Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Proust moment.

July 28, Daly City, California.

The circus is a BART's hop away from San Francisco, and Mom, Fred, Dylan, Fridman when he can and I are taking full advantage of it.
coming back from the city tonight there was Richard, a circus fan who lives nearby in the Bay Area and is known for organizing parties for circus people every opportunity he can, and so there was a party. No can do because of the baby, but word goes it involved dancing and squares, and food galore.
It is almost cold here, there was a blinding fog the night we arrived which came back tonight, erasing everything in its white shroud, annihilating the city around us, the circus tent rising on the hill like a lost ship, floating, a vision.
We are on top of a steep hill, on the grounds of Westmoor High School, in what appears to be a predominantly Asian neighborhood from the look of the shopping center a block away and people on the street. Mom and I took Dylan along to order some dinner to go earlier tonight and shopping at the market in the small indoor shopping mall the smell of the place transported me back to Hong Kong, China, where I lived and worked for a while. The power of smells, like that of taste, to conjure up worlds long forgotten, no use trying to compete with Monsieur Proust.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Moon Books.

July 26, Half Moon Bay.

More small bookstores, and a simply gorgeous one, Moon News, unusual in its size and in that it sold only new books, unlike all the other bookstores I discovered along the coast, a jewel in the midst of the kingdom of chain book(and otherwise)stores that is America today. Half Moon Bay supports no less than four bookstores, two of which sell new books, not bad.
My hat off to the moon books.


July 25, Half Moon Bay, California.

Another beautiful coastal town, this one I knew from previous visits to Fridman.
The ocean, again, and the wind so cold yesterday Mom, Dylan and I had to leave. Warmer today; Fred braved the waves and jumped in a water the temperature of my ice box for sure. Dylan tasted sand and didn't like it.

No direction out.

July 23, Hayward.

Killer heat continues, time to head for the coast, except not, or rather together with half the valley's population, or so it seemed.
Highway 92 stopped at I-280, tried to beat the crowds by going down to highway 84, only to get caught up in the same bumper to bumper traffic. Two hours of diesel burning amounted to two u-turns and a lot of frustration, Dylan-wise and otherwise, and no relief from the scorcher at all.
Nothing compared to what the performers had to face: today was a difficult day, a worn-out Ekaterina confessed when we met after the last of the three shows in 100-plus-degree heat.
The tired smile when you try to look for all the world like you feel good, for the audience.

Ekaterina (July 18.)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Time off.

July 20, Hayward, California.

My Mom arrived today, with a friend of mine, Fred (short for Frédérique,) whom I've known since high school.
Mom had last seen Dylan when he was one month old. Jim is letting me take time off to be with them, I've been planning to drive back up the coast we just did with the circus, Route One and then 101 to Oregon, the Sonoma valley, the cliffs of the Pacific south of Fort Bragg, the Redwoods . It feels strange being back in a city environment; I miss the small town atmosphere, the quiet, the green.
I missed my Mom. Enjoying every minute together, for the short time given us.

Shock therapy.

July 17, Cloverdale, California.

The heat wave that baked the nation hit the circus with a vengeance as we were treated to a jump from barely 60 degrees in Fort Bragg on Sunday to 110 here today. The actual readings diverge - our clock marked 108 outside the trailer, Roy's 111 - but in a word it was hot. Baby confined inside all day, short fuses again.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Tres chic.

July 15, Fort Bragg.

Fort Bragg, another northern California coastal town, turned out to be nothing like Eureka and its cozily gentrified downtown, the epitomy of cute, "historic" buildings and shabby chic storefronts, tres Greenwich Village, California style, very university towns everywhere, like Athens, Georgia, in the early nineties at the height of the REM craze (nothing personal, used to live there.) The sea is rough here, and there isn't much of a downtown but for a block of old buildings on the main street that runs through it. It is deliciously cool and breezy.

Gears and fuses.

July 14, Fort Bragg, California.

Today is my national day, le 14 juillet, not anywhere but in English-speaking countries known as Bastille Day.
Much more important is that Dylan turns eight months today. He's as happy as ever and it is increasingly hard not to fall in mad love with him.
We're back on the coast after a brief stint around Clearlake and in the heat of the inland areas. The road down here, highway 20 west, would never end, curve after curve after curve, up and down and up and down we go. Going 20 to 30, 33 miles can seem like a long time.
Driving without dashboard lights, last in a series of truck mishaps that started with the brakes going out in Oregon. We couldn't move the truck in the last location we played, Lakefront, because the reverse speed has been increasingly difficult to handle. Euphemism for both hard as hell to engage, and impossible to take out if you don't get in neutral while the truck is still in motion. I thought I had when I parked but it was stuck and wouldn't come out (Jose finally wedged it out) so we stayed exactly where we were, no moving the trailer to level it or unhitch the truck, no opening the slides, two days of off-kilter living and no crawling around for a baby that turned out to have a short fuse when he's not free to roam (don't we all.)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


July 10, Clearlake, California.

Travel day in the circus, 200 miles of (again) beautiful road, 101 South then 20 East around Clearlake, and the rest of the day free.
Temperatures reaching the high nineties, a shock after the coolness of the coast, hard work for the muchachos who had to raise the tent in the heat of the mid-day. Jim treated everybody to a night at the movies.
Dylan and I stayed home, as a movie with a seven-month-old is not my idea of fun. He's waking up regularly at five in the morning now, and since I nurse him when I put him to bed after our late night drives, he now wants to nurse too when he wakes up during the night. My mistake, but under the circumstances of life in a traveling circus, one that could not easily be avoided.

On the boat.

July 9, Eureka.

Jim (who came back yesterday after being away for a while) treated us to a boat ride after the shows, hence creating another first for Dylan. The boat, the Magaket, apparently the oldest passenger boat still operating in the U.S.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Ekaterina (rough draft.)

July 9, Eureka.

Ekaterina likes shoes. She buys lots of them, preferably high heels. She used to like pink but this year prefers white. She giggles a lot. She likes movies like "Girl, Interrupted" and "The Notebook." And like many other twenty-year-old girls she just wants to dance and party, stay out late and have a good time. Ekaterina is a very usual twenty-year-old, only every night she puts on heavy makeup and fake eyelashes and walks into the ring in a costume, shines and twirls and twists under the spotlights of the big top, her perfect gymnast's body defying gravity, morphology, mesmerizing.
Ekaterina came to the United States from Russia two years ago on a contract to work with Circus Chimera. She's petite, cutting a waif-like figure, a mischievous doll, with a beautiful face that reminds one of the moon, pearl-white skin, delicate (and faithfully manicured) hands, and a pouty, well-defined full mouth. There is a generosity about her, and not only because she's engaging and warm and wins you over with her looks. There's also a lightness about her, the kind that makes it impossible to be mad at someone for too long. She walks with the grace of a dancer.
She's a circus child, une véritable enfant de la balle, born and raised in the Russian circus, her father an acrobat and her mother a gymnast who went to work in the circus, met him, and never left. The circus in Russia is in buildings only, there are no tents. "But every town has a circus building, it is the tradition," says Ekaterina. She remembers vividly the first time she went into the ring. She was eleven, a tiny girl, light as a feather. "I was very nervous, I wanted to go pee, to run away, anything but go in there," she says. "My Mom pushed me in. But in there I felt like a cosmonaut, it was so big, there were so many lights."
She was back with her mother at the time, in Saint Petersburg. Her parents separated when she was three, and she never saw her father again, nor kept with his family. When she was six she went to live with her maternal grandmother in a small town in the Ural mountains; her mother had to work outside the country and decided it wasn't good for Ekaterina to be traveling, she must go to school on a regular basis. At her grandmother's she went to gymnastic classes after school - she had already started on the circus road. "When I was little my Mom prepared me for the circus, making me stretch, work out," she says, adding, "She didn't have to ask, I loved the circus." Soon the routine of rhythmic gymnastics, the hoops, the balls, poles, ribbons, all became her life: "practice, practice, practice."
When she stepped into that ring for the first time she had been back living with her mother. She had met and partnered with another circus performer, Yuri, and so Ekaterina worked her acts with Yuri. She worked on hand-balancing and hand-to-hand acts, and contortions. As they started traveling together in Russia and later around the world, in Germany, Japan, Turkey, she changed schools all the time, fitting in easily, making friends, always moving on, loving it.
"You can't say you work in the circus and that's your job, no, it's your life!" she says, emphatic. "Whether you're happy, not happy, there's a show every day, and there's action, smiles, music." When Ekaterina speaks about life outside the circus she says the other world. "In the other world I'm not happy," she says, asked what she would do were she not able to live in the circus. So dreams are all cut out, she wants to join the Cirque du Soleil. "Since I'm a little girl I just dream," she says, lingering on the word, moving her hands in a circular motion away from her face, like Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz.
The show is over, I hear the crowd applauding (there was a full house tonight.) Soon Ekaterina will come running out, and there'll be a discreet knock on the door in our trailer and we'll know it's her, the sound of her fingernails tapping, light like her, and there she'll be, freshly showered, sparkling, Come on guys!, ready to take on the night in her high heels and tight-fitting clothes, your usual twenty-year-old circus contortionist.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The chocolate factory.

July 7, Eureka, California.

It's almost boring.
Someone give me the bland, utterly uninteresting, bordering on downright negligible landscape of the Midwest, say, southern Illinois (nothing personal, just used to live there,) a change from all this, road 101 South to Eureka, the redwoods again, the plunging Pacific vistas, the breathtaking views, the sheer beauty of it all, all along this coast, falling in love with each town, Ventura, Monterey, Ashland, now Eureka and its artists' community, not one, not two, but four bookstores within a couple of blocks, the light on the marina at sunset (and again, we've set up house by the water, literally we can touch it,) all this beauty, this perfection, place after place, it's almost boring, really, like too much chocolate fudge, really. Join the circus and walk into the chocolate factory. Overdose, think about retiring to Indiana.

Not fair.

July 6, Crescent City.
Crescent City - what a shabby, utterly charmless town in the middle of such beauty.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Another round.

July 5, Crescent City.
France/Portugal World Cup match, the usual attending crowd, and the muchachos playing soccer outside their trailer, their team out.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Heaven, I'm in heaven (could have been different.)

July 4, Crescent City, California.

An apology. The folks that came to the circus today in Medford saw a truncated show, missing Fridman's two acts because he was out saving me and the baby.
Errands to run in the morning and he notices something off with the brakes, brake fluid shooting out, and the brakes going out, again. Defective part, clogged hose, the diagnosis varies but not this: had we not discovered that before the trip tonight the brakes would have given out at some point on the mountain road and Dylan and I might not have made it here in one piece, or at all.
The decision was Roy's; we hitched the trailer to the Chevy truck that hauls the quinta (as we call the circus common trailer) and Fridman followed me in our truck. Which means that he had to do no less than three 100-mile trips today, to Crescent City with me, back to Oregon and back again to Crescent City, but also that he couldn't work the shows.
For me making the trip by day was as if I'd died and gone to heaven (that special kind for agnostic French.) Not only the beauty of Route 199 in southern Oregon (enchanting Oregon,) the Smith River National Recreation Area in California, but suddenly, without warning, the Redwood National Park.
Nothing could have prepared me for them, my mind flooded with all the clichés in the world (that too a cliché,) my mouth dangling on the floor in amazement like the Big Bad Wolf eyeing the Little Red Riding Hood in those Tex Avery cartoons we used to see on French TV (my Dad's favorites.) The trees immense, terrifying, pillars of a giant cathedral, the architect gone mad, la foret improbable, the unlikely forest, strangely coming upon an expression by Virginia Woolf reading Mrs. Dalloway after hours last night, the exact words for this, a "feeling at once frightening and extremely exhilarating."
The finishing touch: a string of Mini Coopers flying down the road at Anderson Creek in all their stripes and colors (there even was a pink one.)

Fourth of July crowds on the beach near the marina.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


July 3, Medford.
France won against Brasil in the quarter-finals of the World Cup yesterday. Can't quite believe it but here it is, eight years afterwards, and they did it again. I couldn't see the match for I had to take advantage of Fridman watching Dylan (and football) to go work in the office (still no internet in the trailer, now a running joke.) I wish I could have.
Fridman watched it at the cookhouse tent, the Russians were there, with Bérengere, bien sur, and Vasily, Gustavo, some of the other Mexicans, Rafa the cook (because he had drawn France in the raffle,) tio Tito.
I heard a roar from across the parking lot in the office trailer, we had won.
My Mom called (like all week ends) and said the match was beautiful, and that the Champs-Elysées was filling with crowds celebrating, Black Blanc Beur, 1998 World Cup win déja-vu. I can see it.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Sightseeing saucers.

July 1, Medford, Oregon.
(At a mall, unfortunately.)

News of importance yet overlooked, Dylan sat unassisted for the first time on Wednesday. And so yesterday (after the necessary wait and confirm steadiness period) was the tryout walk of the baby backpack carrier I'd bought a while ago, apparently met with unlimited success, although I couldn't tell myself, being blind to my own child perching up there behind my head (and pulling at my hair,) for Bérengère told me he had this wide grin on his face and eyes like saucers. We went walking behind the circus, where the big house with the barn and hay field was, on a trail that asked people past, present and future to "walk in strength and peace." If it didn't exist you'd want to invent Oregon. Wanting to tread softy (however difficult with a 17-pound baby on your back.)
Also, unrelated, fell in love with Virginia Woolf, or at least the Virginia Woolf of Mrs. Dalloway, into the third page.