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Obituary - Tancrède Melet  

2016-01-23 14:44:55|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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The artist of the void

Tancrède Melet, highliner, rock-climber and circus performer, died on January 5th, aged 32



THE slightly leaning point of the Aiguille de la République, in the Mont Blanc range, is just large enough for a nerveless climber to sit and admire the view: 2,300 metres of empty air between his perch and the glacier below. But on September 4th 2014 Tancrède Melet was not sitting on it. He was pirouetting in his wingsuit to display the underarm webbing that would make him swoop down like a bird, and blowing kisses to the camera with which he was filming himself. A moment later, he jumped. It made sense. To go back to his partner and supper in Chamonix the way he had come, by train, hike, 650 metres of rock-climbing and a brief bivouac (camping) in the snow, would consume 10 hours. It would take 3 minutes, if he flew.

Every void and drop seemed to beckon him to throw himself into it, with only a parachute to save him. He couldn’t see a cliff or a building without wanting to jump off: sometimes in his wingsuit, sometimes half-naked, somersaulting or cartwheeling over the edge. Once he was fired from a giant catapult, howling with joy at the speed with which the mountain walls shot past. If clouds or rainbows filled the void, so much the better, because he or others would usually be filming his performance, and the beauty of it — l’esthétique of his body curving and cavorting in space—was almost the most important thing. Foremost, though, was the extraordinary clearing and freeing of his mind. He could seldom hide his slight vexation when the parachute checked his fall.

Jumping was one route into emptiness. The other was to walk out into it along a thin nylon slackwire, to see if he could get across from safety to safety and what might happen if he failed. He walked across the gorges of the Dourbie in southern France, and between the Tours Mercuriales in Paris; in Kjerag in Norway, in winter, he crossed on a wire between ice-walls 450 metres above a fjord. He walked the line, almost invisibly high, that joined two hot-air balloons. On many highlines he had a leash to save him. On some, he did not. He would step slowly, often barefoot for better grip, arms out, as the wire swayed. If he slipped—and he did slip—he had to grab the wire, with hands or curling feet, and hang limply over the far blue view until he could lever himself back. Sometimes he crossed with an open, but quite useless, umbrella in one hand.

Wasn’t he scared? Occasionally. Yet he was no closer to death, he thought, than a man who drove too fast on the motorway—or anyone else in this “community of mortals”. With base-jumping, he was mostly just curious to find out what surprises lay in store for his body or his mind if he flew through limits unbreached before; or through the life/death limit everyone crossed, if it came to that. “Who”, his publicity ran, “will be the first to venture into the unknown and reach for the stars?”

With highlining, he felt more cautious. A slackwire between two trees was a doddle; on a somewhat higher wire, it was still possible to centre himself and focus calmly across the distance. But great heights, with their choppy winds and the loss of visual landmarks, racked both his nerves and his balance. He had to “beat himself up” to do the walk at all—or remember how on his first highline, too scared to go more than three steps, he had felt such an “explosion of sensations” that he was hooked for life.

The devil’s whisper

Thin, dark and shy, he did not look like an extreme sportsman and disliked being called one. Nor was he a daredevil; he was more thoughtful than that. There was a dash of the devilish, though: a whisper in his ear that said, “Why don’t you just try…?”, to which, after communing with his laptop and maps for a while, he would grin back, “That should work!” His summer climbing gear was Bermuda shorts, a white straw hat and a “Think Different” T-shirt. Point made: he seemed to think like no one else.

Essentially he saw himself as an artist of the void, weaving together base-jumping, acrobatics and highlining to make hair-raising theatre among the peaks. Love of wild mélanges had been encouraged by his parents, who took him out of school when he was bullied for a stammer and, instead, let him range over drawing, music, gymnastics and the circus. Though for four years he slaved as a software engineer, he dreamed of recovering that freedom.

“One beautiful day” he threw up the job, bought a van, and took to the roads of France to climb and walk the slackwire. In the Verdon gorges of the Basses-Alpes he fell in with a fellow enthusiast, Julien Millot, an engineer of the sort who could fix firm anchors among snow-covered rocks for lines that spanned crevasses; with him he formed a 20-strong team, the Flying Frenchies, composed of climbers, cooks, musicians, technicians and clowns. These kindred spirits gave him confidence to push ever farther out into empty space.

Many thought him crazy. That was unfair. He respected the rules of physics, and made sure his gear was safe. When he died, by holding on too long to the rope of a hot-air balloon that shot up too fast, he had been on the firm, dull ground, getting ready. It looked like another devil-prompted connerie to push the limits of free flight, but this time there was no design in it. He was just taken completely by surprise, as he had hoped he might be all along. 




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