Wednesday, August 07, 2013

International Dance Between the Towers Day 2013

A few years back I decided to declare a national, an international holiday!  I called it:  International Philippe Petit Danced Between The Towers Day.  It celebrates one of our history's greatest acts of holy folly -- on August 7, 1974 the French street performer and wire walker Philippe Petit stepped out onto a wire that had been surreptitiously rigged over the preceding night between the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and proceeded to "dance" between them for approximately 45 minutes.

I was twelve years old at the time, and the idea of this was electrifying.  A few years ago a documentary film about "le coup" -- Man on Wire -- came out and recaptured my imagination. (It also captured the Best Documentary Oscar in 2008.)  My annual ritual of watching that film began, and the declaration of IPPDBTTD was born.

In June, Nik Wallenda of the famous Flying Wallenda's family got people talking about perilous promenades when he walked a tightrope across the Grand Canyon.  Petit's accomplishment was naturally resurrected in people's minds, not least because he had considered following up his New York City crossings by crossing this same spot of the Canyon.  (Wallenda even had to remove the rigging Petit had been experimenting with.)  Still, for me, the events of August 7th still hold a unique place.  Why?

Well, firstly, it was such a surprise.  Following on their conquest of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in France and the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia, Petit and his companions prepared the Towers walk in secret, in the middle of the night.  (And for months prior.)  They did not have permits or approval.  They did not hold a press conference in advance to make sure the media were all there.  They didn't know if anyone would see them.  In a very real sense it seems to me that they didn't do this for anyone else -- they did this for themselves.  The did this to have done this.  Or, more precisely, they did it to do it.  Present tense.

And this added another element of risk.  Preparations had to be done in secret, which means that the team was limited in its ability to have their ideas tested.  And if you've read the book or seen the movie it is astonishing clear in how many ways le coup nearly didn't happen!  So many things could have gone wrong, almost did go wrong, that it's even more amazing than on face value that the whole thing worked.

One of the other things about that 1974 walk is that it was such a collaborative effort.  This seemed readily apparent to me watching the movie.  Although there's no question that it is presented as Petit's achievement and Petit's dream, it also seems unambiguously clear to me that there is no possible way he could have carried it out on his own.  This was brought home even more powerfully for me last year when I reached out to one of his co-conspirators -- Jean-Louis Blondeau -- because I wanted to use one of his black and white photos of Petit in his street performing days  for my blog post for IPPDBTTD.  To my tremendous pleasure he said that I could, and the two of us corresponded for a little while.  (I plan to send him a link to this piece and wish him a "happy anniversary.")

While those who made the walk possible did in many ways find themselves in the shadows of the spotlight that fell on Petit, that in no way diminishes their have been co-creators of that morning's magic.

Today, on what I now think of as International Dance Between the Towers Day, I am so grateful for all of those who were dreamers of this dream, and all of those who made it come true for the rest of us.  Jean-Louis said to me that there's another, in some ways even larger and more true story of that famous walk than the one I'll be watching tonight.  I hope that that story gets told.

Pax tecum,


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1 comment:

RevWik said...

I am so embarrassed. After I posted this last evening, as I was lying in bed in fact, I realized that I had consistently mispelled Philippe Petit's name! I can't believe it. I've corrected that mistake this morning, but oh man am I blushing . . .