Paper… high up in the clouds!

Many are the stories that tell of the antique origins of kites. One of these comes directly from China.

Giorgio Perini

History goes that the production of silk, which originated in 2600 BC, and the country’s abundance of bamboo, inspired the idea which led to the fabrication of the first rudimental kites in the year 1000 BC. The invention of paper in 200 BC partly modified the technique of kite building; indeed, from this point onwards, only paper would be used to build kites, thus giving Chinese artisans the chance to make these using simpler techniques, allowing for different decorative forms and colors.

THE FIRST WESTERNER WHO BECAME ACQUAINTED WITH KITES WAS MARCO POLO during one of his many trips to China in the year 1282. In his book “Il Milione” (“Travels of Marco Polo”), he describes in detail the fabrication of some kite models and the various techniques used to make it fly. There are also testimonies that Dutch merchants, skilled navigators and commercial traders with the Far East, contributed to the diffusion of kites in Europe in the first half of the XVII century.

THE FIRST KITES WERE TO BE FOUND IN EASTERN ASIA, but not as a pastime. A magical and animistic tradition was associated with them so that they were considered almost a link between man and the gods, since they were able to rise up in the sky while still being anchored to the ground. This was the case in Polynesia, while in Korea the name and destiny of a child were tied to the flight of a kite, and in Japan a kite feast was held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the year to celebrate the children born during the previous year. This feast, called the Boys’ Festival, is still held today.

THE ART OF KITE BUILDING SPREAD THROUGHOUT THE WORLD FOLLOWING DIFFERENT PATHS, becoming part of the various local cultures until about the first half of the XVIII century. In 1749, Alexander Wilson, a Scottish meteorologist, used a kite for its first scientific application by measuring the temperature at high altitudes and for other meteorological experiments. After some years, in 1752 the American statesman and inventor Benjamin Franklin used a kite for his experiments on the conduction of electricity. More recently, in 1901, the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi used a kite to raise the antenna that allowed the first transoceanic radio connection up to 120 meters. In the same year, Samuel Franklin Cody, a likeable cowboy whose surname and clothes were identical to those of Colonel William Frederick Cody (alias Buffalo Bill), toured the country with his own circus. One of the acts consisted in having a man holding on to a kite and actually flying. Later, he perfected this particular type of kite, which today bears his name, and used it in the military, succeeding in raising an English lieutenant of the Marina up to 1200 meters in order to survey enemy posts. Even during WWI, kites were used for surveillance from the sky and barrages against air raids.

BUT WHAT DESCRIBED ABOVE CONSTITUTES ONLY A MINIMAL PART of the multiple ways in which kites have been and are currently used. In the XX century, modern kite making greatly evolves thanks to lighter and more resistant materials such as carbon, spinnaker fabric and dacron. But there are countries such as Japan, China and India where paper is still used, as it once was, to build beautiful kites. From the 22nd of January until February 1st, in India a particular feast is celebrated.

Here, people climb on rooftops and fly incredible kites.

THE FIRST KITE SHOPS ARE BORN DURING THIS CENTURY. We have visited one in London, one of the first such shops born in Europe in 1976. Andy King who, together with Mark Cotrell, is co-owner of the famous and very original “The Kite Store” on Neal Street, welcomed us. The store is located in the center of London, just a few meters from bustling Covent Gardens – famous for its theaters and musical clubs – and sells exclusively kites.

In Andy’s shop, it is easy to meet artists and famous rock singers such as David Bowie, who like to take a little shopping tour while they are in the surrounding area. Andy and his collaborator, Sarah Kent, took us on a very interesting tour of the shop and then illustrated some of their most particular kites. Sarah also mentioned the most representative kite festivals held each year in England: the Weymouth International Kite Festival, celebrated on May 1st and 2nd at Weymouth Beach in Dorset; the Portsmouth International Kite Festival at Southsea Common, Southsea, Hampshire on 27th to 29th August; the Bristol International Kite Festival at Ashton Court in Bristol on 3rd and 4th September.

Also in Italy there are many kite feasts and festivals connected to various kite clubs.

THE MOST FAMOUS ARE: Vulandra 2005, the European Kite Festival, taking place from April 23rd to 25th in Ferrara; the XXV International Kite Festival, from April 23rd to May 1st in the city of Cervia; “Le Vele della Fantasia”, on 14th and 15th May in the city of Pegli (Genoa); the 50th Kite Festival of Urbino on September 4th, and “One Sky, One World” in Foligno, on 8th and 9th October. Further information on these events is available on the website of the Federazione Italiana Volo Libero at www.fivl.it.

As they say, …. Enjoy your flight!! •

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