About the French, who are reputedly so disagreeable, I must say that I found nothing but geniality. Take René Hachez, our chef that evening in the medieval city of Troyes. In old times, the protective wall around this town's churches and residential buildings took the form of a Champagne cork. (If that's not perversely playful, then Louis Blériot wasn't the first to fly across the English Channel.) We traipsed from our hotel to the small and exclusive dining room in the Hôtel la Maison des Rhodes. A short, blocky man with a broad smile, Hachez is a superb cook and major hambone. "Here is my favorite bottled water," he said, uncorking a sparkling blanc de blancs. A one-man band, he goes marketing for fresh produce in the morning and takes away the plates after 10 p.m. Once we'd enjoyed olives, foie gras, and cheese pie with salad, he served the duck with roasted potatoes and mixed vegetables. While I savored the first mouthful of the entrée, Hachez reentered the room with a small-bore rifle and said, "If you want more duck, you just tell me." Dessert, his own apple tart, first was presented in the pan and then, moments later, upside down on a plate. Of course, it was topped with homemade vanilla ice cream.
We drove through northern France on Thursday, briefly visiting the old Reims racing circuit before loading three Ferraris (a 599GTO had come along as a kind of weird-uncle escort) into a Eurostar train carriage. "Business or pleasure?" asked the British customs agent at the tunnel's mouth. That was a hard one. The Italia offered such comfortable seating and pleasant cruising, there was no question of displeasure. During the subsequent crossing beneath the English Channel, I barely sensed any motion. Meanwhile, my mind still searched for a way of describing the Italia's sound. For example: a category F3 tornado, capable of toppling a train, being forced through a trombone.