Tag Archives: history

The Monday Book – Wind, Sand and Stars

Jack gets to write today’s book review –

Wind, Sand and Stars – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

wind

Some years ago Wendy and I watched a movie called ‘Wings of Courage’ at the IMax theatre in Chattanooga. It told the story of a pioneering mail flight across the Andes from Chile to Argentina that went badly wrong. The pilot was called Guillaumet and he crashed in the mountains and had to walk over many days through the snow to reach safety. What I didn’t know was that the story was based on a chapter in this book.

As an enthusiast for anything to do with early aviation, I was delighted when Wendy handed me the book from some (pre-quarantine) thrift store outing. She thought I’d find the book interesting and she wasn’t wrong. Saint-Exupery’s writing is wonderful and the translation by Lewis Galantiere does it full justice. The author describes his own experiences as one of the early aviators opening up mail routes around the world – particularly in North Arica and South America. His descriptions of the perils of flying at low altitude and before the days of navigational equipment are amazing and nail-biting.

As I finished the chapter about Guillaumet’s experience in the Andes we watched ‘Wings of Courage’ again on line and it proved very true to Saint-Exupery’s telling of the story. When I came to the final chapter, I was once again blown away as the author described crash landing in the Sahara. He was trying for a record flight between Paris and Saigon and got lost as he was heading for a stopover at the Nile. He plowed into a hill top destroying the plane, but miraculously escaping injury along with his engineer. They struggled for days finding a way to rescue with very little food or water, almost exactly replicating the earlier Andes story, but with sand instead of snow.

The book, however, isn’t all about flying. There’s a good deal of philosophizing about the meaning of life, the relationship between people and peoples, and the futility of war.

I think the only thing that might bother anyone reading the book might be the authors views on the effect of technology on humanity. He appears to view all technological advance as completely benign but I suppose we have to allow for when the book was written.

‘Wind, Sand and Stars’ finishes with the author visiting Spain during the civil war and ruminating on the way a community can be so easily and sadly divided.

Many people know Saint-Exupery best as the author of the children’s classic The Little Prince. He flew a reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean in 1944 from which he never returned.

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Filed under between books, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, what's on your bedside table, writing

Which Side are You On

Jack scrapes over the wire with the Wednesday post – – –

I’m a week or so late in acknowledging Labor Day I know, but –

On our kitchen wall we have a tea towel with a print of a certificate by the house decorators and painters union dating from the mid 1800s.

towel

It fascinates me for two reasons. It reminds me of a famous book – The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – that describes the working conditions of a group of house painters in England in the early 1900s. The other reason is because I served a six year apprenticeship learning all the skills depicted in that certificate.

The scenes illustrated clearly display great pride in the variety of specialisms involved –

The simple yet carefully prescribed way of painting a paneled door.

The use of color to enhance a classical Greek style cornice.

A cherub studying design and another one lettering a signboard.

A collection of regular paintbrushes and tools and another collection of tools for applying goldleaf.

In the center is a scene showing why the union was so important – a sick painter (maybe suffering from lead poisoning) is being attended by a doctor while his wife and son look on.

In The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists the main character is a young man, newly finished his apprenticeship who has a particular talent for design. He spends a lot of his own time, unpaid, making wonderful designs to be used later as part of his work. This reminds me very much of my father who served his time back in the 1920s when the system still included attendance at art college. Truly a marrying of art and craft and the legacy of people like William Morris.

My apprenticeship was served under my Dad in his painting business and I was ‘indentured’. That means that, like all his apprentices, we both signed a legal document that was then torn irregularly in half. At the end of my six years I received his half, which when matched to my half showed I was legally a time-served craftsman (indentured actually means ‘patterned like teeth’).

Everything has changed now. In Scotland there are still apprenticeships but they last just three years and don’t cover the same breadth of skills. Indenturing no longer takes place and DIY has blossomed with the introduction of easier to use materials and tools.

But I learned a lot – not just about craft skills, but also social skills. Not only that but it was the gateway to my college career, so a very good start to my working life.

Finally – I’m a big believer in unions!

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Filed under book reviews, crafting, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized