Happy Birthday! – VII

Seven, among all numbers, is probably the richest in symbolic meanings.
A sacred number in many traditions (from Judaism to Christianity, from Pythagoras to Islam, from Buddhism to Shinto), it indicates the perfection of a completed cycle and the harmony of the opposites. Seven is the number of both the virtues and sins, seven are the wonders of the world, seven were the ancient skies, the seas, the chakras or the Kings of Rome…
And today — in a more modest way, but not without much rejoicing — seven is also how old this blog is!

So, what surprises does the future hold?

The first one is a new upcoming book in the Bizzarro Bazar Collection, a book that took quite a while to complete — but time was spent for a good reason, as I will explain as soon as it is launched in September.

The second tasty news is a “secret project”, which has been absorbing me for the last few months: it is a venture I care so much about that it’s really hard for me to resist the urge of talking about it. Yet I prefer to postpone, for another two or three weeks, any revelation of this arcane design, when everything will be just perfect… so hold tight!

In the meantime, the excuse of this virtual birthday is really an occasion to thank you all once again, as “thanks” is never too often said. To those who read, comment and write me in private goes all my gratitude for the love and enthusiasm I witnessed in these first seven years of oddities and wonders.

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Ballonfest 1986

On that saturday morning, September 27, 1986, Cleveland was ready for an explosion of wonder.
For six months a Los Angeles company, headed by Treb Heining, had been working to organize the event which would break, in a spectacular way, a weird world record held at the time by Disneyland: in the first hours of the afternoon, a million and a half helium-filled balloons would be released simultaneously in the city sky.

The event was planned by United Way, a nonprofit organization, as part of the fundraising campaign for its activities supporting families in Cleveland.
In Public Square, Heining and his team mounted a huge structure, 250×150 feet wide, supporting a single, huge net built from the same material of the Space Shuttle cargo nets. Under this structure, for hours and hours more than 2.500 students and volunteers had been filling the colored balloons which, held by the net, formed a waving and impressive ceiling. After a first few hours of practice, their sore fingers wrapped in bandage aids, they had begun working automatically, each one of them tying a balloon every 20 seconds. Originally two millions baloons were meant to be prepared, but since some “leaks” had occurred, with several hundreds balloons escaping the net, it was decided to stop at a lower number.

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Every precaution had been taken so that the release was completely safe: United Way worked together with the city, the Federal Aviation Administration, the fire and police department, to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Furthermore, the balloons were made of biodegradable latex, and organizers estimated that they would pop or deflate right over Lake Erie, only to decompose quickly and with no environmental impact.
With all this apparently meticulous preparation, no one could suspect that the joyful, colored party could turn into a nightmare.


Weather conditions were not the best: a storm was coming, so the organizers opted for an early release. At 1.50 pm the net was cut loose, and a gigantic cloud of balloons rose up against the buildings and the Terminal Tower, amidst cheering children, the applause and whooping of the crowd.

Like the mushroom cloud from an explosion, expanding in slow motion, the mass ascended in the sky to form a multicolored column.
That is when things took an unexpected turn.

The balloons met a current of cool air which pushed them back down, towards the ground. In little time, the city was completely invaded by a myriad of fluctuating balloons which covered the streets, moving in group, obscuring the sky, preventing drivers from seeing the road and hindering boats and helicopters. According to the witnesses, it felt like moving through an asteroid belt: some cars crashed because drivers steered to avoid a wave of balloons pushed by wind, or because they were distracted by the surreal panorama.

But the worse was yet to come: Raymond Broderick and Bernard Sulzer, two fishermen, had gone out the day before, and were reported missing; the Coast Guard, who was looking for them, spotted their boat near a a breakwater, but had to abandon the search because balloons filled the sky and covered the surface of the water, making it hard for both boats and helicopters.
The two bodies later washed ashore.

During the next days balloons kept raising concern: they caused the temporary shut down of an airport runway, and scared some horses in a pasture so much so that the animals suffered permanent damage. The balloons ended up on the opposite shore of Lake Erie, some 100 km away, so complaints began to come even from Canada. Also because, according to some environmentalists, the plastic was not at all “biodegradable” and would have soiled the coast for at least six months.
Other criticism involved the waste of such large quantities of helium, a gas that is a non-renewable resource on Earth, and which some scientists (including late Nobel Phisics Laureate R. Coleman Richardson) believe there already is a shortage of.

This attempt to create something unforgettable, in the end, was meant to be one of those joyful, purely aesthetic, wonderfully useless experiences that bring out the child in all of us. As laudable this idea was, it turned out to be maybe a little too naive and planned without taking into account with the due consideration all possible consequences. The game ended quite badly.
United Way was sued for several million dollars, turning the fundraising campaign into a failure. The due damages to one of the fishermen’s wife and to the horse breeder were settled for undisclosed terms. This disastrous stunt, which ended in the red and in wide controversy, is the perfect example of a world record nobody will attempt to break again.
Treb Hining and his company, in the meantime, still are in the balloon business, working for the Academy Award, the Super Bowl and many presidential conventions: his team is also in charge of dispersing three thousand pounds of confetti (yep, 100% biodegradable this time) on Times Square, every New Year’s Eve.

Nuovo record

La piccola Lei Yadi Min, che ha poco più di un anno, è nata con 12 dita delle mani e 14 dita dei piedi. Vive con la madre e la sorella nel sobborgo di South Okkalarpa a Yangon (ex Rangoon), in Myanmar (ex Birmania).

Questa bellissima bambina entrerà nel Guinnes dei primati 2012 proprio grazie a questa sua particolarità fisica. Attulmente il record è detenuto da due bimbi indiani di 5 e 15 anni di età, con 12 dita delle mani e 13 dita dei piedi.

Il Grande Rigurgitatore

Hadji Ali, noto nel mondo dello spettacolo come Il Grande Rigurgitatore, era nato in Egitto nel 1872. Negli anni ’20, in America, divenne celebre per la sua abilità di inghiottire diversi oggetti e liquidi, e di rigurgitarli in un ordine preciso (scelto dal pubblico, o da lui stesso).

La sua arte non era in realtà una novità vera e propria, ma affondava le sue radici nella metà del 1600, quando artisti francesi come Jean Royer o Blaise Manfre impressionavano il pubblico con le loro abilità. Manfre, in particolare, era famoso per bere grosse quantità d’acqua, e rigurgitare vino. Questo era in realtà un trucco: prima dello spettacolo, Manfre inghiottiva un estratto di legno brasiliano, per colorare di rosso l’acqua che avrebbe in seguito bevuto.

Rispetto a tutti i suoi predecessori, però, Hadji Ali aveva dalla sua una tecnica davvero insuperata: poteva ingollare quantità incredibili di acqua, e risputarle con una precisione millimetrica. Sapeva bere l’equivalente di tre acquari da pesce, e rigurgitarli in una piccola fontanella ad arco per colpire un bicchierino posto a una notevole distanza. Ali riusciva perfino  a complicare questo numero intervallando l’emissione di acqua con la rigurgitazione di diversi oggetti precedentemente inghiottiti, secondo l’ordine prescelto, dimostrando così un’incredibile abilità a dividere il suo stomaco in “compartimenti”.

In effetti, nell’arte del rigurgitatore non esistono trucchi: si tratta semplicemente di abilità e allenamento nel controllare i muscoli della gola e dello stomaco, e di vomitare a comando. Ma Ali era unico: nel suo gran finale, inghiottiva un gallone d’acqua (quasi 4 litri), seguito da un gallone di kerosene. Un castello di carta veniva portato sul palco, e Ali riusciva in qualche modo a separare, nel suo stomaco o a livello dell’esofago, il kerosene dall’acqua. Rigurgitava la benzina, dando fuoco al castello di carta, e in seguito spegneva l’incendio provocato, risputando fuori l’acqua.

Qualsiasi testimonianza filmata della sua sorprendente abilità sarebbe andata persa, se una sua performance non fosse stata immortalata nella versione spagnola di un film di Stanlio e Ollio (“Politiquerias”).

Ecco a voi, signore e signori, Hadji Ali, Il Grande Rigurgitatore.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cW_EB0yBS5c]

Anche oggi questo tipo di arte circense sopravvive grazie allo scozzese Stevie Starr, di cui potete vedere un video qui. L’altro grande vero protagonista della rigurgitazione rimane The Great Waldo, che sapeva inghiottire gli oggetti più disparati (chiavi, monete, orologi), ma che con il tempo affinò la sua tecnica: cominciò a deglutire animali vivi come rane, topi e perfino ratti, rigurgitandoli sani e salvi. Questa sua peculiarità, però, lo rese poco simpatico al pubblico femminile. Solo e disperato, dopo l’ennesimo rifiuto da parte di una donna di cui era innamorato, il Grande Waldo si suicidò con il gas.

Scoperto via The Human Marvels.