Phil Boname & Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThursday, November 30, 2006
In my Buenos Aires fourth grade class our teacher Miss Zimmerman treated us as precocious children. We read passages from "adult" books in class. One I will never forget was Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Night Flight. In 1929 Saint-Exupéry had moved to Buenos Aires where he was appointed director of the Aeroposta Argentina Company. His experience, flying post through the Andes was the basis for Night Flight, his second novel.
Reading about a tiny plane being buffeted by terrible wind currents while crossing the Andes in Night Flight made me fear for my life when in 1953 I was on board a PANAGRA Douglas DC-6 crossing from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile. Since the airliner was not pressurized we were given oxygen masks. Lightning, thunder and wind plus my airsickness had me holding on to my mother and grandmother who must have been as afraid as I was. I have never really felt safe in an airplane since. But that has not stopped me from being fascinated by them. I remember in 1957 going to the Bergstrom US Air Force base outside Austin, Texas. It was thrilling to pass my hand on the almost razor edge of a Lockheed F-104-A Starfighter.
So it was a special occasion to photograph Vancouver businessman Phil Boname. Calling him up for the appointment in my studio on February 12, 1990 he somehow revealed that as a little boy in France his father had been a friend of Saint-Exupéry. The author would pass his hand through Phil's curly hair and that became Saint-Exupéry's inspiration on how the little prince should look. Saint-Exupéry also illustrated The Little Prince.
For my photograph I brought my daughter Hilary's Argentine leather bomber with Argentine Air Force patches. I also brought my treasured P-38 Lightning by Jeffrey L. Ethell and illustrated by the incomparable Rikyu Watanabe. It was in a Lockheed F-5B, an unarmed reconnaissance variant of the P-38, that Saint-Exupéry flew in 1944 and was never seen again.
On July 31, 1944 at a quarter to nine in the morning, Saint-Exupéry took off from an airstrip in Sardinia on a flight to photograph the Grenoble and Annecy areas. He never returned. He left behind a letter addressed to General X. It read:
"I do not care if I die in the war or if I get in a rage because of these flying torpedos which have nothing to do with actual flying, and which change the pilot into an accountant by means of indicators and switches. But if I come back alive from this ungrateful but necessary "job", there will be only one question for me: What can one say to mankind? What does one have to say to mankind? "
His P-38 was found in the Mediterranean in May 2000 with no signs that it had been shot down.