Friday Ibis and I took our four-year old nephew to the circus. I haven't had a particularly strong desire to be in an enclosed area with jungle creatures, especially in a country where rules and regulations are more like suggested guidelines, but there's only so much to do with a boy who doesn't love the beach as much as Ibis.
My last trip to the circus was when I was four -- thirty years ago!! -- and I have zero recollection of the actual event. I vaguely remember entering the big top, and I do remember going back to my gramma's afterwards, but the time in between is a blank. My memory is like that of, well, an elephant, so this surprises me. All I can come up with is that something traumatized me and I've blocked it out. That or I had so much cotton candy that the sugar zapped the synapses that formed those memories. Either way, I was a little nervous Friday night.
We headed over twenty minutes before the show started, bought our tickets, and grabbed seats on the side of the ring. Bleachers lined the tent but we paid an extra ten pesos each (30 total) for folding chairs in front of the bleachers. There were "box seats" -- more folding chairs but blocked into four-chair sections -- for forty pesos each, but very few people bought those so we still had front row seats.
Vendors came around with popcorn, cotton candy, and some kind of french fry/sliced hot dog dish, and two clowns kept the kids entertained before the first act -- a rope-climbing guy -- came out. There were humans acts -- balancing pointy objects, juggling fire with feet, twirling on a long cloth, handstand/climbing things -- but the best were the animals.
First were five dogs (3 sheepdogs & 2 collies) that jumped through hoops, played leapfrog, and danced around the ring. As they left, one pretended not to want to leave and just sat with a mopey look on his face until the audience gave him more applause... it was really very cute.
During the intermission they brought out a pony that the kids could take for a spin for only ten pesos. Ibis waited in line with our nephew and he was very good -- even if he was so excited he forgot to wave at us. The man walking with them deserves a medal because there were several kids that were so terrified they screamed the entire time. He just held their arm with one hand and lead the pony with the other, a bemused expression on his face.
There were also horses! Now, if you've read Water for Elephants the act was very similar to how I pictured it in the book, except there were only five horses, one of which seemed to be in training. They did intricate routines, running around and around, making sharp turns and weaving around each other. For the finale they all stood on their hind legs and danced around -- what a sight!
For the final act, the crew carried out huge metal bars that slid together to form a black cage. As we leaned forward to see what animals were in the approaching cages, one of the clowns came out with a two-year old dressed in a tiger costume. He clung to the bars and roared at everyone, then the clown made him leap from pedestal to pedestal. The kids ate it up, but I had barely taken my eyes off the real tigers.
I watched them put the cage together, and I knew they'd done it a thousand times (I hoped), but I still made sure to check for the fastest way out of there in case something went wrong (through the gap in the bleachers and under the tent flap -- I figured it'd be too much work for a tiger and there were bound to be people running all over the place). Ibis commented that they looked pretty well fed, but that's not enough for me.
The trainer came out as the tigers took their places, walking around with nothing but a switch to control them. I tried not to notice how they cowered away (much the same way a couple of the dogs did) but he was clearly in control. They jumped through a flaming hoop, did various tricks in the center of the cage, and a couple even "swatted" at him. I felt pretty jaded after reading the book, and while I know not all animals are abused, the tiger closest to us was clearly sick, either with mange or some other feline disease. And they kept, uh, "spraying" towards the crowd.
At the very end, once the tigers were back in their cages, the trainer brought out a four-month old tiger cub. Man, was he cute! You could take a picture with him for fifty pesos but since we forgot the camera (I know...) we decided to skip it. He just lolled about while people fondled him -- I hope he enjoys the easy life while it lasts.
All in all, we were much more impressed than we anticipated. The acts were well done and the performers clearly had talent. Ibis wondered why they would be with such a small circus since it's doubtful they make very much money, but they've got to start somewhere, right?
Now, we were there on Friday and on Sunday afternoon authorities shut down the circus -- in the middle of the show -- because of the threat of the swine flu. It was only a precaution, but of course I've replayed all the times our nephew stuck something in his mouth, the people we shook hands with, the PONY he was on... I know it'll be fine, but it sure puts a different perspective on our night of family fun!
When was the last time you went to the circus?