Tuesday, May 18

Buenos Aires: Saint-Exupéry’s Buenos Aires days | The traveler


In a famous story by Julio Cortázar entitled The other sky, the protagonist, a stockbroker, enters the Pasaje Güemes in Buenos Aires, walks around and leaves the Galerie Vivienne in Paris, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. The text already began with a premonitory phrase: “It sometimes happened to me that everything let go, softened and gave ground, accepting without resistance that one could go like this from one thing to the other.” From one thing to another, and from one city to another, it was also the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944), who went from writing to aviation, and who was as early in Paris as in Lyon, or in Freiburg, Madrid, Moscow, Berlin, New York or Buenos Aires, a city that held him for a few foundational months in his life, from October 1929 to March 1931. In the Argentine capital he fell in love, here he wrote a great work and lived here , coincidentally, at the top of one of the towers of the Güemes Gallery, specifically on the fifth floor, with good views of the city and the sky, that place that surely softened and gave way when I flew over it.

The Güemes Gallery is one of the most visited in the so-called downtown of Buenos Aires. You can enter through the historic and pedestrianized Florida Street and exit through San Martín. The tower reaches 87 meters in height. It was one of the first skyscrapers in Buenos Aires and is considered a major work of the Art Nouveau, signed by Francesco Gianotti. The viewpoint offers a wonderful panoramic view. It is worth looking out and paying attention to profiles of buildings such as the Otto Wulff, at the intersection between Belgrano and Peru Street, also modernist and designed by the Danish Morten F. Rønnow, or the even more perfect La Equitativa del Plata building. (Roque Sáenz Peña, 550), of a style deco of manual, work of Alejandro Virasoro, and that at that time it occupied the Aeropostal Company for which Antoine worked; a must-see and almost daily for the writer-aviator. In addition, almost around the corner is London City, the favorite cafe of Julio Cortazar -Today also a restaurant and declared a notable bar in the city-, where he spent so many hours that he has been immortalized sitting in a chair.

The Antoine Saint-Exupery apartment-museum in the Argentine capital.
The Antoine Saint-Exupery apartment-museum in the Argentine capital. getty images

Saint-Exupéry appeared in Buenos Aires as head of operations of the General Aeropostal Company, in order to develop air connections between the capital and the rest of the country, hence he spent time flying and got to know Argentina in depth. The first thing he did upon arrival was to write to his mother, with whom he had a very close relationship: “I rented a lovely little furnished apartment. This is the address. Always write to me here: Güemes Gallery, Florida street, apartment 605, Buenos Aires… ”. The apartment was opened to the public in 2016, preserving some period furniture. Photographs and documents hang on the walls, and in the cabinets, books and even a replica of the plane he piloted: the Late 28. The only space that remains as the intrepid Saintex (as his Argentine friends called it) left it is the bathroom, a fundamental place, because in this bathtub he kept for almost a year a baby sea lion that he brought from one of his trips through Patagonia.

His work forced him to be absent from the capital constantly, so he made friends in different places. Friendship was one of the great rewards he obtained in life, which is why he wrote: “Perhaps the greatness of a trade consists, more than anything, in uniting men. There is only one true luxury and it is that of human relationships ”.

Despite so many trips, in this apartment he had time to write Night flight, certainly inspired by his aerial adventures. It is not by chance that the cover of his first edition (in his exposed house), of the Aretusa collection, has the colors of the Argentine flag. It was published in France by Gallimard in 1930, it was presented by the Nobel laureate André Gide and today there are more than six million copies sold. It tells the story of a pilot who drives the Patagonian mail from the extreme south to Buenos Aires and who could well be Saint-Exupéry. Fabien, that’s the name of the protagonist, a man committed to the trade – he thinks, as Gide said, “that man’s happiness is in the acceptance of his duty” – faces a violent storm in the Argentine sky. In the capital, Rivière, his patron, meditates in his office while his wife worries about him, the hero devoted to the absolute, the hero who disappears engulfed by fate in the deceptive darkness of the night.

At first Saint-Exupéry did not like Buenos Aires. Numerous letters speak of it, and in one addressed to his mother he goes so far as to say: “It is a detestable city, without charm, without resources, without anything.” But suddenly, alas, the flight changed ground. One night he was late to an event (some say at the French Alliance, others at the Van Riel gallery) where he met a young woman. They presented themselves. They spoke. Saintex invited her to fly the next day. She agreed and they no longer parted. Her name was Consuelo Suncín-Sandoval. She was Salvadoran. I was 30 years old. He had been widowed twice, but relapsed once more. And he came to inspire the character of the rose in The little Prince.

A bitter return

When the Aeropostal went bankrupt and Saint-Exupéry had to return to France, he wrote a letter to his fellow pilot Rufino Luro Cambaceres: “You see, Luro, I finally got to feel at home in your Argentina. I felt a bit like his brother and I thought I could live a long time in the midst of his generous youth ”. Among the confessions of Argentine friends that hang on the walls of the Florida street apartment, one by Vito Palazzo stands out, which gives a good account of how the good old Saintex spent them: “… We were going to listen to Carlos Gardel at the Los Dos Chinos bar with Jean Mermoz and Antoine. The two French people were moved to tears and we were with them… One of their favorite places was going to eat at a French boarding house, Madame Duquesnois; He loved to savor familiar dishes, especially soups with lots of vegetables and legumes… He felt a lively sympathy for us and our conversations always ended on aviation topics. Antoine wrote down everything he saw. He spent his time writing in a black notebook, we thought that for some reason he had to write, but we did not know that he was the writer he was … He did not show that aspect of his life … When I read The little Prince I discovered that there was a cultured person with a superior mind… Before each flight, Saint-Exupéry used to shake hands with all the ground personnel. He said that the one who was flying did not know if he was coming back. He was completely convinced of the risk he was taking. So he said goodbye so that they would have good memories of him… ”. From the looks of it, that Saintex more than succeeded.

Use Lahoz He is the author of the novel ‘Jauja’ (Destino publishing house).

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