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Armchair Uzès

la Vie Quotidienne

avril 2004

Lily of the valley…a spring tradition
Les muguets des bois portent le bonheur
Late April…strawberries are abundant, asparagus prices have fallen, les fruitiers have dropped their blossoms to put energy into producing delicous summer fruits. Easter has come and gone. There’s a lull in vacations until the barrage of May:  Fête des Ouvriers, Fête de la Victoire, la Pentecôte (and don’t forget the Ascension somewhere in the midst of all that).
     I love late April in France for many reasons. Right up at the top of the list is the lovely French custom of offering small bouquets of muguet de bois to friends, family and colleagues on the first of May, May Day. In the last days of April, the streets are filled with muguet vendors, both rogue and approved, who offer two or three branches of this fragrant flower for 3 euros. Flowershops show off charming arrangements incorporating lilies-of-the-valley. Everyone wants to give and receive un brin de muguet for good luck and happiness.

 
A sprig of lily of the valley for good luck
Un brin de muguet pour le bonheur
 


May 1 on the boulevard in Uzès:
a friendly face selling lily-of-the-valley bouquets

 

     Why muguet? Why May 1? This giving tradition is centuries old, purportedly having started during the reign of Charles IX in the 16th century. At the beginning of the merry month of May, wedding bans were traditionally posted and wreaths of muguets were hung in doorways of the brides-to-be. In the late 1800s, the international workers movement declared the first of this month as May Day, in honor of the workers of the world.
     In France, workers and their supporters wore lily-of-the-valley boutonnières to combine old with new. Today many unions in France sponsor flower sales as fundraisers for their members, and May 1 is a national holiday, Fête des Ouvriers. But for me, May 1 is May Day, when the streets are filled with the perfume of muguets des bois and smiling faces exchanging flowers and good wishes for the coming season.

 


The mystery of Saint-Exupéry
Le mystère de Saint-Exupéry
Sixty years ago in July 1944, Antoine Saint-Exupéry, beloved author, pilot and French patriot, disappeared during a flight over the Mediterranean and North Africa. He and his plane simply vanished; no remains were found, no communications were received or intercepted. The reading public was devastated, having just rejoiced over the appearance of Le Petit Prince, a fantastical children’s story of young boy’s travels across the universe in search of the meaning of life. Over his thirty-year career, Saint-Exupéry wrote fiction, essays, film scripts, poetry and much more. His writing reflects his deep love of flying as adventure and metaphor.


LaMerGreta.jpg (70975 bytes)

Off the rocky Mediterranean coast, a mystery
surrounding the disappearance of Antoine de St-Exupéry
 

 

cover  

Le Petit Prince  (The Little Prince),
Saint-Exupéry's most popular work,
 first published in 1943,
an international classic treasured
 by children and adults alike

Other books by Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

Courier du Sud  -  Southern Mail
Vol de Nuit  -  Night Flight
Terre des Hommes  -  Wind, Sand and Stars
Pilote de Guerre  -  War Pilot

 

     The mystery of his disappearance has been the subject of much debate over the years. Did he have engine trouble during his reconnaissance flight from Corsica; was it suicide; did another plane force him down? Several decades passed without finding any clues, vestiges, or any definitive answers.
     Fast forward to 1998, when a fisherman, in the course of his work, pulled up his nets and found a bracelet that he claimed was engraved with the names of Saint-Exupéry, his wife Consuelo and his New York editors. Wow! Quel bourrade! A thin chain amidst a mess of fish…talk about a needle in a haystack. The family was upset, certain of some connerie; the media went wild with speculation; there were allegations that this opportunistic sea scrounger had found or phonied the ring somewhere else and placed it in the net to create this frenzy. The mystery and the polémique continued for many months.
     Plongeur and treasure hunter Luc Varnell was intrigued enough to go back through some old photos he’d taken of wreckage in the area where the ring had been fished out. Indeed there appeared to be pieces of a P38 Lightning, the type of plane that St-Ex had flown during his spy missions. In May 2000 Varnell went back down under and took more pictures of the wreckage, which included multiple pieces of both a P38 and a Messerschmidt. Over a period of several years, experts have been examining and debating if, in fact, this is the P38J that St-Ex flew, a specially modified model. There were only three made like this, and two of three’s whereabouts were known.

     Just a few weeks ago, in early April 2004, it was confirmed this sunken plane was his, and part of the mystery of what happened to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry has been cleared up…a fatal crash into the Mediterranean, possibly as part of an engagement with enemy aircraft, although no bullet holes or propeller damage have been found.
     The fate of the prince of wind, sand and stars continues to intrigue; his status as hero, writer and romantic figure remain fixed in the French psyche; but the remains of his plane are now positively identified.


  
Patriot, writer, pilot

 
 

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