Man on the Wire (previously published as To Reach the Clouds), Philippe Petit (Skyhorse Publishing, 2002)
The text is prefaced with a quote provided by Werner Herzog the Mad German director.
“One more thing: Philippe, you are not a coward-so what I want to hear from you is the ecstatic truth about the towers.”
My favorite thing about this book was the way it read like a screen play. It had the pacing, intensity and structure of an inner dialogue. Or more accurately a monologue. I read most of the book in one sitting while at the laundromat.
I suppose partially because it is autobiographical, however one gets also the strong sense that this is symptomatic of the personal character of the book’s protagonist. Petit seems a very passionate and willed individual, I mean he did plan and execute an illegal high-wire walk between the two twin towers.
From the beginning the towers and Petit had a special relationship. Starting with the first newspaper article he read discussing their plans to the requiem to them at the end of the book. They were “my towers“. However, it is less the towers than the void between them that he is attracted and awed by. It is that void which he had to conquer. In many of even the first images, to those later of him performing the walk, the towers are not the focus. Rather, they serve to frame the void that is his calling.
Towards the end he describes the process of tightening the wire after it has been fastened to both the North and South tower. He describes the beauty of the catenary curves this produces, “an infinite number“. In fact each clandestine action and accompanying rigging has it’s own most seductive catenary curve. The pencil drawing he uses to illustrate to my mind resembles a cheshire grin, perhaps that of the cat from Alice and Wonderland?
The book is truly inspiring if only because his own personal madness became his greatness victory. If only we could all be driven to such madness.
Petit closes with a plea for rebuilding, and offers his own proposed design. His offer;
“When the towers again twin-tickle the clouds, I offer to walk again, to be the expression of the builders’ collective voice. Together, we will rejoice in an aerial song of victory. I will carry my life across the wire, as your life, as all our lives, past, present, and future-the lives lost, the lives welcomed since.
We can overcome.”
Note: I know the book was made into a movie yet besides seeing whatever film footage there is of the walk, I can’t imagine the movie being “better” than the book.