Holiday Cars

I’m using the word “holiday” in its universal sense, not in the American one (which refers to “holy days” because we’re too literal). I’m doing that because “we’re going on holiday” sounds more cheerful than “we’re taking a vacation”, and this is a cheerful post.

So you arrive at your holiday destination at some excellent beachside place (Cannes, Cabo, Caymans, whatever) and decide that you want to do a little exploring of the town, the area, whatever. Assuming that you’ve flown in and not driven, how are you going to get around?

Well, that depends. If you’re in the Greek Islands or somewhere thereabouts, you’ll either rent bicycles (ugh… way too much hard work) or one of the near-ubiquitous Vespa scooters (fun but dangerous, even if you are, as writer George Mikes once described it, walking sitting down).

The problem is that both bicycles and scooters are pretty much single-seater conveyances — yeah, the Vespa nominally has two seats, but on anything other than downhill you’ll be traveling at slower than walking pace (especially if like me you are a Fat American and therefore, statistically, your companion will also be a Fat American). Really, if you aren’t traveling solo, a single-seater isn’t an ideal option. So you want a car; but yuck, you’re in some sun-bleached paradise, so you want to be en plein air (if you’ll excuse my French) rather than in a small rental econobox with, most likely, no air-conditioning.

What to do?

Unfortunately, now that Foul Government has stuck its safety-first fat nose into all our fun activities, our options are limited because what was fun and available in the 1960s, for example, is now streng verboten (yeah, sounds better in the original German, doesn’t it?) and I’m going to suggest at this point that we may be safer nowadays, but we’re the poorer for it.

What am I talking about? I’m talking, of course, about little open-air runarounds like the VW Thing, the Austin Mini-Moke, and the Fiat Jolly, all of which can still be found, but sadly in ever-shrinking numbers. Pound for pound (and dollar for dollar), these little things probably offer more fun and excitement than any other car ever made. Here they are, in the same order:

 

Now at this point, of course, the Safety Nazis are reaching for the smelling salts because OMG no seatbelts! no roll bars! no doors! wicker seats? and all the usual crap that the PC Crowd like to throw around when telling us how to behave For Our Own Good. And yeah, I know they’re unsafe, by any standards let alone today’s. But I have to ask myself (and I have absolutely no data to back this up): did people die in their thousands from driving these wonderful little buggies around in the manner intended? I sincerely doubt it. If driven around at 20-30 mph around seaside towns and villages (i.e. as they were most of the time), I bet the total “death toll” in the 1960s would have been measured in single digits, if there were any deaths at all.

Imagine what the Safety Nazis would think when seeing this little sight:

They’d probably have a collective heart attack. Which would be a Good Thing. (I would too, just for different reasons.) And let’s not even talk about the decorations one could add to these lovely little runabouts:

No wonder they’re banned. That’s Way Too Much Fun for our modern-day Puritans.


Afterthought: I know some crowd called “Jollycars” is retrofitting the new Fiat 500 into a modern equivalent of the Jolly:

…complete with either canvas seats or wicker ones. Problem is, these cars are selling for $85,000 — or, the cost of a new Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

No comment.

 

 

Cover Art, Journeyman Artist

Normally, when I do a profile like this, I do a short biography and some background of the subject… but there are times when I just want to shut up and let the man’s work do the talking.

This is especially true of Robert McGinnis, whose work is as popular with ordinary people as with book editors and publishing houses. I have to tell you, this is an artist of exceptional talent — yeah, he doesn’t do “fine” art, but I have to tell you, his art is just fine by me.

If like me you’ve read many paperback novels, McGinniss’s work will probably be familiar to you; and even if you haven’t, his style will be instantly recognizable. If you look for “journeyman artist” in a dictionary, it will be his face right there under the entry title.  Here are a few examples:

   

…and I know, I’m going to hear mutters of “graphic art, not fine art”. Yeah, I know: he’s no Boldini (whom we will be examining later this month). But just because McGinniss has earned his living with the above kind of work, it doesn’t mean that he’s incapable of a different class of art — like this one:

And then there’s this one, in which you can almost taste the dust:

…and this one, full of menace (can you spot it?):

I can hear the cries now: “Oh, Kim! Cowboy art? My smelling salts!”

Honestly, I think McGinnis’s work transcends style and trend: they are simply pictures which tell a story; sometimes you have to look for it, and sometimes it’s quite obvious. One more, for luck:

Yeah, it’s James Bond. Why not James Bond?

McGinnis is still alive, and he’s still painting, I think.  Go ahead and google his name if you want to see more of his work. It will take you a while to get through it all, but hey: it’s Sunday.

My Funny Valentina

A couple years ago I stumbled upon Ukrainian pianiste extraordinaire Valentina Lisitsa, who in my opinion has changed the way classical piano is played in the modern era. Needless to say, not everyone agrees with me — too fast, too showy, too careless and OMG too commercial have been just some of the criticisms leveled at her.

I don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, she’s an indie artist — she was unable to get a decent recording contract or gig with an orchestra, so she did the unthinkable and posted videos of herself playing solo piano on [gasp!] YouTube. Through that medium she built up a following and the rest, as they say is history.

I love just about every interpretation she gives the classical composers and I think that Chopin, for one, would have loved her interpretation of his work. (Try her Flight of the Bumblebee, wherein she starts at breakneck speed and actually accelerates as the piece progresses. Likewise, her version of the Revolutionary Etude is, well, revolutionary: full of shades of darkness and light.)

But Lisitsa doesn’t seem to play favorites among the classics; as well as the Romantics (Chopin, Beethoven, etc.) she plays Bach and Mozart with equal verve and astonishing sureness — “superficial”, one critic sniffed, the idiot — and even the majestic Piano Concerto No.2  by Rachmaninoff gets the Valentina Treatment. (If you were to ask me to choose between her version and that of the equally-talented Hélène Grimaud, I’d have to shoot myself.)

I also like that Lisitsa doesn’t confine herself to the concert hall or indeed to YouTube; she’s just as likely to go out into the public and just busk away on some crappy old upright piano as in a studio on her beloved Bösendorfer 290 (the King of Pianos, never mind that Steinway marketing).

But enough of my adulation. Listen to the pieces linked, please. You will not regret it.


Addendum: There’s been a lot of criticism of Lisitsa’s unashamed pro-Russian (and anti-Ukrainian) views, but I don’t care about any of that. I have the same opinion about that little fiasco as I do about the perennial Serb-Croat-Bosnian-Albanian imbroglio: taken as a whole they’re all a bunch of scumbags, and I don’t actually care which one “wins” as long as they keep it local.

Cara Mia

Back in the old days, I used to post pictures of beautiful women on Sundays, mostly of screen sirens of the black-and-white movie era. I’m not going to do that anymore, because I think I mined that particular vein pretty thoroughly, and anyway it’s too constricting a topic. Instead, on Sundays, I’m going to talk about anything that takes my fancy — stuff that’s not part of the normal rants and gun worship during the week. Today, and for many Sundays to come, I’m going to talk about Beautiful Things (of any definition)… and if I run out of those things to talk about, well, we’re all in trouble.

I have often been teased about my love for Italian cars — not just Ferraris, Maseratis and Lambos, but for the… lesser brands like Fiat and Alfa Romeo, if we can call them that. Here’s what I wrote about Alfa Romeos many, many years ago.

You get into your Alfa, and wonder of wonders, it starts first time. You set out on your journey, a journey that will take you over fifty miles on curving, twisting mountain roads. You accelerate, and your Alfa whispers in your ear: “Come, cara mia, I can give you more than that; you may use me, use me hard, and I will reward you beyond your wildest dreams.” So you accelerate, and still that soft Italian voice urges you on: “Is that all you ask from me, cara? I have more to give, if you will just ask me for it.” You drive at what you think is an impossible speed; surely, you think, you will crash soon. But the miles fly past, the curves disappear in your rearview mirror (assuming you have the courage to look into it), and still your Alfa purrs encouragement into your ear. Finally, you reach your destination, shaking as though you have just made love to the world’s most beautiful Italian woman. You sit there for a moment, savoring the experience. Then you get out of the Alfa, and the door handle comes off in your hand.

Alfa Romeos aren’t like that anymore. Oh sure, they can be maddening to drive, their cars are more suited for the track than for everyday use, and they’re still built for runty Italians than fat Americans.

Until now.

Allow me to introduce to you the greatest performance sedan on Earth, the car that costs less than half any other performance saloon car, yet still delivers 512hp (!) and a top speed of nevermind: the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

It derives its immense power from a smallish 2.9-liter V6 engine, rides like a dream, and is an order of magnitude better than any other Alfa sedan ever made. More impressive still is the build quality, which is apparently on a par with any luxury performance sedans extant, in that its door handles aren’t going to fall off, the electrical system works just fine, and the automatic transmission, astonishingly, is better than the manual gearbox. I haven’t yet driven the Giulia, of course, but from all accounts, this is not your father’s Alfa Romeo. And most important of all, it costs around $85,000 versus, say, a Maserati Quattroporte GTS Lusso ($165,000 for a 3.9-liter V8 yielding 455hp) or a Porsche Panamera 4S ($125,000 for a 2.9-liter V6 yielding 440hp), and is only a few grand more expensive than its nearest real rival, a loaded BMW M3 — and the M3 isn’t nearly as exciting to look at and, from all accounts, to drive, with its 425hp I6 engine. Only the Mercedes CL AMG 63 ($88,000 for a 4.0-liter V8 yielding 503hp) comes anywhere close to the Alfa in cost and power — and like the Beemer, the Merc is dead boring to look at.

But for me, comparisons are boring. What’s exciting is that Alfa Romeo USA will at last be selling not a go-kart like the 4C, but a real car for grownups.

(I can’t afford a Giulia, of course; a Fiat 124 Spider Lusso  ($28,000 for a 1.4-liter turbo yielding 160hp) is much more to my wallet’s capacity, and I’ll be writing about that one later.)

But Alfa is back… and it’s just as exciting a prospect as its last beautiful saloon car worthy of the Alfa name, the Alfetta GTV6 (2.5-liter V6 yielding 160hp):

I have driven this beauty, from memory, back in about 1983 — and my earlier description of driving an Alfa Romeo is based on this model, driven through South Africa’s mountainous Van Reenen’s Pass at frightening speed. (I should point out that the GTV6 also won the European Touring Car Championship for an unprecedented four years in succession, from 1982 to 1985.)

Today, the 2017 Giulia Quadrifoglio would eat its lunch.