Wednesday, February 21, 2007

La piste aux etoiles.

Feb. 21, Weslaco, Texas.

Shot this year's Chimera program photos tonight between the two shows - and Dylan running around in his brand-new outfit.
I l-ike it!
As someone told me back in the spring (seems like twenty years ago) upon seeing Dylan in a rather funny hat, you gotta have some payback. There's a great children's clothing store in town, they even carry the French brand Petit Bateau, and one after another drop-dead outfits, if you like bright colors and not-nursery-blue styles (beats Wal-mart anyhow.) Who would have thought, way out in the Texas boondocks?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Feb. 17, McAllen.

The Argentinians' daughter, Allyson, turned two today, and they threw her a birthday party in the tent. All the performers were invited, so the lineup was as cosmopolitan as you'd expect maybe a gallery opening in New York City to be.

Suburbia, U.S.A.

Feb. 16, McAllen.

The lot we're in will be the McAllen Convention Center some time in the future, or so say the billboard. Now it's just a large building the ocre color of the earth surrounding it, cement sidewalks and paved entryways leading nowhere, newly-planted trees and shrubs, chunks of lawn grass neatly packed along them like so many carpet samples, big tractors and trucks endlessly going to and fro, spurning clouds of dust, more palm trees going up every day but the dirt still winning.
Walking with Dylan on my back I wanted to go to the park across the street but gave up; the six-lane avenue light ran about 30 seconds, or just the time needed for a couple of cars to go, barely enough for a pedestrian to reach the center divider. Nothing new here.

Showers (not that kind.)

Feb. 15, McAllen.

This afternoon I was getting to go out when Fridman told me they needed me in the tent for pictures. So out I went, the whole lengthy routine of dressing Dylan up, putting his shoes on, putting him in the backpack carrier, struggling to my feet and into my own shoes with 22 pounds on my back and some ten pulling me down on the other side (I'm eight-month pregnant today,) I stepped into the tent and... "felicidades!" they all chanted, all the women of Circus Chimera, gathered to surprise me with a baby shower.
They'd planned it all, brought in a table to put all the gifts on, bags and bags full of presents, they'd bought a cake, they'd enlisted Fridman's help, they'd planned it all, and they gave me my first baby shower, a baby shower I'd never even thought of getting as it's only a tradition in this country, as far as I know (the rest of us are really missing out, here, I've realized today.)
When I got back to the trailer it took me almost an hour to unpack, unhook, untape all the baby clothes and accessories.

Dylan, tout simplement.


Feb. 13, McAllen, Texas.

The daily heroics of circus life are often played out in the dead of night.
The idyllic country-feeling field we were in when we arrived in Harlingen having been turned into a giant sponge by last Saturday's deluge, and two days of somewhat drier weather having done little to restore normalcy, leaving the lot proved to be an epic battle, fought with semi tractor-trailers and two-inch chains.
I was dozing off on the sofa after putting Dylan to sleep sometime after the show ended last night, waiting for Fridman to come back and hitch the trailer, when the persistent, whiny roar of a truck engine revving up in vain woke me up and got me outside. Gustavo's truck was stuck in the mud. Another truck pulled up, Jose the mechanic at the wheel, a simple metal chain was hooked up between them, one try, two, the third one did it, the clowns cheered.
One after another each of the circus trucks got stuck, and the struggle went on all night. To make things worse, the weight of the trucks broke a water pipe, causing more flooding, if that could be possible. The last truck made it out of the lot around five in the morning, the field a lake of a mess, the drivers exhausted.
Meanwhile we drove onto the lot in McAllen and discovered another dirt field, ripe for mud contests should one drop of rain fall onto it.

To the laundry.

Feb. 10, Harlingen.

A deluge brought by a huge storm overnight left us immersed in water. Soon enough came the mud (hello again,) the grass torn up by the weight of the trucks (again) going out, or trying to.
So Fridman and I decided to walk to the laundromat, a few blocks away, instead taking the truck out, Dylan up on his Dad's shoulders in the backpack carrier and loving it, safe above Dad's fisherman's plastic boots, loving the splash of water, I trying to stay dry around them.
Behind the park where the circus stands the landscape turns industrial, a train depot, abandoned rusting metal sheds, closed-up stores and still-open ones that have seen better days. We crossed the railroad tracks and followed them to the laundry, past a restaurant called the Texas Cafe, bright red in the surrounding engulfing grey.
The laundromat too seemed out of a forgotten decade, worn machines falling apart, folding tables oddly put together, mishappen objects, in a corner a small room, the tired hues of the bric-a-brac and religious icons, an ageless lady in faded clothes lost in her chair.

Jessie Alvarez, Alvarez Laundramat (sic.)

Texas Cafe.

Feb. 10, Harlingen.

Square house.

Feb. 10, Harlingen.


Feb. 10, Harlingen.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Feb. 10, Harlingen.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Tickling the ball.

Feb. 9, Harlingen.

Circus Chimera played Circus Vasquez at soccer today. We lost, 3 to 2, a charge de revanche, down the road. It was awful hot out on the field, as it's been for a couple of days, hot and humid, like a New England summer almost. It's strange, to say the least, after the kind of weather we've been having. On both sides there was a little circus troupe of supporters cheering on, and Dylan too.
Another day on the circus trail.

Fresh air.

Feb. 7, Harlingen.

What a change. Forgotten the muddy, ugly, desperatingly grey lot we were stuck in for two weeks, yesterday morning when we woke up, Dylan and I, the sun shone on a dewy field of grass at the fair park, the air quiet and country-like, and life seemed to smile at us again.
And we're parked right by the cookhouse, at the center of all the trailers, the center of the social life of the circus, for the area directly in front of the cookhouse is a little like the town green, the knot of things.

First-class traveler.

Feb. 6, Harlingen, Texas.

I'd forgotten about that - the fun of the drive late at night, driving the truck, pulling the trailer, "with all my belongings," as Fridman would say, on the mostly empty highway. I'd briefly worried about the new logistics, with now-toddler Dylan in tow, but he was what is commonly referred to as a trooper this side of the Atlantic; he fell asleep in my arms around ten as we were waiting for Fridman to come back from taking the props down, woke up when I took him out to the truck around midnight, fell asleep again on the short trip to Harlingen from Brownsville, some twenty miles, woke up again as I put him to sleep in the trailer upon arriving, close to one o'clock in the morning, and then woke up briefly once more by Fridman unhitching the trailer later on in the night. At eight this morning he was up as if nothing was out of the ordinary, his old smiling self.
But then again this is a kid who never even seemed to register an eight-hour jet lag, who took the complete and rather abrupt change of scenery he went through when I took him from his wandering Circus Chimera life in a travel trailer directly to France and an apartment for the first time in his -admittedly - short life, without showing any sign of it. We went from Colorado to Paris, then a few hours after landing took a train down to the Alps, where my mother lives, and in less than a week were in the south of France, on the Riviera, where I grew up and had accepted a job as a visiting lecturer in photojournalism for the fall semester. Travels (in planes, trains and cars, only a boat was missing, or a hot-air balloon) and upheavals, total change of scenery, food, climate and language, all new faces and habits: I can't think of many people, much less small babies, who could go through the same with such brio.
Not to mention we packed up and went through the same odyssey in reverse less than four months later.
I had dreaded the flights with Dylan like the plague, and at some point considered turning down the job on account of the prospect of going through a two-part, more than 16-hour-long plane trip alone with a 10-month-old. He slept most of the way, and was a darling the rest, the trip went so smoothly it was hard to believe. On the way back it was less restful; Dylan was walking by then and a one year old, so I had to entertain him for most of the way.
Still, he's my first-class traveler.

Reading Foucault.

Feb. 2, Brownsville.

I read Le Magazine Literaire's special edition on Michel Foucault I picked up in one of the bookstores on Anne's street, going through it bit by bit so as to not to be over with it too soon (taking care of Dylan helps the slowness of the process,) and I wish I had taken along the two volumes of Dits et Ecrits that are back at my mother's house in France, two thick books of notes, interviews, essays, courses and other material produced over the length of Foucault's career, a luxury I had indulged in after devouring Surveiller et Punir, days of frantic readings in Paris on cloudy afternoons off, I remember this café on the rue des Ecoles just off the boulevard Saint-Michel, reading Surveiller et Punir there for hours, enthralled, hooked for life on the writing, sometimes difficult but also impossibly, simply beautiful, and then a passage in particular - in Dits et Ecrits, an as-yet unpublished preface to his Histoire de la Folie, - so beautiful that for me it's just a pleasure to read and re-read it, like that, for the heck of it.
But who could I speak to here about being in love with Foucault's prose?
I miss France, although there too the candidates might be harder to find than I think.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Hats and feathers - opening day.

Hats and feathers.
Feb. 1, Brownsville.

General rehearsal with costumes this morning. The costumes were not ready until now, so here we are, having a general rehearsal on the very day the show begins. There is an effervescence all about the circus, a constant ballet of people frantically going one way and the other. It's over by one o'clock, there are three hours left til the opening.
The costumes are an orgy of feathers and polyester fabric, topped by a shocking multitude of garish hats figuring seasons and holidays, if you can figure a season or a holiday in a hat. It's all very Texas-trash couture. But I haven't quite grasped yet what seasons and holidays have to do with Happy Days. The costume designers are the same guys as last year, very gay and without an once of a sense of style. The shortest one wears a big cross on his sweater.

Starting over.

Jan. 31, Brownsville.

The show starts tomorrow - Happy Dayz! -, and so does the season.
For seven days a week it will not stop until mid-November, unless some major accident happens, presumably. The rest of the crew arrived during the night, familiar faces everywhere, Chago, Araceli, Jose the mechanic, el Chivito and Edith and Jose Ivan, "the other baby," whom we didn't get to see yet, he was sleeping, and suddenly it feels like I've never left. I'm beginning to wonder if I'll come back after the birth of Fridmanito Junior II or just stay put. Missing the circus from the visiting lecturer in photojournalism position on the sunny Riviera was easy; daily life at Circus Chimera on the road is not, much less with a toddler and a newborn in tow, and a husband who's going to be working some 12 hours a day.
Fridman will only do one act in the show this year but he will also go on with the plateful of multifaceted tasks he shouldered last year, and then some - driving one of the circus' trucks, setting up the deployment and parking of circus vehicles upon arrival onto a new lot, managing the doors crew, overseeing program sellers, plus, la cerise on the cake this year, he might also act as prop guy during the show (someone who takes care of all technical aspects of the acts) and help in taking down and setting up the props as well, thus basically having to work during the whole show every day plus the setting up and taking down and up times. Long, very long days.
Fridman: "It's still less than when I was at Carson and Barnes and the pay is better." The way I see it, it's like extolling the merits of slavery versus indentured labor. If I'm lucky I'll get to see him around three o'clock in the morning when he crashes into bed. Until now the agreement was he would be getting paid the same as last year, $ 500 a week before taxes (a shocking 30 percent in this country - for a salary that low it would only be about 10 percent in France, that high taxes socialist heaven), plus a fraction more, to be negotiated, for the prop business. Winning the lottery sounds really good.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Jan. 30, Brownsville.

Going from a $150-a-night hotel in the heart of Paris, buttery croissants and café au lait with white cloth napkins in the morning to a cheap trailer in the muddy depths of Texas makes me smile, the Buddhist in me reaffirmed, one more (necessarily) humbling time.