Monday, February 11, 2013

bits of magic

Mexico never fails to offer surprises.

Last Thursday. I was on my way to the church fundraiser.  Where there is usually only a soccer field, there was this tent.  A bit shopworn.  But the most obvious accessory was the tricolor topping each pole.

Either the Emperor Maximilian was attempting to make a political comeback -- or the circus had come to town.  I opted for door two.  Even though it would have been fun to watch a reenactment of the Battle of Puebla.

If you have hung out in these parts very long, you know I am a circus fanatic.  An obsession to which I have confessed in several posts: another opening; another show, llamas -- and tigers -- and bears -- oh my!, daring young men -- no trapeze.

My experience with Mexican circuses has been mixed.  Growing up with Barnum and Bailey creates high expecations.

That is not the Mexican circle world.  These are stricty family operations.  Small family operations.  It is as if your neighbor -- the one with the exotic pet fetish -- decided to put on a show in his garage.

But what they lack in glitz, Mexican circuses make up for in passion and fun.  They are there to make children of all ages find joy and wonder in life.

I ran into my friends Ed and Roxanne while waiting in line.  The three of us may have been the oldest members in the audience. 

When offered, I usually pay a bit extra for a chair.  On Sunday night, we were all relegated to bleachers made out of 1X6 planks.  Spartan and just this side of adding another asterisk to circus disaster history.

But, no matter how basic the surroundings are, there is a moment in every circus where a drab tent is turned into a house of magic.  The lights dim.  The music rises.  And we are transported to a place where children can imagine almost anything.

Of course, sometimes you only get Lucky the dog walking a board at the command of a woman in a far-too-tight leotard.  But we all applauded as if Beyonc
é had sung a live tune.

On Thursday I saw the circus animals caged behind the tent.  The lion merely looked tired and bored -- as if someone had interrupted his retirement plans. 

When he entered the ring, he had transformed himself into a powerful performer.  I should mention, a powerful performer who was separated from the audience -- by nothing.

The clown had him on a leash.  But it looked no more substantial than the leash on Lucky the dog.

The lion did not perform many tricks.  It did not matter.  His sole purpose was to let all of us brag that we were in the same room with a lion.

My favorite acts are the aerial artists.  There was only one on Sunday night.  A woman and a hoop.  She caused us all to gasp and applaud.  And to recall the glamor that drew us to the circus.

You try putting your foot on your forehead while spinning on a hoop well above the ground.

No circus would be complete without clowns.  Mexican circus clowns rely almost exclusively on puns and riddles to amuse their audiences.  Unfortunately, my Spanish is not up to the task of fully appreciating the humor.  But the children certainly appreciated it.

And we were then back to the animals.  A llama.  A pony.  All performing the basic tricks of llamas and ponies.  Oddly, the children applauded the appearance of the pony louder than any other act.

For me, though, the best animal act was a pair of male baboons in red pantaloons.  I don't remember ever seeing a baboon act in a circus.  But these guys were great.  They jumped hurdles.  Turned somersaults.  Rode a pony.  I was amazed.

My friend Roy claims any entertainment can be salvaged with a good juggler.  That may be true.  But we did not have a good juggler on Sunday.

The young man's proficiency juggling clubs, balls, and hats was adequate.  But he helped salvage an indifferent performance by juggling flame sticks.  That was good.  And dangerous enough to perk up the audience.

The most impressive was saved for the last.  The tiger.

Once again, only on a small leash.  And powerful.  He looked like the efficient killing machine that he is.  It was a bit disconcerting to watch him watch children move in the audience.

But we now had bragging rights to say that we had shared the same air with a tiger, a lion, and two baboons.

And then it was all over.  No overture at the start.  No finale at the end.

It was just over.  The lights came up and we were back in our regular lives.  But changed just a little bit.  Having spent time in a world that will move to another town to change other lives -- just a little bit.

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