Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I thought the towers were built for me. — Philippe Petit, wirewalker

In 1974 Philippe Petit, the French wirewalker, pulled off a sensational coup. As recounted in the documentary Man on Wire, he set up a cable between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and for 45 minutes walked and danced between them.

To hear eyewitness reports, magic was created that day. People kept on repeating that word; magical. Petit even said it himself.

Magic is real. It’s not just sleight of hand or the flash-bang magic of fantasy books. Petit’s magic is Goethe’s magic, powered by boldness and vision.

Yet we can’t think of Petit’s coup outside of the context of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

On the one hand: magic and wonder. On the other: horror. There was nothing bold or visionary about the 9/11 attacks. After all, with sufficient fire anything will come down. Petit created magic that day; Al Qaeda created disgust.

I keep miscalling the Twin Towers the Two Towers, because after 9/11 they became a part of a bigger narrative than just being the stodgy, somewhat boring, seat of world trade. But even before that, even before the abortive 1993 attack on the towers, they were something else.

In 1974, they were magic.


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