There is something magical about spotting a giant, colourful, inflated balloon (or a flotilla of them) sailing through the skies over your town. I used to work on the edge of Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens and when I arrived early to work, my route from the train station to work would walk me past the MCG sport stadium and then across the muddy Yarra River. As I approached the river I would often see hot air balloons that had probably left Melbourne’s Yarra Valley at 5am drifting over the gardens or over the city. When I saw them, they would always lift my mood. What is it about a hot air balloon? I’ve never actually been in one, although I’d like to have the opportunity one day. To me, hot air balloons are mystical, they appear to me as if out of nowhere and hover high up defying gravity. I can never see the passengers in the baskets, so they appear only as a spot of colour. Whenever I see them I feel like pointing them out to someone, not content to keep my marvelling to myself.
I have to admit to a penchant for the Regency fiction of Georgette Heyer. Some may pour scorn, but she wrote well and although the basic plots were Jane-Austen style Regency societal tales (with a central romance or two), Heyer infused them with gallons of historical detail about the period. In her novel Frederica, set in about 1818, at one point Felix, the brother of the heroine (Frederica) accidentally gets carried away in a hot air balloon that was on show at an exhibition by some balloon adventurers. The Lord of the moment, the Marquis of Alverstoke, who has a tendre for the heroine helps to track down the fly-away young brother as he travels cross-country on his unintended balloon excursion. Even today there remains that random factor about balloon travel that, although I’m sure they plan for a particular destination, sometimes weather or other factors intervene and they have to make an unintended set-down. But (as long as the set-down isn’t in a hazardous location) there is something charming to me about the lack of ultimate control in an age of hyper-scheduling and technological control. I’ve been told that even whether a balloon can take off in the morning in the first place is impacted on heavily by weather conditions.
I’m staying in Germany at the moment and several days I have glimpsed balloons in the sky over Aachen. At first I was surprised to see them in the mid-late afternoon as I’d always seen them at home in the early morning. But regardless, when I saw them they appeared to me as symbols of hope. Something about them lifts the mind from daily concerns to the boundless possibilities of the skies.