Ten minutes late to the show, I had to talk our way into the tent, arguing with the ticket lady that, indeed, we would not be coming back the next day, our friends were already waiting. In retaliation, she made us buy the more expensive box seats, so we sat right by the ring as their clown made his rounds and circus hands cleared the tall fences standing between the audience and the tiger act we had just missed.
The fences had a lean look about them, as if they were more for show than for actually stopping large carniverous cats from jumping into the stands and devouring squirming morsels of small children, prompting Will to quote our pal Jim (who has said this about many aspects of life in Prague, mostly pre EU) “Not exactly OSHA approved, eh?“ Since we missed the big cat show, and dancing dogs don't worry me much, I didn’t really mind the sketchy safety conditions until I looked down at the sawdust covering our feet and noticed cigarette stubs mixed with the sawdust. Prima.
But the show was strangely appealing, maybe because we had a two year old with us to enjoy it with, maybe because I haven’t been to a circus in so many years, and had no expectations other than a vague hope that cotton candy might be on offer (it was). Caroline has a higher intolerance level for sitting still, and the clown and his patter didn’t win her over, so, after looking for the flying trapeze and not finding one, she decided it was time to go - “jdeme out!“ she said, “we leave now!“
Then the next act began and a troop of miniature poodles pranced into the tent and Caroline clapped along with the crowd while the dogs jumped through hoops and paraded around the ring on their fore paws, back feet carefully balanced over their heads. The poodles‘ unscripted riot on the kiddie slide made C furious, “no doggies, mine, mine slide“ she called again and again over the audience roar as the dogs raced up and down the slide and nipped at each other before their trainer shooed them out of the ring. She loved the horses though, four large work horses that ran through their paces so close to us we could see their whiskers and the droop of the feathers in their head bands.
The guys in our group liked the scantily clad lady who hoola hooped and juggled her way through several acts, and in one rodeoesque scene wore an Apache indian headress and let two face-painted lasso-wielding circus guys throw real knives at her. It was all very 100 years ago with P.T. Barnum, but on a smaller scale.
It was the kid who won my heart. The ten-year-old son of the family that runs the circus (also named for him), Alex’s specialty is balancing high on a ladder and juggling, which he does well, and without a safety harness. But I liked best his last routine, where, with safety harness attached, he stood on the very top of his ladder, balanced a tall tripod on his forehead, and threw soccer balls into the hoops of the tripod. His father held the rope attached to his harness, and his mother called encouragement and warning from the sidelines, while the clown held the soccer balls high for him to grab without a glance. Three tries he took to fill the tripod, while he staggered the ladder across a small platform shimmied for balance. His family and Alex did not pay attention to what happened outside the ring, all their focus was on his balance and the act - a dress rehearsal with the audience right there. By the end he was sweating and I was holding my thumbs hoping that he’d catch all three this time. When he did the audience roared their approval and he ran back to his mother for a kiss before bowing once more and leaving the stage.
We took the tram home the same way we had arrived, down the long road that shoots straight into Vinohrady from the perimeter highway, the road the Russian tanks rolled down in 1968, that runs past the biggest grouping of cemetaries in town, past where Kafka is buried, past the TV tower that stands over the remains of another Jewish cemetary. It was dark by then, and as we passed one cemetary‘s gates we saw the banks of candles lit to commemorate the upcoming day of the dead, or Památka zesnulých, on November 2. The candles flickered and wavered like a planted field of sparklers and Caroline pointed them out to me. “Lights!“ she said, “circus lights.“ “Not exactly,“ I said, “But I'll explain later.“
Check out the Cirkus Alex website for more information and performance times.
Dining out for Life
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