A Dream of Anglias
Dawn on a June morning in Trieste, forty-five years ago. I am ten. I lie half-awake in my small bed at the Hotel Regina, listening to the early-morning sounds of an Italian city: Vespas; Fiats; electric trolleycars; buses; shouts of “Ao” and “ciao”; a radio playing (what else?) an aria (Puccini?). Light dribbles through the half-shuttered windows. The aroma of roasting coffee and diesel exhaust faintly commingle in the cool dawn air. My parents are still asleep in their separate beds on the other side of the room. As I lie there, staring at the mock-chandelier hanging from the high cobwebby ceiling, I reflect on…not the melancholy Adriatic outside, or the ambient old Italo-Habsburg city and its associations: with Maximilian and Carlotta; Franz von Suppé; Franz Ferdinand; James Joyce; Italo Svevo… no, I might reflect on those things today (or on my health), but in the pearly-gray light of that Triestine summer morning nearly half a century ago I’m thinking about something far more mundane: cars. Or rather: a car. A Ford Anglia, to be precise. For the ten-year-old me is obsessed with the latest model (’61) Anglia saloon, the 105E series familiar to Harry Potter filmgoers as the battered aeromobile in The Chamber of Secrets and The Goblet of Fire episodes. The multiple simultaneous discoveries I have made—that a select few Italian models boast a particular, and most appetizing, pale pistachio tint unavailable on the British model; that they have bright orange turn indicators on their fenders; that their tail lights are red and orange instead of solid red—these aesthetic minutiae, uniting all the fruity colors of an Italian gelato, have served only to titillate me further. I long for a scale model of this car. I long for the car itself. It has a jazzy profile, with its ample chrome and reverse-sloping rear window (called in the trade a “dihedron cut”). I love the car. So do many Italians, judging by the number of Anglias on the streets–not many of them, however, in that mouth-watering pistachio green. Not the same, but here’s one in white:
But the family conveyance du jour is not a Ford–or no longer a Ford. Five years earlier, in London, Dad had struck a deal with one of his cronies on a slightly-used gray Ford Squire station wagon with wood inlays and British plates (SYU 729–I’ll never forget), not a bad ride for the time, with red-and-gray vinyl seats and chrome bumpers. How Dad acquired it, or for how much, or via what matey backdoor arrangements, I never knew or cared. It served us well; I rode in its back seat from Rome to Copenhagen. Going uphill for any length of time was a bit dicey, though, and the little Squire needed several rest stops, and a splash of water in the radiator, to cool down when climbing, say, the Simplon, or St. Bernard, in summer.
But on the Triestine morning in question the old Squire is history, replaced mere days before by a more banal but brand-new white Renault Dauphine, also with red-and gray vinyl seats, a popular combo in those days. The Dauphine was a gem, perky and reliable, contrary to its reputation; it never gave us any trouble, and swarmed eagerly over mountain passes.
Renault Dauphine Gordini in gold
Its new-car smell, a composite aroma of vinyl, rubber, paint, and plastic, I can summon up at will from my olfactory memory files, just as I can relive that shadowy early-morning moment between sleeping and waking, long ago in triste Trieste.
* * *
The foregoing is a memory-scrap of summer 1961, when my parents and I went to Yugoslavia, then firmly on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. I still have no idea why we went. There were easier places to take care of the Dauphine’s break-in period. Yugoslavia was a backward place then, with dusty unpaved roads on which donkeys and mules–history’s oldest slaves–dutifully pulled carts, and overloaded lorries lumbered past, and police-driven Zastava 750s, rebadged Fiat 600s, buzzed by at reckless speeds (“Zasatva” means “flag,” as in “red,” in Serbian).
My parents and I (well, Dad, sole designated driver) drove down the Adriatic coast of Croatia to the resort town of Split, ex-Spalatum, once the seaside residence of the Roman Emperor Diocletian (ruled AD 284-305). There, during an evening stroll with my parents along the seafront, I saw a brand-new pistachio Ford Anglia, buffed to a high sheen, with Italian license plates, motoring slowly and majestically past. The sight reduced the ruins of Diocletian’s palace, and the quaint fishing boats on the blue Adriatic, to insignificance. It made Yugoslavia, briefly, a most romantic place to be.
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