We spend most of our childhood running around outdoors, soaking up the sun and cherishing life’s simple pleasures: flying kites (fli, ironically pron: flee), spinning tops (trom), filling our dad’s socks with marbles (ninichi, pron: neeneechee) and dominating the gutter in front of our classrooms during school breaks. Mind you, none of our favorite toys were powered by battery, charger, or WiFi, just nature and our imagination.
Fli season was my personal favorite, and not just because Lent (kuaresma) brings a nice breeze and welcome relief from our sometimes oppressive heat. I also got to spend quality time with my 7-year older brother, Carlo, an avid kite engineer (to this day). He’d convert our TV room into a kite-building studio for about a month every year; cousins, neighbors, friends would pop in unannounced to pick up invaluable pointers, thin crystal paper, etc.
The trick was in the sticks (speilu)… the lighter and more buoyant, the better. We all understood that (imported) bamboo hook-ups were absolutely essential during kite season… but we’d also make do with satay sticks and thin sticks cut from wooden (potato) boxes — notorious for having straight grain and few ‘eyes’. We’d spend hours meticulously measuring and sanding our speilu, precision-cutting paper, carefully tying our strings, gluing together our frameworks (fli di Kòrsou (diamond), fli di Sürnam, fli di strea, fli dak di kas, fli buskuchi, fli di krus, fli H, fli V, fli di kaha) And we all had to attach ronkalèlè (= side flags, ‘kite beards’) for high altitude snoring…
Naturally, as with most things in life, kite aesthetics and size afforded bragging rights, so ambitious engineers (like my brother) sometimes got carried away thinking ‘out-of-the-box’… Good thing friendly ‘fate’ prognosticators would volunteer warnings along the way…“I wouldn’t do that if I were you…” and “You’re going to need a truck to pull that thing…”
We’d ride our bikes to the nearest sports field (Radulphus College), anxious to test our finished masterpieces, eager to see them soar high up in the sky. Unwrapping balled-up long tails (old Darth Vader or Barbie sheets), spools of fishing line, we’d set up shop and never admit that our tiny hearts would sink to the very bottom of our stomachs upon first attempting ‘lift off’.
Much trash-talking would ensue if your kite refused to take to the sky… or worse, crash into oblivion upon first try. The excruciating disappointment … all that work! hours of concentration! Just to pick up the pieces and start all over again!
Sometimes your friend has to help you yòp your kite (throw it up in the air so it can catch good wind), but when it finally takes to the sky — whistling, in our case snoring, up high — pulling you into a full-bodied tango… you forget about your fears and worries… and let the wind take you where you need to be. For some odd reason, our kites tend to inhabit human qualities and are rather notorious for throwing tapatapa (temper tantrums), airborne crazy possessed erratic jumps. Sometimes they ‘throw heads’ (tira kabes) and go round-and-round – as if chasing their own tail (tira mulina)… you’ll just have to show them who’s boss!
The sun shimmering against your very own beautiful creation… You sigh relief, your heart swelling with pride, reel out your string… until your kite is but a speck — your speck! — out there in the universe… “Maybe it’ll touch a star?!” you wonder out loud. An unexpected wind gust might pull, you might react abruptly and snap your string… but those precious minutes — half an hour, an hour, two hours? — of beautiful, balanced flight make the whole experience worth it.
Childhood nostalgia aside, our kite tradition is pretty unique and has been featured on “Bout du Monde” (along with China, Nepal, Indonesia, Guatemala, Vietnam, Brazil, etc) Local kite competitions are great fun and range from distance, tricks, (loudest) snoring, smooth flights (few tapatapas, mulinas, kabes, etc), strength…
But nèpè is the most fun (and cruel!) of all, that’s when we tie a Gilette [razor] blade or sharp glass to our tail and cut our friend’s string… Some also ‘mail letters to god’ by sticking pieces of paper through their string once their kite is in flight — the letters climb up until they reach the kite… and god…
“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.” – Anais Nin
“The optimist pleasantly ponders how high his kite will fly; the pessimist woefully wonders how soon his kite will fall.” – William Arthur Ward
“True courage is like a kite; a contrary wind raises it higher.” – John Petit-Senn
“You will find truth more quickly through delight than gravity. Let out a little more string on your kite.” – Alan Cohen