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  • Translator: Timothy Covell Reviewer: Morton Bast

  • This sound,

  • this smell,

  • this sight

  • all remind me of the campfires of my childhood,

  • when anyone could become a storyteller in front of the dancing flames.

  • There was this wondrous ending

  • when people and fire fell asleep almost in unison.

  • It was dreaming time.

  • Now my story has a lot to do with dreaming,

  • although I'm known to make my dreams come true.

  • Last year, I created a one-man show.

  • For an hour and a half I shared with the audience

  • a lifetime of creativity,

  • how I pursue perfection, how I cheat the impossible.

  • And then TED challenged me:

  • "Philippe, can you shrink this lifetime to 18 minutes?"

  • (Laughter)

  • Eighteen minutes, clearly impossible.

  • But here I am.

  • One solution was to rehearse a machine gun delivery

  • in which every syllable, every second will have its importance

  • and hope to God the audience will be able to follow me.

  • No, no, no.

  • No, the best way for me to start

  • is to pay my respects to the gods of creativity.

  • So please join me for a minute of silence.

  • Okay, I cheated, it was a mere 20 seconds.

  • But hey, we're on TED time.

  • When I was six years old,

  • I fell in love with magic.

  • For Christmas I got a magic box

  • and a very old book on card manipulation.

  • Somehow I was more interested in pure manipulation

  • than in all the silly little tricks in the box.

  • So I looked in the book for the most difficult move,

  • and it was this.

  • Now I'm not supposed to share that with you,

  • but I have to show you the card is hidden in the back of the hand.

  • Now that manipulation

  • was broken down into seven moves

  • described over seven pages.

  • One, two, three,

  • four, five, six and seven.

  • And let me show you something else.

  • The cards were bigger than my hands.

  • Two months later, six years old,

  • I'm able to do one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

  • And I go to see a famous magician

  • and proudly ask him, "Well what do you think?"

  • Six years old.

  • The magician looked at me and said, "This is a disaster.

  • You cannot do that in two seconds

  • and have a minuscule part of the card showing.

  • For the move to be professional, it has to be less than one second

  • and it has to be perfect."

  • Two years later, one -- zoop.

  • And I'm not cheating. It's in the back. It's perfect.

  • Passion is the motto

  • of all my actions.

  • As I'm studying magic,

  • juggling is mentioned repeatedly

  • as a great way to acquire dexterity and coordination.

  • Now I had long admired how fast and fluidly

  • jugglers make objects fly.

  • So that's it. I'm 14; I'm becoming a juggler.

  • I befriend a young juggler in a juggling troupe,

  • and he agrees to sell me three clubs.

  • But in America you have to explain. What are clubs?

  • Nothing to do with golf.

  • They are those beautiful oblong objects,

  • but quite difficult to make.

  • They have to be precisely lathed.

  • Oh, when I was buying the clubs,

  • somehow the young juggler was hiding from the others.

  • Well I didn't think much of it at the time.

  • Anyway, here I was progressing with my new clubs.

  • But I could not understand.

  • I was pretty fast, but I was not fluid at all.

  • The clubs were escaping me at each throw.

  • And I was trying constantly to bring them back to me.

  • Until one day I practiced in front of Francis Brunn,

  • the world's greatest juggler.

  • And he was frowning.

  • And he finally asked, "Can I see those?"

  • So I proudly showed him my clubs.

  • He said, "Philippe, you have been had.

  • These are rejects. They are completely out of alignment.

  • They are impossible to juggle."

  • Tenacity is how I kept at it

  • against all odds.

  • So I went to the circus to see more magicians, more jugglers,

  • and I saw -- oh no, no, no, I didn't see.

  • It was more interesting; I heard.

  • I heard about those amazing men and women

  • who walk on thin air --

  • the high-wire walkers.

  • Now I have been playing with ropes and climbing all my childhood,

  • so that's it. I'm 16; I'm becoming a wire walker.

  • I found two trees --

  • but not any kind of trees,

  • trees with character --

  • and then a very long rope.

  • And I put the rope around and around

  • and around and around and around till I had no more rope.

  • Now I have all of those ropes parallel like this.

  • I get a pair of pliers and some coat hangers,

  • and I gather them together in some kind of ropey path.

  • So I just created the widest tightrope in the world.

  • What did I need? I needed the widest shoes in the world.

  • So I found some enormous, ridiculous, giant ski boots

  • and then wobbly, wobbly I get on the ropes.

  • Well within a few days I'm able to do one crossing.

  • So I cut one rope off.

  • And the next day one rope off.

  • And a few days later, I was practicing on a single tightrope.

  • Now you can imagine at that time

  • I had to switch the ridiculous boots for some slippers.

  • So that is how -- in case there are people here in the audience who would like to try --

  • this is how not to learn wire walking.

  • (Laughter)

  • Intuition is a tool essential in my life.

  • In the meantime, I am being thrown out of five different schools

  • because instead of listening to the teachers,

  • I am my own teacher, progressing in my new art

  • and becoming a street juggler.

  • On the high wire, within months,

  • I'm able to master all the tricks they do in the circus,

  • except I am not satisfied.

  • I was starting to invent my own moves and bring them to perfection.

  • But nobody wanted to hire me.

  • So I started putting a wire up in secret and performing without permission.

  • Notre Dame,

  • the Sydney Harbor Bridge,

  • the World Trade Center.

  • And I developed a certitude, a faith

  • that convinced me that I will get safely to the other side.

  • If not, I will never do that first step.

  • Well nonetheless,

  • on the top of the World Trade Center

  • my first step was terrifying.

  • All of a sudden the density of the air is no longer the same.

  • Manhattan no longer spreads its infinity.

  • The murmur of the city dissolves into a squall

  • whose chilling power I no longer feel.

  • I lift the balancing pole. I approach the edge.

  • I step over the beam.

  • I put my left foot on the cable,

  • the weight of my body raised on my right leg

  • anchored to the flank of the building.

  • Shall I ever so slightly shift my weight to the left?

  • My right leg will be unburdened,

  • my right foot will freely meet the wire.

  • On one side, a mass of a mountain, a life I know.

  • On the other, the universe of the clouds,

  • so full of unknown we think it's empty.

  • At my feet, the path to the north tower -- 60 yards of wire rope.

  • It's a straight line, which sags,

  • which sways, which vibrates,

  • which rolls on itself,

  • which is ice,

  • which is three tons tight, ready to explode,

  • ready to swallow me.

  • An inner howl assails me,

  • the wild longing to flee.

  • But it is too late.

  • The wire is ready.

  • Decisively my other foot sets itself onto the cable.

  • Faith is what replaces doubt

  • in my dictionary.

  • So after the walk

  • people ask me, "How can you top that?"

  • Well I didn't have that problem.

  • I was not interested in collecting the gigantic,

  • in breaking records.

  • In fact, I put my World Trade Center crossing

  • at the same artistic level as some of my smaller walks --

  • or some completely different type of performance.

  • Let's see, such as my street juggling, for example.

  • So each time

  • I draw my circle of chalk on the pavement

  • and enter as the improvising comic silent character

  • I created 45 years ago,

  • I am as happy as when I am in the clouds.

  • But this here,

  • this is not the street.

  • So I cannot street juggle here, you understand.

  • So you don't want me to street juggle here, right?

  • You know that, right?

  • You don't want me to juggle, right?

  • (Applause)

  • (Music)

  • (Applause)

  • Thank you. Thank you.

  • Each time I street juggle

  • I use improvisation.

  • Now improvisation is empowering

  • because it welcomes the unknown.

  • And since what's impossible is always unknown,

  • it allows me to believe I can cheat the impossible.

  • Now I have done the impossible not once,

  • but many times.

  • So what should I share? Oh, I know. Israel.

  • Some years ago I was invited to open the Israel Festival

  • by a high-wire walk.

  • And I chose to put my wire

  • between the Arab quarters and the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem

  • over the Ben Hinnom Valley.

  • And I thought it would be incredible

  • if in the middle of the wire

  • I stopped and, like a magician,

  • I produce a dove and send her in the sky

  • as a living symbol of peace.

  • Well now I must say,

  • it was a little bit hard to find a dove in Israel, but I got one.

  • And in my hotel room,

  • each time I practiced making it appear and throwing her in the air,

  • she would graze the wall and end up on the bed.

  • So I said, now it's okay. The room is too small.

  • I mean, a bird needs space to fly.

  • It will go perfectly on the day of the walk.

  • Now comes the day of the walk.

  • Eighty thousand people spread over the entire valley.

  • The mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, comes to wish me the best.

  • But he seemed nervous.

  • There was tension in my wire,

  • but I also could feel tension on the ground.

  • Because all those people

  • were made up of people who, for the most part,

  • considered each other enemies.

  • So I start the walk. Everything is fine.

  • I stop in the middle.

  • I make the dove appear.

  • People applaud in delight.

  • And then in the most magnificent gesture,

  • I send the bird of peace into the azure.

  • But the bird, instead of flying away,

  • goes flop, flop, flop and lands on my head.

  • (Laughter)

  • And people scream.

  • So I grab the dove,

  • and for the second time I send her in the air.

  • But the dove, who obviously didn't go to flying school,

  • goes flop, flop, flop and ends up at the end of my balancing pole.

  • (Laughter)

  • You laugh, you laugh. But hey.

  • I sit down immediately. It's a reflex of wire walkers.

  • Now in the meantime, the audience, they go crazy.

  • They must think this guy with this dove,

  • he must have spent years working with him.

  • What a genius, what a professional.

  • (Laughter)

  • So I take a bow. I salute with my hand.

  • And at the end I bang my hand against the pole

  • to dislodge the bird.

  • Now the dove, who, now you know, obviously cannot fly,

  • does for the third time a little flop, flop, flop

  • and ends up on the wire behind me.

  • And the entire valley goes crazy.