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I don’t know if you’re like me, but traveling in a car bores me; to such a degree that the temptation to crash my car into the first sycamore tree often visits my spirit. I don’t do it, except rarely, for fear of wrecking havoc on one of these magnificent trees.

The only time that I rode in one of these damned cars with pleasure, was when Cyril and I went fishing. And when it’s Cyril who drives, I have the leisure to enjoy the countryside and we pass the time telling stories, the more preposterous, the better.

On that blessed day it was my birthday, it was like a sunday drive in the park heading to a river that Cyril was keeping secret.

As a birthday gift I had received a marvelous book about the life of the celebrated “douanier Rousseau”, a magnificent artist. I wanted to share my enchantment and happiness with my flakey friend as he piloted us.

But he interrupted me: “OK Flèche, alright, the douanier Rousseau is not like yesterday’s soup, he’s as fresh as a glass of rosé and rich like “l’aligot Aveyronnais” (a classic dish from the Aveyron of cheese married into potatoes). But, do you know about the other Rousseau, I mean Jean Rousseau?” 

“I have the impression that you’re about to tell me a tall tale. Am I wrong?”

“Completely wrong my friend. Let me tell you the extraordinary and truthful story of Jean Rousseau.

This happened in the 50’s at Malakoff in the suburbs of Paris. Jean Rousseau was a mechanic, a bit of a crackpot, in the vein of your douanier Rousseau. But it wasn’t painting that haunted him. No, his dream was to construct a submarine in the garage of his suburban house in Malakoff and submerge it in the Seine river.

On October 11 the precinct of police prohibited the submersion of the craft under the pretext of some administrative blah, blah.

Jean Rousseau, stubborn as a mule, refused to acknowledge the prohibition and declared: “In no uncertain terms, before the closing of the Nautical Trade Fair, I will prove before everyone’s eyes that my submarine, the Malakoff, will dive… and it will return to the surface.

On October 13, in the vicinity of the Billancourt Bridge a few thousand persons could admire the masterpiece of Jean. The craft measured 8’ long by 30” wide and  43” high and at exactly 10:40 in the morning it plunged in relative clandestinity.

Seconds passed, then minutes; the public interest passed from enthusiasm to anxiety.

“He’s hanging on a long time” said one gawker.

“Too long” replied an expert.

At that moment the churning water that followed the harmonious dive of Malakoff bubbled the surface of the water.

“AH!” intoned the public.

A triumph? Not exactly, for, half asphyxiated by the gas of his surface motor Jean Rousseau was pulled from his craft, walked three steps and collapsed on the pier.

The firemen, alerted by good samaritains, had to give him artificial respiration.

A little while later he conceded to respond to the waiting journalists.

“How much did your submarine cost?”

“Less than a big scooter. Those scooters are too expensive and that’s the reason that I wanted to prove that, for that price, one can build a submarine.”

And thus spoke the man whose peaceful invention will, perhaps, revolutionize the world of sea-going tourism.