Suddenly last summer

New technology is not always the answer in the timeless lands of southern France.

Th 0509vsd Andywilson

New technology is not always the answer in the timeless lands of southern France.

This year I decided it was about time that I took myself and my son on a small vacation, and what better place to visit than the old stomping grounds of my youth, the south of France. If the worn and poor people inhabit the terminal at Heathrow airport, the opposite can be said for Montpellier airport in France. On arrival, some happy, smiling, sun-tanned men and women were singing while waiting in line to purchase tickets. This was certainly going to be different.

Being a traveler and not a tourist, I decided to rent a 17th century house in the very tiny village of Pomerols, close to beaches and inexpensive wineries. To somewhat reduce the cost of this little trip, our hosts, two English ex-patriots, suggested renting a car from the local garage at the bargain price of $15 per day. It was an offer I could not (but should have) refuse. After paying the required $95 in cash, we set off to explore the local sights in a very old Peugeot 405.

What a gas!

After driving a few miles, I realized that the owners of the garage had only filled the car with a quarter tank of gas, and so, the next day, we set off to fill the tank for the numerous trips the car would have to make. After a few miles, I pulled into a gas station and furiously pumped $77 worth of gas into the car. It was only then that I saw the sign on the tank flap. It read “Diesel only.” What idiot would manufacture an automobile where this sort of event could occur?

After the car was towed to a local repair shop, drained of petrol, and filled with diesel at an astronomical cost, it was back on the highway and home. Surely, things could not get much worse. But they did.

The next day, it was off to see Carcassonne, a magnificent walled city dating back to 500 B.C. Driving home at the end of the day trip at 130 kilometers per hour, the car suffered a blowout. After an hour’s wait, it was towed back to the original garage and replaced with an equally old Renault. This vehicle had less technology onboard than the Peugeot. No radio; no air conditioning. But it did have bucket seats.

The next day it was time to try the “new” car. Unfortunately, when I adjusted the rear-view mirror it fell off, and I spent the next ten minutes patching it up as best I could. My mind wandered to a conversation with an OEM who had helped Lamborghini embed a CMOS camera and a flat-panel display into the dashboard of its latest concept car. With such technology, no rear-view mirror is needed, and my vacation’s third unfortunate event would never have occurred. But this was no Lamborghini, and it was hardly a Renault.

Going backward

Driving the vehicle in a village where the streets are 10 feet wide proved even more eventful. So much so that I enlisted the expertise of a local resident to reverse the car after I had driven 200 yards down a one-way street. This was a big mistake. Apparently, as I was informed later, the locals are notoriously bad drivers. In reversing the Renault, the gentleman in question managed to break the glass taillight and the glass bulb within!

Here again, technology would have saved the day. LED bulbs covered in a sturdy plastic housing would not have suffered such a fate.

After returning the car to the garage on the final day of the trip, my son and I were driven to the airport through endless fields of vineyards. I was inquisitive about how the grapes were picked.

My host informed me that automatic grape-harvesting equipment is used for the purpose. These inverted U-shaped machines traverse rows of vines and automatically crop the grapes from their stems. But I don’t think they use any vision-based sensors to do this. For the really expensive wines, however, hand picking is still the traditional harvesting method.

In the south of France, at least, the locals are not too enamored of either new cars or technology.

Th 0509vsd Andywilson
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Andy Wilson

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