In Spanish the noun cometa can be masculine or feminine. The change of gender makes a big difference. Or maybe it doesn’t. Un cometa is a comet; una cometa is a kite. From heaven to earth. Or rather, from heaven to half-way house: kites hang between sky and earth, drawing eyes and hearts aloft in a unique way. This book is a guide to getting kites off the ground, with photographs, line-drawings and safety tips. Originally published in Italian in 2002 as Il grande libro degli aquiloni, or “The Big Book of Kites”, it covers every design in the millennia-long history of the kite, from the centipede to the circoflex, from the diamond to the delta, from the seagull to the snowflake, from kites for fighting to kites for fun. Plus spy-kites and stunt-kites.
There’s also a brief history of kiting and a short list of names for kite in different languages. All of them have double-meanings: aquilone in Italian also means “cold north wind”; Drachen in German means “dragon”; cerf-volant in French means “flying deer”; cometa in Spanish means “comet”; and so on. The English word is taken from a bird-of-prey, the red kite, Milvus milvus, which has “the habit of hovering or gliding slowly over rural landscapes”, according to Britain’s Wildlife and Plants (Reader’s Digest, 1987). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “kite” is like “key”: it’s a mysterious word whose full history has never been traced. The mystery and the mythological associations all add to the appeal of an enchanting invention. If you want to make your own, this is a good place to start.