Today is the final of the French Open, which happens every year at the Stade Roland Garros in Paris. Perhaps my colleagues and I are particularly ignorant, but none of us knew who Roland Garros was. Luckily, we’ve just acquired our first book written by Garros, which gives us an opportunity to learn about his life:
Mémoires ; suivi de, Journal de guerre / Roland Garros ; préface de Philippe Forest ; avant-propos et dossier de Jean-Pierre Lefèvre-Garros.
An aviator and fighter pilot, Garros’ plane was shot down in 1918 and he died in the crash at the age of 29. In 1913 Garros became the first person to cross the Mediterranean by air, and he had only flown for the first time in 1909. He was a renowned fighter pilot during the First World War, and he supposedly participated in what may have been the first air battle—destroying a German Zeppelin (though this doesn’t seem to be corroborated by his diaries…).
Most of the images of Garros in the book, as well as the manuscript of his journal used in this edition, are held at the Museée de l’Air et de l’Espace (Bourget, France). A different manuscript of his journal, the editor speculates, had been owned by Blaise Cendrars (until 1940), who wrote that the work was “le document le plus extraordinaire, et le plus pittoresque et le plus vivant que l’on puisse lire sur les débuts de l’aviation”.
While his war diaries probably attract the most attention, his memoirs are probably of equal interest. They chronicle his trips to North and South America, recording his daily travels and observations on social customs of the time (he was astounded when crossing the border from the Texas to Mexico at Eagle Pass to see a Chinese restaurant: On avait tout juste le choix entre le buffet de la gare et le restaurant chinois. La curiosité nous poussa vers ce dernier. Des Chinois… à Eagle Pass… After seeing a cloud of flies as his steak was being cut, he went back to the station buffet—Page 151). There are further chapters recording his sporting and social activities through France and Europe in the years leading up to the war. Most of his sporting activities seem to revolve around airplane races. I flipped through the chapter “Campagnes sportives en France” hoping to see a reference to tennis, but with no luck…