Children of the "Camel People" on life in the circus
(Gallery by Ted Jackson, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
By Ted Jackson, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
March 22, 2013
By nature, kids love the circus. It's also by design. The vibrantly colored tents, exotic people, animals and music seem carefully crafted to entice young hearts into the mysteries and wonders hidden beneath the big top.
But for some kids, the circus is mundane - it's all they know. Fibi and Arianna were born into a circus family, as was their mother before them. "I'm sixth-generation circus," their mother, Lletsira Landkas boasts. "The kids will be seventh."
Landkas and her husband, Surgie, are circus performers. She wrangles animals; he rides a motorcycle inside a metal cage; and Fibi, 4 and Arianna, 6 are along for the ride. It all seems normal to them. For the moment, they're traveling with the Universoul Circus. A 35-foot, 5th-wheel travel trailer is their home, and for three days in March, home is parked in the shadow of downtown New Orleans.
The girls are bright, curious, and naturally adaptable. Upon arrival, they quickly lay claim to the small piece of real estate that encircles them. For them, home is where you lay your head down. They travel with two vehicles. A big rig pulls a large trailer for the animals and a heavy-duty pickup pulls the rest. Once they arrive on location, they "circle the wagons" to create a sense of place and a bit of privacy.
For 20 years, Landkas made her living as a trapeze artist. But flying through the air isn't as easy as it used to be, so she reinvented herself and her act. In the center of their family compound is a portable corral protected by a small tent, sheltering the family's most valued treasures -- two camels, two llamas and a delicate but spirited young horse named Raven. The camels, Fizel and Autrey, are the stars of the show. The family is known as "The Camel People."
4-year-old Fibi Landkas peers through the screen door of the family's travel trailer, parked in the back lot in New Orleans, Tuesday March 5, 2013. Fibi and her sister Arianna are home schooled, living on the road with their parents as they travel the country with the circus. (Photo by Ted Jackson, Nola.com / The Times-Picayune)
In the center of the family compound is a portable corral sheltering the family's most valued treasures -- their animals. One afternoon before the first show in New Orleans, Fibi and Arianna clown and prance around trying to get the attention of Fizel, Tuesday March 5, 2013. (Photo by Ted Jackson, Nola.com / The Times-Picayune)
A few hundred feet away, a small army of workers scurries about with seemingly little supervision, transforming a barren, empty lot at North Claiborne and St. Louis Street into a wonderland anchored by a towering tent with arena-style seating and a single ring. By sundown, the scraggly field will be a circus.
The afternoon matinee starts at 4:30. The camels are the last act of the show, but Landkas isn't concerned with the clock. "We start brushing and dressing when we hear the music," she said. For now, she's holding court outside the door of the trailer. While sitting on a diamond plate performance platform, she settles an argument over who ate the last of the cookies. Daily minutiae takes over; the quotidian details of life are not so different here than in any American household.