Typical summer day dilemma in NYC: Free swing dance lesson with live George Gee big band music at the beautiful Rubenstein Atrium in Lincoln Center, or a free Philip Glass concert in lovely Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City? I was struggling with deciding between the two simultaneous June 20th events when I got early morning emails from two friends alerting me that a record-breaking human tower was to be built that evening on a Manhattan rooftop. Sorry Mr. Gee and Mr. Glass, but in my world, rooftops trump dance music, so I had to go to 230 Fifth that evening to witness the Castellars de Vilafranca rooftop spectacle.
On the humid, 90-degree summer solstice evening, hundreds of spectators holding pricey, sweating cold drinks from the bar, crowded onto the 20th floor rooftop, which is normally a bustling al fresco restaurant with spectacular views. One hundred and fifty more bodies crowded onto the steel-beam enforced platform where the “castell” was to be constructed. Dressed in matching white trousers and green shirts, plus orange helmets for the smallest (and youngest) climbers who scale to the peak of the human tower, the 150 Castellars continued the 300-year-old Catalonian tradition of human tower building. For the first time, however, they were in New York City, and this castell was achieved to honor the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.
A crowd of white and green clad men and women supported the bottom of the tower, then another level of people climbed on those sturdy members, and another level climbed on those, and so on until eventually a skinny 9-year-old climbed, monkey-like, up the previous seven levels of human shoulders and backs to stand tall as the eighth level of the living structure, establishing a New York City human tower record. The Castellars have built towers of people to as tall as ten “stories” but that stunt required hundreds more for support at the base. The castellars had to travel from Spain, plus the roof of 230 Fifth had to be strong enough to support all of them crowded in as the human foundation. Honestly, we were all quite satisfied with the thrill of the eight story human tower.
As the sun set, the team created other human tower configurations, always with the littlest climbers scurrying up to top the towers with amazing animal-like agility. Watching them scurry down as they disassembled their tower configurations was just as exciting.
Spectators had a great view of the Empire State Building– we can only imagine the gorgeous view that 9-year-old people-climbing Catalonian saw from eight human stories above where we were.