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Deja Vu

April 7, 2014

On the Ropes


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2014: Denis Josselin, a French tightrope walker, succeeded Monday in crossing the river Seine on a length of rope. Josselin last completed the feat in 2004 and since then no one has matched him in traversing the river by rope. To challenge himself, Josselin completed part of Monday's walk blindfolded. The New York Daily News reports:

“Ever since I started walking on the cables I have stopped dreaming of flying. I am flying,” Josselin told Parisian News TV afterward.

“I am the last tightrope walker that got authorization to cross the Seine river, it was 10 years ago. These occasions are so rare I'm enjoying them as much as possible,” he added.

The Local reports that Josselin “stumbled” into tightrope walking in 1988. Trained in mime and dance, he's performed his circus act across the world—including Spain, Japan, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

1876: Maria Spelterini arrived in Buffalo for the U.S. Centennial celebration of 1876 with the hope of becoming of the first woman to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. The local press was enraptured with her beauty and talent, but she quickly proved that her athleticism was the real draw. An account of her crossing published in the Buffalo Express covered the event with breathless admiration:

The Signorina started upon her perilous journey promptly at the advertised time, 4 o'clock, a little too soon for the afternoon train from the city. When those who went down by that rain arrived inside the inclosure, they saw a glistening figure far out upon "the straight and narrow way," and, with steady, measured steps, progressing. The lady was attired with green buskins, rights of the color nature gives the cuticle of the Caucasian race, a tunic of scarlet, and shining green bodice. Her head was covered only by its luxuriant growth of flowing brown hair. Bands at either side of the river played inspiring music, but ever eye was fixed upon the form of the daring woman, who was now passing up the ascent to the further shore. A few more seconds of intense interest, at least to those who were lookers-on, and she stood upon the shining shore of her majesty's dominion. The accomplishment of her passage was the signal for applause from both banks and the bridge.
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The brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over we realize this: that the human has been roughly handled, but that it has advanced.
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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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