HAVANA TIMES — Every time I see plane-lights trailing across the night’s sky, I imagine it is Antoine de Saint Exupery, the author of the “The Little Prince”, travelling on the back of a comet, looking down at this old world and reflecting on how little humanity has changed since his disappearance from the physical universe. Saint Exupery disappeared in much the same fashion as Fabien, the pilot of his novel “Night Flight”, disappeared.
We ought not, I think, refer to the author’s death, but to his “relative absence”. It is impossible for all of us, after all, to carry around “such a heavy body”, as the Little Prince wisely said.
Today marks a date which isn’t particularly important for Cubans (it remains to be seen whether it will even be mentioned on TV), the birth of the author of this literary classic which, aimed at children, has been more widely read and quoted by adults.
The little prince or angel – who knows – the dream or hallucination the writer had while stranded in the Sahara desert, where he agonized, slowly dying of thirst, next to his co-pilot, taught him and several generations of people around the world about the responsibility that comes with love, the pain that stems from attachment and the difficult freedom that letting go can entail.
Antoine de Saint Exupery learned, as we did, to see what the eyes don’t see, to conquer the eternal blessing of that love many religions have tried to describe.
Saint Exupery, who was an aviation pioneer at a time when humanity was shaken by the madness of violent conflagrations (1900-1944), was able to observe people from the high skies. This is why his gaze remains tender, even when describing the vileness and pettiness of human beings.
When I visited his native city of Lyon, France in 2011, I was very surprised to find out his home had not been turned into a museum.
On a 31st of July, at the age of 43, with an intense life of plane accidents and fractured bones behind him, he took off from Corsica on a reconnaissance flight. His plane, a P-38 Lightning, never returned. For years, his disappearance remained a mystery, much like that of the Little Prince, who left the earth thanks to a snakebite. “I know that he returned to his planet,” wrote Saint Exupery, “because, at sunrise, I wasn’t able to find his body.”
The legend began to be displaced by crude reality when, in 1998, on the shores of Marseilles, a fisherman found a bracelet with the names of the writer, his wife (Consuelo Suncin) and his editors (Reynal and Hitchcock), stuck to a piece of cloth – probably his flight suit.
In 2000, scuba-diver Luc Vanrell found the writer’s P-38 Lightning at the bottom of the sea, near the coast of Marseilles, near where the bracelet had been found. The plane wreckage was recovered in October of 2003.
In March of 2008, Horst Rippert, a former German pilot, told La Provence newspaper he had downed Saint Euxpery’s P-38 Lightning on July 31, 1944. The plane, bearing the French coat of arms, plunged into the sea. Claiming he truly regretted the incident, Ruppert added he didn’t know the pilot was the great writer he also admired.
This story should suffice to dispel the mystery of the intangible, to confirm there is always a moment of horror before tearing free from the grip of gravity, to drive home the coarse corruptibility of the body – to verify that the immensity of the sky offers no refuge and that stars are mere balls of plasma fueled by something as down-to-earth as hydrostatic equilibrium, that they will NEVER be sleighbells or tears.
But the light survives the object that produces it. It carries on in their absence. Like memories, they traverse the mysterious depths and transfixes us.
When I see plane-lights trailing across the night’s sky, I wonder if it is Saint Exupery, who pretended to die to be able to tear free from this “world of adults.”
Today, he lives on, not on Asteroid 2578, discovered in 1975, named after him as a tribute to his work, but in Asteroid B 612, the planet where the Little Prince lived – where it is possible to see forty-four consecutive sunsets and people make sure sheep do not eat the earth’s flowers.