Culture

Moroccan desert museum for Little Prince aviator

Saint-Exupery died mysteriously in 1944, during a reconnaissance mission in the Mediterranean.

TARFAYA, Morocco: Battling the wind in his biplane, a French pilot landed on a sandy Moroccan airstrip. Nearly 90 years on, a museum honors his stay and the world-renowned book it inspired.“Antoine de Saint-Exupery the writer was partly born here, in Tarfaya, where he spent two years as station manager of Aeropostale,” says Sadat Shaibat Mrabihrabou. “It’s here that he began writing his books,” he says, “under the stars.”

Saint-Exupery is a name inseparable from “The Little Prince.” First published almost 70 years ago, the pilot’s book is a series of self-illustrated parables in which a boy prince from a tiny asteroid recounts his adventures among the stars to a pilot who has crash landed in the desert.

Flying a Breguet 14 biplane, Saint-Exupery was a pioneer aviator posted to Tarfaya in 1927, a wind-swept outpost that served as an important refueling station for the Aeropostale aviation company, linking France to its African colonies.

In front of Tarfaya stands a derelict fortress built by the British in the late 19th century, and the Atlantic Ocean stretching to the horizon. Behind it lies the Sahara desert.

During his 18-month posting in Tarfaya’s dramatic isolation, he wrote his first novel “Southern Mail.” More than a decade later it suggested the desert landscape that the Little Prince discovers when he falls to Earth. Tarfaya museum opened in 2004.

“This patrimony represents an oral culture that risks disappearing with time. Saint-Exupery’s last mechanic-caretaker died two years ago,” says Mrabihrabou. “It was at this man’s home that I heard for the first time the name of Saint-Exupery, when I was six years old.”

The life of the celebrated aviator-author is told on the walls of the museum, from his birth in Lyon in 1900 to his mysterious death in 1944 during a reconnaissance mission in the Mediterranean.

“I really loved the Sahara,” reads one of the panels. “I spent nights in total seclusion. I woke up in this yellow expanse blown by gusts of wind as if at sea.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 03, 2013, on page 16.

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