Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Superheroes in Our Midst
Late one night, several years ago, I found myself standing on an empty subway platform, waiting for a downtown train. The only other person in the station was a tall man across the tracks on the uptown platform. He seemed harmless enough, so I allowed my attention to drift to a magazine article on celebrity fashion disasters. Suddenly I sensed movement. I glanced up to see the man walking on the wall of the station--his body perfectly horizontal and parallel to the ground. He took five or six steps in this fashion before flipping backward into a standing position. For a minute or two, he remained completely still, and I started to wonder if I might have hallucinated. Then he did it again.
When I told Kiki about my encounter with a real-life superhero in the bowels of the New York City subway, she simply scribbled something on a piece of paper. (She can be mildly annoying at times.) The note she handed me read, "le parkour."
I mention this because before I can continue with the French Adventure, I must introduce you to parkour--the phenomenon known in France as the art of displacement.
In the 1980s, a fifteen-year-old Parisian named David Belle invented parkour--a discipline in which the sole aim is to get from one place to another in quickest, most efficient manner using only the power of the human body. Sounds easy right? Not if you're traveling across rooftops or climbing water drains. In order to perfect their art, practioners of parkour (called traceurs if male and traceuses if female) must learn how to walk on walls, leap wide chasms, and jump from heights that would flatten an average person. Seeing them in action is enough to make you start shelving your comic books in the non-fiction section of your home library.
But not everyone with superpowers becomes a superhero. There are quite a few villains out there as well.
Click here for a New Yorker article on the art of parkour.
(Below: A video of the master, David Belle. Do I need to say, "Don't try this at home?")