Posts Tagged ‘France’

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The Trapeze School of New York

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day in 1859 that a man named Jules Léotard made his first public appearance as the world’s first flying trapeze artist. He was just 21  years old at the time, but Léotard had been practicing since he was a little boy.

Léotard was born in Toulouse, France, the son of a gymnastics instructor. After he passed his law exams, he seemed destined to join the legal profession. But he had also been experimenting with trapeze bars, ropes and rings suspended over a swimming pool in his father’s gymnasium, and the years of practice paid off. He was the first to turn a somersault in mid-air, and the first to jump from one trapeze to the next.

If the last name sounds familiar, it’s because he was also the designer of the skin-tight one-piece garment which was eventually named after him. Léotard himself called the garment a “maillot”, which is a general French word for different types of tight-fitting shirts or sports shirts. Léotard’s maillot was an all-in-one knitted suit. It allowed freedom of movement, was relatively aerodynamic and there was no danger of a flapping garment becoming entangled with the ropes. Even more importantly, it showed off his physique to its best advantage, making him a huge hit with the ladies and inspiring George Leybourne to immortalize him on the popular song, “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.”

In his memoirs, Léotard vainly wrote: “Do you want to be adored by the ladies? A trapeze is not required, but instead of draping yourself in unflattering clothes, invented by ladies, and which give us the air of ridiculous mannikins, put on a more natural garb, which does not hide your best features.”

The first known use of the name leotard for clothing came in 1886, many years after Léotard’s death at the age of 28. It is still worn today by acrobats, gymnasts, dancers, figure skaters, circus performers, athletes, actors, and exercise enthusiasts throughout the world.

In recognition of today’s anniversary, on today’s bike ride I wore only a leotard.  No, I’m lying.  Not even I would want to see that. Actually, on today’s ride I rode to the D.C. campus of the Trapeze School New York, located near Nationals Park at 1269 New Jersey Avenue  (MAP) in southeast D.C.’s Navy Yard neighborhood.  If you’re thinking of joining the circus, or just looking for a couple hours of unique fun, I recommend giving them a try.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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L’Hermione

For today’s bike ride I decided to go across the Potomac River to the waterfront in the Old Town neighborhood of Alexandria. I chose that destination so I could see a ship docked there. It is not a modern vessel, like the USS Barry, which is docked at the southwest waterfront here in D.C.   Rather, I went to see a replica of an 18th-century French war ship named L’Hermione, or The Hermione, which is currently visiting the east coast of the United States. It arrived in Alexandria on Wednesday, and today was its last day before continuing on to its next port of call in Annapolis, Maryland. So I rode to Alexandria today to see the majestic vessel because Annapolis is a little too far away for one of my lunchtime rides.

The Hermione set sail from River Charente, in Port des Barques, France, approximately two months ago. The 3,819-mile transatlantic crossing took 27 days, before stopping in the Canary Islands and Bermuda on its way to making landfall at Yorktown, Virginia on June 4th for the first of its iconic stops on a tour of the east coast of the United States. Its next stop, after the opening of The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge to allow the 185-foot tall ship to pass through and sail up the Potomac River, was at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, which is just a few miles south of where it docked today alongside the pier next to The Chart House. Tomorrow it departs for Annapolis, before proceeding on to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City, among other cities. It will then head back to France.

The Hermione’s journey began two decades ago, when a small group dreamed of reconstructing a replica of General Marquis de Lafayette’s 18th-century ship called the Hermione, and then sail it to America to commemorate the historic voyage in 1780 that brought General Lafayette to George Washington with news of full French aid in the colonialists cause, helping turn the tide of the American Revolution. Led by author Erik Orsenna and French Association of Hermione-La Fayette President Benedict Donnelly, the long process of conducting feasibility stides and laying out the construction site at Rochefort, in the Cherente-Maritime began. With cannons, approximately 225 different ropes and some 2,600 square yards of linen, the 177 foot-long ship took $27 million and nearly twenty years to complete. With the architects of the ship closely following the information contained in the original ship’s captain logs and manuscripts, as well as exact line drawings from the Hermione’s sister ship, La Concorde, after its capture, and since stored in the British Admiralty, the completed L’ Hermione is a near exact replica of its namesake.

The ship was initially launched in 2012, with its masting being completed the following year. Then after a period of sea trials and training, her actual voyage finally began in April, leading to my visit to see her today. Unfortunately, she has sailed on, so I can’t recommend that you go to see The Hermione. But I’m sure glad I did.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]