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Monday 24 December 2012

Out of Arizona - extracts

WHERE IT STARTED The urge to fly dated back to her troubled youth and had then evolved into looking for the toughest job on offer. Mere transportation wasn’t enough and by age sixteen her ultimate goal consisted of slipping an air-to-ground missile down the throat of a two-metre target. She’d even sorted out the morality, reassured that training would equip her with a professional pride, a knowledge (admittedly limited) of international politics and an adult form of patriotism. But everything depended on military correctness: a legitimate target identified and destroyed. Without that clarity the comfort and purpose of military flying disappeared.

JOY OF FLYING And this was that type of joy, wasn’t it? The carpet of south-west France at three thousand feet. Clumps of trees like tight green sponge, orange roof tiles, cars idling along narrow roads like iridescent beetles. A seat of privilege in a well-found vehicle she could trust, linked to like minds who spoke the same pared-down language.

“Auch approach. Foxtrot-Sierra Delta Romeo...

SPANISH DIVERSIONS Go unofficial, she’d said. Unemployed until the plane was serviceable she watched him thread his way through the cat’s cradle of cabling behind the bulkhead. It took him less than an hour.

“Those hands knew what they were doing,” she said as she ran up the engine to test the gauge, he sitting beside her in the passenger seat.

“They have other uses,” he said quietly. His eyes were almost black, deep set into his skull and they were watching her at work as she had watched him earlier. He added, “Most Yankees like paella.”

Thus it had started.

Some realtors had open-plan offices as big as bowling alleys and these she avoided. Instead she made for a smaller frontage claiming to be family-run, flagging the slogan: Coffee and Sympathy (Tea’s for  Sissies). At the door a tall grey-haired man in a much-scuffed suede jacket courteously stepped back and allowed her to enter first. She smiled back at him hurriedly and took this to be an augury.

LEFTISH LEVER "If I’d been sour I’d have been sour about myself. I dropped out of her circle and came to France, as I’d always wanted. My first girlfriend here was PCF, an activist with the railway workers and not terribly likeable. That didn’t stop me. I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse: Tell me about women’s causes, I said. Convert me. The French love supplication, love being asked to teach.”

BRIEF LUXURY Now she had time to appreciate their comfortable way of life. She lay on a lounger on a huge terrace furnished in pinkish local stone, the Pyrenees as a backdrop. The location, south-east of Bayonne, was high enough for her to trace the minor road that led down to the bridge, over the Nive, into Cambo-les-Bains, up the Col de Pinodiéta and, beyond the mountain, southwest to Pamplona in Spain. There was Crystal in her glass...

SIMULATING DISASTER “Gliding at just under four hundred feet.  There’s something beyond two kilometres; a barer area, fewer trees but large rocks. Now we’re under three hundred feet. Nothing ahead. Two hundred. Just dense trees. Tree tops are better than ground level rocks, but only just. Decision time. Full flaps, nose slightly up. Body braced.” He started the port engine.

Jérome shook his head. “Doubt we’d have survived. At least trees are better than houses.”

CHRIS ON BOOKS “Don’t read them cover to cover, dip in, taste them, chuck ‘em into a corner if they don’t suit. Don’t treasure them as things. Books are what they leave behind, they’re not interior decoration. Hardbacks made me uncomfortable even when I had money. Too big, too stiff, too unnecessary. You can stuff a paperback into your pocket. If it falls out buy another. Better still don’t replace it; rely on what you can remember.”

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