Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Savannah days/Bird on a wire.

April 30, Sullivan.

Rummaging through my computer I found some old souvenirs, Savannah in the winter of 2005, seven months pregnant with Dylan, blues days, days of endless rain, alone in a wrecked trailer, waiting, oblivious to the beauty of the city, sulky in its irrelevant glory.

Savannah days/Nature morte.

April 30, Sullivan.

Savannah days/In memoriam.

April 30, Sullivan.

Savannah days/Home.

April 30, Sullivan.

A trailer with a view.

April 30, Sullivan, Indiana (38 miles, field in front of Napa Auto Parts.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


April 29, Martinsville.


April 29, Martinsville.

A trailer with a view.

April 29, Martinsville, Illinois (34 miles, fairgrounds.)

Signs of war.

April 28, Palestine.

I first noticed them in Carmi, a few days back. Signs on the streets in front of homes, Tony J. Tiddix, U.S. Marine, Ted Glenn, U.S. Army, Scott Glenn, U.S. Army at the next house (brothers?) I counted six in less than a block in Gordon, last the village before Palestine; in Robinson, the town before that on highway 33, they sported a waving U.S. flag at the top above a yellow strip, in Gordon a big yellow ribbon crossed at the top and underneath the names on a white background. The signs read from U.S. Marine to Army to National Guard to Air Force, the gamut of the armed forces of this country, and sometimes they seem to be on every corner; modest houses, well-tended cottages, all-American lower middle-class homes in the heart of America, the bread and butter of the troops in Iraq coming from small towns and villages like these in southeastern Illinois, where, I imagine, the jobs are scarce and the prospects limited.

A trailer with a view.

April 28, Palestine, Illinois (52 miles, rodeo grounds.)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Spring is back.

April 27, Toledo.

We've entered spring again after moving back into winter since leaving Texas, naked dark trees, except in the lowest-lying areas, and not the promise of a bud. And then.

A trailer with a view.

April 27, Toledo, Illinois (88 miles, American Legion grounds.)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A trailer with a view.

April 26, Mt. Vernon, Illinois (48 miles, fairgrounds.)

Friday, April 25, 2008

A trailer with a view.

April 25, Carmi, Illinois (59 miles, White county fairgrounds.)

The picture doesn't do justice to the lot, beautifully wooded grounds, an enormous, stately elm (I think) by the front door.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Illinois days.

April 24, Flora.

The driving is flat, corn fields and more of the same, farmhouse dotting the road, silos like exclamation points on the horizon, gone are the daily beauty of the drives, I had forgotten about Illinois.
Endless driving as a photographer for The Jacksonville Journal-Courier, crisscrossing nine counties all day long and in all weathers, Schuyler, Brown and Morgan, Scott and Cass, Sangamon and Greene, and into Pike and Macoupin, Sundays my favorite, alone on the shift (and I met Fridman photographing the circus, a big happening in a town of 15,000 people,) the frog jumping competitions, the church pancake breakfasts, the harvests, the farmers at the cafe counter, the county fairs, listening to the week end programs on NPR, Steve Copper laying out the pages on the desk, his quiet wit, always a welcome in his eyes, the picture of debonair but the ultimate professional; flat, boring Illinois - and I miss all of that.

A dress rehearsal for the Berea Church cemetery walk outside of Ashland, Illinois, a Sunday assignment a long time ago, des souvenirs bucoliques.

A trailer with a view.

April 24, Flora, Illinois (50 miles, Charley Brown park.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A trailer with a view.

April 23, Carlyle, Illinois (42 miles, fairgrounds.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

(Poor) Earth Day.

April 22, Hillsboro.

Today is Earth Day, not that we would know it. At this circus recycling seems to be a foreign word, and the Latino community in this country in general I've noticed to be the most ignorant in regards to the environment.
And yet, just next to the lot today there is a recycling center, the irony, and I've been mulling over starting a recycling service at the circus, trying to convince people to pitch in and make a small difference. It would be a matter of finding recycling centers along the way, setting up bags where people could bring their recyclable items and gathering them up at the end of the day; the main problem would be where to stock them, space is precious in the traveling circus world, trailers are not spacious, storing is not an option, you learn to go bare, to strip down.
To be continued.

A trailer with a view.

April 22, Hillsboro, Illinois (61 miles, sports complex.).


April 21, Mascoutah.

There was a double birthday party today for Noricella Rosales, who turned eight, and Georgia Cainan, who turned five.

A trailer with a view.

April 21, Mascoutah, Illinois (25 miles, American Legion grounds.)


April 20, Columbia.

There is nothing sweet about Armando and the elephants.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A trailer with a view.

April 20, Columbia, illinois (16 miles, YMCA grounds.)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Old moves.

April 19, Cahokia.

Because it rained all day yesterday and the field was soggy and many tractor trailers would inevitably get stuck, we moved last night, a reminiscence of Circus Chimera - and all that I didn't like about it.

A trailer with a view.

April 19, Cahokia, Illinois (34 miles, Nova shopping center.)

Friday, April 18, 2008

The winning ticket.

April 18, Herculaneum.

This circus seems to have found the winning strategy for making good business in rather difficult economic times. A month into the season and there has been people at the circus every single show, and week ends more often than not a full house, even if not quite the one we had yesterday. Just last week we heard from our friends the Russians, Genia and Berengere and their sons, with whom we worled two years ago at Circus Chimera, and the circus they were touring with in California closed unexpectedly.

A trailer with a view.

April 18, Herculaneum, Missouri (34 miles, fairgrounds.)

Sold out.

April 17, Ste. Genevieve.
The show is sold out: more than 1,700 tickets sold, thanks to the sponsor here, when the circus only seats about 1,200. The crew is putting extra seating in, and people are probably going to have to stand in the aisles too.
Armando took one of the elephants to the people at the care center above the circus; I thought it was sweet.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Mississippi.

April 17, Ste. Genevieve.

We're on a hill overlooking the Mississippi river, but cannot see it for the levees. Thinking of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, reading and re-reading Mark Twain, and the years in Missouri, the great flood of 1993. The river is mythic to me.
We passed our first cultivated fields, first in a long series now that we're entering the Midwest for good.

A trailer with a view.

April 17, Ste. Genevieve, Missouri (70 miles, fairgrounds.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


April 16, Ironton.

Casey's truck broke down 10 miles from town, the road hilly again; later his daughter, Georgia got dressed in her princess outfit and danced a princess ballet.
We drove through Mark Twain National Forest again, still part of the Ozarks still. I got curious about all the logging trucks I saw on the road, and found out that the U.S Forest Service does a lot of timber business here; somehow I thought national forest meant protected forest but it seems to be far from reality. According to The Missouri Coalition for the Environment, "commercial timber harvesting, including even-aged management and clear-cutting, is promoted by the U.S. Forest Service as a primary use of the Mark Twain."

The house of my dreams.

April 16, Ironton.

Breakfast at a café called Perk on the Square in the tiny, tidy downtown Ironton; pretty good food, great service, and Dylan breaks a pottery for sale and they don't even charge us.
I saw the house of my dreams (I'd just need to move it to a big open field, possibly with a creek and lots of trees around the edges.)

A trailer with a view.

April 16, Ironton, Missouri (68 miles, Lion's Club grounds.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Middle age and free opinions.

April 15, Eminence.

We crossed Mark Twain National Forest on highway 19. I'd go back for a hike but not with a trailer.
Some of the hills seemed like walls rising in front of us, so steep you had to take them in first gear, grinding down to a painful crawl. Go out of the road and truck and trailer capsize and roll down the mountain. One of the circus trucks couldn't take it and had to be pulled by a tractor trailer, both inching along up the hills, a loony sight; the trucks are bright red and painted with the childish cartoons of the circus world, the crazy clown bellowing up the hill, out of steam but grinning; the strange caravan stopped once, almost at the top of a hill, and looked like they were going to slide all the way back down, a road service tractor and I behind with nowhere to turn but into the deep.
We're in Missouri.
I used to live in Columbia, going to graduate school at the University of Missouri in journalism. My friends Greg and Sally Foster still live there and I haven't seen them in over ten years; our friendship is of the word. Crossing into Missouri was like entering familiar territory, another one of all the homes I've added along the way, loving it, hating it but always wanting to go back once I left, a bad case of chronic dissatisfaction. Nowadays it's the opposite and whatever place I happen to be in is home, and maybe that's what they call middle age, the days are counted and you know it so you enjoy it while it lasts - and finally I do, staying hungry, staying foolish.

A sign in the fake frontier village shopping center behind the circus.

A trailer with a view.

April 15, Eminence, Missouri (58 miles, old ball park.)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Fields of grass.

April 14, Mammoth Springs.

Ah, the joy of running free in an infinite field of grass (to a two-year-old it is infinite.)

The Kelly Miller circus.

April 14, Mammoth Springs.

Walking up the lane behind the circus we met a horse named Annie (a gentleman drove by in a pickup truck and was kind enough to stop to let us know who she was.) From the lane you could see all of the circus.
This is our last town in Arkansas for now.

A trailer with a view.

April 14, Mammoth Springs, Arkansas (93 miles, Music Hall grounds.)


April 13, Mountain View.

Some days go by so fast all I have time to do is blink twice and it's gone.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The small roads.

April 13, Mountain View.

Rectification, and counter-rectification. We play the smallest towns, dots on the map, and travel the smallest roads still passable with tractor trailers, and on all these small roads, in all the small towns, even crossing the Ozarks, I could always find NPR on my radio dial, counter to what I'd written earlier about that dreaded silence. Today we crossed the Ozarks again, this time from north to south and further east, and for the first time in more than two weeks, ever since we left Texas really, NPR disappeared from the dial. Cell phones went dead as well for a good part of the trail.
We took the Sylamore scenic byway, highway 5, a feast for the eyes, and the morning sun streaming in. We rode by, then crossed, the White river, drove through tiny river towns, Castle Rock's hundred-yard-long downtown like a cardboard movie set, log homes, restored buildings housing antiques shops and Ozark crafts shops, and the forest.
It is 38 degrees here today, it makes it hard for performers to work, flimsy flannel circus costumes a poor shield against the cold.

A trailer with a view.

April 13, Mountain View, Arkansas (46 miles, rodeo grounds.)

News from the home front.

April 12, Mountain Home.

We're staying here two days too.
On the home front: Nicolas now claps his hands, and enthused in his newfound ability he does it all the time, grinning all the way. Mingo it still is, and something has happened with Dylan since he's started to call him that. He doesn't bite or otherwise hit and push him any time he can the way he did for a while; it is as if giving him a name had made his little brother alive finally, a living person, his. He delights in making Nicolas laugh, shares his food (sometimes,) hears him before we do when he wakes up from his nap. One of my biggest fears is that they won't get along later on, so many stories of sibling rivalries, bitterness, distance; now I think they'll be all right, the two of them, they'll be a team, and I'll have to watch out.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Taking pictures.

April 11, Mountain Home.

It's been a while I've all but forgotten about taking meaningful pictures of circus life, long gone the documentary project. These days I am taking pictures of the show for the new circus program, and it's not as fun as it should be, getting back into my old life. The light is dismal, the tent fabric worn, making an ugly background for any aerial act on a picture, but mostly I have to juggle the two babies - and sometimes three with Gigi. I still haven't figured out how to shoot Fridman's first act, the rolla bola, or Sarah's trapeze, since she can't help me during the former because she's getting ready, and he can't help me for the latter since he's in that act too as a sidekick. Today I'll try putting Peanut in Gigi's playpen together with her and carrying Dylan in the baby carrier; hopefully my back will endure.


April 11, Mountain Home.

On highway 412 near Harmon, a turnoff to the town of Eros. A mile down the road a Baptist church.

A trailer with a view.

April 11, Mountain Home, Arkansas (50 miles, rodeo grounds.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Castle in the sand.

April 10, Harrison.

Two days in the same place, a welcome reprieve from the daily run ahead, feels like a fiesta; apparently a cancellation the reason. We stayed up late watching the last season of The Sopranos; felt like a holiday.
Daily trips, daily setups, daily changes and challenges, this circus the very notion of transience, a Buddhist philosophy in action. One day the tent is there and all the trucks and trailers and vendors, an army of people bustling about, there is a whole village, the next thing you know it's gone, vanished, as if it was never there, an illusion. A drawing in the sand, washed away by the tide, impermanent, foolish, life constantly ebbing beneath that veil of certainty.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A long trip.

April 9, Harrison.

Long long trip this morning, the landscape still beautiful but getting blurry as the road stretched ahead, small farms, cattle farms, hilly and curvy the route said again, and one curve starts looking much like the next, and there are still miles to cover. Leaving the town of Ozark we crossed the Arkansas river and the road started winding through the Ozark National Forest, Mulberry Mountain, "Very Crooked and Steeped Next 3 Miles" said the signs. The circus truck Fridman drives, a pickup pulling some of the bleachers and the spare tires, pretty much dies going uphill so I passed him and drove ahead for much of the trip. About ten miles before Harrison a circus private truck and trailer were pulled over on an uphill section of the small highway, emergency lights on; it was difficult to stop on the narrow, curvy highway but we all did, to help, Fridman, Hector, and I; the transmission had apparently given out. Too many hills over too many years in the circus.

A trailer with a view.

April 9, Harrison, Arkansas (91 miles, fairgrounds.)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


April 8, Ozark.

I mercifully felt better at night, just in time to put the babies to bed and crawl in there myself, exhausted after a day of lying around with a splitting headache and upset stomach. Still shaky but up on my feet at least.
On the roads: a cyclists' race in a tiny town on highway 88; Coop Cemetery in Mansfield, dated 1849, stretching on both sides of the road; Bach Road on highway 22.

A trailer with a view.

April 8, Ozark, Arkansas (54 miles, fairgrounds.)

Dia horribilis.

April 7, Greenwood.

Sicker as the day progressed, unable even to properly take care of the babies, Fridman helped but was busy working, and then had to drive a truck over to the next town for a second day, as one of the small trucks is in the shop since the day before yesterday. The circus still has no mechanic.

A trailer with a view.

April 7, Greenwood, Arkansas (63 miles, fairgrounds.)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Out of steam.

April 6, Mena.

There are days when I don't even have the strength to write a sentence.

A trailer with a view.

April 6, Mena, Arkansas (80 miles, fairgrounds.)

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Just a regular day.

April 5, Hot Springs Village.
Going north we're entering winter again and the green is lost. We passed Hot Springs, "Boyhood Home of President Bill Clinton," its "Historic Arts District," and a rather architecturally rich downtown, considering its size, reminiscent of a northeastern town. At least that's what I could surmise driving through at 30 miles an hour.
The sun is out again, the show is going on as planned, just a regular day out on the circus trail.

A trailer with a view.

April 5, Hot Springs Village, Arkansas (46 miles, Boys and Girls Club grounds.)

Friday, April 04, 2008

Impromptu changes, again.

April 4, Glenwood.

The circus was scheduled to be at fairgrounds again, but by the time most of us got there it was still raining and it was clear that we were not about to try and repeat the experience of the past few days. The venue was changed to an old sports court on the other side of town and performers were redirected to the gravel parking lot around it; the rest of the circus vehicles stayed behind at the fairgrounds, parked outside. Again the show had to be rearranged, as it had been in Gilmer earlier this week; this time Sarah's trapeze act was kept in.

A stormy night.

April 4, Glenwood.

Only the show didn't go on, after all.
At nine o'clock last night the local police came and ordered the show to stop and the public to go home.
The storm had gotten worse and the rain heavier. Fridman went out to help with taking down the tent, and the rain poured. I sat in the trailer watching, fascinated, as it pounded the trucks in front of me, the scene illuminated by the circus' floodlights, like a movie set. Some of the crew wore raincoats, the rest were soaked and still they worked on, as they have before and will again, without a word of complaint.
Then the rain stopped, abruptly, and all was calm.
That's when I noticed the siren. It went on and on and the crew went on working. I remember Casey, the lion tamer, walking by, not hurrying; he walked back moments later, at the same pace. And still the siren went on, and all was calm. There was no rain, and I could see the wind had died too.
Then it all started again. In the morning the radio station said a tornado had touched down nearby. There's nothing we can do at the circus if a twister were to hit us, no time to go anywhere, and where would we go?
There was also flooding last night. The performers' trailers were parked in a low-lying area and water rose quickly as the storm went on (we were parked away near the entrance, safe.) They moved as soon as the tent was down; water reached the door in Sara's house. As she drove through she got stuck in front of our trailer and her engine woke me up as it idled.
I watched as one of the elephants was hitched to her truck and hauled it off slowly, a bizarre sight in the stormy night.

A trailer with a view.

April 4, Glenwood, Arkansas (57 miles, fairgrounds.)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

More of the same.

April 3, De Queen.

More of the same, city tractors helping to pull people in the muddy fairgrounds this morning, severe weather announced for this afternoon and tonight, with possible tornadoes. Somehow, through all this, every day but that one day the first week, the show goes on. Through all this, all the trucks pull in, everybody gets parked, the generator comes on, every trailer's water tank is filled, workers put up the tent, Myrna cooks lunch and dinner and makes coffee in the early morning hours, the performers set up their equipment, the vendors their booths, the animals are fed and cleaned, and the show goes on.

A trailer with a view.

April 3, De Queen, Arkansas (36 miles, fairgrounds.)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A trailer with a view.

April 2, Ashdown, Arkansas (65 miles, old Wal-mart parking lot.)

Out of Texas.

April 1, Naples.

This our last date in Texas for now, tomorrow we're entering Arkansas. I feel as if we are on the brink of leaping into the wilderness, launching into our voyage at last, into unknown territory, the real thing now.
On highway 271 driving out of town: Little Cypress Creek, followed by Lilly Creek; then Dahlia Road, and Oppossum Road. It would have been lovely, I thought, were I not passing them at the wheel of a diesel-belching one-ton beast spewing "100 times more sooty particles than gasoline engines," as the American Lung Association site reveals.

A trailer with a view.

April 1, Naples, Texas (49 miles, rodeo arena.)

Big leaps.

March 31, Gilmer.

Maybe because he turned one Nicolas has started to talk a lot more for the last few days, new sounds come out of his mouth every day and there is no shutting him up. He's started to turn into a little boy right in front of our eyes, too, leaps so big we can almost see them happening.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

And all the presents.


March 31, Gilmer.

Nicolas' first birthday today. The route said Happy Birthday Nicolas Rios!
Sheyla and Alain are leaving and just drove up from the last location with the Nissan so that they could say goodbye to everyone in the circus and we could open Nicolas' presents, we forgot yesterday (and there wouldn't have been time anyway.)
It's official, at 4:15 in the afternoon Nicolas turned ONE.
The road over was lovely, we took country roads winding through northeast Texas country, dogwoods in bloom, ranch homes, small towns nestled among tall pine trees, and more green of all possible shades.
We crossed Gilmer and passed some beautiful homes; on the lot a surprise, the circus arranged to play in the civic center instead of the adjacent field for we are expecting more rain. We're parked right next to a Super Wal-mart too, the answer to circus people's dreams. But the show had to be shortened down to an hour and a half as no aerial act could be performed in the center's theater. I took pictures thinking the setting would be better but was disappointed; the light was terrible, there was no way to walk around to find the best angles. Fridman's act was the only one to an advantage; there was only one spotlight falling at the center of the stage and it fell right on him, illuminating his act to near-perfection.

The birthday boy.
Alain, Sheyla and Friedman.

Peanut's first.

March 30, E. Tawakoni.

Don Sandro and dona Maigo came up from Dallas and showed up at our door, together with Sheyla, who is parked far away, arms full of presents and food, for Nicolas' first birthday. We had to move out of the field onto the same parking lot after the last show, and so the party had to wait, too (although it was a party just having the trailer full of people, and the cooking, and the gossiping,) and Peanut was a little tired when it finally started. We sang happy birthday, first in Spanish, then in English, and then in French, I singing alone and completely off key, and took the pictures with the cake and its 1 candle and then he was off to bed for he's used to falling asleep by nine o'clock. He was out in no time.
Jorge and Carmen Rosales and their four sons came by, and there were Pedro, Alain, Sheyla and Friedman, and us, and the party went on until late. Sheyla cooked (arroz con pollo and papas a la huancaina, Peruvian dishes, my favorite) and Sandro and Maigo brought the cake so I didn't have to do anything; there wouldn't have been a party without them.


March 30, E. Tawakoni.

On the route this morning, "Happy Birthday to Benjamin Sarmiento!"
A couple of days ago it was Natalia Fusco's, also on the route. I like that they do this.

What a mess.

March 30, East Tawakoni, Texas (33 miles, city property next to TJ's store.)
This time it was a big mess, and this circus unequivocally earned the name on this blog. The tent ripped off last night as it was taken down. Exiting the lot this morning a big rainstorm hit right as the circus was getting ready to leave, complete with hail (we decided to wait it out.) The tractor trailer that hauls the cook house not only got stuck in the mud yesterday but wouldn't start this morning. And then the lot today is one more grassy field, like the rest of the area it got drenched just before the circus arrived, saturating it further on top of all the rain it got in the last two weeks. When we got here, last as usual, nobody was parked on the field but a couple of semi trailers, the rest off to the parking lot of the store next door, as only needed vehicles were directed onto the field; each truck had left a deep dark earth furrow in its wake. Performers, of course, have to run in and out of the tent repeatedly, so here we are, securely deep in spongy muddy grass.
The crew repaired the tent in no time, but the mess getting out and in was such that it is 2:30 PM and the big top only now is up and ready; Fridman just got back from helping out. People lined up the field to watch the whole odysseus unfold, as they would a football game; in the end the show was delayed but will go on. The cook house is nowhere in sight; management ordered pizza for everyone.

The tent is patched with the same fabric it is made of, using heat to glue it together.
From left, Refugio and Benjamin work patching up the tent.