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Oktoberfest, by the numbers; the dirndl squeezes into Germany’s limelight; top-tier wedding cakes in Tulsa; Puerto Rico’s pork trail; a big balloon blowout in Albuquerque; golf with Iron Chef Morimoto

Catching Air

Liftoff at the world’s biggest balloon rally

Not 30 minutes ago, Mister Z was just a rag in a duffel bag; now, thanks to a $1,400 fan, a propane burner and a crew of 10 adults and four kids, he has achieved his full grandeur, casting his perky-eared shadow across the lawn of Balloon Fiesta Park at sunrise.

Come October 1, the grinning, six-story zebra head won’t be alone — 555 balloons are registered to fly in the 40th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, 100 of them so-called “special shapes.” For nine days, some 800,000 enthusiasts from around the globe will descend on the city to witness the spectacle of the high desert sky filled with giant panda bears, Pepsi cans, alarm clocks and fire trucks amid the usual rainbow of spheres.

Mister Z’s pilots, Thom and Jonathan Wright, are appropriately decked out in black-and-white stripes, right up to Jonathan’s top hat. Though today’s outing is just a dry run, it nonetheless marks a special occasion: the first time the father-and-son team, who’ve been crewing and flying together for nearly 20 years, are entering a special shape in the fiesta along with a traditional round balloon. That means they’ll be piloting separately. Taking Mister Z’s reins, Jonathan admits he’s a bit nervous. But as long as “my dad’s basically spending my inheritance” — the balloon alone cost $35,000 — “I’m gonna have a lot of fun.”

They’ll compete in games like Hold ’Em, in which airborne balloonists drop markers on giant playing cards to get the best hand (the event is sponsored by a local casino), they’ll cut loose during the inevitable champagne-fueled tailgate parties, and then they’ll just take in the sights. A Belgian team is flying a Darth Vader balloon, a local favorite. “Which explains why you’ll see this crew of Stormtroopers running around,” says Thom. —RUTH TOBIAS





Iceland is the “guest of honor” at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, a massive celebration of print that attracts industry types and lit lovers from around the world. www.buchmesse.de

The handcrafted bug sculptures at the Academy of Natural Sciences’ “Bugs… Outside the Box” exhibit are scientifically accurate, apart from being 200 times larger than life. www.ansp.org

The annual Head of the Charles Regatta attracts 300,000 spectators to the banks of the Charles River to cheer on 9,000 athletes at one of the world’s largest rowing regattas. www.hocr.org

Bon Iver co-curates the first-ever Pitchfork Music Festival Paris, hosted by the eponymous music website. Headliners include Aphex Twin, Jens Lekman and Cut Copy. www.pitchfork.com

One Response to “Dispatches”

  1. heather Says:
    December 9th, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    trying to find the beer stein as a gift for my husband pictured above in the Oktoberfest info page — anyone know where I can purchase one??????

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