Monday, January 29, 2007

Finally, the show.

Jan. 27, Brownsville.

At last sunshine for more than three minutes in a row. Time for the mud to dry a little, making walking normal again, not a trek. I'm dying for somewhere to go to breathe, be outdoors, other than the few hundred meters to the Wal-mart along soggy grass on the side of the road - forget sidewalks, this is Texas, U.S.A.
General rehearsal of the show this afternoon, which gave me an opportunity to finally go out there and see what has been going on for more than a week while I was holed up in the trailer. With Dylan in the backpack carrier I watch as long as he didn't get antsy, which is to say not much.
The cast: there are four Mexican dancers doing the opening and finale as well as little dancing routines in between each act, an Argentinian couple doing a chiffon act, the Venezuelans that arrived in Utah last year to join the show and who are doing the same acts, a roller-skates figure and the so-called globe of death motorcycle act, another troupe of Chinese youngsters, fresh from the exact same source, five boys and three girls not much older than the ones last year, two clowns, young American guys who went to circus school in San Francisco, and Fridman with the upside-down walk.
The Argentinians have a 22-month-old daughter; they leave her alone in their trailer when they're working because they have no other option; I offered to watch her with Dylan in return for babysitting favors, as I wouldn't want to have to ever contemplate leaving Dylan alone myself.
The theme of the show this year is Happy Days, the TV series I used to love watching when I was an early teen and no doubt the source of many of my fantasies about this country, amazingly enough, since it had nothing to do with contemporary U.S. society even back then. The power of television to shape one's dream world always comes as a surprise to me, still.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Feeling like a pig.

Jan. 24, Brownsville.

It's official, we at Circus Chimera live like pigs in a sty: four feet in the mud and nowhere to go.
The downpour started this morning and hasn't stopped; it's close to five o'clock. As a result the terrain around the circus looks more like a giant mud pit slash puddle with each passing minute, we're drowning in a world of water and mud, we're being absorbed, sucked in, turning back to water and earth if not ashes, the elements taking over, slowly, drop by drop.
Dylan and I stay indoor, mostly, day after day, and today all day, and I stand on the verge of cabin fever, if not another nervous breakdown (missing Almodovar, t'would be just perfect to watch his movies on days like this.)
I sit in the mudded-in trailer and the hours pass slowly, increasing the mood I've been in since coming back to the U.S., disappointed and falling out of love with this country, not in love anymore the way I'd been, always, through thick and thin, with a mix of fascination and repulsion, always, feeling pulled to this country, year after year, through my European friends' puzzled disapproval if not outright dismay, my mother's silent pleas for return.
Suddenly - I was so looking forward to coming back, and not just because I missed my husband -, I feel disenchanted, unhappy about being here. The food in the grocery stores looks unappealing, even disgusting as if I was in the throes of the first three months of pregnancy again; I miss the intellectual (the word reeks of snobbery in the U.S., not surprisingly, and for that reason I dislike it but there is no synonym that will do here) stimulation, the cultural sophistication that is still familiar and class-less back in France, where small bookstores not only continue to thrive in the age of TV and internet and so many other media dominion, but are a profitable business, and not only in Paris; the intellectual atmosphere of a country where people read, and read more, in the métro, in commuter trains, in cafés, standing up waiting for the bus to come, people of all walks of life read, and not how-to books, and the book industry thrive; for decades the most popular show on TV was a roundtable dedicated to books and literature called Apostrophes and its anchor a national star along the lines of Oprah, less the fashionista.
Maybe it's remembering the two enchanted days I spent in Paris with my friends Anne and Edgar, only two days out my whole four-month stay but I drank them in, Dylan away from me and back with my mother for the first time since he was born, drinking it all in, as if coming out of a desert, walking the streets til my almost-seven-month-pregnant belly ached and I could go on no longer, browsing on and on in the two bookstores that follow each other on the street leading to their apartment, rue de Bagnolet, in the not-yet gentrified 20th arrondissement, exchanging book ideas and discoveries with Anne, talking til late with the both of them after their three-year-old daughter, Alicia, had gone to bed, waking early and sneaking out for a café serré down the street while they enjoyed the late mornings of their winter vacation, stretching each minute and my strength, not regretting it.
Maybe it was talking to them about what is different between the two countries that made me realize, with hindsight, how much I actually missde from my own country all these years, unnoticed, and not only the priority put on health care with prevention and affordable care for all as a public policy (there is never enough money to go around yet the defense budgets keep swelling? priorities is always the key word.)
But this is today's France too - Anne and Edgar, just like a lot of other young people, yearn to leave the country, which, with its atmosphere of I-want-everything-for-nothing, self-pitying mood is also slowly but stubbornly sinking downhill, going nowhere fast but far from its once-shining, much-touted and cherished standing in the world. They are contemplating applying for a Canadian work permit, which, amazingly enough when compared the painful U.S. process, authorities there seem eager to give you if you happen to speak French and have anywhere near a college degree.
Then again, who wants to freeze their ass half the year minimum.

Absolutely dirty white.

Jan 23, Brownsville.

The meltdown left with the arrival of truckloads of bark to cover the mud and help restore a semblance of a normal life around our mudded-out circus out by the freeway next to Wal-mart and Sam's Club and a little farther the other way the new Wendy's and Church's Chicken and the usual other countless chain stores going up in the same mud we're in.
The tent is the exact color of the sky, absolutely dirty white.
The bark doesn't much help after all, the rain on and on and our big trucks too heavy, digging through it and back into the mud, struggling to move even in four by four, the tires spitting out mud and debris along the streets long after we've left the circus, cars far away behind us trying to avoid the fallout.

The mud pit.

Jan 22, Brownsville.

Days of grey but I don't mind the grey, and suddenly one shade more grey, the bottomless mud everywhere, endless, sticking to your shoes, everywhere mud inches thick, slick, treacherous, a few hours and then the rain starts again and erases any hopes of coming out of the sliding pit, where every step takes on unknown dimensions, allowing in mud, having to calibrate one's steps along the valleys of mud left by the trucks' tires, walking to the truck and back, just going out, leaving the circus which every day turns into more of a prison already. What a difference a year brings. Last year in the sunny field two exits down the highway and the cortege of rainbow-colored artists, the Chinese, the Russians, the Kenyans, Ekaterina and Guennadi, the camaraderie of practice, hanging out, getting to know each other fast, going out together, old friends, new ones, the year ahead promising, my head full of pictures and projects, Dylan three-month-old in the scarf hanging from my neck, sleeping while I worked, took it in, smiled.

Seven-month pregnant doesn't explain it all. Tears of frustration or for unknown reasons, a recipe that didn't turn out, un repas raté, Dylan that won't nap all morning and clings to my legs and falls and cries and won't ever leave me alone like the perfectly normal toddler he is, the trailer getting smaller by the hour, and suddenly so many things I can't speak, tears that will just come out and no words to take their salt away, knots in my stomach, tears for a missed shot at hashbrowns, Fridman's eyes on me feeling like two ice picks in my brain, judging the weakness, the inexplicable tears, the stubborn tears, and the man in my life infinitely far away, leaving me in my loneliness in the trailer in the middle of all the mud somewhere on the U.S.-Mexican border thousands of miles away from anything else.
Dylan finally fell asleep.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The arrival.

Jan 21, 2007
Brownsville, Texas

Il n'y a rien de plus triste qu'un hall d'aeroport plein d'inconnus qui en attendent d'autres, les yeux brillants d'une ardeur secrete, l'impatience du premier baiser a fleur de levres.
There is nothing sadder than an airport terminal lobby full of strangers waiting for other strangers, eyes full of repressed ardor, the impatience of the first kiss on their lips. Fridman wasn't there when Dylan and I arrived in Dallas on January 10th, flying in from Paris on a trip more than 14 hours long. But I was happy because he was there, he didn't make it but he did, he was just stuck in traffic outside the airport, he was there after driving in from Las Vegas stopping only to get fuel and catch a half-hour nap, the car still on.
A stranger greeted me; he'd cut his hair short. Dylan didn't seem to recognize him at first but moments later he couldn't seem to stop laughing, perched in his arms just looking at him and looking at him, laughing. It took me longer to get used to his presence after almost four months apart, the comfort of our daily gestures lost somewhere in the space of that time, the most familiar strangers.
It was unseasonably warm in Dallas. Two days later the temperatures dropped from 60 degrees to near 32 in a matter of hours, a cold rain started falling that wouldn't stop, turning to ice on the day we left for southern Texas to join Circus Chimera, and here we were in the middle of the first winter storm to hit the country. It followed us all the way down to Brownsville, the Mexican border.