Saturday, September 1, 2018

Flight Path

No doubt, Toronto's most knowable weekend for good weather is this one. I know this because I await it every summer, partly with ennui, partly with excitement. It's the air show weekend and I LOVE the air show. By and large, this city is wasted on me because I don't much like interacting with strangers for the pleasure of culture and entertainment. Call me excessively lazy (I am). Call me overburdened with lots of stuff that makes me excessively lazy on my off-hours (also true). The air show, however, that one comes to me.

I don't know if I will be able to impart the strange magic of this scenario but I'll give it a go.

Inevitably, the sky is blue (if sometimes hazy). On the Friday before the long weekend, the planes come to town and undertake their rumbling practice runs so that, for 3 hours per day, over each of the three long weekend days, I am treated to a spectacle of incomparable proportions. It's like God put my house in their flight path. All I have to do is go up to my third floor balcony, which is as high or higher than any house around me (though not commercial buildings, of course), and wander from side to side, taking in 180 degree views and an unobstructed sky. I truly cannot put a price on this.

The Blue Angels open the show in stunning formation, twisting in a triangle of 6, their wings glinting in the sun as they swerve by overhead. At first, it's impossible to tell the difference between the dragonflies and the planes because they come into one's frame of cognition at the same size and proportion. The vapor trails sometimes give it away, but not quickly in the haze. The afterburners always get the point across.

Unquestionably, the most amazing moment, the most affecting, is when the F18 flies by. It comes so close, so extremely low (like 500 feet above my balcony), and the impact is unparalleled. I don't know how it is that I'm ok with noise so loud it shakes the windows - with a scary-ass war plane in my own personal theatre. But it puts one in mind of another theatre, one wherein life and death hashed it out, and on any given day there was a winner and a loser.

When I work with food, I never fail to think the same thing (every single time, even if I don't follow my own edict on occasion): I cannot waste any of this. And at the next moment, a subtle, but deeply ingrained sensibility comes to me, the consciousness of people in death camps, in war time, struggling to survive with next to nothing. It is my function to treat my fleeting privilege with unyielding respect.

When I watch the air show, I'm put in mind of that privilege yet again - in the largest, reverberative, most palpable way. To observe the silver elegance of battle planes overwhelms me with the glory of human innovation, and to hear their deafening, rumble brings a momentary, visceral awareness of the chaos of violent, senseless death.

I don't mind telling you that I cry my way through the air show every year - all the more reason that it's perfect I don't have to travel to see it... I cry because I am transported to a time and place where that sound would have been pure joy and relief - or utter terror, the worst awareness imaginable.

The air show is the way we allow fortunate, peaceful first-world urbanites to tremble in fear momentarily, to be reminded of the perfection of good-fortune in the guise of entertainment.

As the F18 stint comes to a close, it is joined by a P-51 Mustang, a single-seat fighter, introduced in the deep days of WW2. They fly in formation, directly in front of my terrace, maybe 20 feet apart, their black underbellies sucking in the light, wispy smoke trails of different consistency behind them. They are beautiful symbols of victory and the prevalence of human intervention. I hope I never hear such planes in action, but I hope I always hear them on the last weekend of summer. Wishing you this kind of experience over the upcoming days... xo


  1. Having seen the Blue Angels perform twice in Pensacola, FL, I so “get” your emotions. It stirred all my senses and a wide range of emotions, including tears....of awe, sadness in remembering, thankfulness in remembering, gratefulness for heroes. I can’t describe it adequately. Beautiful and touching for sure.

  2. This sounds like a glorious spectacle and a humbling reminder of the folly of humanity.
    If only as a species we could learn.

  3. Growing up as an Air Force brat on military installations in the US and overseas, the sounds of military aircraft were as natural to me as birdsong. So I totally get the thrill you feel at seeing the F-18s and the P-51 in flight and so close you could feel the vibrations. I also recognize your emotions in reflecting on what those kind of aircraft have meant since their introduction -- war, in all its horror, and freedom, too. Being the child of a mother whose home was bombed out in WWII and who served as an ambulance driver during the Blitz, having lost friends to war, and having children now serving, I understand a little about the price paid and the solace given. As one who loves aviation, a few years ago I was privileged to fly in a restored B-17, the type my father served in during WWII in the UK, where he met and married my mother--both now gone. You can well imagine the tears I shed on that flight.

  4. I too love an air show but have gotten too lazy to travel to one to see even with the Blue Angels. They come to Seattle every August and I don't even find a place to watch them practice. So to be able to watch from your balcony is a wonderful treat. Jean

  5. Growing up near an Air Force base in Kansas, we looked forward to the air show every August (despite the blistering heat that accompanied it). I saw the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds perform many times, saw the war planes on display... brings back memories! I totally get your sentiments. Enjoy the show!