Darlings, I’m not sure if you’ve ever been to New Mexico, but I recently went and I don’t think I’ve been so welcomed in all my days. It’s a place where people are eager to meet you and so glad you came.
I happened to be in New Mexico for my livelihood, dear hearts, and I don’t mean this blog. This was some months ago, during Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta, which just happens to be one the largest hot balloon festival in the world. Note what I said just then — the largest. Folks like me will usually hedge and say things like “one of the largest” or “among the biggest” or even use some sort of qualifier like “of its kind.” This is because we’re betting we’re wrong and someone will call out out. We want to play it safe. But the New Mexicans don’t do this with their festival and it’s significant.
There are multiple examples, but I’ll give you this one: During my time in New Mexico, it was sunnier than any place has any reason to be. Its airport is even called a ‘SunPort.‘ But New Mexicans weren’t partial to talking about their sunshine. It just didn’t come up. I found this odd because I’d just come from Colorado, a place that absolutely cannot stop talking about its sunshine. These are people who will peg nearly everything good they have on that good fortune, from why people move there to their high quality of life. And that might all be connected, but all that talk can make you think that Colorado doesn’t just get a lot of sun but all the sun in the entire country. You know, dear hearts, that talking about something the most is not the same as having the most. In fact, Albuquerque gets 278 days of sun each year. Denver gets just 115. That’s a full 141% less. And meanwhile, the good people of Albuquerque don’t say a word.
This is not a prideful group. So when these good people say they have the most of anything, like hot air balloons, I’m inclined it really must be a fact and not a baseless brag.
Anyway, by now you’re wondering what on earth does any of this have to do with Marie Antoinette. And you should know that I’ll come around eventually.
Albuquerque is home to the Albuquerque Balloon Museum which has a very interesting and charming exhibit on the history of hot air ballooning. This was a cutting edge technology during the 18th century, one developed by Joseph-Michael and Jacques-Ètienne Montgolfier. Paper makers, they experimented with heat flowing into paper bags in such a way they’d rise and float. Eventually, they’d make a silk balloon that would rise 6,600 feet and travel around a mile.
This was the beginning of everything. The beginning of the mechanics of flight and space travel — it all started with these two paper makers.
You know our girl’s Louis, a fan of technology of all types, would request a demonstration. For the occasion, they designed a balloon worthy of a King and his court. A famed wallpaper artist was commissioned and the balloon was festooned with garlands, zodiac signs and suns, in honor of his great grandfather, Louis XIV.
Every detail was weighed carefully, down to the first passengers, a sheep, a duck and a rooster. This might sound silly now, but there was good reason for these choices. The sheep was thought to have a similar physiology to humans the rooster seemed a good test as it did not fly at high altitudes. The duck — well, it’s always good to have a duck around.
130,000 watched their glorious flight, including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The hot air balloon would go on to survey Civil War Battlefields, help us monitor the weather and move us that much closer to advancements in flight and space travel.
The museum has this story and what came after it — including the sensation that followed, with commemorative plates and fans and etchings celebrating this exciting new technology.
They even share this detail about our first test pilots. The sheep spent the rest of his days in our girl’s menagerie. The fate of the birds is still unknown, although I like to think this duck and rooster flew in other balloons, going where no flightless bird could ever dream.
Have you known the magic of Albuquerque? Do you know an unsung Marie Antoinette hot spot that the rest of us need to know about, too? Tell me in the comments.