19 April 2010

Under the Little Big Top

I love a circus, don’t you? When Dan had an office in Montreal, we used to spend a certain amount of time there. One of the things we loved to do was to see Cirque du Soleil. The things they did were astonishing, magical. I remember once there was a man who flew. Really flew. He began by walking around the enormous ring, his hands through some gymnast’s rings that were attached far above him. He just walked in a big circle. Then slightly faster, and faster, till he was running. Then he simply lifted his feet in that amazing gymnast’s move until he was horizontal in the air, arms out to his side. He was flying. Magic. I was entranced.

While this was among the simplest things I ever saw at Cirque du Soleil, it is among the most amazing. A man and some rings. That’s all it took for him to fly. Well, no, it also took hours and hours and weeks and years of training, but all that was behind the scenes. All we saw was the magic. That’s what Cirque du Soleil is: magic. The circus grown up.

This is a far cry from the circuses I grew up with: Barnum and Bailey’s best. Lions and Elephants and horses and trapezes and tightrope walkers. Men who ate fire. Jugglers. Clowns. The guy who got shot out of a cannon. A different kind of magic, but still magic to a child’s eyes.

This week in my town there’s a circus. It’s a traveling circus, moving around Belgium and spending ten days to two weeks in the smaller towns. (You can find their fascinating--in French, though--history here.) They set up in a big parking lot, with their Big Top and their trailers and they set about to entertain us. To bring us magic.

Saturday was a gorgeous day here. The air was warm, even if it smelled faintly like a cold fireplace from the volcanic ash. The sun was shining and the sky was perfectly blue. No clouds. No airplanes dragging their contrails. Nothing to mar the perfection of a sky of the sort we rarely see in Belgium. It was lovely. Dan and I went out to dinner and then treated ourselves to the circus.

We got there early, as soon as it opened, because we enjoy watching the preparations and seeing the audience file in. It was a small tent, and at capacity probably held 200 people. It was about 2/3 full, and there were lots of children. There were sparkly toys to tempt the children, and cotton candy to make them sticky. In the middle of the tent there was one ring, filled with sawdust.

There were big cats. No lions, but leopards, cougars and a puma. One of them refused to perform. Oops. Cats will be cats, after all. There were other animals too: a black stallion who performed dressage moves under the direction of a beautiful lady dressed like a Spanish Princess. The kids (big and small) all said AAAAH... There were donkeys, and a pony, some llamas and even trained steers (a first for me!). And an elephant, of course. There were the usual mishaps with animals: the llama pooped and the kids said EWWW! The elephant peed and the kids laughed. We understood the reason for the sawdust.

At the intermission, the elephant was still in the ring and they brought out an enormous tub full of carrots for her to eat. As she stood there placidly munching away, the kids could come and have their photos taken with her. One little boy didn’t quite realize what would be expected of him till he was really close, and then he took one look at the elephant and would have nothing to do with her. He was saying, NO! NO!, and his mother was trying to calm him. The elephant took hold of one side of the carrot tub with her trunk and moved it to the side, farther from the boy, and continued to eat. She’d seen this before.

The performances were a far cry from Cirque du Soleil: this was a different kind of circus, with a magic all its own. It was small, personal. It was a circus for kids, and for the kid in all of us. The woman who showed us to our seats was the acrobat. The man who took our tickets was her assistant. The ringmaster was selling refreshments outside. The Spanish Princess was also the tightrope walker. The big cat handler scooped up the poop. The curtain to the backstage was slightly tattered.

The juggler dropped his pins. Some animals refused to perform. The tightrope walker danced on the rope, on her toes like a ballet dancer. We held our collective breath when she bobbled, conscious of the possibility of failure. We were thrilled when she arrived at the far side, and applauded wildly. The acrobat shinnied up a long pole balanced on the forehead of her assistant. At the top she hung by her feet from some rings, and the kids said, OOOH! When she finally came down we could all breathe again.

This is the kind of circus you’d run away to. These were the kind of performances you could imagine yourself doing if you spent hours and hours and weeks and years training. OK, not the shinnying up the pole bit for me--too high. Not the tightrope either. But the Spanish Princess role I could do. The cats too--I could do the cats.

I think that’s the magic of this kind of circus--you can imagine yourself being there, traveling from town to town performing for children who will say OOOOH, and AAAH, and EWWW and even NO! NO! For the space of a couple of hours you can imagine yourself living a different life. Under the Little Big Top.


Bob said...

Can you believe I've actually never been to a circus? Sounds like fun. :)

Hungry Dog said...

Sounds like an experience! I've been to Cirque du Soleil several times (amazing!!) but never a "real" circus. I always feel bad for the animals. But I'm sure I would enjoy some of it, especially based on your wonderful description!

Stella said...

Hey Kate, I used to love the circus so much-it was such a big deal to me when i was little.
I would imagine that many circus folk are quite lonely though-running from something possibly or maybe this is a romantic idea too from the movies and such. I don't know, but I imagine it being a romantic distraction.

Barbara said...

Trained steers?? Good heavens, what did they do?

I think these small circuses are all but defunct over here. There are, of course, fairs with rides, but that's not the same. We get the really enormous ones every now and then, but the mom and pop ones are gone.

Cirque du Soleil is an experience not to be missed. So artistic and the costumes are divine. I've seen several but must admit my favorite is the "O" show..which is all in water. (My daughter calls it sexy because she's thinking: water...womb) We saw it in Las Vegas.
Going to make your duck/lentil dish. We have a wonderful company here called D'Artagnan that has everything I need!

Really enjoy your's one of my favorites!

2 Stews said...

Looks so charming and small...we used to have small circuses in my town, but no more. Last time I went to the circus my son had an asthma attack, so I haven't been back since. There is something romantic about them and your pics bring back memories.

Glad you and Dan had a good time. With this volcanic ash putting air traffic at a standstill, there may be a lot more local fun ;-)

La Table De Nana said...

In Venice Florida The Ringling Brothers had their spot there too..I remember near the small airport the set up too..

I have never seen the CDS except on TV..I would like to though..The founder/owner just went into spcae..not in a canon:)..Mtl?Did you live there also? Where?:)

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I haven't been to a circus since our girls were little! A big extravaganza indoors at a huge arena with 3 rings. Happy memories and some scary ones ;) Clowns are some of the scariest people. I would love to have seen the magical man flying!

Kathy said...

Well, as usual Kate ...I feel like I was there right along with you and Dan!
Have never been to CDS, but our children have and loved it!
Maybe someday.
Glad your magical circus day was fun.
xoxo~Kathy @
Sweet Up-North Mornings...

Kim said...

Your post was filled with such vivid descriptions of a fun day at the circus! No matter our age, there is a kid in all of us.

Carol at Serendipity said...

What a wonderful description! I haven't been for years. I think I am more of a parade girl. I love parades!


~~louise~~ said...

I haven't been to the circus in years. I'm hoping to bring the kids one day. Perhaps, I'll find one in Idaho! Although, I'm still a bit weary of the clowns:)

It sounds like you and Dan had a wonderful time:) Thanks for sharing, Kate...

Junglefrog said...

Every time Cirque du Soleil comes to the Netherlands we try and go. So I have been there a couple of times to different shows and they are all magical in their own way. Just amazing performances!! I am not too fond of regular circusses (is that a word) I have to confess but I am with you when it comes to Cirque du soleil for sure!

Kate said...

I hate to admit that I have never been to a circus, but I have not. I have heard wonderful things about Cirque du Soleil. I must see it!

tasteofbeirut said...

I saw the Cirque du Solei a couple of times in different cities and was amazed each time!
Love the atmosphere around a circus; in fact when i was a kid I would dream of joining one and traveling from place to place; lovely.

Sophie said...

I so loved going to the circus when I was really young,...I also have been 2 times to see Cirque du soleil!

Kitchen Butterfly said...

I really want to do the Cirque de Soleil 'thing' but no chance yet. We went to a travelling one a couple of years ago and the kids loved it - a great proxy for the real thing.

Excitement......and counting down till dimanche!

grace said...

i haven't been to the circus in AGES. i actually got to ride an elephant when i was a kid, but mostly i remember the cotton candy. the circus is where i first got hooked on the stuff. :)

My Carolina Kitchen said...

The European circus seems so much more elegant and refined that the American version. Almost meant for adults who want to be children again.

Patty said...

Wonderful story of your day at the circus, Kate! Reminds me of the days when we would bring our boys to the circus when it would come to town.
It also reminded me of the book I just read, "Water for Elephants", by Sara Gruen. Have you read it? If not, I highly recommend it, I loved it!

The Gypsy Chef said...

Kate, I love this post and it's perfect timing. I am currently reading Water for Elephants, a wonderful story about an elderly man and the circus. I haven't been able to get the circus out of my mind. I guess need a circus fix and your post provided it.
Isn't it nice to have a real thrill and not a Hollywood generated one?