored by the drive now but hearing my family’s voices – for the 10th time today – stirs me on. I have by now lost count of the number of times I have filled Dolly’s tiny fuel tank or paid toll charges.

The whole of the Eastern Costa del Sol is under plastic tarpaulins. This region is known by the locals as “the Plastic Sea”. For such a shrouded area there’s little surprise that a local town is named “Vicar”

The first signs for Malaga –219 kms. At last!!!

About 120 kms from Malaga the Autovia del Sol – the main trunk road from Barcelona to Algeciras becomes cobbled – well not quite. It is stopped by traffic lights outside the tented suburbs of Motril.

The E15 becomes a charming twisty road through some very picturesque – and some not so – white villages. It reminds me of the old Corniche along the Côte d’Azur.

Eventually we are forced to hill climb. Only a couple of times approaching hills around Alicante was I required to change down a gear, I now have to take most of the next ten miles in second. The far sides of such ridges are a roller coaster for a 2cv. Dolly may be unhappy on steep gradients but the trip down is hairaising. The turning circle and cornering are dire. I am convinced a couple of corners are taken on two wheels.

Finally, I am onto the all too familiar stretch passing Malaga airport.

The mileometer reads 67299. I can hardly believe I’ve done it – in two days with about twelve hours a day behind the wheel – or should that be behind a juggernaught.

Post script – in 2006 following many years of truely faithful service and after a number of months of “tricky” engineering issues Miss Dolly is returned the UK for a complete rebuild!

© Mark FR Wilkins 2003 (Iberia)

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Iconic Beach Cars

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As many return from overseas holidays, stay-cations and City breaks I wanted to send a “wish you were here” digital postcard – also my 300th Aestheticons post – from a wonderful visit to France’s Cote d’Azur, more particularly, the iconic French beach-side town of St Tropez with it’s simply beautiful pastel shaded port.

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Fame was assured for this picturesque coastal town when the 1950’s French actress, Brigitte Bardot, born in 1934 and still a local resident at Baie des Canebiers, featured in the 1956 Roger Vadim directed and ground breaking “And God Created Woman” (“Et Dieu Crea la Femme”). Mdme. Bardot’s impact on the region has been honored by local baker “Senequier” who in 1956 launched the delicious “La Tarte Tropezienne”, a delicate almond cream filled brioche topped with powdered icing sugar and chopped pistachio.

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Shot on location in and around St Tropez the film also provided a springboard for the world renowned beach club/restaurant “Club 55” that was founded from a dilapidated beach shack by the parents of current owner, Patrice de Colmont, who provided food for the cast and crew of filmmakers. Rumored to have recently been offered €30m for his iconic beach club M Colmont is understood to have politely turned down the offer as he preferred not to become one of his clients eating the signature dish of “Panier des Crudites” with anchoiade mayonnaise!

The town’s along this stretch of the Cote D’Azur are each rather distinct and have their own style. The beach is never far from people’s minds as they negotiate, sometimes to the frustration of the locals, the summertime traffic of fellow tourists.

Naturally in this style capital it is vital to get your beach or port transport right. For those not seeking to impress in the vast array of American muscle cars that are to be spotted in many locations, my preference is to celebrate the more quirky and classic vehicles.

Aestheticons readers will already know of my passion for the GRP bodied Citroen Mehari – see our previous post here – Citroën Méhari – A reliable French classic that is patriotically supported and really enjoyed in St Tropez and its surrounding villages.

The Mini Moke, which has the look of a vehicle that was designed for the breeze of the Cote D’Azur, is a very popular ride either to the beach or to park up alongside a visiting boat transporting provisions for a day at sea. For the the right clients it is possible to rent one of these wonderful and iconic cars for your stay. See our previous posts here – Mini Moke Goes Electric .

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Closer to the original Mini, I have seen parked in Grimaldi Village, a beach version with wicker seats and no doors, called the “Austin Mini Beach”. It was very beautiful and, I understand, extremely valuable! See our previous post here celebrating the iconic Mini – Mini – the best selling car in Britain

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The third leaf of this Fleur de Lys of wonderful beach and port transport is the Ghia designed Fiat Jolly based on the equally iconic Fiat 500 – see our previous post here – Fiat 500 – 1957-2017

Seemingly one of the most valuable of these iconic beach cars price points of $100,000 have been mentioned for these basket weave seated, frilled canopied expressions of Italian style.

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Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis is said to have had and loved his Fiat Jolly.

In 2108 this charming little car celebrated its sixtieth anniversary and to coincide the guys at Fiat commissioned Garage Italia to produce a reimagined version of the Jolly, limited to 1958 editions, and called the Fiat Spiaggina.

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Image Credits – used with grateful thanks – Hemmings Car Auctions and Garage Italia/FIAT

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Zodiac Inflatable Boats

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I like boats but I have always thought that a conventional rigid hulled version was somewhat limiting. The practical reality of an inflatable boat means that it can easily be moved from one location to another and stored away from the water when not in use – thus saving a killing on mooring fees.

There are certain iconic products that through familiarity, usually based on exceptional built quality or performance, become the noun that defines the object. Hoover, Durex and Zodiac. A heritage brand.

Mrs W. spent many summers on Spain’s Costa del Sol as a teenager and when describing an inflatable boat she uses the term “Zodiac”. The boat owners she knew had their Zodiacs equipped with Mercury or Johnson outboards for use as ski boats, fun day boats or as tenders to larger vessels.

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It will come as no surprise that these air filled and thermobonded tube-gunwaled boats can trace their origins to the airships of French company, Zodiac Aerospace founded in 1896. In the 1930s, Zodiac engineer, Pierre Debroutelle, developed early prototype inflatable boats for the use of the French ”Aéronavale” – the aviation arm of the French Navy. In 1934 he invented an inflatable kayak and catamaran and in 1937 Aeronavale commissioned Zodiac to produce inflatables pontoons to carry naval ordinance.

Following its development for military use, in the 1950’s French Navy officer and biologist, Alain Bombard, is credited with designing the combination of an outboard engine, a rigid floor and the boat-shaped inflatable. The resulting design was built by Zodiac. Bombard sailed a version across the Atlantic in 1952 and with his friend and fellow naval officer, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, it’s excellent performance made the Zodiac the tender of choice. See our previous post on the inspirational Jacques-Yves Cousteau here – Jacques Cousteau

The 1960’s saw a growth in the recreational use of small boats and Zodiac answered this demand partly by increasing their own production and partly by licensing others, such as Humber in the UK, to produce their boats. Further, US culture was exposed to Zodiac inflatables in Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau“ – get your copy by clicking the AMAZON link below the image.

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The Undersea World Of JACQUES COUSTEAU 6 DVD Box Set PAL

Increasingly from the early 1970’s the modern rigid inflatable boat (RIB) was a development of the classic – almost unsinkable – inflatable boat, enhanced by the addition of a rigid floor and solid hull – in GRP, steel, wood or aluminum. Adding a transom mounted powerful outboard engine made these craft highly manoeverable and able to cope with the roughest seas.

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RIBs became a favourite with the military – Zodiac established a separate division Zodiac Milpro to service this demand – and sea rescue services. Illegal smuggling gangs, intent on landing contraband whilst avoiding detection, in a part of the world I know well, made RIBs their vessel of choice – the authorities using even more military grade versions to thwart this ambition!

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Image Credits – with grateful thanks – Zodiac Nautic.

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STOP PRESS

20.07.18 – It’s been announced in Madrid, as part of Spain’s ongoing war on drug smuggling, particularly on the Costa del Sol and Gibraltar, that the Spanish Government is taking steps to ban the private use of RIBs that are longer than 8m or smaller but with a 150kW engine or bigger. Once sanctioned the ban will come into effect after six months.

Philippe Starck

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Whilst a designer cannot be defined by one of their designs, Phillipe Starck’s “Juicy Salif” is definitive of an era when form and function were not mutually incompatible but certainly pushed boundaries. It’s designer has proved to be one of the most versatile and influential on an entire generation – or two – of consumers.

As many readers will know, I used to live and work in Paris in the early 1980’s for an international law firm housed on the Champs Elysees. I was intoxicated by Paris but it was not all Pastis and Gitanes. I knew of the young Parisien designer, Phillipe Starck, who had been appointed as Art Director to the furniture business of the House of Pierre Cardin, a client of the firms, but couldn’t have anticipated his impact on my World.

Starck was born 18th January 1949, after studying at the prestigious product and interior design École Camondo on Paris’ Left Bank, he worked for Adidas and founded his own design business Starck Design/Ubik. This led to his work with Alessi – see our previous post on the power house of Italian Design  – Alessi Bollitore kettle  in 1990, Starck designed the Juicy Salif for Alessi.

It is said that the idea came to Starck whilst having lunch on the Amalfi coast. He realised that his plate of calamari hadn’t been dressed by lemon juice and had an idea. He scribbled some thoughts onto a napkin that is now preserved at the Alessi Museum. Some say that the Juicy Salif is a triumph of form over function in that it’s said it doesn’t work that well …. for Starck, he is rumoured to have said: “It’s not meant to squeeze lemons, it is meant to start conversations.”

Early projects included the refurbishment of the interior of newly elected President Mitterand’s apartment at the Elysee Palace, followed by the interior design of the iconic Cafe Costes in Paris in 1984, for brothers Jean-Louis and Gilbert Costes, a design which included the now celebrated leather and bent-wood, Costes Chair.

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By the late 1980s Starck was designing environmentally sensitive buildings in Japan including the 1989 “Nani, Nani” and in 1990 the Asahi Beer Hall in Tokyo.

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The late 1990’s into the new Millenium saw Starck heavily involved in the revitalization of the hotel sector with signature projects in New York with Ian Shrager’s “Paramount”

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The Delano in Miami and in London, The Sanderson. The latter is sympathetically based in the Grade II listed 1950’s Reginald Uren’s designed building at 50, Berners Street, London W1 that until 1992 housed the showrooms of Arthur Sanderson’s fabric business deep in London’s Rag Trade area.

Starck interest in things nautical has led to commissions to design some of the world’s most stunning yachts including two “A” motor and sailing yachts for Russian Billionaire, Andrey Melnichenko.

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Starck’s more recent work has involved designing four e-bikes in partnership with Mousthache Bikes, customized to the environment of use including snow and sand….

and the Pibal cycle for the City of Bordeaux.
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UK TV viewers may recall the 2009 BBC2 series fronted by Starck “Design For Life” reality TV show. Over a number of weeks selected Design Students were encouraged – and sometimes railed on by the Gallic Starck – to revive an English passion for design. The weakest were iliminated and the winner was given a six month placement at Starck’s Paris office. Arriving on set with his wife riding pillion on his motor bike, Starck clearly engaged with a UK audience. A fluent English speaker, you were left wondering whether his elaborate pronunciation was part of an act. Excellent TV, but it didn’t make a second series.

Would you like to add a Juicy Salif to your kitchen? If so, click on the Amazon link below the image of the Juicy Salif

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Alessi Juicy Salif Citrus Juicer

Image Credits – with grateful thanks – Starck Network, Moustache Bikes and Alessi

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Jacques-Yves Cousteau

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If you ask anyone raised in Europe or the US between the 1960’s to 1980’s to name an iconic and impactful TV programme, I can assure you that for many the under water natural history films of Jacques Cousteau would rank very high on a not very long list.

From the curious French soundtrack of slightly strident strings, to the Gallic, faltering commentary – I can never hear the French pronouciation of the name “Philippe” (one of his four children) without thinking of Capt Cousteau – this was pioneering television at its best. It left such an impact on us, a Jacques-Yves Cousteau sized hole that I suspect David Attenborough fills, but who was Cousteau?

Born 11th June 1910, Cousteau, in 1930 studied at the École Navale in Brittany (West France) after graduation he joined the French Navy. His commission was brief curtailed by a car accident where he sustained breaks to both arms. In 1937 he married Simone, the mother of his first two sons, Jean-Michel and Phillipe, who both would accompany their father on subsequent adventures.

In the late 1930’s Jacques first used diving goggles and in 1943 he received an award for the first French underwater film, filmed on a pressurized camera, entitled “Par dix-huit mètres de fond“ (“18m Deep”). The same year Cousteau’s team made “Epaves” (“Shipwrecks”) – which resulted in his commission to establish the French Navy’s Underwater Research Group based in Toulon. During filming he using pro-type aqua-lungs incorporating the recently invented demand regulator.

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The resultant freedom of the Aqua-lung allowed his team to explore the depths of the oceans of the World and document them through a myriad of films. His first films from the late 1940’s were celebrated at the Cannes Film Festival in 1951 and his early adventures were captured in his book published in 1953 “The Silent World”.

In 1956, a film of entitled “The Silent World”, made with famed director Louis Malle won the Palm d’Or at Cannes and an Academy Award for the Best Documentary in 1957. The Rolex Submariner – Rolex – The Submariner – the first divers’ watch waterproof to a depth of 100 metres with a rotatable bezel showing the diver their immersion time, was featured prominently in his film which shows Cousteau wearing a pre-launch Submariner The Silent World – The Film

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Leaving the Navy in 1949 he founded in 1950 the French Oceanographic Campaign (FOC) and leased his trusty ship Calypso from its owner, for a symbolic one franc a year, and wealthy benefactor, Thomas Loel Guinness.

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The documentaries commissioned by US TV stations, “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau ran from 1966 to 1976 followed by a second series “The Cousteau Odyssey” from 1977 to 1982. Cousteau had spent time growing up living in the US so his English was excellent but he retained his Gallic accent that added much to the authenticity of his films.

In 1979, Phillipe – Cousteau’s favourite child – was sadly killed when a sea plane he was piloting crashed in Portugal.

Following Simone’s death in 1990, in 1991 Cousteau remarried, Francine, already the mother of his two other children. Cousteau died from a heart attack on 25th June 1997 and Francine continues her husband’s work as President of the Cousteau Foundation and Cousteau Society. The Museum in Monaco – where Cousteau was a Director from 1957 to 1988 – is well worth a visit.

In the early 1970’s, like many other teenagers I enjoyed snorkeling. The clear influence of Capt. Cousteau stimulated my interest to know more that resulted in my first steps to undertake the British Sub-Aqua Club’s training course that included pool and open water diving. For quite some time, prior to me realizing my future lay not in the sciences, in response to that irritating question from a friend of my parents, “What do you want to do?” my response was always “To be a Marime Biologist” – Merci Capt. Jacques!

A lasting tribute in Cousteau’s own words: “The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.”

Join Jacques Cousteau’s on his undersea adventures – by clicking the Amazon link below the image 

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Jacques Cousteau – The Ultimate Collection [DVD] [2007]

May be for those who are not yet ready for Capt. Cousteau’s Ultimate Collection and would – how do you say – like to put a toe in the water….the Undersea World of Jacque Cousteau must the finest starting point – click the Amazon link after the image 

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The Undersea World Of JACQUES COUSTEAU 6 DVD Box Set PAL

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Image credit – with grateful thanks – Globalfirstandfacts.com, The Cousteau Foundation, The Cousteau Society, ABC, NBC, Metromedia and Fred Muller II.

Hubert de Givenchy

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Count Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy founded his eponymous haute couturier business in Paris in 1952 having previously worked alongside Pierre Balmain and Christian Dior.  His elder brother, Jean-Claude, became President of Parfums Givenchy with early fragrances being developed for Hubert’s muse, Audrey Hepburn, for whom he designed an iconic black dress worn beautifully in “Breakfast at Tiffanys”.

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The brothers – I suspect reluctantly – divided the House of Givenchy in 1981, with the perfume business going to Veuve Clicquot and, in 1989, fashion going to the staggeringly successful LMVH business. LMVH subsequently acquired Parfums Givenchy.

An elegant and tall M de Givenchy with piercing blue eyes was very noble. I am proud to say that I played a very small role in the dramatic personae of his iconic business in the early 1980s.

In 1980 I moved to Paris. I had read Clive Davis book on working at CBS and was enraptured with the idea of working with such an exciting American company. CBS’ European HQ was in Paris, a city that I have always adored. My hopes of working with this giant in the communications market were dashed but later history would complete that particular circle.

Ok so I was in Paris, I had a law degree and a couple of phone numbers. A friend from college had a brother who was a partner at a Law Firm on the Champs Elysees upstairs from what was the Bank of America and Monoprix supermarket that subsequently housed a Virgin Megastore. To my remarkable good fortune I was given a job with the firm.

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The firm’s roots were deep in old French aristocratic families and they specialized in representing couturier clients – many of whom became “brands”. There I met the people including Pierre Cardin, the master of brand licensing, Karl Largerfeld, who then worked for Chloe and brothers, Hubert and Jean-Claude De Givenchy.

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Hubert’s “atelier” was on Avenue Georges V – where th boss always wore a white lab-coat – for this impressionable 21 year old it was an Aladdin’s Cave. A heady combination of barely-dressed, striking models, celebrity clientele and the high art of French fashion design with wonderful fabrics.

Knowing my appreciation of his working environment, on the smallest pretense his team would call me over from the Law Firm’s office to his atelier just to lap up the atmosphere!

The firm employed me as a “Stagiere” – akin to a para-legal – that combined translating documents, standing in queues at the Company’s Registry, seeking signatures of clients to a variety of agreements, catching white Pugeot 504 taxis in the Spring sunshine on the Quai Dorsey and, almost every Friday, eating remarkably good Cuz cuz Royale in the Moroccan restaurant on Rue de La Boetie.

Ever encouraging I spent a lot of time assisting Hubert with legal matters. I was very touched as my “Stagiere” contract approached its end, Hubert called me to his office, said some very kind things and presented me with a huge bottle of his signature Givenchy “For Gentlemen”.

I was very sad to hear it announced that Hubert de Givenchy had passed away on 10th March 2018. He was a hugely talented designer, very charming and massively inspirational.

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Photo credit – with grateful thanks – Rex Features, LMVH.

 

 

 

A Rare Rolex – The Submariner 6536

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Anyone who knows me will attest three things: I adore Rolex Submariners, I am truly fascinated by the processes of design and I am generally astonished by the extent that some people go to both understand their subject and display their knowledge.

The first is proven by the extent to which I have sung the praises of the iconic Rolex Submariner on many occasions in the pages of Aestheticons – see here a couple of our earlier pieces – Rolex Submariner and The Submariner

The second is fundamentally the reason that Aestheticons exists and I hope is amply demonstrated by our success amongst the likeminded.

Finally, and I cannot claim the credit here, which must go to Paul Altieri and the nice people at Bob’s Watches and Monochrome Watches – both who have links at the end of this piece. Their devotion to the study of the Rolex Submariner and are an illustration of why these fabulous watches have become virtually an “investment class” as would be understood by financial professionals.

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When we walk into a Rolex dealer or look at the array of excellent pre-owned models on-line we tend to be looking at the most readily and commercially available. There are few of us who will get the opportunity of seeing yet alone owning one of the often early and ultra rare version of Rolex’s iconic diver’s watch, the Submariner.

The Submariner with case number 6536 is a case in point. Given the time it now takes to bring a new version to market the early days of the Submariner were marked by an ability to introduce and retire models frequently. The 6536 is such a model. It was released in 1955 and made for just one year and I understand that only around 100 pieces were ever made.

So how can you identify a 6536? It features an unprotected 6mm crown – giving a 100m depth rating – with no side guards built into the case. Early – very rare versions – had the depth written in red ink on its face. Some ultra rare versions came with the Explorer dial but the majority featured a mix of round indexes and stick batons with the inverted triangle at 12 – as used in the modern Submariner. There are one or two specimens with the Arabic 3-6-9 markings of the Explorer.

The Explorer came with the same Mercedes-style hands that first joined the Submariner range from 1954. The very earliest models retained the longer types, with a minutes hand that overlapped the dial’s outer chapter ring, before being shortened at some point during the production cycle.

The 6536 was powered by the Cal. 1030, a 25-jewel automatic caliber first introduced in 1950 – you won’t find any with the ‘Officially Certified Chronometer’ text on the dial – it became a long terms Rolex favorite.

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Link to Paul Altieri’s of Bob’s Watches excellent piece here Rare Rolex Submariner

Ok so let’s understand what we mean by valuable – here’s the full link to Monochrome Watches detailed piece Valuing Rare Rolexes

 

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Running left to right in the above photo –

The 1955 Rolex SUBMARINER Ref. 6536 with Red Depth rating –
Rolex Submariner Ref. 6536 100m Red Depth Rating 5 digits serial number is for sale for €80.000

The 1955 Roles SUBMARINER Ref. 6536 with Ultra-Tropical “Explorer” dial
Rolex Submariner Ref. 6536 explorer dial ultra tropical and 5 digits serial number is for sale at €280.000.

The 1956 Rolex Submariner Ref. 6538 with “Big Crown” and Red Depth Rating – Legend has it that this is the one worn by Sean Connery in the James Bond 007 movie “Dr. No”is for sale at €175.000.

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Images courtesy of Bob’s Watches and Monochrone Watches.