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Thursday, August 2, 2012
Young Colette had come to the Tivoli Gardens of Paris to await a performance by the notable and beautiful balloonist, Madame Marie Blanchard. It was the night of July 6, 1819 and the park was filled with an assembly of thousands of people. Unlike most of those present in the crowd, Colette had actually ascended in a hot-air balloon. Her ambition was to someday become a professional balloonist like Madame Blanchard. Madame Blanchard was the first woman known to pilot her own balloon, and to Colette, she was a heroine. The girl had hoped to meet Madame Blanchard after the performance. Now she awaited the balloon flight of Madame Blanchard with great excitement. As Colette stood in the midst of the assembly she overheard a man say, "I think she's crazy. She'll kill herself." Then a woman answered, "Madame Blanchard is a professional. She knows what she's doing."
Colette agreed with the woman. Madame Blanchard had been flying a balloon as a special attraction for large and small crowds of people all over Europe for the past ten years. Madame Blanchard had even crossed the Alps in a balloon and had given a special performance before the Emperor Napoleon. Colette then heard the same woman say, "I wonder what it's like to float in the sky in a balloon." Colette turned to her and said, "I can tell you. I've been up in a balloon." The man turned and looked at her in amazement and said, "You're just as crazy as Madame Blanchard." The woman asked Colette, "What was it like to ride in a balloon? How did you get to ride in one?" "Well," Colette began, "I was very nervous at first. The man who owned the balloon was looking for someone, who weighed very little, to fly in it. So, 1 was chosen. The balloon was held to the ground by two strong ropes. 1 was the only passenger. .. ," Colette stopped speaking. She and everyone around her had noticed that it was time for Madame Blanchard's flight. As Colette gazed at the magnificent and mammoth balloon being prepared for its ascent, she recalled her own thrilling flight in a balloon barely six months before. The unusual sight of a hot-air balloon had been a special attraction for the small assembly of people who had come to see its flight. Colette had felt frightened when she climbed into the balloon's basket and awaited her own ascent. But more notable than her fear had been her fascination with the excitement of doing something which few women, or men for that matter, had ever done. Colette recalled the thrilling, trembling feeling that traveled through her body as the balloon silently and effortlessly rose into the air. It was as if the balloon were standing still and the land was moving away. The gentle rocking of the balloon felt as if she were on a raft afloat on an ocean. Colette had grasped the basket's sides tightly as she saw the crowd of people seem to shrink in size and heard their voices change to distant sounds from below. The distance to the ground seemed enormous from such a height. The only sound was that of the creaking ropes that had once anchored her to the ground. Colette had felt totally alone, a solitary figure in the balloon's car. She was 'nervous, but also joyous. It had been an unforgettable experience, one she hoped to repeat. Since that day; Colette had collected every bit of information about balloon flying that she could. She knew that she would be able to earn money as a balloonist. After all, she had read of the fortune that Madame Blanchard had made in her free-flying balloon. '
It was now time for Madame Blanchard's flight. Colette saw the solitary figure of Madame Blanchard getting into the basket. Colette wondered if Madame Blanchard ever felt frightened. She would ask her when they met. Colette felt a rush of excitement as she watched Madame Blanchard's balloon rise above the ground. Colette had read that Madame Blanchard's balloon, which was now overhead, was not filled with hot air, but with hydrogen. Why did Madame Blanchard use hydrogen rather than hot air? Colette wondered. Hydrogen was known to burst into names when exposed to fire or even a spark. She would ask Madame Blanchard that question. too, after the performance. Madame Blanchard knew how to entertain a large assembly of people. She always managed to offer a notable performance. Colette had seen posters advertising tonight's flight of Madame Blanchard as an amazing event. Her special feature for this attraction was to be an elaborate fireworks display. Colette saw the long wire attached to the balloon with a small wooden platform holding fireworks at the end. Once the balloon was off the ground, the fireworks were lighted. The balloon resembled a ship afloat on a gently rocking ocean. The brilliant colors of the fireworks dazzled and delighted Colette. The crowd cheered. Madame Blanchard was magnificent. Colette knew that Madame Blanchard must be feeling as excited as Colette had felt when she had flown in a balloon. Madame Blanchard was floating in the sky. The last firework had faded and the smoke had cleared. Colette was watching Madame Blanchard carefully. She seemed to be lighting a firework from inside the balloon's basket. Colette saw a spark of fire, but instead of growing into a lovely burst of color, it seemed to form itself into a small ball of fire.
Colette remembered reading how easily hydrogen could catch fire and was worried. Yet she felt sure in her heart that all would go well for the great Madame Blanchard. Suddenly, the ball of fire surged upwards like a torch. Colette gasped. Some people thought it was part of the performance and cheered wildly; others were trying to move out of the crowd. Colette stared wide-eyed in horror at Madame Blanchard's balloon. A sick feeling spread through her stomach and her feet turned ice-cold. Madame Blanchard's balloon was now covered with flames and drifting over nearby rooftops. Madame Blanchard was crouched low inside the basket. Colette had read of many ballooning accidents where the balloonist had escaped alive. Even Madame Blanchard had survived ballooning accidents. She had to survive this one. There was confusion in the crowd. Some people were afraid that the balloon would crash on top of them and Colette was being pushed from all sides. Then she heard someone ahead shouting, "Madame Blanchard is alive! She is safe!" Colette felt a tremendous sense of relief after hearing that news. Slowly, she pushed and weaved her way through the large crowd and headed for her home. She knew she would not be meeting Madame Blanchard that night.
Colette was anxious to learn more about the accident and read the first news report as soon as she could. She could not believe what she read and she started to cry. The report stated that Madame Blanchard had died in the accident. She had planned to light one last firework from inside the balloon's basket and send it down in a parachute as a final act of the performance. Apparently, some hydrogen had been escaping from the balloon. The spark from the last firework had set the hydrogen on fire and caused the balloon to go up in flames. Madame Blanchard could probably have survived the accident had the balloon not struck a rooftop, hurling her into the street. She had been untouched by the flames, but the crash had killed her. It had been her sixty-seventh flight in a balloon.
1. People had come to Paris to see a performance by _________
2. Colette's first balloon flight took place _________
3. Ballooning was an activity which Colette found _________
4. Madame Blanchard's balloon was filled with __________
5. As the crowd watched, the balloon became covered with __________
6. Madame Blanchard's story would most likely appear in a magazine article on ____________
7. Madame Blanchard's sixty-seventh balloon flight took place _____________
8. The accident had been caused by _____________
9. Another name for this story could be ______________
10. This story is mainly about ____________
Posted by John Robinson at 3:08 PM