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“Oh Captain, My Captain”

Sarah G. Carter

3 years ago

Through rain, fog, heat, cold, bum directions, unmarked roads, one way streets, indecipherable toll instructions, hairpin turns, mideavel alleys, dead end tractor paths, cobbled catastrophes, village squares, vertical descents and urban traffic jams, Russ has persevered. Un-daunted, un-fazed, but not - by me at least - un-appreciated.

All hail Captain Russell

For 7 weeks Russ has kept his eyes on the road (mostly), while I've been free to watch the unfolding spectacle that is France. Look! Oh, my god! Did you see that? Stop, I have to take a picture!

Ever tolerant (mostly), patient (mostly), my long-suffering, tireless, scout, navigator, chauffeur, tour guide, history tutor, and Grand Minister of Google-Maps has manned his post. Duty called and Captain Russell answered. Ever faithful, tireless, and uncomplaining (mostly), Russ and his trusty Citroen side kick have ferried me here there and every conceivable where all over Southwest France.

AND he managed to:

A - find parking places (Mideveal Cites and cars/parking cars is NOT a match made in heaven)

B - get the car into the non-car-sized slivers

Trusty the Citroen may be - but quirky it is also. A bit like the French themselves who designed and built it. It's got a mind and style of it's own, and insists on asserting itself at unpredictable moments, for inexplicable reasons.
Now let it be known by one and all that My Captain is a Car-Guy par Excellence. He knows his cars, and knows how to handle them. A ringer. A bona-fide pro. ( An actual ex-race car driver back on the circuit, back in the day, in good 'ol, bad 'ol South Africa. I kid you not.)

"Ten and two, Sarah, ten and two. Remember, you do have control of the vehicle if your hands are not at ten and two."

So if My Car Guy can't get this little Citroen to behave - to stop or start smoothly, or quit stalling, or worse yet, conking out when we pause to enter a traffic circle - it can't be done. Though the original plan was to share the driving, I saw the writing on the wall from the get-go, dug my heels in and demurred. Because if I know one thing for D.... well sure it's this: if I drove this car (jerk forward, brake slam, stall out, miss the Mideveal wall, not to mention the passing tractor, by millimeters), like he's driven this car, Captain Russell would have my hide.

I, on the other hand, have been a Model Passenger. A bastion of patience, tolerance and understanding. When faced with on-coming trucks, clearly wrong turns, brain jostling stops, and whip lashing starts - what do I do? Precisely nothing. I close my eyes, grit my teeth, put my life in the hands of The Fates and Captain Russell, and lay low. I mean Lay Low. And REMAIN SILENT. No matter what. No matter when. No matter how. I will NOT complain, criticize, or shriek like a wimpy female - even unto death. And if I had a blooming centime for every moment of impending death I've faced on the roads of France with Captain Russell at the wheel, I could fund another 7 weeks of French gites - no problem.

Therefore, I hereby nominate myself for The Passenger Of the Year Award.

"Thank you, thank you. It was nothing, really. I can only thank Mr Russell for making it all possible. Captain, my Captain. How could I complain, let alone take credit, when you did all the hard work?"

And, bottom line - we made it. Captain Russell did not collide with the on-coming truck. He did not hit the Mideveal wall. He did not stop traffic in even one of the five-thousand Round-Abouts we navigated. He did not drive over the precipice (despite a diagnosed case of vertigo and instructions from Miss GPS to do so). Hat's off to you My Captain. You did it, and Lord knows, I couldn't have. You are My Hero.

So, I hereby award you, Captain Donald Wayne Russell, the Challenged Foreign Driver of the Year Award. You earned it the hard way.

Oh - one more thing. I've neglected in all this to mention that there was athird passenger in our little French Citroen. A woman of impeccable High British voice tone without whom we could never have managed. A mannered Lady of the first order, even more unflappable than Captain Russell himself. None other than the disembodied but nevertheless fully present and accounted for Miss GPS.

And she lives in this little box.

Facinating really. This formless woman had Captain Russell - not usually one to suffer direction lightly - eating from the palm of her palm-less hand. Obeying blindly any aristocratically nuanced but clearly daft instruction. Amazingly, Russ was rattled at the mere thought of displeasing her. ("Quickly! Turn her off before she shouts at me!" ) In fact, Miss GPS never "shouts". Much too undignified. She corrects. She instructs. She directs in the sort of perpetually calm, self assured manner that broaches no argument. However, we learned fast that helpful as she was most of the time, she required supervision. Despite her dictatorial, know it all ways, Miss GPS did not know it all.

"If possible, do a U-Turn" (on a bridge)

"At the next round-about, take the third exit" (#3 Paris - we're headed to Bergerac)

"At the end of the street, turn left" (onto a one way street)

"At the end of the street, make a right turn, then turn right, then turn right again" (back to where we started from?)


"Bugger that!" Exclaims the Captain.

"Thank you my girl, but I'll take it from here."

There endeth my Ode to Captain Russell.


Alas, 7 weeks have come and gone and our Adventure in France is now over. As I'm typing, Captain Russell and I are on the long road home to our barn in Maine (where Spring has not yet sprung, and fresh croissants hard to come by.) But, I have mountains of photos and a more to say, so may extend by a few posts. Thank you all for joining us on our grand backroads tour of glorious south-west France. Stay tuned for a bit more. Might help me hold on a bit longer to the many impressions of France, and ease back into my new old American life.

A Bientot!




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