Man On Wire

On August 7, 1974, Philippe Petit strung 200 kilos of cable between the tops of New York's Twin Towers and walked, knelt, lain, and danced across it. He and his cohorts spent the previous night juggling the logistics of this criminal act of poetry in the sky, which lasted 45 minutes to an hour, six or eight crossings between.

Friends on the ground alerted crowds to the dancing speck in the sky. In a time before cell phones, without the means to broadcast the news to anyone not in the immediate vicinity, people looked up. A photograph shows faces angled upward, arms hanging slack, lips parting.

Police gathered on the tower roofs; Petit laughed and ran to the middle of the wire. Ran: how would they follow? When he eventually gave in, the elegant act was traded for the violence of arrest, of handcuffs and the danger of a steep stairwell. Some friends would deny they knew him, pretending instead to be journalists. The police report would accuse him of "intent to cause public inconvenience...which served no legitimate purpose."

Why did he do it? "Why? There is no why," he said, directly following his arrest. Later he'd say the towers beckoned him, that "when I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk."

Don't ask him if he is a daredevil, he told reporters. He'd rather describe his "elation at reaching the clouds and surprising the sky." Not a death wish--a "life wish."

Petit's friend, actress Debra Winger, has said that would Petit host a reality show or wear a swoosh on his shirt, he'd fund his dream walk across the Grand Canyon. But selling out doesn't suit this wirewalker, magician, juggler, 18th century post and beam carpenter, bullfighter, lockpicker and author of a book on pickpocketing (in the New York precinct, he escaped his handcuffs, swiped a policeman's hat, balanced it on his nose, and recuffed himself before the laughs subsided).

In 2007 Petit told Psychology Today that poetry and rebellion are words that help comprise his self-portrait. Focus, tenacity, and passion, too. "When I talk about my life, I use the word 'fighting' very often. There is my intention to create and the world is against it."

Life is an adventure--or, if not, a life of fighting for adventure, safety net foregone.

the book.
the movie.


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