For today’s quote, an excerpt from a Saint-Exupéry novel, Flight to Arras.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, most famous for his lyric children’s book The Little Prince, was a pilot by profession. Most of his novels are based in his own life experiences; Flight to Arras, set during World War II, is no exception.
Quote of the Week:
Captain Vezin came in with a gloomy look. No pilot ever got off the ground without a dose of Captain Vezin’s gloom. His job was to report upon the position of the German air outposts. To tell us where they were. Vezin is my friend and I am very fond of him; but he is a bird of ill omen. I prefer not to meet him when I am about to take off.
“Looks bad, old boy,” said Vezin. “Very bad. Very bad indeed.”
And didn’t he pull a sheaf of papers out of his pocket, to impress me! Then, looking at me suspiciously, he said:
“How are you going out?”a
“By the town of Albert.”
“I thought so. I knew it. Bad business.”
“Stop talking like a bloody fool! What’s up?”
“You’ll never make it. You’ll have to give up this sortie.”
Give up this sortie! Very kind of him to say so. Let him tell that to God the Father. Perhaps He’ll put a curse on our speaking tubes.
“You’ll never get through, I tell you.”
“And why will I never get through?”
“Because there are three groups of German fighters circling permanently over Albert. One at eighteen thousand feet, another at twenty-five thousand, and a third at thirty-three thousand. They fly in relays and hang on until they are relieved. It’s what I call categorically blocked. You’ll fly into a German net. See here…”
He shoved a sheet of paper at me on which he had scribbled an absolutely unintelligible demonstration of his argument.
Vezin had done much better to keep his nose out of my affairs. His pompous categorically blocked had impressed me, confound him! I thought instantly of red lights and traffic tickets. Only, this was a place where a ticket meant death. It was his categorically that particularly galled me. It seemed to be aimed at me personally.
I made a great effort to think clearly. “The enemy,” I said to myself, “always defends his position categorically. Damned non-sense, these big words! And besides, why should I worry about German fighter planes? At thirty thousand feet they would get me before I so much as suspected their presence, and at two thousand feet it was the anti-aircraft that would bring me down, not the fighters. It couldn’t possibly miss me.” Suddenly I became belligerent.
“In short, what you’re telling me is that the Germans have an air force, and therefore my sortie is not altogether advisable. Run along and tell that to the General.”
It wouldn’t have cost Vezin anything to reassure me pleasantly, instead of upsetting me. Why couldn’t he have said, “Oh, by the way. The Germans have a few fighters aloft over Albert”?
It would have come to the same thing.
The Death of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry died on 31 July 1944, when his unarmed P-38 reconnaissance plane was shot down over the Mediterranean Sea. His identity bracelet was recovered from the sea near Marseille in 1998, and the wreckage of his plane was found in 2000.
You might also like: ⇒ An Irish Airman Foresees His Death by W. B. Yeats ⇒ A book review of Flight to Arras