Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Another missed birthday party.

August 29, Rifle.

There was a fiesta last night, BBQ and booze, for the birthday of Carlos, who is called Bemba, one of the Mexican tent workers. Still under my 36-hour sleepless challenge's exhaustion, all I could do was climb into bed, but judging from the decibel volume of the shouts and laughter coming from the cookhouse a few feet away it was a good party.

Notes on nursing badly.

August 28, Rifle.

Some nights, like tonight, Dylan nurses himself to sleep for so long my arm goes numb under his head. My back starts to hurt, and I'm acutely aware of time passing. Of course I'm in the most uncomfortable of positions, sitting at the edge of the bed with no back or leg support. Afterwards it's as if he'd sucked my very marrow, I feel hollow and exhausted.
I called the midwife center back in Savannah, Georgia, where I had Dylan today asking for advice; there is no doctor I can call for just simple questions while on the road. They told me I could go on nursing him while pregnant, which I was concerned about. They also told me there is a chance that at some point he'll wean himself because the milk will change in preparation for the new baby and he won't like it anymore.
May that be soon, or I might lose more than just weight in the game.

Moving east at last.

[Somehow forgot to post this entry, no doubt due to sleepless nights.]

August 23 Salt Lake City, Utah.

The much feared road trip from San Francisco to Salt Lake City went on without a glitch for us. Thanks to Roy, who agreed to drive Fridman's truck, Fridman came with me, a world of difference when you travel with a nine-month-old. Not only was it a relief to have around, but we took could take turns driving, plowing through the night until and then on and off yesterday. We left Newark at 11 PM on Monday night after the shows and arrived at 5 PM on Tuesday here in Salt Lake.
Dylan slept though the night, waking up at 7:30 PM, his usual time, and from then on we had to stop so that I could nurse him but he was surprisingly good for an active baby, playing, dozing off. The 18-hour-trip was not easy either being pregnant and plagued with an upset stomach demanding food every two hours, like a newborn. We took a break in West Wendoverthe last town in Nevada on the border with Utah, to have lunch in the buffet of a casino, let Dylan make an utter mess on the table.
Lunar vistas of the salt desert spreading flat from the Nevada border. the rocky hills seeming to float above it from the distance. The desert in Nevada surprisingly alive with vegetation, and surprisingly, joyfully green past Elko, with even a spot or two of snow on some peaks, the brush teeming with new baby green sprouts.
The circus left in the morning on Tuesday and drove on to West Wendover, spending the night there and arriving here this morning. Tio Tito blew a tire, but otherwise no major incidents for such a major trip, almost 800 miles. We're out of California, having spent almost four months there, and three in the Bay Area.

Driving through the Salt Lake Desert.

Showers and trucks.

August 28, Rifle.

Walking down for a late lunch in Rifle, a few blocks from the fairgrounds, a two-street downtown really but a European-style bistro (good food, refined deco and casual atmosphere,) next to the Western wear shop with cowboy hats in the window and the pawn shop with various machine guns for sale. Up the street there is an apothecary. The Winchester Motel, a small sign hanging under the name: "Showers." This is truck country, big heavy-duty trucks, or rather trucks-that-are-actually-used country.
We're not in California anymore, if not quite Kansas.
This afternoon a boy, ten years old maybe, was riding his horse in the dirt ring around the arena, and he couldn't quite hang on to his hat, a big white cowboy hat. When he rode past the second time around the hat was gone.

To Colorado.

August 27, Rifle, Colorado.

Travel day again, on Sunday, une fois n'est pas coutume, 350 miles from Salt Lake City to Rifle, a small town in southwestern Colorado, up I-70 from Grand Junction.
Dylan oblige, again, I left on Saturday night after the show and drove all night, with Ekaterina accompanying me, for Fridman had not been given the OK to go with me and couldn't drive the circus truck ahead of me either because it pulls the trailer where the tent workers sleep.
So it was driving all night again, only stopping to try and steal a couple of hours of sleep in a gas station off I-70 in southern Utah (no can do, front seats of a Dodge truck not very comfy,) the attendant an old weathered man with a mischievous grin and a friendly manner, then facing a whole day of caring for Dylan, not being able to rest because the circus had left in the morning and was slowly coming in during the day, so the trailer was not parked and the slides not open. Ekaterina went to sleep as soon as we arrived, at 8 AM or so, and I went on to feed and change the baby in the cramped space of the unopened trailer, go for a walk, nurse him, watch him go to sleep only to be instantly awaken by Gramo jumping near him and Yogi crying for food, play some more and finally put him down for a nap, but then I couldn't grab any sleep for the lack of space to lay down, and the sheer exhaustion.
The circus is at the Garfield County Fairgrounds, in a big arena amidst all the trappings of horse country. When we arrived, in the early morning, the air was cool, it felt fresh, pure, smelling of mountain creeks and grass, rejuvenating; it felt good.
The trip was good, too, straight as an arrow down 6 across utah then I-70 into Colorado, an easy drive after the treacherous curves and ups and downs of California, chatting with Ekaterina, plunging through the night, sharing that unspoken bind that seems to tie those who drive when nobody else does, seeing the sun rise on the deserted highway into Colorado, the mesa at Grand Junction grandiose in the red light of the rising sun, beautiful along the Upper Colorado River surrounded by desert cliffs, ochre and sand, wild.


August 26, Salt Lake City.

Seeing an old friend from grad school again, so good to be catching up.
Chasing memories over a brie sandwich - which I did savor, a surprising reprieve from the debilitating, unrelenting stomach ache and nausea (getting worse each passing day.) John used to be a photographer, we met when we were both students in photojournalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia, he's now made a cozy niche for himself as an advertising copywriter, just bought a house and got himself a dog. I liked his latest photographs, from a few years back, black-and-whites taken with an old camera, nothing like photojournalism, liberating, something I never could do, unfortunately, no matter how much I wanted.

Friday, August 25, 2006


August 25, Salt Lake City.

Update on the new guys on the circus block, Lyubomir Karamitrev, hailing from Bulgaria, married to Andrea Torreblanca, of Venezuela, three-year-old daughter, Svetla, and Andrea's brother, Gino. The brother/sister couple does a rollerskating act, and the three of them together do a globe of death motorcycle act. The Russians know them, have crossed path on the circus road several times with them. They debuted in the second show last night, everybody was out watching them. Still no clue as to whether they are going to stay with us or are just here on a date.

Feeling lost.

August 24, Salt Lake City.
it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to be in the circus.
Being a Mom in the circus, being pregnant in the circus, while being a Mom, the constant pressure of traveling, even when it's not such a voyage as the one we just did, the work it entails, the never stopping to rest, not even one day, in all those months, it's not just the baby, who now that he is crawling demands constant attention and confines me in the trailer most of time, making me feel like s prisoner in my own home, it is everything at the same time, and now feeling sick. It is the isolation, too, the friends far away, my support group of the mind and heart, my friends, far away, out of reach most of the time. The smile of Dylan, his laugh, his being, are not enough sometimes, sometimes it is simply too hard to bear, and I feel as if I can't go on, can't summon the strength to go on any further here traveling with the circus.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

In and out.

August 23, Salt Lake City.
Last week in Newark Corey left the circus after an argument with Roy. He had wanted to leave for a while to go to another circus anyway, with better pay. The argument went on at night in the parking lot, he was gone instantly. The Circus Chimera way.
Here in Salt Lake new performers appeared, a team from Chile and Bulgaria who does a motorcycle globe of death and a skating act.
We first saw them on Tuesday night when we were staying by ourselves at the fairgrounds and they asked us if we were with the circus, we had never seen or heard about them before, we were puzzled, not knowing what to think. There to audition? Staying?
The next day the circus arrived and rumors started to flow. The circus doesn't need other artists in the show at this point, but then again things always are in a flux here, you never know, in and out.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Russians - Part One: Bérengere (rough draft.)

August 21, Newark, California.

[For details on the family see "The Russians" in the Glossary entry.]
It is a long way from the wine countries of France to the dusty roads of circus life in America. Not so for Bérengere Naidenkine, a native of Bordeaux, in southwest France, and a hula hoop performer married to Genia Naidenkine, Circus Chimera's clown.
Bérengere enjoyed sheltered days growing up as an only child in a relatively well-off family. Then when she was 12 her father sent her to Africa, two weeks without running water, toilets or steady food, out in Pygmy territory (the cost was relatively low for he owned a traveling agency.) "Coming out of my little bourgeois upbringing, it was a shock," she recalled with a smile. He thought she needed to see how the other half of the world lived. She thought she rather liked it, and has not stopped traveling since. "From that moment on I always wanted to travel," she said, "and I wanted to be free."
Bérengere, who is 36, has been a circus performer for a little more than ten years and was goaded into her hula hoop act by a Russian woman performer who told her spitefully she could never do it, no matter how much she tried. Bérengere's act, culminating in a fiery hoop stunt, regularly draws wild applause from the audience at Circus Chimera.
It's the classic story. Go to the circus, meet performer, run away with the circus (and performer.) It's an ageless story; it was Ekaterina's mother's, it was Fridman's mother's (somehow I realize as I write this that it is always the women who join the circus, and I wonder why: are men less adventurous, contrary to what the common fare would have us believe?)
Bérengere is not tall but seems so because of her acutely lean figure, enhanced by her bikers-inspired costume, all black, spikes and leather. She wears her hair short and dyes it a orange-reddish tone, accentuating her boyish appearance. She's garrulous, and doesn't wear her opinions under her sleeve. She'll talk about her passions for hours, her hands fluttering. When she was younger she suffered severe kidney problems, which are still an issue. She and Genia do not have children together; she talks affectionately about Vilen and Sasha, her step-sons, as "the children."
Bérengere met Genia in 1994 while visiting Cirque Amar, one of France's most established circuses, to do some decorative painting. She had been making a living as an artist, having attended art school after giving up the idea of being a wild animal veterinarian - when she wasn't traveling the world with a backpack. At Amar she was to paint the artists' quarters on a theme of Walt Disney.
She did, and then some. Some members of Genia's troupe were blocked at the border in Russia and the director was adamant about having a woman in the show, so she stepped in. Together with Genia and the rest of the troupe she did a jumping rope act that involved a human tower. "I'm afraid of heights - I was scared witless," she laughed. Over the next ten years she and Genia worked in France for Amar then for Cirque Bouglione, another one of France's most famous circuses, then in Ireland, England, and the U.S., where they arrived in 2000. Over the years she's worked a jumping ropes act, a badminton/juggling act with Genia, the Russian bars, also with Genia and two other people, a chiffon act, and the hula hoop, which she originally developed at Bouglione's.
Maybe there were signs. Both her grandfather and her father were fascinated with the circus, and her Dad once wanted to be a lion tamer. "It was the impossible dream," she said. Somehow she fulfilled it, on her own terms. And now it's almost time to move on. "This but a period in my life which is about to end," she reflects. She gives herself until she's 40, and then hopes to start her own business in tourism.
There are the passing friendships, friends who don't stay friends because everybody is on to something else, the sometimes infuriatingly closed-off quality of circus people who, for all their moving about, more often than not remain oblivious to the world around them, locally as well as internationally, moving in a sort of bubble. There are no retirement funds either, no safety net, in the circus. Working in a traveling circus takes its toll on even the toughest, and the financial future of a circus family is less than assured.
Yet "when you are in the ring and hear people applauding you, when you know they appreciated what you're ve done, there is a good feeling, not of pride exactly, but that all this was not for nothing," Bérengere said. Until the next turn in her life appears, then, she'll go on rushing in, spinning, feeling the sting of the fire as it dances around her body, the exhilaration of that moment, the roads wide open before her, still.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A mishap.

August 19, Newark.

Thursday morning while setting up the circus a stake rammed in at the wrong place ruptured a water main in the Newark Mall parking lot. No water for us, til late the next day. As with everything else in a traveling circus life, you learn to cope, and always have a gallon of water in store.
Baby wipes also come in handy.

Sasa - hair hanging act (August 17.)

Friday, August 18, 2006

In the early days - again.

August 18, Newark.

It's the constant sensation of uneasy emptiness in the belly, not quite nauseous, except upon waking up in the morning on a growling stomach, but hollow, a feeling of impending sickness, the constant need to eat but disgust at the idea of food, any food, sweets out for once (and only, unfortunately,) fat banished, the struggle to find something palatable, the impossibility to cook, the mere idea of cooking sickening. Just like the first time. And the smells, the smells, not only the smell of food sickening but any smell, insidious, and unbearable when it's bad, like Dylan's diapers, or the smell of diesels running when we move at night and all the trucks are on. Some days I go to bed with Dylan, at 9:30 PM, exhausted, and sleep til he wakes me up.
I don't want to think about taking care of an infant and a toddler at the same time, not now, not yet.

Flashback to something new.

August 18, Newark.

Here is an entry from last week that I didn't post then because Fridman doesn't want people in the circus to know yet. It suddenly occured to me that I could post it here, since this is the raw, original, unedited version of the blog. It's become increasingly uncomfortable not talking about the subject because it is such a core part of my life now, it feels like having my mouth taped shut when I want to scream.

August 11, Pleasant Hill, California.
I ate half a chicken this morning (braised, delicious even though it never saw the light of day nor had enough space to only move any one of those legs I so enjoyed ripping through.) I'm a vegetarian and I just had to have chicken, had to have some, two days of steady craving, I knew with utter certainty something was in the works because that seems to be what happens when I'm in the first few days of pregnancy.
So now it's not "Travels with Dylan in a circus" anymore but "Travels with Dylan & Company in a circus."
Au secours?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Dusty moods.

August 16, Martinez.

It's warm then it's cold. As my grandmother would have said, there are no seasons anymore in this world, y'a plus d'saisons ma bonne dame.
The circus is near the marina in Martinez, a town half an hour from San Francisco on the northern, inland part of the bay. The lot we're in is durt and with the steady wind going since we arrived everything is covered with a thick layer of dust, brown, penetrating, making you cough when you breathe it. Getting out with the stroller is a challenge, but so is staying in with a never-satisfied baby on the crawl.
Difficult days.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


August 14, Martinez, California.

Dylan turns nine months old today.
Is there an off button somewhere?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Crazy show.

August 13, Pleasant Hill, California.

In-house tradition commands that every year Circus Chimera puts up what it calls a "crazy show," a unique feat, as far as anybody knows in the circus. This year's edition went on last night, crowning a three-show day of work.
In the crazy show performers and non-performers alike get to mock the show and each other, dressing up and making fools of themselves and everything else, a welcome comic relief to a regimen of seven days a week, ten months a year work. Or a fools' parody of the fools, the jesters making fun of the jesters, the circus eating its tail.
This year, among others, Corey, the only gringo working with the tent crew, and who must weigh a good 200 pounds, took the part of Ekaterina as Alice, tio Tito dressed up as Sasa, the Chinese girl who does the hair hanging act, Fridman and Sasha did the Chinese girls' diablo act, Vilen, Sasha, Vasily and Fridman the Chinese boys' Chinese poles act, and Chago, of Mexico, one of the crew workers and an old-time circus guy, dressed up in a sparkly suit to act as Roy, the ring master (and manager of the show,) swinging in slow motion to blaring cheesy Latino tunes.
It was Fridman who did all the directing, choreographing and organizing this year, the first year the Chimal family wasn't there to take charge. He ran around like a madman before the show, checking a wig here, makeup there, cracking up, running off again.

Corey and Ekaterina before the show.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Show time with Dylan.

August 9, El Cerrito.

Taking pictures of the show last night, Dylan perched behind me, taking off my hat. It was a good crowd.

To my mother.

August 8, El Cerrito.

Listening to the CD of the Simon and Garfunkel concert in Central Park that my mother brought me from home (showing my age) I long for her.
For the wind on a Pacific beach when I was twenty, for the freedom to be, for roughing it up in Scotland with a backpack at sixteen, for the leaves falling in the garden, for the memories of childhood climbing up tall trees, for her indomitable heart, for the wild energy of New York City at nineteen, for the music, for the fierce wanting to live in the world, in exhilaration, for her strength in letting go of me, for the solidity of her instincts, for the travels with Dylan, for the sunsets on the plains of the Midwest, for fresh snow one morning in Columbia, Missouri, for all the photographs in the world, for all the good and all the bad, all the stumbles of trying, failing, never renouncing - to my mother.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


August 7, El Cerrito, California.

My mother and my friend Fred left yesterday (back to France and their respective lives without Dylan.) It is sad and strange without them.
And the circus moved from Fairfield to El Cerrito, across the bay from San Francisco, with a view of the Golden Gate bridge, soft and grey in the distance, that Fred would have loved. We took advantage of the whole week the circus stayed in Fairfield to go on a car trip back to the Northern California coast, hoping to make it all the way to Oregon but ending instead no farther than Eureka, baby oblige. Route 128 to Fort Bragg through wine country then redwood country, Route One up the coast to highway 101 to Eureka, motels all booked because of a music festival right off Route 101 drawing some 50,000 people, according to a family man we struck up a conversation with at a café in Eureka the morning we drove back; sweet to be in Eureka again, the bookstores, the waiter remembering us at Bev's Café (I would have gone all the way back to Eureka just for their spinach omelette,) people speaking fondly of the circus everywhere we went, "we wish you'll come back and perform here," the lot by the boardwalk where the circus was looking forlorn without it, feeling happy about the footprint we left there.
(Fred tried the ocean again but only put in a foot.)
Moral of the trip: it is not advisable to travel long distances with a (almost) nine-month-old strapped in a car seat who's just beginning to discover the world and wants all of it, and has all the energy for it, now.