Friday, March 31, 2006

Guardian angels.

March 31, Kingman, Arizona.

Sister Priscilla just came by with the news that Sister Jo's mother is getting sicker.
Jo's going to have to stay with her a while longer; she's been away from the circus more than a week now. Her mother is 89 and had been sick, and now she's developed pneumonia so everybody is really worried. On her way out Priscilla told me to keep Jo in my thoughts.
I can't pray for her, but I'll think of her with all my heart.
The Little Sisters have been traveling with the circus since the beginning of the season, and will be with us until the end of May. As I mentioned in an earlier posting it was love at first sight between Sister Priscilla and I when we met, back at the Carson and Barnes Circus in 2000, at the same time I met Fridman. The odds were against us: I'm a confirmed agnostic, and was raised in the most unreligious environment possible in the most unreligious country on earth. France is as atheist as they come, and my Dad went to a Jesuit school and came off hating them and anything having to do with religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular with a passion. I don't define myself as an atheist only because I have no definite answers. So by culture as well as nature, if I can say, I've always been suspicious of religion in general and the Catholic church in particular.
And then there was Priscilla.
Sisters Pricilla and Jo are Catholic. They belong to an order called the Little Sisters of Jesus. It was founded in 1939 by a French nun called Little Sister Magdeleine when she was working with nomads in Algeria. This nomad beginnings left their mark on the congregation, and they have a special connection to nomadic people of all kinds, Gypsies, carnival people or circus people. They live and work in groups of three or four "among the world's poor and marginalized, somewhat as we would imagine Jesus having lived in Nazareth," as Sister Priscilla wrote in a testimony she gave me. Contrary to most other orders they don't proselitize at all; rather they are, as they define themselves, a contemplative presence of the Church, "crying the Gospel through their life."
This is what I like about them, too: the honesty of their position. Sister Priscilla and Jo, who have been traveling together in the United States for many years and with various circuses, have worked cooking, selling tickets, ushering people, sewing, brushing animals, among other things. Other sisters work in factories, as maids, clerks, etc. And, at least from the example Sisters Priscilla and Jo give, always a humble life, and always a caring presence.
As I said in an earlier posting, they are the guardian angels of the circus. I'll be thinking of Jo.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


March 29, Prescott Valley.

More on the immigration bill and the attending demonstrations. It's great to see (or rather hear, as I don't have TV) how thousands of students are turning up all around the country to protest this bill. I often lament that people in this country are apathetic when it comes to standing up for their rights on social issues but these students are proving me wrong. They're out there and they care. Way to go.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Total eclipse of the sun.

March 28, Prescott Valley, Arizona.

Circus news, or rather Russians news: Igor and Olga gone, dismissed on Friday, the Russians, as we call them (Genia and his family,) also gone, but only temporarily, and Ekaterina turns 20, plus terrible lot in Prescott Valley with the weather turning cold and rainy up in the mountains. World news: immigration reforms being considered in Congress prompts protests in several US cities, political bloggers declared exempt of campaign contributions regulations, total eclipse of the sun (unrelated to the previous two.)

Igor and Olga left on Saturday afternoon by bus to Tucson and are probably going back to Russia. Igor had not been able to work following the accident on the I-10 in Tucson, apparently due to previous spine injuries coming back to haunt him. Another missed opportunity since I had just asked him to sit down for an interview on Friday... Do not report onto tomorrow what you can do today. I barely had the time to take a picture of him and Olga before they left. I'll miss them. I wanted to know more about Igor, his time in Afghanistan fighting in the Russian army, his career as a circus performer, his travels around the world. Olga was harder to get to know since she didn't speak either a word of English or Spanish. She was fond of Dylan, loved to take him in her arms and cuddle him, speaking to him in Russian all the time; it sounded like music to me. My Mom told me she heard that babies under ten month are able to not only understand but also say any sound from any language, an ability that they lose afterwards even if they are still able to learn languages to almost perfection. Keep the Russians coming please.

That little phrase in the Grande polonaise brillante Op.22 by Chopin is so beautiful it makes me stop what I'm doing every time (the interpretation is by Janusz Olejniczak and the Warsaw Philarmonic National Orchestra of Poland conducted by Tadeusz Strugala, from the soundtrack of The Pianist, a gift from Fridman.) I'm the same way with beautiful writing; it bring me to tears every time. There is a passage in Racine's play Bérénice (Acte I, Scene IV, Antiochus tells Bérénice of his love for her) that gets me every time- little would have I known when it bored me to no end back in high school. It's a little weird and completely nerdy but I can't help it. Some of Michel Foucault's writing does the same thing to me, especially a passage from the unedited preface to l'Histoire de la Folie so I forgive him his otherwise unnecessarily difficult prose.

Back to earth and on to the wonderful world of Circus Chimera. Or rather mud. The lot we're on is pure dirt, uneven and recently dug, which since it started raining is going to make for a great muddy mess.
We had a little party for Ekaterina, the Russian gymnast and contortionist, on Saturday night after the Russians left. The plan is to have a big one when they come back, in 10 days or so, but we didn't want that milestone to go by without at least some kind of a celebration. Again, on n'a pas tous les jours vingt ans, you don't turn twenty every day. We invited them over to the trailer for papas a la huancayina (a Peruvian dish, actually an appetizer but we make it a full meal) and cake. Igor and Olga were supposed to be there too but they decided to leave that afternoon and el tio Tito took them to the bus station. Without them or the Russians the party shrunk like a peau de chagrin (see Maupassant's novel, sorry but I can't think of a translation) but Ekaterina declared it was a great party anyway. She liked the teddy bear and pillow Fridman and I got her. The teddy bear is because every time she comes over to watch a movie she spends the night hugging mine. She decided to call hers Flema, the phonetic translation of the way the Chinese say Fridman's name. The pillow I knew she would like because we have the same taste and she's always marveling over the "decoration" in our trailer, even though decoration is a big word for two pieces of odds-and-ends material hung with clothes pins over the windows.
The circus feels empty without the Russians. They must be somewhere in Kentucky right now on their way to Pennsylvania for a show date they had contracted before signing up with this circus. There were teary goodbyes even though they should be back in a little more than a week. But then again you never know, that much I've learnt.

I've been out of touch with no radio for the past few days so I missed the demonstrations over the immigration bill now making its way through Congress. The Senate begins reviewing it today, if I'm not mistaken, and it includes the criminalization of illegal aliens. As if this country was not founded by immigrants. I recommend a movie called "A Day without Mexicans" on the subject. Adios fresh-picked veggies in the produce department of your grocery store!, adios half the population of California, Texas and Florida!, etc, etc. Actually the film should be called A Day without Latinos, as contrary to a commonly held belief in North America not all Latino immigrants are from Mexico and Mexico is not the only country south of the border. But then again the state of gringos' geographic ignorance is well-known so I don't need to add any more barb on the matter here.
[But I can't resist: one day early last year after the tsunami hit we were waiting in the DMV in Hugo, Oklahoma, and when Fridman told an old guy he was from Peru and not Mexico, the guy said, Oh yeah, that where they had that real bad thing over there in Asia now, heh? I just couldn't resist.]
This circus is a good example of the immigration reality of this country, and how it not only works fine but also makes for a wonderfully interesting crowd. This year there are people from literally all over the world working in the circus, from Mexico (most of the tent workers) to France (Bérengere), Russia (although the pool seems to be slightly dwindling from its all-time Russian Mafia highs,) to China and Peru, and it is owned by a US citizen and managed by another. Most of these people will probably end up staying here and will become part of the vitality of this country, although not all. All of them are here for a job nobody else could do, and work productively to enhance the richness of this country.
As far as I'm concerned this is the story of immigrants all over the world. In Europe they come from North Africa and Eastern Europe. In Australia from various countries in Eastern Asia. Unfortunately they are treated by a growing segment of the local population with the same mixture of scorn and dread everywhere. As Théodore Monod, a French biologist, writer and religious humanist liked to say, the human race, very young in evolutionary terms, is still learning how to be fully human. Part of wanting to have a child for me was also yearning to travel a little further on that road to a place of better understanding, love and respect for everything living.
There will be a total eclipse of the sun tomorrow. It will last three minutes and will be visible only from Africa. Where human life started. Total eclipse of the sun. Hope we learn.

Photo 1
Olga and Igor in front of their room in Circus Chimera's common trailer (Saturday March 24.)

Photo 2
Securing the tent.

[NB: All photos are from the day of the post unless otherwise noted, as above.]

Friday, March 24, 2006

Positive light.

March 24, Goodyear, Arizona.

I was told by the circus PR police that my blog was too negative and painted the circus in a bad way... so I promise to be more positive from now on, forget the blown-up tires, all-night drives and accompanying stabilizers grief and embrace the new morning at Circus Chimera.
Seriously. I didn't realize this narrative was so depressing, I'm actually having a pretty good time. I wouldn't trade this journey for anything in the world. The cutest kid on the block, the hottest man on the show, a room with a new view every morning, who could ask for more?
And in Apache Junction on Tuesday I stepped out earlier than usual (late nights make for late awakenings in the circus) and the sweetness of the day just stopped me. There was something in the air that morning, the just-so cool breeze, the softness of the sun maybe, that at the risk of sounding corny I want to call lovely. It felt like the first morning of the world. Le premier matin du monde.
That's how I feel every morning when I look into Dylan's bed and he smiles when he sees me.
Oh the morning light.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

American dream - not.

March 23, Anthem.

Marvin, the midget clown, worked on a new act for the show this morning, something to do with burnt chicken coming out of the oven. The oven in that case is a plywood one made by el Tio Tito, complete with top burners. The chicken are the plastic kind that finds its way into clown acts. This morning he was painting one black, a small one, the big one left as is in its original glowing yellow. Samuel Angel, a tent worker, was helping paint. I haven't had the opportunity to see Marvin's act yet. He was contracted out of Mexico after Guennadi was thrown out but only arrived a couple of weeks ago because of the time it takes to get a visa.
He's from Mexico City, married with two children. He wasn't born in the circus but started working in one when he was 19, after winning some kind of scholarship to work in TV. He worked in various circuses in Mexico before coming here, working at at bar in Fort Worth as a dancer, and now here at Chimera. Por la necesidad, he says, I'm here only because I have to. Like all immigrants.

I've always been struck by how people born in the United States think people come to this country because of some romantic notion called the American Dream. All the immigrants I've known over the years only came for one reason: because they had to. The situation in their country didn't give them the opportunity to get a decent job and didn't offer much for the future of their family. The ones that could go back did.
I'm actually the only one to have come here because I liked the idea. That is still not the same as the American dream, but admittedly it comes closer, so I'm what you could call the exception that confirms the rule. I remember dreaming about coming to the US when I was a girl, fed by a constant stream of US-made movies and series on television, as well as by an enormous amount of US cultural imports you'd have to be living on the moon to avoid seeing. Whether we like it or not, we in Europe and in the rest of the world are eating up US culture day in and day out, in the latest Hollywood movie and attending gadgets and toys, the latest hit song on the radio, the latest series on TV, the latest fashion on the streets.
In France in particular we have a kind of split personality when it comes to the US: we profess to hate it but then we love it too. IN addition to all the afore-mentioned items, there is a MacDo, as we call the chain, in almost every town, and there is always a line. They're such a ubiquitous sign of "US imperialism" that when an anti-globalization group calling itself "the peasant movement" (Jose Bové, their leader, is in and out of jail and something of a star in France) looked for a target for their anti-US anger they chose to bomb the MacDo in a small town nobody had ever heard about before. In addition to globalization and US imperialism in general (one and the same thing anyway, the thinking goes), one of their aim was what is called "la mal-bouffe" in French, literally translated, "bad food," so the MacDo was an easy pick. Of course la mal-bouffe is also associated with the US, that goes without saying, bien sur, never mind the croque-monsieur traditionally on the menu for lunch at most bistros is a greasy lump of bad bread and worse ham sold at an exorbitant price.
I've been here on and off for close to 20 years, and I've never missed the croque-monsieurs. Before I turned vegeterian I was a hot-dog aficionada. But the immigrants who work their ass off in the most low-paying and back-breaking jobs and send money back to their family every month, they didn't risk their lives to come to this country for no hot-dog.


March 22, Anthem, Arizona.

Ekaterina made soup and she brought us a pot of it. A week ago she had promised Fridman some soup when they were backstage during the show and then forgot about it and ate it all with Vasily. Today was payback.
This is the exciting news of the day, plus the fact that the circus sponsor sold such an amount of tickets the last stand had to be added in the tent to make sure there would be enough seats. General admissions tickets can be for any day, and if everybody shows up at the same time you have to be prepared to accommodate them. All the stands are not put in each time the tent is raised; the decision is made anticipating the kind of crowds likely to show up in a given place. Anthem is a small town about 35 miles north of Phoenix, and the strong sales came as a surprise. The location probably helps; we're in the local community park, what looks like a brand new park in the middle of housing developments, and a lot of people stroll by, jogging, pushing strollers, walking their dog. It was 4 o'clock when they went to work adding the stand. The show starts at 7:30. The tent was more than three quarters full, a good show.
The whole town looks like it was founded yesterday, at least what I could see of it driving in and from the look of the housing developments around us. The one across the street is called Jubilation.

Photo 1
Raising the tent.

Photo 2
Recipe for Russian soup:
black pepper
Russian contortionist.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Mood changes (repeated.)

Just decided to ditch and come onboard the eBlogger bandwagon - this should explain the month-worth of postings dated the same day. not very blogger-like but this looks a hell of a lot better.


March 19, Tucson.
A week ago or so there was a series on NPR about the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and the fate of people who lost their homes, and as I was listening to some of them I was struck by not only how people put such a high emotional price on their homes, but also by how they despised the very notion of living in a trailer, as if it somehow signified a free fall on the social ladder for them. For most of them losing their homes was like losing some of themselves it seemed, and relocating to a trailer adding the ultimate insult to their trauma. I guess because these are feelings so foreign to me I have a hard time understanding them. For circus people and a lot of retirees who choose to hit the road, our wheels are our home, and I for one don't like to think that makes me a lower kind of a person. And because I've moved so much in my life I also have a hard time with the notion of belonging to a place, and of letting that place becoming a part of who I am.
Circus people like Fridman carry this rootless life to an extreme. Fridman is "un enfant de la balle," as we say in French (a juggling kid, literally translated.) He was born in the circus and has worked in one or another all his life. When people ask him where he's from he'll say Peru and that means all of Peru, not a place there in particular. He once told me he wasn't sure exactly where he was born, maybe in the Peruvian selva, maybe in Lima. His parents had a small circus and traveled around the country with it. When he was a teenager he also toured in Chile and Ecuador working for other circuses.
For me this rootless way of life was all part of why I wanted to become a journalist, and now of being in the circus. It's a wide wide world out there, and now there's one more good reason to keep on wandering: there's Dylan to share it with. So home is wherever I happen to be. It's where my heart is, and he's right here with me taking his afternoon nap. Furthermore, like all expatriates I know I'll never be of my own country anymore, nor will I ever hope to be of my adopted one either, so there's no use stopping in my tracks. I'm bound to be on the outside looking in, whether at work or in life, and it's been a wild ride so far.

Small big top mass.

March 18, Tucson.
A local Catholic priest from the Tucson area celebrated a mass under the tent after the show last night.
Father Ricardo Elford is a friend of the Little Sisters. He's originally from Seattle but has been in the Southwest for a long time. He works a lot with migrants. Last night he was wearing a white robe with a stole of traditional Mexican colors. Of the Little Sisters only Sister Priscilla and Helene Renée attended; Jo had to leave on Thursday to attend to her sick mother back East. Sister Helene Renée has been with us for about a week now. She's from France and came via England, where she went through a crash course in English. There were about two dozen people there, Edith with her three-month-old baby and her family, Saul, Marvin, Jim. Father Ricardo spoke with a soft voice, too low for me to hear it as I was taking pictures from a few feet away, trying to work around the lack of light.

Master's degrees and the circus.

March 17, Tucson, Arizona.
I'm actually blogging, finally.
I'm posting this at the same time I'm writing it - almost. It's late at night, the only time I could find to write, and I'll post it tomorrow from the office. I still do not have internet access at home, and since this seems to be the norm rather than the exception, I ordered an Airport Extreme base from the Apple store a few days ago, a little gizmo that should extend my range and otherwise generally improve my reception and speed. But of course things are not as easy as ordering something from the Apple store when you're on the road. You have to send it to a physical address and then have somebody, in this case Sheyla, Fridman's sister, send it to you via general delivery at the post office, after carefully calculating which town you'll be in by the time the package gets there or a few days past. If you leave the town before it gets there, for example, it might as well have been sent to Mars, you're gone and there is no coming back.
So for the meantime I'm shuttling back and forth between the office and the trailer, carrying the laptop. In the mornings, because Fridman is usually sleeping later than me (no getting up for nursing...) I'll leave Dylan in the house after nursing and changing him. In the afternoon I'll try and go with him in the BabyBjorn. The success of the outing depends on whether I've put him to sleep soundly by walking for a while beforehand; if he's awake he'll usually start fussing after a minute and a half or so, thereby ending the work session before it starts. Finally I'll go again at night after the show and before they close the office down, again leaving the baby home with Fridman. Sheyla just called to say the package should get to Goodyear, Arizona, by mid-week; I'll get it on Friday, when we get there.
For now we're in Tucson, and staying five whole days in the same location, the Tucson Mall to boot. No asking for more in Circus World. Tucson made me think of this book by Barbara Kingsolver, "The Bean Trees," which I had read last year, so I took it out again. By the end of the season in November I hope to reach page 12.
In another (pre-baby) life I used to be an avid reader and a cultural junky. I devoured books like candy (and with candy.) I'm what you call a highly educated gal. I was born and raised on the French Riviera (nothing to do with education but I thought I'd throw that in to impress folks) in a middle class and very liberal, art-savvy family and I was also lucky enough to go up to Paris, as we say there, at age 15 or just in time to go wild, and occasionally enjoy a a fine intellectual and cultural world. As far as I can remember I loved to read. I got a Master's degree in English and American literature and civilization just to be able to finally enjoy Shakespeare unedited. Since I didn't feel I had read quite enough yet I went on and got another Master's, this time in photojournalism so I could prove those people wrong that say photographers can hardly read and write, let alone spell. When I started on that career and had to expand my language skills into Spanish, I achieved the nirvana of being able to read Garcia Marquez as he originally intended us to. The goal now is to read Dostoyevski in Russian, and with the Russian mafia on hand at the circus I think that's a reasonable goal.
So the joke goes something like this. Sometime last year when Fridman and I were helping our friend Marcos in Hugo, Oklahoma, with his lawn care and trash removal business, freezing our butts and getting sores on our hands, we would cheer ourselves up with, "Two Master's degrees! (Valerie) A professional performer! (Fridman) ...Yes we're raking leaves!"
This year it's: "Two Master's! Yes, I'm washing diapers!" But then again I've also cleaned houses, sold hot-dogs from a cart and Fridman and I once worked setting up a burial site, mounting the coffin-lowering device backward in the process.

There was an accident on the way here from Sierra Vista last Sunday night, and Dante's old motorhome was totaled. Igor was driving and Olga was with him. They were hit from behind by a big rig, apparently going a little too fast when they were going a little slow. Nobody was hurt, but Igor, who had some previous spine injury, is now wearing a neck brace and off work. Dante left the circus for good the next day; he's now back home in New Mexico.

It was also Sasha's twentieth birthday today. Twenty! On n'a pas tous les jours vingt ans... They had a big party at the trailer, a smorgasbord of meats, seafood and sushi. The sushi was partly for me since I'm a vegetarian and they were complaining I never ate anything. I think I finally proved them wrong. The party went on late through the night. With the pine trees surrounding the trailer it was like having our own little private patio there on the parking lot of the Tucson Mall, people stopping at the light gawking. The Chinese troupe was invited to join in, the Russians forgot all about the cake, there was an animated sort of conversation as Vasily tried to talk to the Chinese, none of who speaks a word of English, Fridman and I took turns shuttling back and forth to check on the baby sound asleep in our trailer "next door," we all had a good time.

Pix 1
The first picture is of Sasha, his birthday cake, a honey cake they call it in Russia, and his dog, Cheyenne. The arm could be Fridman's, but then again it was late at night.

Murphy's Law (continued.)

March 12, Sierra Vista.
Urgent care clinic this morning to check Fridman's eye, finally. The good news is no damage to the cornea; the bad news is we didn't have time to pick up the prescription for drops to prevent infection and tonight we're leaving for Tucson, 80 miles away.
And it turns out the brakes on the truck were on the brink of giving out, too. "No mas casa, no mas bebe, no mas nada." No more house, no more baby, no more anything, said Jose, the circus' mechanic, telling me rather to the point what would have happened should they have given out when I was driving.

Murphy's Law.

March 11, Sierra Vista, Arizona.
I blew up a tire on I-10 coming from Willcox to Sierra Vista, and troubles began.
Because I made the mistake of not stopping immediately, trying to reach Fridman instead and waiting for the exit to go down to Sierra Vista a few miles down the highway, the blown-up tire did damage to the structure of the trailer too. Fridman decided to put the spare on instead of having me call the road emergency service we contracted and wait alone for them to arrive. Saul and el tio Tito, who were behind us, stopped to help. That's the good thing about traveling with the circus, there will always be someone who stops to help you when you're having trouble on the road. It makes you feel safe. Saul was traveling with the new clown the circus brought over from Mexico, a midget called Marvin. He made hand signals to help me maneuver the trailer according to Fridman's orders, and if you knew I've been partially deaf since my 20s this made for a interesting little scene over there on the side of highway 90: two big rigs, two small rigs and a midget making sign language for a deaf driver in between.
Then I got lost arriving into Sierra Vista, and got el tio Tito lost as well for he was following me. He finally flagged down a police car, and the policeman escorted us back to the lot. A tall, lanky black guy in his forties, he was extremely soft-spoken and helpful, and apparently as confused as we were about the directions we had. I would have liked to get his name: it is not often I get to see the police in this country in such a good light (racial profiling is usually more like them, as when we were stopped in Louisiana on I-10 for no other reason that Fridman seemed "suspicious" pulling such an expensive trailer as the Avion.) I only got to wave him goodbye; this is my thank you to our rescuer and the redeemer of its corps.
on with the troubles: we have no electricity here because the circus is set up in such a way that the generator is on the other side of a four-lane street, lighting up the tent and circus trucks. Housing trailers have to rely on their own small generators, and ours doesn't work because of the weak battery. Of course in a town without power it has to be cold, and so it is. No heat and no lights make for a pretty miserable set up. Genia connected us to his generator last night, so at least the gas heater could come on for the night.
We had to spent all day changing tires on the trailer, and on the truck too, driving around town pulling our 36-footer. We bought a new battery while we were at it, went to lunch in a hurry and got a bad curry, and then it was time for the show.
I had made an appointment for Dylan but canceled it; he doesn't sound so bad anymore and I figured we could wait for next Tuesday when he turns four months old and we have to go to a clinic for his shots again. Fridman has to see a doctor too. Something got into his eye, and with the eyes you don't mess around. There was no time yesterday, and again this morning the wait was going to be too long before he had to be at work for the three shows. This is the flip side of life at most small circuses: seven days a week and no time off unless it's an emergency. Fridman had metal wedged in his eye once when the circus was near San Diego and I drove down from Riverside late at night after work to take him to the hospital. It turned out it could have permanently damaged his eye.
The good thing is that he's strong as a horse, never gets sick, works like a powerhouse all day and gets up the next fresh as a newborn. Speaking of, Dylan was lucky: he doesn't look anything like me. That's because he got most of his genes from his Dad, so not only is he dark skinned, which I love, and the most beautiful baby on earth (of course,) but hopefully he'll enjoy Fridman's incredible good health too.

Women's Day, Russian way.

March 9, Willcox, AZ.
More crazy weather. It looked like an Iraqi sand storm here yesterday, but then it snowed briefly. We're parked in a dusty field near a truck stop by interstate 10. It dipped below 30 degrees during the night and we buried ourselves under three comforters, dressed in pants, sweaters and socks, and put Dylan in the bed between us. The electric heaters do not work at night, the generator is shut off. So after 11 PM you're on your own. Unfortunately the gas heating system doesn't work in our trailer because the battery that controls the electrical system is weak. We couldn't start up the generator either, for the same reason, so we were left with no heat, the prospect of a freezing cold night and a sick baby. But then the common trailer doesn't have any heating system at all, so things could be worse; at least we'll have heat when we finally come around to replacing the battery.
Yesterday was Women's Day in Russia and so the Russians prepared a BBQ after the show. It was 37 degrees out but everybody came out to celebrate anyway. Ekaterina, Olga and Bérengere each got a bouquet of roses, and so did I. "The Russians," as Fridman and I call them, Genia, Sasha, Vilen, Bérengere, Ekaterina, Vasily, Igor and Olga, usually include us in their group, whether it's for watching a movie or celebrating their women.

Setting up the tent under strong winds.

Talk about the weather.

March 7, near Silver City, NM.
A sudden plunge in temperatures has us shivering and wet today, after a hot and clear day yesterday. We Europeans are not used to these yo-yo-like weather patterns, and to this day, after more than 15 years living in this country on and off, they still seem strange to me. North America is a land of wonders climate-wise as well for us Old World dwellers. There is the Grand Canyon, New York City, Death Valley, the Golden Gate bridge, the giant sequoias, but then again you get earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes too. Here in the mountains near Silver City, in southern New Mexico, the temperatures went from 80 something degrees Farenheit yesterday to 47 today. Not only did they drop nearly 40 degrees, but they did so in the course of the day, not the night, something unheard of in Europe; it was 62 degrees this morning when I went out to pick up some breakfast next door in the pie-car. But I should have known: yesterday I put away my winter clothes.

The Seventh Day.

March 4, Las Cruces.
Three shows today and three shows tomorrow, week ends at Circus Chimera are anything but restful.
Sundays are particularly hard on everybody. After three shows for two days in a row most performers, like Fridman, have to drive a big rig to the next town, and that can be a short trip or, as in last week, several hours away. Then of course Fridman also has to park all vehicles before going to sleep. I never liked Sundays growing up; now I have a good reason why, although it is quite the opposite of why I didn't like them as a kid: too much instead of not enough to do.
On Sundays in France, up to this day, all shops are closed by law. Only a few exceptions are made, most notably if the business has to do with tourism. It has always seemed ironic to me that this very Christian-like "day of rest" should be so faithfully respected in a country that is one of the less religious in the world (although I have a feeling it has more to do with taking the day off than anything religious.) In turn, the United States is one of the most religion-obsessed country that I know, and yet here there are no trace of this biblical injunction to rest. Priorities are where they should be, after all: business is business.

Potholes and Cadillacs.

March 3, Las Cruces.
There never seems to be enough time to do anything. I don't know whether this is a function of being constantly on the move or caring for a household (albeit a 300-square-foot one) and a small baby while working part-time, or both.
There hasn't been a connection to the internet in more than a week, so I'm not even putting in all the hours I should work-wise (this blog should get renamed "Oblog" for Offline Web Log,), and yet days go by and the To Do list never gets done. And then there is the trailer, a never-ending source of problems. Main headache: the broken front stabilizers, which make unhitching the trailer a one-hour operation at best, and a real pain in the butt.
Sister Ann Beth remarked the other day that circus employees are the only people who use RV trailers so intensively. Most full-timers, as people living in RVs all year are called, spend very little time actually traveling: they tend to stay in one park or another for extended periods of time, recreating in four corners of the country the community they left behind. Their RVs are like a house except for the occasional trip. The circus people's RV, on the other hand, is truly a house-on-wheels. Its features are really put to task, as every day or so we hitch and unhitch, hook and unhook, open and close every slide, connect and disconnect the water line, and secure all loose items inside so they don't end up in a hundred pieces after too many a potholes along the way.
It is the definite way to test the quality of a trailer, and ours has failed to rise up to the reputation of its supposedly high-end name brand, Avion. "The Cadillac of trailers," as one lady told me over the phone when we were shopping for a trailer. Ours, a 35-feet fifth-wheel with two slides, has turned out to be just that: all show. As always the devil is in the details: wooden blinds that look pretty (although I never liked them) but are too heavy and end up breaking (there is a reason blinds are almost universally made of light material,) wooden shelves made out of cheap plywood that broke after the first trip under minimal weight, a slide-out that is much too wide and threatens to come apart at each opening (there is a reason they now make them only small,) and then the stabilizers, front and back, twice broken and repaired now. Not to mention the usual wear and tear, which is all happening at once now, of course: generator in need of an oil change, battery in need of being replaced, toilet leaking, etc.
Lesson learned; next time we'll know exactly where to start: not with an Avion.
In the end I left my heart in Hugo, Oklahoma. The first "home" I bought, three years ago for barely over $4,000, "the fifties diner," as my friends and fellow Press-Enterprise photojournalists Carrie and Silvia dubbed it: a 1987 Coachmen Coventry 29-feet fifth-wheel. There can't be another one like that; I swore I would never do a trailer paint job again. The front end of it was wrecked in the accident Marcos and Patti had when they drove it to Savannah for me in September; Fridman welded it back together, and it is now sitting on the Circus Chimera lot in Hugo, reduced to storage status. And screen saver. Home is where the heart is, right there in front of me on the dusty roads of Gringolandia.

Photo 1
TV crew shadows on the circus curtain.

Photo 2
Dylan in the arms of the Russians (Genia at right, Olga at left.)

Westward bound.

March 2, Las Cruces, New Mexico.
We're in Las Cruces, in the shadow of the beautiful Organ mountains.
Finally out of Texas. Of the many reasons why I don't like Texas, the fact that they elected George W. Bush as governor should be enough, not to mention having the most populous inmate population in the country and being very liberal in executing them. But then I shouldn't get started on the death penalty either because not only is it a crime against humanity, and a useless and costly one in terms of deterrence, but it is also the most blatant incongruity coming from a people that likes to proclaim its Christianity so high and loud.
So we're out of Texas for good this time, westward bound. This circus only travels west of the United States. More often than not it also plays the same towns, and because of this the show needs to be new each year and ideally it needs to have a new cast as well. This is the first year since the circus opened in 1997 that the cast is actually all new, after the Chimal family left at the end of the season last year. Jim took the Chimal family with him from the Carson and Barnes circus when he started Circus Chimera (he worked at Carson and Barnes for many years, and learnt the ropes,) and they were the backbone of the show. They'll be working with the Kelly Miller Circus this year, and are also making plans to open their own circus in Mexico, a dream of many years.
With the Chimales gone, this is also the first time that Circus Chimera is not overwhelmingly Latino. The Chimales were from Yucatan, Mexico, and over the years a majority of the performers were from Latin America as well, like Fridman. This year Fridman is the "last of the Latinos," as Jim joked. The biggest group is from Russia. Ongoing joke among the administrative staff: the circus has been taken over by the Russian mafia. Next is the Chinese troupe. The circus now has a very different feel.
I called Mom early in the morning when I arrived (it was late morning in France) but she wasn't home; she called me back later; she was on her way back from Paris, I had forgotten all about it.

Moonlight teeth.

March 1st, El Paso.
More circus practical matters, or what goes on in some trailers.
The generator that keeps the circus going occupies the entire bed of one of the tractor trailers, and it is always parked next to the converted fifth-wheel trailer that houses whoever doesn't have a place to stay of his or her own.
The trailer is 40 feet long and divided into individual rooms, each outfitted with bunk beds and measuring about five feet wide. There is space for a TV on a stand by the lower bed and a small closet space by the door. There are five of these rooms and a bigger one in the raised part of the fifth-wheel, with five beds in it. One of these small rooms was Fridman's home for the three years that he worked at this circus. That's where I would come and visit him, once even with Yogi the cat in tow (he was sick and I didn't want to leave him alone, so I packed him in the car with the rest of the week end's necessities.) He was lucky in that he had the room to himself, and so we could have our privacy too. The trailer doesn't have any toilets, so you have to use the portable ones the public also uses. The thing is they can be parked close by or at the other end of the lot. Having to get up and dress in the middle of the night to go pee, walking in all kinds of terrain in all kinds of weathers, is a slight drawback on the romantic notion of living the supposedly bohemian life of the road. Soon we devised our own portable toilet for Number One, which consisted of a gallon water bottle cut at the top. Works wonders.
To complete the "commons" trailer portrait, it also has two showers, although hot water can be a luxury.
Sweet silver lining: brushing your teeth under the moonlight.

As I'm writing this it is after noon and Dylan is sleeping in the car seat in the living room. I didn't have the heart to take him out and wake him up in the process, after coming back from a doctor's visit earlier today. He caught a cold from us and has been sneezing for a few days and this morning he also started coughing, so I decided to take him to the doctor. A cold is not so much an issue and it actually helps building up his immunity, but I didn't want it to get to his lungs. This is one of the hardest thing about traveling with the circus with a baby: you don't have a permanent pediatrician to rely on, and have to find someone on the spot wherever you are. I feel better in that I finally got the three of us health insurance through a French company, so the outrageous cost of health care when you're not insured in this country is not going to worry me sick every time the baby or one of us has to be seen. The circus doesn't provide health insurance.

We're leaving tonight for Las Cruces, New Mexico, and as I was getting things ready in the trailer and taking out the trash I found Jay Summers, the circus' electrician, flashlight in hand, working on our truck's brake system, which wasn't connecting properly with the trailer's. In essence I was driving without any trailer brakes, relying solely on the truck's. As Jay just told me, with any vehicle you're doing 80 percent of the braking with the front brakes, and when you add a 15,000-pound house on your tail, it becomes, well, tricky, to say the least. On the trip to Roswell it was rainy and wet and I went hydroplaning several times as I hit the brakes, almost running into Fridman's tractor trailer once on a highway exit ramp. We knew we had to do something, only not exactly what. Jay is not only the electrician for the circus but also what we would call un homme a tout faire in French, a kind of Jack of all trades. He'll fix things up; he's the one you ask about all kinds of technical stuff.
He now has rewired the truck properly, so I should be OK from now on. Thanks Jay. That's the cool thing about traveling with the circus: there is usually somebody who can fix whatever is wrong on your truck, trailer and everything else in between. I like this idea of total resourcefulness. He explained that the trailer brakes will go on first, then the truck's, because the weight of the trailer is such that it needs to slow down first in order for the truck to slow down without heating up its brakes into the danger zone. I'm learning every day, as I told Jim when I started working back in January.
All this truck and trailer business makes me think of my mother, who is scared to death at the mere idea o driving such a thing. It's her birthday tomorrow so I'll call her tonight, taking into account the time difference. She'll be 74. Somehow it sounds just wrong - my Mom can't be 74 years old. She doesn't look it, even though she's showing her age more and more in subtle ways, as I found out when she was with us in Savannah. The stress I put her through indirectly made her look old in a way I had never seen before, and it made me sad.

Nuts and bolts.

Feb. 28, El Paso.
Time for circus logistics, or what it takes to keep a village on the go.
Circus Chimera uses a generator to provide electricity to all the trailers, the office, the concession stand, the circus itself, and everything else that needs it. Cost per day: 75 gallons of diesel, at whatever price it happens to be where it's at, anywhere from $2.30 upward these days.
The circus also provide diesel for private trucks, of which there are a dozen, in the form of mileage dollars at each pay period. For the big trucks to transport everything from the tent to the workers' sleeping quarters, the circus arranges for diesel delivery on the lots, so that they are ready to go after the show without having to stop to refuel. On the trip from McAllen, Tx, to Roswell, NM, a week ago, more than 1,350 gallons of diesel were burnt just in these trucks.
There is a cookhouse, with two cooks, to serve three meals a day to the 15 performers and some 65 other employees traveling with the circus at all times. Cost in food per month: about $5,000.


Feb. 27, El Paso Fox Plaza.
Last night we moved from one mall to another in the same city and traveled down the American social ladder, in the country that dreams itself without a class system: we moved from Suburbia to the Barrio. Sunland Park Mall was all corporate Americaland, undistinguishable from one coast to the other, all the brand names you expect to see clustered around the soulless comfort of the air-conditioned mall; Fox Plaza, as this mall is called, is five minutes away and less than a mile away from the border (you can see Mexico from here,) and it looks and feels every bit like Mexico as well, only slightly neater. There are the ubiquitous dollar stores, clothing stores with names like "American Girl," a JC Penney that looks like it hasn't been remodeled since the fifties, people sit on cast off office chairs on the sidewalk to keep an eye on their fare, Spanish is ubiquitous, Latino pop songs blare out of a corner store called La Discoteca ("the nightclub") with an assortment of wigs, old toy boxes, a poster for Tahiti body oil and sunglasses in the window.

The diaper dilemma.

Feb. 26, El Paso.
Dylan was sick yesterday, poor thing, and I spent the day washing diapers with greenish poop in them.
Not without constant pangs of guilt, I am finding myself using more and more disposable diapers.
I see myself as a fairly conscientious environmentalist. I am a veggetarian. I recycle wherever I can (a challenge at best on the road with the circus.) I'm anal about using water, electricity, air conditioning, any source of energy. I do all this because I care about the planet we live on and try my best to leave as small a footprint as possible on it, as the Buddhists would say. So the decision to use cloth diapers came naturally.
I've always used the big bad disposable diapers at night, for as they stay dry a lot better Dylan doesn't have to swim in his own pee and poop all night long. I also quickly decided to use them when traveling, after trying the cloth way and having him develop what has been his only sign of a rash to this day. Add to that the hassle of changing an infant in all kinds of places - I've changed him on top of a stack of Coke cans in the window of a 24-hour gas station somewhere in Florida in the middle of the night, on top of an ice-cream freezer in the back of another, and a couple of times on a booth table in the truck drivers' lounge of a Flying-J plaza off the interstate - and disposable diapers soon started to look like a circus Mom's life-savers. Or at least this one.
Then people started telling me that when you consider the amount of water you use washing the cloth diapers it doesn't make sense to use them anymore, and my iron resolution started to crumble even more. Now I'm filled with doubts, the only certainty being that cloth diapers are a hell of a lot cheaper, and living on $250 a week (working seven days a week), that does make sense.
Water is always an issue when you live on the move, and you learn to use it sparingly. That has always been one thing I liked about living on the road, the way it makes you aware of the cost of things you ordinarily would take for granted and waste with abandon. A water tank can only hold as much; a generator can only give you as much electricity. We move every three to four days and usually don't have a water connection on the day after we move until very late in the afternoon; in the meantime we have to rely on the water tank.
With all that in mind I'll admit that, increasingly, I look ahead at a day of washing diaper after diaper, endlessly looking for space to hang them to dry in a trailer half as big as some people's walk-in closet, and I feel like giving in to the Big Bad Disposable lure.
But not yet.

Radio days.

Feb. 24, El Paso.
The circus is parked at a mall, next only to a Wal-mart location in circus people's list of dreams. I still can't work online - no internet connection. All I do is write these blog entries in a text program to post later. Being without internet is just like being without wheels, at least in this country: you feel completely powerless, as if someone had cut off both your arms (or legs, I guess, in the car analogy.)
Bright point: finally found National Public Radio on the dial again, and that feels like coming up for air after being underwater for too long. I was beginning to suffer from acute news deprivation (I remember now how I used to dream of not having to keep up with the news when working as a photojournalist - beware what you wish for.)

The coolest baby by 800 miles.

Feb. 21, Roswell, NM.
Yesterday was travel day, and the circus moved from the southeastern corner of Texas to southern New Mexico, covering close to 800 miles.
Mostly deserted highway past San Antonio, interstate 10 west then 285 north though the eastern lower corner of New Mexico, cutting through an arid, desolate terrain, the occasional truck stop appearing like an oasis in the desert. Filling up west of what was announced as the town of Ozona on the highway, even though no sign of a town ever materialized, in anticipation to 200 more miles of unknown diesel refueling opportunities.
Fridman had to go on alone and leave me somewhere in the middle of nowhere near Junction, TX, at what I thought was midway to our destination and turned out to be only a third of a horrendously long trip. I watched his truck move on off, Dylan nursing on my lap, and something akin to panic came over me for the first time in my life. An eerie silence had followed Fridman's departure. An empty highway is not a reassuring thing; add to it a three-month-old baby to care for and a 36-footer to tow, and suddenly I wasn't sure I was up to the task.
Fortunately I soon joined with the Little Sisters at a rest area down the road, thanks to Fridman, who had called them. Quelle joie de les voir! Huge sigh of relief.
Priscilla kept me company me in the truck for a while, and then Ann Beth. We chatted away the endless highway up from Fort Stockton, TX, to Roswell, NM, a mostly empty stretch of road. At a stop to nurse the baby the sisters marveled at the starlit sky. With no lights anywhere near the stars were indeed magnificent. Huge gas refinery in Artesia; petroleum smells chasing chemical smells around that area and up until Roswell. Moving through the dark it was hard to decipher where they came from; you felt like a ship at sea. I followed Jo and she kept weaving to dodge rabbits (no casualties.)
The trip was easy, only impossibly long. With only short stops for lunch, and then a quick sandwich for dinner in the sisters' trailer, and to nurse the baby, in all we drove all day. Today everybody has to work, some as early as 8AM to raise the tent. Fridman had to stay up til the last trailer arrived in order to park it, and then had to go on with his other four jobs a few hours later... Sister Ann Beth: It's inhuman.

I was sick as a dog on Saturday and Sunday; threw up all night, diarrhea, the whole enchilada. Couldn't keep anything down but water and felt more miserable as the day progressed, wondering what I was going to do if I felt like this during the trip on Monday. Through all this I had to keep nursing Dylan, who, mercifully, didn't catch whatever it was that I had. I kept him in the bed by me and he was an angel by my side. In the afternoon Priscilla came over to see how I was doing and later came back with a home-made hot-water bottle (literally, she poured hot water in a small water bottle and wrapped it in a towel) and a chamomile tea.
The Little Sisters are the guardian angels of circus people, always there to mend cuts and bruises and care for all kinds of ailments. I remember them at the Carson and Barnes circus, where we met. It was love at first sight with Priscilla, maybe because we we share a common language and a common sensibility, despite the fact that I'm an agnostic and usually steer clear of anything religious in general and Catholic in particular. I remember the feel of their trailer, on these visits in the Midwest when I would sometimes drive a whole day to go see Fridman at the circus, the round table, inviting, and one of the sisters always keeping busy by the stove, offering a cup of hot coffee or tea, a cookie, the smell of the cakes they would bake for birthdays, Priscilla and her broken Spanish full of Italian words, Jo's soft voice, the barbed jokes of Monika, the German sister. I miss Monika and her sharp tongue. I'll miss them all when they're gone, by Easter.

The Russian mafia.

Feb. 17, McAllen, TX.
Fridman's friends from Tarzan Zerbini arrived late last night from Florida. We call them "the Russians," but that's not strictly true: Genia (Evgueni) and his two sons, Alexandre and Vilen, are Russian all right, but his wife Bérengere is French like me.
She talks about Alex and Vilen as "les enfants," the children. Sounds funny when Sasha (diminutive for Alexandre in Russian,) is 20 and Vilen 26, and she's only 35, looking 28. Fridman is happy that they're here; he's good friends with Alex. We invited them for lunch at a Chinese buffet and took Dylan in the stroller. He kept laughing and kicking his feet. Little Fridman, Genia calls him.
Some come, some go. Donald left early this morning; we invited him and Saul for a late dinner over at the Denny's next door last night. The Chinese troupe left on Thursday too, replaced by a much younger group: they are fresh out of school and look even younger than that. None of them speaks any English, but in keeping with the Chinese's reputation as the Italians of Asia, they are louder than even the loudest gringos.
With so many changes I don't know if I'll ever be able to paint a definite picture of the circus this year. The stability of the Chimal family is long gone. And I still haven't started on the project at all, save for the occasional picture, and still haven't decided exactly what style of picture to adopt either, or what format for the whole project. I'm also realizing that it might be close to impossible to do with Dylan so young. If I can just get some good pictures out of this I'll be happy.

Chinese Valentine and my three-month-old.

Feb. 15, Mission/Palmview.
Valentine's Day party in our trailer last night, farewell to the Chinese troupe. They're leaving and are replaced by another group, who arrived today. Too bad, we were just beginning to get to know them. I liked their Chinese poles choreography, Spiderman with a martial arts twist.
Sonny and Katya were looking at show photos on his computer and on one picture she recognized some old friends of hers from Russia. She broke into a wide grin: I know these guys! Circus people are a close-knit group if there ever was one, and always end up bumping into someone they know, in one country or another, one day or the next. Circus folklore, Fridman told me, says that since the ring is a circle, circus people inevitably run into each other around it.
Dylan turned three month old yesterday, and we did mail the birth announcements. Vieux motard que j'aimais.


Feb. 13, Mission/Palmview, TX.
Moved last night, and that threw Dylan off schedule somehow; he nursed three times between midnight and 9AM. I'm pooped.
Wonders of a new Mom: Dylan does something new every day, and I'm thrilled. Yesterday it was biting his lower lip, making him look like a little old man, Dylan at 75. Other major accomplishment: finally completing the birth announcements... only thing left to do is actually mailing them. If we do that tomorrow it will mark his three month birthday.

No rest.

Feb. 10, Harlingen, TX.
It seems I'm barely out of bed and the day is already over, my back giving up. Either that or I'm starting to think I overestimated the possibility of working at home while taking care of a baby.
No connection to the internet, so I decided to go on working on the photography and tried to shoot some of the show. A disaster on all counts. Dylan wouldn't rest for a minute once more today, and after about ten minutes in the BabyBjorn started to squirm and cry - shooting session over. Not much was lost anyway, as trying to shoot action pictures with my little point-and-shoot Canon is like drawing with only one finger to grab the pencil: an exercise in frustration. Dylan's finally taking a nap and it's 8PM.
One thing accomplished over the last two days: finally got the birth announcements printed... I'll try to add a note to some and then mail them on Monday, one day after Dylan will turn three months: better late than never.
Priscilla brought over some bread she made. We're neighbors ion this lot, speaking out of the windows. It's funny how every set up feels different, like a different village every time, with different neighbors, different "streets," a different feel.

One more down.

Feb. 9, Harlingen, TX.
First Guennadi, now the Kenyans. Never a boring day at Circus Chimera.
The Black Angels, as they called themselves, were fired today, confirming a rumor that had been around for a couple of days.
Now who's going to teach Dylan Swahili? Damn, I liked the international flair they gave the circus and the show, something unusual, fun, upbeat, different, even though their act was not much as far as circus art goes.
Although I didn't care much for nor got to know any of the others, I liked Professor, "Abdalla aka Professor," as he put it. When he left he asked to see Dylan, My man! The first time I met him he told me he wanted to have "one of these" one day.
Last night we set up the circus in Harlingen, 20 miles back down the road towards Brownsville, and all the vehicles had to be moved again this morning because of some city regulations. Gringolandia. Fridman-y-Valeria language for anything typical, weird or just really stupid (in Fridman-y-Valeria world at least) about this country. They were finished by 2 AM.
The circus is next to a Wal-mart supercenter store, a circus people's dream. Wal-mart is their religion, right next to the holy church. I remember when I first met Fridman, discovering this addiction to Wal-mart, the Big Bad Store. Who can blame them, when you live on a shoestring? It's the first thing Fridman got to know about the U.S.: la Wal-mart. They should put it on postcards to send folks back home. Not a bad symbol of this country.


Feb. 8, Harlingen, TX.
My computer just froze: it went all black.
I was nursing Dylan today for about the twelfth time in two hours and trying to work on it at the same time (can be done if he's nursing at the left nipple, and I'm even getting better at using my left hand) when Gramo, one of my cats, jumped onto the keyboard. By the time I put down Dylan to get the cat off, the screen went black, except for a pale yellowish circle of light at the center, taunting me with the wonderful but now utterly unattainable digital world, like a mischievous ghost of the machine.
What do you do when your computer has a problem and there is no way you can send it to Apple because there is no way you can get it back without a permanent address it can be delivered at in a decent amount of time?
One of the pitfalls of living on the road: no decent mail delivery.
Here's how it works. The mail goes to the post office box of the Circus Chimera in small town called Hugo, Oklahoma (20 miles from Paris, Texas, of Wim Wenders' fame), where Alan, in the circus office, waits to get a bundle together before sending it FedEx to the lot where the circus is at on the road, or to the nearest Kinko's hold out location. The result is you can wait for up to a couple of months before seeing your mail. Forget The New Yorker at your door.
So as I was staring at my blank laptop, I kept praying that it would gracefully come to life again of its own. Amazingly all it took was getting out the User's Guide and actually reading it, sheepishly peering through the Troubleshooting chapter until, lo and behold, here was the exact trouble I was having, something I would have sworn never ever worked, but voila!, it did.
The other dreaded digital-world-on-the-road event: You Are not Connected to the Internet.
Computer failures always leave you a little scared, waiting anxiously and entirely helplessly for the next meltdown episode. Wireless internet connection failure, on the other hand, are pure frustration, since there is absolutely nothing you can do about it other than wait and click over and over again on the refresh button knowing full well that won't do anything either.
Today was just one of those days. And then some, with Dylan wanting to nurse every hour and nor sleeping for more than a half hour at a time, if at all.
Last night Donald Chimal was over for dinner and later on, after the show, to help Fridman learn the parking coordination. He's also working as a clown in the show, which still doesn't have one, nor an artistic director either, both being Guennadi's roles before he was thrown out.

Road bumps.

Feb. 6, Brownsville.
Yesterday I started learning the ropes of traveling with an infant in a circus.
Circus Chimera travels at night after the shows, so it is always very late when you leave, and later even when you finally can put our head on the pillow. Dylan usually nurses one last time before the night at about 11:30PM or so; he has been sleeping through the night regularly for a couple of weeks now, and yesterday he was wide awake when I placed him in his car seat and started driving the 40 miles to the next town. He woke up when I moved him, as I knew he would, and nursed a little before falling asleep again immediately. It was more than 3 AM then, and I was left wondering if that was not going to throw off all that nice schedule he has fallen into on his own.
But all that pales compared to Fridman's end of the stick.
He didn't come to bed before 6AM. One of his jobs at the circus his year, in addition to performing, managing employees welcoming the audience at the door and driving one of the circus' truck, is to coordinate the parking of all vehicles on the new lot so that each is placed where it should be around the tent. There are the trailers where people live in as well as the tractor trailers that carry everything this village on wheels needs to live on the road, from the tent to the snake show, the generator to the cookhouse, the office to the wardrobe. All in all more than two dozen vehicles.
Donald Chimal, who did the job until last year when the Chimal family left the circus after nine years, is going to be with us for a couple of weeks to help Fridman learn the ropes. He'll stay with us next week.
Every lot is different; sometimes the circus is parked at a mall, where space is scarce but the ground is nice and level; sometimes, like here in Weslaco, it is a field large enough space to accommodate everything easily but bumpy and uneven. Waiving a flashlight, the coordinator directs each and every vehicle to their spot as they arrive onto the lot, having marked the spots in advance. The big trucks park around the space where the tent will be set up, each having its particular place in a giant live puzzle that takes shape gradually as the day goes by and the tent goes up. The directing looks like a sign language that would have been stripped to the minimum, a little hand ballet especially designed for the intricacies of backing up your trailer.
Fridman and Donald were done at 6AM. At 8 o'clock there was a knock on the door and Fridman was up and gone to a TV appearance. Summary of his last two days: two hours of sleep after three shows of non-stop work, and on to a new day of work. Mercifully there is only one show today, at 7:30PM, but he still has to set up his equipment in the tent. He finally was able to take a nap this afternoon, after complaining of being exhausted but not being able to sleep. I sang him one of Dylan's French lullabies, Une Chanson Douce.
Traveling with a baby in the circus is nothing, after all.

Figuring out the logistics, with Sister Jo and Armando in the office: 7 big trucks, and we counted 11 individual trailers, about 60 people on the road with the circus, plus a dozen scattered around the country (Brian et al., Alan and Cathy in Hugo, OK; Patrizia in Monterey, CA; JD in Austin, TX; Byron on the road ahead of the circus, etc.) All in all a small circus, as circuses go.

So long.

Feb 2, Brownsville, TX.
Guennadi is gone.
He's just a few miles away on the parking lot of the Brownsville Wal-mart, but he might as well be back in Russia. There was an argument last night between him and Roy, and it all went from bad to worse later on; Roy had the police come and take him out of the circus.
I feel sad. The circus feels oddly wrong.
Just this week end the Kenyans and the Russians were having a good time over by Guennadi's trailer, making mock practices, having a few beers, and I was thinking I should take pictures, as it is what you don't get to see from the outside, but then I was busy with the baby and thought, this will happen time and again during the year, I can shoot it later... Moral of the story: never take anything, or anybody for granted. Earlier this month I was thinking about the same thing when Fred's boyfriend died suddenly.
This morning Roy directed the general rehearsal, the one Guennadi was to have directed last night. The circus still has all the music he had brought over from Russia, even after he broke his CDs in anger before walking off after the argument, and all the performers are still here, bound by their contract, but the show is without its clown and without any coordination, and the joy is gone.
The days had been going by fast, with practices all day long and every day, except this week end when they took it easy. Between caring for Dylan, taking pictures for the circus and working on the internet, time flew.
Irma is gone too; she was Guennadi's girlfriend. I'm glad we had the opportunity to take the two of them out to lunch last week. She was telling me how they wanted to have a baby but she was afraid because of her age (she's 35) and problems she had when her daughter was born. Katya was translating for us, Irma a little tipsy. Guennadi was joking about how he was jealous of Fridman for having a son before him.
The space where his trailer was is empty now; el rastro de las llantas en la hierba.
On Sunday the Little Sisters arrived, Priscilla and Jo; quelle joie! It is so good to have them with us in the circus, even though they arrived just in time for all the drama and didn't have the time to meet Guennadi. They decided to take it easy this year and not to travel with Carson and Barnes. They'll go instead from this circus to the Big Apple one, and take time off in between. They should be with us until May.
They marveled over Dylan. Il est magnifique (Priscilla.) Il fait chaud ces derniers jours et je le mets a dormir derriere moi sur le grand lit rouge, les pieds a l'air. We finally went for his two-month (and a half now) checkup at the local community health center last week, after getting the necessary paperwork and a local address to get a discount. We had to wait an eternity but he's good, and that's all that matters, and we ate out to celebrate on the way back. The doctor was a Venezolano, tall and lanky with a huge mouth and the air of a character out of a Bryce Echenyque's book, the intellectual type; he had lived in Bulgaria and travelled all over Europe, and declared himself an admiring amateur of France's "cultural tradition."
I have more pictures of Dylan than of anything else and I can't resist sending them all over the place, like all new Moms, just as I had sworn I wouldn't do, like all new Moms.

Mood changes.

Just decided to ditch and come onboard the eBlogger wagon.
This should explain why I'm about to post entries dating back to January - not very blog-like but this template looks a hell of a lot better.