Friday, August 8, 2014

Man on Wire

Spit through the mouth onto the concrete, from the belly of the meandering subway underground, I walk to work each day, head down, idly concentrating on the steps, avoiding the traps of laid by open grates, sidewalk cracks. Eyes blurred, oblivious to the squirming mass of bodies passing, others, walking to work, exploring, running, shouting, silent, heads down in camaraderie. Head down, dodging between mothers carting children, between European and Asian tourists posing for photographs in front of Madison Square Garden, posing beside crumpled fast food wrappers and homeless men with bloated feet, shaking their cans, shaking their heads. A familiar trajectory, a few blocks along the avenue, to a dusty building tucked just inside of the corner.

Did you see that restored Rolls Royce, slow rolling along?

Did you see that artist, releasing small balloons into the sky, bits of poems attached to scatter for the world?

Did you see that chimpanzee, in a tuxedo, a monkey suit?

My eyes seem shut, like I want to pass through the world untouched, forgotten, blind.

A few years ago, I watched Man on Wire, the absolutely stunning documentary revealing the story behind Philippe Petit and his awesome, magnificent feat, tight-rope walking between the Twin Towers. Today is the fortieth anniversary of his feat, that testament to the power of the artistic spirit, the power for the romantic to prevail over the pragmatic and the bureaucratic, the feat that reminded the world that sometimes, life is simple, pure, a walk across a bit of taut rope, a commune with the air. As the film illustrates, this beautiful story is also a testament to the power of trust and confidence; Petit would never have been able to accomplish his acrobatic poem without the love, trust, support, encouragement of others, friends, family, lover, strangers. People who helped him arduously train. People who simply looked the other way, let the experiment play out. Some of these people, after the success of the mission, Petit never speaks to again, his relationships clouded with his artistic narcissism. Like so many of the glorious feats of man, this one, watching it replayed, with a cushion of time and subjective documentary lens between us, incited that odd simultaneous conflict of sadness and of inspiration. Anything is possible. Look at the perseverance, amid a backdrop of uncertainty. From our perspective, on the ground, how tiny he was. And from his perspective, we, on the ground, how small, how insignificant.

The Twin Towers have been destroyed for over a decade now, but that fact is eclipsed by so many other reasons this type of stunt seems impossible to replicate. It seems impossible to imagine that morning commute in the city, sipping on scalding coffee, looking up to see some miniscule figure, appearing to walk amongst the clouds, above the towers of the buildings, to flit and dance in the sky. An individual with the fortitude, the vision, the passion, the selfishness, is rare, rare among the grains of sands of people across countries and generations. Petit was, truly, unique.  

(image taken from ABC Australia)

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