January 14, 2022
Dear Frenchly Readers,
It seems like most of the globe is either waiting to get the Omicron variant, is sick with the Omicron variant, or has just had the Omicron variant. But my family, somehow, hangs in a strange limbo this week where 3 of us are sick with something that seems suspiciously Omicron-like and yet no one has yet had a positive test. As good citizens, we are isolating. And continuing to test and wondering if we are the only people in the world who have managed to get some other freaking virus when the rest of the world is getting Omicron (France’s Omicron situation is elucidated here). The never-ending quality of this virus and all the weird layers of confusion and angst and irritation have left me feeling like I am always wearing a scratchy shirt from which I just can’t seem to rid myself. (If you want a laugh –or cry– about school Covid chaos in the U.S., my dear friend Sarah sent me this today.)
In the meantime, I’ve been reading Maggie Shipstead’s new novel, Great Circle. For those of you who have not yet read it, it’s a big, thick, almost 600-page book about a fictional female pilot, Marian Graves, who, as a young teen, caught airplane fever soon after Lindbergh made his first nonstop transatlantic flight from Long Island, New York, to Paris. The novel alternates between Graves’ story, which ends with her plane going down, à la Amelia Earhart, somewhere off the coast of Antarctica, and an actress in current times who is set to play her in a biopic film.
The book is stuffed full of so many threads of history and fictional characters and two world wars—it’s a whole globe unto itself to parachute onto. But more than anything else, what it’s done for me, like any good book, is it’s really opened up my interest in these early aviators and their planes.
One evening this week, I found myself putting down Great Circle and going to my bookshelf and pulling out Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book, Night Flight. Saint-Exupéry is most famous for his wonderful, allegorical book, Le Petit Prince. For those of you who might not know, he was a French pilot who became obsessed with aviation as a young boy and eventually became both an aviator and an author (Night Flightwas his first book.) Saint-Exupéry flew during both wars and, after the fall of France during WWII, he came to New York and wrote Le Petit Prince, which was published in 1943 ( I once went to a wonderful exhibit on him and that book at the beautiful Morgan Library, in New York.) Anyway, a year later Saint-Exupéry went missing in a lone reconnaissance flight somewhere between Italy and southern France.
This morning, while I was looking up details about Saint-Exupéry and his sad, lonely death, I found myself looking next for images of Lindbergh triumphantly landing his plane in Paris. And then I found this interesting article here about two French pilots called Charles Nungesser and François Coli who were piloting a plane called L’Oiseau Blanc, or the White Bird, across the Atlantic, from Paris to New York, twelve days earlier than Lindbergh took off. It is said that their plane went down on the easternmost coast of Maine, near where I grew up, in the woods of Washington County. At that time, they were expected to be the first pair to make the flight—Coli, after all, had already made history as the first person to fly solo across the Mediterranean and Nungesser was a decorated WWI pilot. No one has ever found the remains of L’Oiseau Blanc and it remains an aviation mystery, like the mystère of whatever happened to Amelia Earhart. But I read that there was an old man up in Washington County who claims he heard a plane crash near his home on Round Pond on May 9, 1927. Searchers went out and no one was ever able to find anything. The search continues to this day—an engine or a fuel tank are the bits of wreckage that could still be found. Or, apparently, Nungesser had a prosthetic jaw, made of steel. He was known in France as the “Knight of Death,” and had broken nearly every bone in his body over his career.
All over the globe people are still searching for signs of the early aviators and their planes. These are unsolved mysteries that continue to inspire and captivate artists, writers, enthusiasts and filmmakers. I can tell you that this terrific book, Great Circle, and these early flights, surely and blessedly transported me, this week, from what feels like a scratchy hirsute of just constant and never ending pandemic concerns to my own metaphorical jumpsuit, bomber jacket, goggles and a scarf trailing behind me in the wind.
What to watch & read & cook ce weekend:
Ok, so the longer this grinding pandemic goes on, and after reading the Frenchly survey so many of you generously filled out, and hearing the desire for more community, I want to suggest we start a “One Book, One Read” for Frenchly readers. As our initial book, I am going to suggest Alice Zeniter’s The Art of Losing, which Frenchly reviewed here.
In February, I will set up a Zoom for us to have a Frenchly “book club” meeting to discuss the novel and all the historical information that surrounds it, perhaps with a speaker. Stay tuned on that. In the meantime, if you’d like to be involved, please order the book from your local bookstore or library and start reading it—I will have more details next week!
Despite the Omicron leveling many of us, we at Frenchly have managed to serve up some really interesting work this week: We have truffle cultivators in the U.S; a review of the third season of France’s Plan Coeur, or The Hook Up Plan, about millennials and their dramas; a piece about an NBA player for the Memphis Grizzlies who is French; and a neat piece about the French words emblazoned on the U.K.’s Coat of Arms. And we have more coming this weekend and early next week about hot springs in France, cross country skiing the Alps, new French podcasts from Anne-Fleur and more. Come to Frenchly.us to stay with us!
This weekend, as we, in our house, continue to nurse slightly upset bellies, I am going back to the safety of Dorie Greenspan to make some of her rice pudding. She learned the recipe from her son’s French baby sitter, a woman named Marie-Cécile, she writes. The bland comfort of this pudding seems about right for us this week. I will use almond milk in order to continue avoiding dairy for a few more days. By next week, I am hoping we are right as rain—and if we don’t test positive soon, hopefully we’ll be fortified enough to get the real Omicron next Tuesday.
In the meantime, just remember, as Saint-Exupéry once wrote in The Little Prince, “The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.” What did the coach played by Kyle Chandler say on Friday Night Lights? Clear eyes, full hearts, right? It’s hard right now. But we must all try, as best we can.