Almost as Jean Borotra was speaking, another senior Frenchman was making news back home. He is Georges Cormier, who, for most of his life, has nurtured a great if almost forgotten French tradition. He is a free balloonist. The first two humans ever to ascend in a balloon (Nov. 21, 1783) were Frenchmen; when Paris was besieged during the Franco-Prussian War, Minister of the Interior Leon Gambetta sailed over the heads of encircling German troops in a balloon to rally new armies in the provinces. Tales like this were fresher when Cormier, a tailor, made his first ascent 55 years ago, and though the airplane has made him a kind of human curio he has never lost his enthusiasm—in his half century of ballooning he has made 500 ascents, has floated over the Pyrenees to Spain, over the Channel to England, has landed in Holland, Italy and Africa.
Georges is now 82 years old, his eye has dimmed, he can no longer work at his trade, and he lives alone among the poor people of Paris. Nevertheless he still keeps two balloons in storage, and a few days ago he hauled one of them to the town of Angers, where, once a year for 35 years, he has ascended as part of a festival for indigent old people. Neat, spry, sparsely mustached, he climbed into his basket. The tugging balloon was cast off. He rose into the sky. He had promised to make only a short flight, but the balloon went up, up, up until it was only a spot in the clouds. Then it vanished. "Georges," worried people in his audience, "has probably been stricken ill, and his balloon is drifting aimlessly." The local police sent out the alarm; people sat up all night waiting for word, although most believed they had seen the last of him. Georges, however, telephoned the next morning. He had descended at twilight in a pasture 60 miles away and had spent the night with a hospitable farmer.
"I knew exactly what I was doing," he said testily. "I intended to come down in 10 miles, but I ran into a 35-knot wind and there was nothing to do but ride it out until I could maneuver into a quieter air current." Later he attempted to describe the things that keep him in the sky at his age—he talked of seeing the sunset glinting on the Seine, of trains rushing noiselessly across the countryside far below, of tiny cows trooping at evening toward lonely farmhouses.
"There is no future in ballooning for anyone but me, "he said, "but from every flight I come back content. It's a pleasure, always a pleasure."
The half-time band appears upset,
They're leaving in a muddle;
They've somehow lost their majorette,
She's back there in the huddle.
—F. E. WHITE