Today I love Philippe Petit, the Frenchman who in 1974 sneaked into the just-constructed World Trade Center in New York City, strung a 450-pound wire between the Twin Towers, and spent 45 minutes walking more than 1,350 feet above the ground. During that time he completed at least six crossings, taunted the policemen waiting on each tower to arrest him, sat down and stared into the void, and even reclined on the wire and conversed with a seagull. Surely it was for this man that the French coined their word panache.
Philippe’s story is told in Man on Wire, a documentary that recounts, in film noir style, the details of his outrageous caper. The movie reveals Petit to be an utterly charming man, a red-haired imp bursting with joie de vivre and total confidence in his talent. As I watched him walk across the sky, I found myself identifying with his quest for the impossible, and with his desire to create something beautiful and fantastic. I will be thinking about M. Petit often as I pursue my own quest (a pursuit, coincidentally enough, in which my rival is a red-haired Frenchman named Philippe).