We went to the circus yesterday, and it was the first time in AGES. Years, even. I had seen a poster advertising that the circus would be in town, and because I am a seven year old at heart, immediately requested that Phillipe accompany me to said circus.
Le Cirque De Venise is as traditional as a circus as you can get. Not one for bells and whistles this one ring big top boasted a myriad of animals and acts that were as conventional as they were charming. It was a family run operation; or at least the side of it that we saw, with grandparents and their grandchildren alike participating in the show.
Of course running a circus, even a small one is not cheap, but I was happy to spend the money on an absolutely warm and perfect afternoon.
Besides, it’s not every day that you get to see 8 lions and tigers – 4 of each, respectively – from so close.
The one ring allows for your entire concentration to be upon the act and I think you get more enjoyment than trying to divide your time between three rings. And at 2 1/2 hrs, I can’t complain. It was also wonderful that we were within spitting distance of the ring, and we could see every muscle of the animals, and every toe stretched carefully along the high-wire.
Of course we were among – perhaps the only – ones there without a little child hugging our legs, but I couldn’t be bothered because I firmly believe that you should do what you want when you want an not let societal norms or pressures steer you away from something so special as a circus.
The most special thing of course, were the tigers. Beautiful, powerful animals, the tamer had them do all sorts of funny tricks, and growling as they were with him, they were never aggressive with him any more than a few bared canines. (Which to me is aggressive enough, and I’d rather not make a tasty snack). But of course he never hits the animals with his whip, and always rewarded the ones with a nice piece of meat for a job well done.
The grunts bellows and chuffaws and growls are absolutely amazing. The muscle in the showers and sheer paw strength of the animals as they leap-frogged over each other, walked on their hind legs, and jumped through hoops of fire, were spectacular.
Beautiful animals, with their stripes as unique as finger prints, and their long whiskers as they sat on their stools waiting to be called.
We saw ostriches, llamas, zebras – an absolutely hilarious animal up close – and a bull with a horn span longer than I am tall. (I have no idea how they transport that animal, much less how it eats or how heavy those horns must be) The dogs were absolutely charming, and comical, jumping and twirling, and the horses lean as they were trotted beautifully in front of us, and the camel with his two humps begrudgingly doing what the woman asked of him.
The tight-rope walker, the fearless gymnast acrobats, the clown and his son, it all came together absolutely wonderfully. Hanging in mid-air enough to make my stomach turn somersaults as they twirl and climb and flip with all of the greatest of ease and I’m only calm when they’re on the ground, no matter how muscled the people may be.
The spoke in their weird little Italian-French way, where it sounded at once where I knew exactly what they were saying, as in a song, and the just as suddenly, not at all. Italian is like singing, so different from French and Spanish, with a rhythm all its own, it falls pleasantly on the ears like waves crashing gently on a shore.
After the show, we got to see the animals up close, and they had more that the didn’t show; leopards, and monkeys, more dogs and more zebras than the ones they trotted out.
And I thought, how much work goes into a circus. For only a week, to set up all the pens, and then the issue of feeding the animals! The lions and tigers get 5-7 kilos of food a day. The bales of hay that go towards the camels, horses, goats, zebras, and then the keeping of the cages clean. How they must have to exercise the animals, so they don’t go crazy. To build trust between a predator that large, can be a daunting task. And ultimately it is an animal, one with the capacity to maul, if it so chooses.
To set up the big tent, to find a suitable location, to set up the bleachers upon which we sat, trailers and costumes to change into. How much equipment, and food, and sweat must go into running a circus.
In a way, the behind the scenes are better than the show it self for it is a well run machine, a tightly knit community, and everyone must do their share of the work. And to think that they stay in one place for only a week! It is an incredible effort and must be an amazing way to see the world.
So many faces, so many places.
We were the last ones to leave the circus, long after the crowd had filtered out, endlessly fascinated by the color of the big cat’s eyes, and the way they would correct one another, and how the men would come and tickle the cats through the cages as they set up a bigger space for them for the night. The cats love the men, as cats can do, and they knew dinner was coming as they head the rumble of the tractor coming to life, and their ears perked, a cat smile on their faces.
And then the zebras, who I’d never seen up close like that, close enough to touch, but not daring, and their funny stripes and funny manes, with their big horse teeth and camel bellies. What an odd funny creature, and not in any way worried about the loud growls that come from the cages not ten meters away from them.
I would go back, a hundred times, I would want to see the dusty grey elephants of different circuses (if there’s such a thing anymore, as circus elephants) and I would want to see the acrobats and tight-rope walkers as they go with a collected calm flying through the air, with practiced patience and perfect trust in themselves, and their partners. I would go every time a circus came into town, simply because it is magical, in a way that rekindles the childlike wonderment and joy in every one of us, and it sparks the imagination.
That is what makes a good circus.
Last night I dreamt of the tigers and lions, and of the circus.
What it must be like to run a circus, in today’s technologically driven world, and how happy I was to see that it was alive, and well, worn in like a favorite pair of jeans. It had its own heart beat and there were plenty of children there with eyes wide, licking cotton candy clean from sticky fingers. It was a circus of children, of times past, of a world that many don’t see, and it wasn’t out to out shine or out do any one else with any bigger, better, flashier tricks.
And it was perfect.
It is a job of course, one that merits a lot of sweat, practice and work, but I feel that when the make-up and costumes come on and there are the bright lights of the big top – warming the skin of everyone – that the applause makes it worth it.
Certainly, for me, the tigers would.