The trees swing slowly, while some fifty people move around them in a busy and joyful mood. I came from Italy to Croatia, not a big deal of a trip, but nationalities are many here: Norway, England, Serbia, Slovenia, Netherlands and Germany.
Somebody is setting up kitchen service, somebody is literally tying up trees in climbing ropes and other sturdy and reliable high altitude equipment; all the other people are softly enjoying the lovely weather, lying on the grass. The gentle sound of the breeze is broken by jokes and laughs in an ever changing English, painted in so many different accents.
In no time everything is set up and the first suspendee gets on the sterilized and covered chair, ready to let Ana’s expert hands drive a rather big surgical needle through his skin. Alliage is no newcomer to suspension and faces the practice with a clear minded, serene concentration. The needle gets in, the needle gets out and the hook is in place. A lot of people gather to see the procedure and show their support to Alliage during this delicate phase.
At this point adrenaline and serotonin have already kicked in, the piercing pain of the needle softens and leaves a lot of space to second thoughts. During my years of reportage in the suspension community I’ve never witnessed somebody actually running from the rig, but everybody says that they experience some form of slight doubt right before being tied to the ropes. It’s nothing serious and all of them laugh a lot about it, but still it’s there to remind everybody of the origin of this practice as a rite of passage in the Mandan Native American tribe.
The magic truly begins as soon as the ropes are tied and Alliage takes off. He swings with unbelievable ease and grace, while a small crowd claps hands and cheers. It’s hard to believe, and I didn’t believe it myself before witnessing one, but a suspension is a deep emotional experience, both for the suspendee and the bystander. There’s joy, there’s pain and there’s a strong body presence, made manifest in an extreme yet soft way.
Activity at the piercing station is fast and precise. Divided in small teams, all the volunteers keep getting people ready and pierced as long as there are free rigging points. And people do come to be taken care of.
Without doubt, the most famous suspendee of this sunny afternoon is Rolf Buchholz. He’s the world’s most pierced man with his own Guinness World Record entry. He’s shy, indeed, but when he opens up he’s nothing short of lovely. He suspends every time he can, literally, and so I get to see him very often. Like amost every other time I saw him suspend, today he’s gonna do a “Coma” suspension. The name comes from the old movie Coma, in which unconscious individuals laid hanging on strings. The thing here’s the same, but strings are ropes tied to modified fishing hooks that in another life would have been used to catch sharks. It sounds strange that they now serve a much more peaceful purpose.
Morten and Matt take good care of him and in a surprisingly short time the ten hooks are tied and he’s ready to float among the leaves. Coma suspensions usually last for a long time, they can even last for hours. So, while it looks like Rolf is sleeping a couple of meters above the fallen leaves, other people leave the ground in very different ways.
When the night falls, the warm breeze turns a little colder, but that’s not enough to prevent us from striding on. So, right before going back home, there’s time for a night time suspension. All the magic that can be usually felt in front of a suspension is utterly amplified by the darkness. Car lights are turned on to provide basic lightning and flashlights are used to ensure safety during the process.
It doesn’t last long, but it’s so powerful an experience that it feels like going through it in person. Suddenly, we are one with her.