Brideshead at the Mille Miglia

Columnist and humorist writing as Don Alphonso reports in the weblog of the German paper Der Welt about his visit to this year’s Mille Miglia Storica event in Italy. This is an annual vintage car rally based on an auto race that took place between 1927 and 1957 over a 1500 km course between Brescia and Rome. It was discontinued after a series of accidents and later, beginning in 1977, converted into a less stressful rally of cars built before 1957. Several of this year’s entries are pictured in the story as it appears in the website.

The article is entitled “Der indiskrete Charme der lauten Motoren” (The indiscrete charm of the loud engines) and begins with an extended and somewhat mistifying reference to Brideshead Revisited. The story opens with Charles Ryder’s recall of his youth at the time he is preparing for the invasion of Normandy (translation by Google with minor edits):

…This youth, full of brittle friendships, cautious, complex or even downright spoiled characters, makes up the charm of the narrative, as none of the characters is uncomfortable or evil on the surface while their existence lurches into the abyss. There is the deeply innocent anecdote about the outing that Charles Ryder and his friend Sebastian Flyte are making along with the teddy bear Aloysius.

And yesterday, when I was in Cortona, with fantastic views of the border region between Tuscany and Umbria, with the blue shimmering Lake Trasimeno on the horizon and the chattering beasts of the Mille Miglia in front of me, I thought myself in many a picture to look [as] Charles and Sebastian must also have looked at the time when they went to Oxford in the 20s…

Not everyone appreciates Evelyn Waugh’s book. I know some who think all the characters who were born into their immense privileges and who also have so much charm and talent, should start doing something with their lives at least starting on page 100. Instead, people chatter, talk a little bit backwards, small events cause catastrophes that do not really have to be, and God is also kind and does not do anybody any good until circumstances force people to make decisions that are not always beautiful. Some may even wait for a punishment for the relaxation [auch auf ein Strafgericht für die Erschlaffung], but what is actually remembered is the provocatively displayed carelessness that covers every failure with charm. Charles and Sebastian are not good. But you would like to travel with them in the springtime.

Now, that’s always the case with the charm and the childish hyperbole that often accumulates in its slipstream. Charm is learned and not “the good”, charm is commonly used to hide a lack of virtues. The truly virtuous, who only know the smell of curd soap and cabbage wraps and fear sins, would let themselves be dragged into the debauchery of other people, often go to the wall and think that whoever is so charming can not really be a bad person. Of course they are right, but at the same time they also realize that “not bad” and charm together can not cover up the blatant lack of substantial values.

And so the narrative continues over several pages, somewhat defensively justifying the columnist’s falling under the charm of the vintage car rally. He seems to be addressing an audience which he feels opposes such events but is trying to convince himself (if not necessarily them) that it is nonetheless acceptable to allow oneself to be charmed by them. Perhaps one needs to know more about the columnist (who has appeared in these pages before) or about German humor to appreciate more fully his most recent Wavian references. His real name is Rainer Meyer and he has also written a novel and published collections of his other writings.

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