Women, wine and song

As a Grand Prix globetrotter my idea of the perfect Christmas is to stay at home, drink wine in front of a roaring log fire and listen to something uplifting like Silent Night. It has been a while since I achieved this goal and this year was no exception. I was convinced to go to California for Christmas with the in-laws.

One day I must read the works of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. If the name sounds familiar it is because the 19th century Austrian novelist is the junior partner of the Marquis de Sade in the expression "sado-masochism". Sade wrote about hurting others, Sacher-Masoch about the pleasure of pain. Every time I get on a plane during the winter months I cannot but help feeling that I need to read Sacher-Masoch.

Christmas is the busiest times of year for the airlines and for some reason I always seem to end up with absolutely the wrong seat: on the aisle seated next to a weak-bladdered environmentalist. This means one has to get up every hour so she can recycle efficiently. It also means that one is exposed to the attacks of passing stewardesses, who batter you with hips, bottoms and catering containers. I expect a true follower of Sacher-Masoch would get a kick out of it. Flying out of Paris on an American airline means that during the flight one is assaulted by two distinct models of hostess: the blip-breasted Paris belles crunch their bony thighs into your shoulder but they are usually less dangerous than the blimp-breasted matrons from the US, who tend to be above average in terms of age and weight. On impact their momentum can carry a poor passenger forwards and if you are not careful you can end up breaking your nose on the seat in front of you.

I guess it was between these assaults that I was reading something about a MORI poll which indicated that 34% of women reckon they get more enjoyment from their cars than they do from their sex lives. It was probably just a coincidence but shortly beforehand I had been reading about the demographics of Formula 1 and discovered that female viewers of F1 make up 35% of the total.

Could it be a coincidence? I wondered. Or was every women who goes to watch a motor race crying out for good sex? And did that mean that girls with no interest in motor racing were satisfied with their lot in life?

"Hi, are you a race fan?" could become a very useful expression.

Some time ago I made an exhaustive study (which lasted about 10 minutes) of which racing drivers the girls in F1 find the sexiest. One or two of the kookier ones were quite keen on Michael Schumacher. Jacques Villeneuve scored one or two fans amongst the younger generation. There were some who adored Eddie Irvine's naughty little boy look (although when the name Gerhard Berger was mentioned Irvine's fans melted away) but the man who came out ahead was Giancarlo Fisichella. The girls all seemed to get worked up about his dark brooding looks and tortured expression (particularly in recent months). Another man who scored strongly was Jean Alesi.

Somewhere along the way I had picked up an article about Jean. Not many have been written in the last 12 months about his racing career and I have always found that when a driver is not being successful one learns a great deal more about him because he has to talk about things other than racing. Fisichella I have learned is passionate about architecture and Alesi has warm feelings about wine. In fact Jean makes his own wine at a vineyard not far from his home town of Avignon. One day he intends to dedicate himself to the task of producing great wines. This is not new for racing drivers. When Maurice Trintignant stopped racing in 1960 he took over his family vineyard in the Vaucluse and renamed the family wine "Le Petoulet". In translation from French this means "Little Rat Shit". This was his nickname acquired in a race immediately after the war from which he forced to retire because his Bugatti would not run smoothly. Upon investigation he discovered that the fuel filter was blocked with rat's droppings, the car having spent the war years in a barn, where a family of rats had used the fuel tank as a home. The wine was not a classic but one must hope that it did not live up to its name...

At the other end of the scale Alesi will struggle to compete with the wine made by another Grand Prix driver by the name of "Georges Richard". He raced for only about 18 months in 1928 and 1929 but achieved a remarkable amount in a very short space of time and then disappeared to India to shoot tigers. After that he made an early talkie movie and then decided to concentrate on the family vineyard, Chateau Mouton. By the time he died in 1988 Baron Philippe Rothschild was the most famous winemaker in the world. His Chateau Mouton-Rothschild has become one of the greatest wines and his Mouton Cadet was the best-selling Bordeaux wine for many years.

Alesi also has some competition in America which I discovered today as I was wandering through a supermarket in San Francisco. I stumbled across some Andretti Merlot and having forked out $22 was able to enjoy Mario's offering to the world. And very pleasant it is too (he types between sips) and it seems to get better with every glass.

One could say the same about Christmas music in America. If there was a war crime court for atrocities to music, the Americans would be in trouble for what they do to Christmas carols. The only word that really encapsulates it is schmaltz (which I believe is derived from the Yiddish for duck grease and is used to signify cloying sentimentality because of its gooey associations).

Still, with a little wine, a tinkling Silent Night and a homely atmosphere. I was nearly there for the perfect Christmas.

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