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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The circus still exists here in our backwaters.

Still conjuring magic in the cruel daylight

written by-

from: www.heraldscotland.com Published on 31 Oct 2011
Soon the boastful banners of the circus will decorate the lamp-posts and the hoardings all around our larger villages for the farewell performances of the year.
Then the posters will be stripped for the Loto nights, staple fare once the outdoor tables and chairs are stacked in the slowly emptying restaurants, and the squares take on the deserted look of winter; the heat-hazed fetes a dwindling memory.
Like the last blaze of the summer flowers, the circus flyers emit fierce, vibrant colours and seem to urge one to enter the magic before it’s too late and the mists descend and plunge us into our shuttered dark months of hibernation.
Each time they go up, starting in the spring, I’m drawn to their pictorial brave defiance of the modern world: the red-haired clown and his painted mouth; his sly slapstick humour in a sawdust ring now pitted against the foul-mouthed ‘comedians’ who shout and race across the television and stage as much here as they do in the UK, whose humour is of a personal, cruel and knowing kind; not a gentle poke at our shared human frailty and innate loneliness.
The ageing wire act whose acrobatic feats hold little wonder now to children whose dexterous fingers can spin heroes and villains across cyberspace.
And of course, the animals, now depleted, no longer the heart of the show, caged and prodded for our entertainment.
We know better these days, even here, where the last of the travelling circuses find an audience.
There was a ‘white’ lion – ‘the only one of its kind’ – advertised in one of the bigger circus’s posters earlier this year, and when in residence there is always a camel or two staring and sneering out at the world from its tethered post next to the petanque court.
Horses still prance in feathered head-dresses in ever decreasing circles as the big top gets smaller and smaller.
And ‘girls’, now more matrons in thick pan-stick and straining costumes over bulbous thighs, still smile with arms aloft from the middle of three cantering beasts.
I know all this because each year I’ve wandered around the outskirts of the circus in their familiar fields; peered through the cracking, dirty fold-backs of the tent and drawn in that heady, sweaty mixture of sawdust and bodies.
I’ve seen the Ringmaster owner morph from ticket seller to top-hatted controller of his world, pulling back his shoulders with a tired pride as the cracked entry music blares from an ancient sound system of large horns.
Seen the girls in their too tight leggings and sweat shirts emerge out of their slumped pre-show last fags and coffee to bedazzle in Lycra and sequins, watched by the tiniest of children, the only ones untouched enough to believe in magic.
Again, as so many things do here, it takes me back to childhood in the Ireland of the late 1950s, when the arrival of the circus was the most wondrous event in our year.
Horse mad, we’d beg the wiry, hard eyed men for the privilege of grooming the show horses, nipping between their restless legs with a curry comb, falling in hopeless love with our favourites and fighting, literally, for the honour of leading one in the big parade, wearing our butterfly jodhpurs and starched shirt and tie, far superior to the tail-feathered girls who leapt into the spotlight on to the backs we’d so lovingly polished.
For a brief time we dreamed of a life in the circus until our mothers called us home and life settled back inside the convent walls.
The very old ones here I’ve asked, remember how the circus coming to town somehow made them part of a France they didn’t know, but were now included in.
Then it wasn’t just the children who sat open-mouthed on the benches but the adults too, starved of any glamour or awe in a world reduced to mere survival; a world bounded by farm and village.
Somehow, despite ever decreasing numbers, the circus still exists here in our backwaters. Still conjuring magic and illusion, however shabby in the cruel daylight.
This Christmas in Valence, within a theatre, a circus will put up its canvas top.
Already there is an excitement around it and my hairdresser warns I need to book quickly.
I wonder if I’m too old, too crocked, to run away and be a bare-backed rider? The question was merely rhetorical.
How sad I already know the answer.

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