Sunday, August 1, 2010

A desire to fly

Ever since ancient times, humans have been obsessed with a desire to fly. The ancient Greeks idolized the mythological heroes Daedalus and his son Icarus, who fled from the angry King Minos employing wings that Daedalus himself had constructed. Henri Giffard, the Parisian inventor who made the first powered and controlled flight in his hydrogen-filled airship, has been immortalized, his name being one of 72 inscribed on the Eiffel Tower. Orville and Wilbur Wright are studied by impressed second graders in elementary school classrooms all over the globe as the inventors of the world’s first airplane.

Not to mention, for his services to aviation including the first trans-Pacific flight, the Australian Charles Kingsford Smith was knighted, left his legacy as the name of Sydney’s major airport, and was pictured on the Australian $20 note from 1966 to 1994. As the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Earhart gave independent women everywhere a fascinating role model. The race to fly the first man to outer space and subsequently send him to the moon caused the whole world to hold its breath. And, today, a child’s first trip on an airplane is nothing less than monumental -- the feeling of soaring above the clouds for the first time often remembered into adulthood.

I too have not escaped this longing to take to the air. But, recently my yearning to fly went beyond the average desire to sit in 7B, munching peanuts, sipping ginger ale, flipping aimlessly through in-flight magazines and making small talk with whatever strange or lovely character might be posted to 7A. I have, after all, had my share of rubbery airplane food, straight-faced immigration officers, turbulence and delayed flights this year alone. (As an aside, the pictures below demonstrate what happens in a Thai airport when you are running on nothing but caffeine and a high from your weekend in paradise, and your plane gets delayed so long that you won’t arrive home until 4 a.m. The icing on the cake – you have to be up for work at 6 the next day.)

I wanted to do it how the birds do -- spread my arms, feel the wind in my hair, smile because the rush of air was forcing my cheeks in an upward-outward direction, and know that I was better than on top of the world. As luck would have it, on our second of two weekend-get-aways, Tim and I were able to do just that.

After a day spent lazing on the beach and in the pool at the Hard Rock Hotel on Penang, an island in Malaysia, Tim and I went parasailing. The first towed parachutes were developed by Pierre-Marcel Lemoigne in 1961, and one of the first mentions of its success is of a Frenchman being pulled behind a tractor the same year. Parasailing is offered as a recreational activity for tourists on beaches all over the world. It involves a harness, a parasail, a tow rope, and, thankfully, a boat rather than a tractor. I’m sure you can figure out the rest.

So how was it? Everything I could have hoped for and more. Not only did I satisfy my instinctual human craving to fly, I got an abs work-out in too. (see side-bar for parasailing images)

Seven down…one to go.

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