A French Weekend With My Husband’s Daytona Mistress
Story by Danielle Butler, Photography by Lucile Pillet and Jonny Shears
I have just returned from a quick weekend in France with my husband and his mistress. I know what you must be thinking, but I do rather like her. Although she’s loud (and I hate her perfume), she’s undoubtedly beautiful (stunning really) and being with her inevitably makes us the centre of attention–whether we want it or not. She is the key to invitations to all manner of interesting events. People want to see her. They want to know her. When she’s around, they always come up to talk about her and how lovely/excellent/awesome/expensive/powerful she looks. I don’t mind. I just smile. I just get frustrated when she decides to be, let’s say, moody. My husband once joked that she was nearly as temperamental as me but who are we kidding? She’s definitely got me beat and if she’s feeling testy, no one is happy. Although, for the most part, she’s a load of fun and since she used to be my father-in-law’s, she really is part of the family.
At this point I suppose should explain that The Mistress is my husband’s red 1973 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona. You may know of her as she’s a bit of a minor celebrity. My husband is well and truly besotted and she’s often the central focus on blogs and in articles he writes about their adventures together. I don’t mind his infatuation. As I said, she’s often the reason we get invited to some really exceptional events. Last weekend we travelled down for the Journées d’Automne (Autumn Days) 2014 taking place in the Champagne region of France. Beautiful medieval villages, suave French people, pastoral landscape, and copious amounts of bubbly (after the driving of course) all were the icing on the cake of a weekend filled with other lovely/awesome/excellent/expensive/powerful cars.
Journées d’Automne is truly special. It’s an event weekend–meet up with other enthusiasts for a casual dinner on Friday, spend the day at the track testing the cars’ limits on Saturday, followed by a lovely meal Saturday night (in the ruins of a fort from, like, 1200 something, natch), and a drive around the French countryside in a huge convoy on Sunday. All accompanied by (my French boyfriend) Veuve-Clicquot.
This year we missed out on Friday and half of Saturday. Partially this was my fault (work) and partially it was The Mistress’ fault (broke down in Chunnel). There’s nothing so fun as holding up half a train of cars while we 1) wait for a tow truck to reverse down the entire length of the train only to discover The Mistress doesn’t have a towing eye, and then 2) push her the entire length of said train and then 3) watch other (annoyed) drivers pass up by while we smile sheepishly and wonder if we shouldn’t just get her back on the train and head back north. The tow truck driver helped us bump start her (twice) and we found a garage where I tried to explain in rusty French what the issue was, but The Mistress decided she had caused enough havoc for a morning and started on the first try without any coaxing. She was well behaved and got us to Circuit des Ecuyers in time for one of the organizers, Étienne, to ask if I wanted to drive in the Women’s Only run (much to husband’s quiet panic and my hilarity). Alas, The Mistress is not insured for tracks and I am not insured to do anything but sit in the passenger seat and read road maps.
Now, I was not born or bred into a love of cars; I married into it. I wouldn’t say it is a passion but being around beautiful vehicles speaks directly to the eight-year-old me who collected Matchbox cars–chosen for how “cool” they looked rather than make and model. I wish I was one of those women that could point out all the various models and spout their history and horsepower but I am not. I want to look at how pretty it is and, more importantly, consider if I would look good in it. Maybe I am not so shallow but I am inevitably the one who says, “I liked the (insert relevant colour here) one.”
After the track, we headed back to our gîte to get ready for dinner. We were staying with friends: Jonny and his dad, Mark, driving an Alfa Romeo GTV (blue) and their friends Richard and Mandy, driving a Morgan Plus 8 (silver). I like both these cars, especially the Morgan because, first, I am partial to convertibles and, second, she made The Mistress look good as she needed a bump-start almost every time. After freshening up and trying to find the clothes least smelling like gasoline (or eau de Daytona), we headed over to the Chateau de Nesles where we were met with glasses of champagne upon arrival. My glass was never empty–so there is something to be said for being Ferrari-uninsurable. The Mistress preened underneath the stars and behaved herself despite being surrounded by cars (nearly as) beautiful as her while we enjoyed three excellent courses and (yes, thank you) more wine.
We had an early-ish start the next day in the main square of Fère-en-Tardenois with all the vintage cars lined up and causing a stir with the small Sunday morning crowd of locals. We had coffee and croissants and wondered how the people that outlasted us the night before (and who had moved on to the vodka) were so chipper. I guess it’s a Continental thing. We were issued road books. In French. And we set out. At one point in my life, when I was living in Switzerland and had a Swiss-Romande boyfriend, my French was pretty darn good. These days, not so much. Still, I was able to follow the step-by-step fairly consistently and keep us up with the line of cars snaking through the Champagne countryside.
Mark wanted to ride in The Mistress (of course) so at our first break in the centre of the medieval, cobblestone-lined Laon, I switched out and rode with Jonny. The Alfa was a bit of a bumpier ride but we managed to (mostly) stay on course and I did get the low-down on Jonny’s new girlfriend.
After a rather harrowing stint through a pot-holed, pocked stretch of side road, we concluded our Sunday drive and made our way to the lunch venue at Chateau de Courcelles–which is a four-star hotel that had at one time been on the front line of a couple of World Wars. While I sipped a bit more champagne, my husband placed The Mistress in a prominent place alongside another beautiful Daytona (black). To see these two cars together was a sight and not just because they were my wedding colours. The sun was high and bright and everyone joked that we should be calling it Journées d’Été (summer days) this year. We enjoyed a buffet lunch, had (just a little) more champagne and soaked in the warmth before it was time to head back to the coast to make our train crossing. We made the drive back without incident and while my husband cooed and fussed over The Mistress I threw every last piece of clothing worn or taken on this trip into the wash. As I said, The Mistress is great but I really hate her perfume.