Sunday, November 12, 2006

Many French wild to be wreckage forever

Nous sommes des lemmings
Nous sommes des crazies
Nous alimenterons notre habitude de fleur
poussant des marguerites . . .

From Der Spiegel:
Tons of mangled cars piled up at the bottom of the Grand Canyon de Verdon in Provence are sombre evidence of France's high suicide rate. But on a brighter note, engineers now clearing the accumulated wreckage of 100 years are uncovering a veritable auto museum.

The Parc Régional du Verdon is a lush green landscape of deep canyons, thick vegetation and freshwater lakes. Located 90 km northeast of Aix-en-Provence in France's south-eastern Var district, the "Grand Canyon of Verdon" attracts one million nature-loving visitors each year.

Unfortunately, some of them don't return. For decades, cars driven off the cliffs, some accidentally but many intentionally, have been piling up at the foot of the canyon.

It's a graveyard of old automobiles, some of them dating back to the 1930s. No one has bothered to it clean up -- until now. After two years of fund-raising, regional authorities recently completed the first two-week stage of a massive clean-up operation, lifting as much as 20 tonnes of debris out of the canyons.

"It's really like an automobile museum down there," Pierre Cartier, who heads the clean-up efforts in the canyon along the Verdon River, told AFP. Using chainsaws, welding torches and a helicopter, his team of mountaineers, firemen and engineers has lifted 10 vintage automobiles out of the vegetation. The cars span nearly the entire twentieth century and include French old-timers such as a 1955 Citroën DS or the ever-popular 2CV, a 1955 Renault Alpine and, most surprisingly, a Renault Juva 4 that was used by Parisian taxi drivers in the 1930s. An Austin and a Fiat were also among the wreckage.

As fascinating as the cars themselves, the story of how they landed in the depths of Verdon's canyons is also an eerie one. "There may have been a few accidents and insurance frauds," Cartier speculates, "but most of these were suicides, I think."

With 11,000 people taking their own lives each year, France has one of the highest suicide rates in the western world.
(Hat Tip: Tim Blair)

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