Both Emma Calvé and Ursula spoke of “motoring,” or automobile excursions, as activities they enjoyed—Madame Calvé in her autobiography and Ursula in the travelogue she wrote for her sorority’s quarterly journal.
Mme. Calvé described: “On fête days, or when the spirit of adventure seizes us, we go off for long excursions into the surrounding countryside in the automobile. Motoring is a delight in this part of the world, for the roads are so built that one can reach a fairly great altitude without strain.”
And Ursula noted, “Leaving Nice, we motored over the Grande Corniche road and through the Maritime Alps which overlook the Mediterranean.”
This excursion afforded a view she would never forget: “From one high point we could look back over the French coast to Marseille or further, and also a great distance down the Italian coast…The shores were washed with water of azure blue, while the hills were studded with gaily colored villas.”
I imagined Madame Calvé, Ursula and the other girls motoring about when my husband and I recently visited the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, TN. Among the many cars and other vehicles from different countries and periods on display was this 1924 Citroën 5CV Trèfle—from the very year Ursula visited France.
According to the exhibit information, the Citroën 5CV Trèfle was first shown at the Paris Salon in 1921, and was produced in France between 1922 and 1926. It was interesting to read that, for the first time in that country, the marketing “was directed toward feminine clientele, paying off handsomely for Citroën.”
This 3-speed manual Citroën model could reach a top speed of 40 miles per hour (woo hoo!). In 1924, it cost $551 (a little over $13,000 in today’s dollars). From the information plaque:
“The Trèfle has a torpedo body style with three seats in cloverleaf formation. The cloverleaf is designed for the third seat to be placed behind and between the two front seats so the occupant’s legs are between the front seats. This was considered très chic during the 1920s.”
Did opera great Mme. Calvé own such a car? Did Ursula ride in one like this or see one on the roads? It’s impossible to know; it was just cool to see a car from her day and place and imagine her breezing along in it, hand on hat, and scarf whipping in the breeze.