Tuesday, June 29, 2010

School stuff & another festival

Today we met with the Tour Manager and the Advisor for the Education and Supervision of Minors, to discuss the children's schooling. The details are as we expected...

- the school will run from about 10am-4pm Tuesday-Saturday, 180 days per year, worked around the tour schedule. So, for example, they will go to school for 2 weeks in August, but not at all in September when Totem is on break.

- Ecole Nationale de Cirque (the elite Montreal circus school) is where Baz and Ayla are officially enrolled. Cirque's touring schools fall under the ENC's auspices.

- They will follow the Quebecois school system, including all curriculum and testing requirements.

- They will be taught in English, but will also learn French.

- There are 6 children who will be enrolled in the school this fall. They are as follows:
one 14-year-old boy (Russian)
one 12-year-old girl (American)
one 10-year-old boy (American)
two 7-year-old boys (Russian, and American-Baz)
one 6-year-old girl (Ayla)

There are also a number of younger children on the tour, who won't be attending the school:
one 6-year-old girl (Russian/German - will be returning to school in Germany)
two 4-year-old girls (Italian/Spanish and Mongolian)
one 3-year-old girl (Isa)
one 3-year-old boy (Russian)
& three baby girls, ages 8 months to 18 months, not sure of their nationalities

- there will be two teachers for the school kids, a man and a woman, both of whom have taught for Cirque shows for many years.

- parents are expected to supervise their kids at lunch. this will be easy in some cities and not easy in others - we have been forewarned that in Amsterdam, housing is very far from the site.

Speaking of lunch, I thought you might like to see a sample of what a menu in the Cirque du Soleil cafeteria looks like:

On our way home, we ran into yet another street festival. This one's a big one, the International Jazz Festival. And it has a great central area for kids.

I have to give special kudos to this pirate, who entranced my children at the festival today. He does a street show which is simply bringing out a table full of props, and talking about how he just got off the pirate ship and brought some of his seafaring gear with him, and would the children like to ask questions or touch the items? Whalebone, salt-encrusted lantern, spyglass, etc. He spoke in clear, elegant French, which mostly went over the kids' heads, but they turned to me eagerly for a word-by-word translation. These are the types of moments I think they are really getting the reason for learning other languages - they want to understand French so they know what the pirate is saying!! At one point, on their request, I raised my hand to ask, "Mes enfants veulent savoir - etes-vous un VRAI pirate?" (my children want to know, are you a REAL pirate?" And Baz and Ayla's faces lit up as he exclaimed "Mais oui! Bien sur!"

Sunday, June 27, 2010

being with Cirque

Of the last four days, we've spent three of them at the chapiteau. One day, we went for last-minute tickets (available to family members only) and got four amazing seats, some of the best in the house. It is still a thrill for us to see the show from the audience - watching not only the routines, and the details surrounding each piece, but also to hear the gasps and cheers of the adoring audience. They have not had a show in Montreal yet - and they've done 90 of them - where there hasn't been a full standing ovation at the end.

Then, two of the days, we watched the show from backstage. Which is getting more comfortable and fun for us all the time. Here's a picture of the kids with Daddy on the Tapis Rouge, where we sit and watch the show. Baz is holding the "magic crystal" that Greg discovers in the show. It's supposed to be "the light that sparks human evolution on earth", and it's in the hands of my 7-year-old.

Notice the water bottles and cups hanging on the wall rack nearby. The charitable foundation started by Cirque du Soleil's CEO, One Drop, has as its mission to provide clean water to poor communities. Awareness of water usage is found throughout the tent. In the areas open to the public, you cannot buy bottled water - you must buy an aluminum Cirque du Soleil bottle. At $5.50, this can be upsetting at first, but you can refill the bottle for free, any time, with ice-cold filtered water.

This next photo is especially exciting - several of the Cirque staff have been informally teaching a kids' gymnastics class to the little ones on tour, once a week or so, and Baz, Ayla and Isa joined in this week. I hope it continues - it will be so good for all of them. The other kids in the show tend to have parents who are world-class acrobats, so the parents are motivated to get their kids some skills! ...that's Isa in the back being flipped around by Cirque's Head Coach, who, incidentally, destroyed me in Ladies' Boot Camp class this morning. These extra adult classes are so far populated by admin. staff, tech staff, and front-of-house staff - the artists themselves are too exhausted from their own performance and training schedules. But we seem to have a lot of other people on tour who are interested in teaching, and taking, everything from Boot Camp to yoga and pilates and "body-balancing". It's a wonderful perk for me to be able to join in these free sessions, and a great way to get to know people.

It might help motivate us that the show is full of people who look like this.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bonne Fête Nationale!

Montreal this time of year is packed with festivals, and when there's not a festival, there's a holiday. We've been here 11 days, and almost every day the major streets are shut down for something or other.

Most enjoyable for us was the Quebec holiday on June 24th, when the Quebecois exuberantly celebrate their history. Sometimes called St.-Jean-le-Baptiste day, this Fete Nationale includes numerous rituals, including this one: le Défilé des Géants (Parade of Giants).

The Giants are, in fact, enormous figurines representing all of the major figures in Quebec's history. I know nothing about Quebec's history. But all of the streets are named after these people! Rene-Levesque, Jeanne Mance, de Bleury, etc. Maybe later, when my kids are being taught under the Canadian school system and learning Canadian history, I'll find out their stories.

It was a super-cool parade, in any case.

I tried to get the kids to smile while holding their Quebec flags - which, moments before, had them shrieking with delight - but by the time I pulled the camera out it had started to rain, and their flag-happiness was (literally) dampened.

One of the other nifty things in this parade, which I unfortunately failed to photograph, was a circus-on-a-tractor-trailer. This was set up like a float - a big cab towing a flatbed trailer behind it. On the back was built up two stories worth of scaffolding, with platforms scattered around, and in one section they had an aerialist spinning on a lyra, and another had mesh netting surrounding a trampoline, where two guys were flipping around, and jugglers and acrobats perched on the top, etc. It was wild! Imagine doing your aerial act on a moving truck?!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Life in the hotel

Inspired by my friend Rebecca's excellent blog, http://blunderingbesancon.blogspot.com, a brief portrait of the place we live in Montreal, the Hotel Trylon.


The kids' favorite item in the apartment, I think, is the glass table where we eat our meals. For some reason it is endlessly entertaining to be able to watch your own feet in action while dining.

The other thing they LOVE in the hotel is, predictably, the pool downstairs. It's a small pool, and none too warm, so Greg and I grit our teeth every time we bring the kids down for a swim. Baz especially is really getting the hang of swimming - and Ayla and Isa are progressing at normal pace. I do wish there was someone who could give them actual swimming lessons... but for now at least, Mom and Dad will have to suffice.

I brought a small stepstool from home so the kids can reach the sinks. But unfortunately the one I brought is too small for Isa. It's the little things you discover while traveling.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Back to the chapiteau

Today it was back to the Cirque tent for more adventures. First, Greg took us around the Artistic Tent a bit, showing the kids his puppet in the wardrobe area. In the photo, Greg is using the real puppet, while Baz has the prototype original that Greg used to work with.

Various acts were training on stage during the afternoon, so we got to sit in on a few rehearsals. All of the artists have different needs during their training times. The perch pole act is training a new porter for one of their big tricks. The unicycle girls seem to be just drilling and drilling. Greg is trying out new patterns with glowballs, and continually training Dmitry as his understudy.

Here's a photo I took of Dmitry working in the cone, with Greg and the kids perched nearby, watching. Dmitry is having very successful runs with the routine at this point. There are no immediate plans to have him fill in, but a costume is being made for him, so he will be ready if needed, probably in a couple of months.

After hanging around the tent for a while, I headed off to Body Balancing class. The front-of-house manager offered this free fitness class for anyone who wanted to take it. It was mostly administrative and front-of-house staff, and we had a great time, hopefully it will continue again next week.

Speaking of fitness, I took a yoga class this week at Ashtanga Yoga Montreal. It's been probably five years since my last yoga class, and whoa am I out of shape! (full disclosure - I was probably never really in good yoga shape). I thought I was going to die about 5 minutes into the class. So I'm proud of just surviving that one, and I am sore! ...of course I'll be going back next week.

Time with the kids

Monday was Greg's day off. We spent most of the day out with the kids - finally got the bikes all set up so that the 5 of us can bike-ride together. (Baz on his bike, Ayla on the Trail-A-Bike attached to mine, and Isa in a seat on the back of Greg's). We biked all around the waterfront area, eventually stopping to explore the clock tower and to go up its 192 steps.

On Tuesday, the kids and I visited the Grande Bibliotheque, and then spent the afternoon playing with Alisa. More accurately - Ayla played with Alisa, Isa drifted around doing her own thing, Baz generally made a nuisance of himself because the girls didn't want to play with him, and I practiced speaking Russian with Mila, Alisa's nanny. I can now get through: "Hello, my name is Shana. What's your name?" ...I tested this out on a couple of the Russian acrobats at Cirque recently. It went fine, but then clearly I have nothing else to say afterwards!!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sunday with Cirque

We began Sunday walking around the Old Port with our friends, Bill Forchion, Serenity Forchion Smith, and their three kids, Zeb, Quin, and Evalina, who were visiting Montreal for a couple of days. As Bill and Serenity were both on Saltimbanco, I was excited to be able to take them around the Totem tent, and to hear their stories of what's the same, and what has changed.

Baz and Zeb are the same age and get along marvelously. Both of them were singularly focused on checking out the "pirate" ship, here is Baz's pirate face.

Then it was lunch in the tent, and off to explore the Montreal Science Centre for the afternoon. It's located on the next pier, and it's a great place for the kids! We're probably going to get a membership, so that we can stop in there for short visits throughout the next few weeks.

Back at the Chapiteau - Sundays are Family Days. No other guests are allowed in the artistic tent, but it is the day when significant others and children populate the grounds of Totem. It begins at 10am with Ladies Boot Camp Workout, which is run by Darren, the Head Coach. I missed it this week but will try it out next week, I'm already nervous. After that is brunch, then the 1:00pm show, and then the 5:00pm show.

We came to sit backstage during the 5:00pm show. It was my first time being on the Tapis Rouge to watch a performance, and it was as much fun as I'd imagined. It's one area of the backstage tent (called the Artistic Tent) which has a big-screen monitor, rug, and couches all around. The kids were joined by other show children on the rug, which became a play zone. In the meantime, the Head Coach sat behind us watching the show in detail for critique, and artists popped in and out, relaxing on the couches before and after their acts. We were able to see familiar faces transformed under beautiful makeup, and the detail of their costumes, and all of the artists' various prep rituals and fist-bumps. And an extraordinary number of ultra-buff bodies working out in every spare moment.

The excitement that the kids and I feel at all of this, however, is already old news for the rest of the cast. We are coming into this two months after the show opened, (not to mention the long creation period) so their daily routines are set by this time. Nevertheless, everyone was extremely welcoming and happy to talk to us. Is it my imagination, or do I sense some relief among them, that Greg has his family here to soften his edges, and give him something else to focus on? Among an extremely high-standard environment of artists, Greg is still intense.

The end of the show is the most fun part. The other little girls on the rug (who up to this point haven't paid a moment's notice to the performance on-screen) jump up and join in the finale dance number. This is the Bollywood-style close of Totem, which is terrifically fun. I'm sure Baz, Ayla and Isa will be joining in soon enough. Then, all the backstage techs and the children make a high-five line, and as the artists stream offstage they slap everyone's hands with cheers and congratulations. They had to reach down really low to get Isa's hand. :)

After the performance on Sunday, the show grounds empty quickly. It's the end of their 10-show week, and the artists especially are exhausted, ready for their day off.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tourism - attempted

On Saturday we tried to go to the Biodome.

The kids and I figured out the Metro system, made our way there, and discovered a sign posted on the door:

"The Biodôme and the Insectarium are closed indefinitely because of a labour dispute involving the city of Montréal. We apologize for any inconvenience this situation may cause you."

Just after reading these words, the skies opened up in a downpour of rain. We huddled under a concrete ledge, trying to figure out what to do next.

Ducked into a nearby building, the Centre Sportif. Thank goodness for a dry space with vending machines and restrooms. Even better - fun stuff to look at! It turns out that this is the site of the 1976 Summer Olympic Games, and here we could check out the series of 6 pools being used for diving practice, water polo, etc. It provided a nice distraction while we ate our snacks.

Eventually we had to head back out in the rain, running back to the Metro stop. I have to say, the kids over the last two months have really learned how to sprint to buses and trains - usually because Mommy is running ridiculously late. This time, however, we still ended up soaked.

Greg's sister Becky and her family were in town for the weekend, so our next stop was the Westin Hotel, which has a super-cool swimming pool configuration (3 pools of different temperatures - cold, medium, and hot!) The kids had a great time playing with their cousins Ella and Axel.

Greg met us in the city after his 5pm show. They have shows at 1pm and 5pm on both Saturdays and Sundays for the next few weeks - I guess there are fireworks somewhere in Montreal on Saturday nights? Will have to look into that next week.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

First days out in Montreal

On Thursday, it was time for us to finally go to see Totem. Greg had to be there at noon, so we all took a taxi around 11:30am. On site, Greg was able to show us around, introduce us to lots of people, and settle us in for lunch in the cafeteria.

Everyone was really warm and welcoming to us, excited to meet me and the children. We met security staff, Tour Services people, backstage technicians, and many of the artists: Nakotah, Ante, Pippo, Alya, Louis-David, Denise, Massimo, Slava, Umi, etc... many of them were already in makeup, so I hope I will recognize them later on.

Then we got out of the way so Greg could have his training and pre-show prep time. We went exploring around the old port area, there are endless things to see & do. We played in a fountain, climbed on public art, and watched street performers.

We had been put on the list for "last-minute tickets" for the 4:00pm show. Technically they won't give these out till 5 mins. after the show starts, and nothing is guaranteed. But the Thursday 4pm show had plenty of seats available, so they gave us the voucher at 3:45 and we went in. Exciting to be there early, as the kids could absorb the atmosphere in the tent, and see Daddy's pre-show "animation", when he walks around with the lizard puppet. He came right up to the kids and let the puppet nibble at them, producing squeals of excitement.

The kids loved the show, although they did begin to burn out towards the end of the 2.5 hours. Baz said his favorite was Daddy's act, Ayla said "the rollerskaters and the dancing". Later she said "I don't think Daddy is a big fan of dancing!" although we all agreed he did an excellent job of it, regardless.

Afterwards we went for dinner in the cafeteria. The World Cup is on, so someone has brought in a big-screen TV, and everyone sits around rooting for their favorite countries. Dinner that night was Japanese-themed, lots of sushi etc., not easy for the kids - they ate rice and bread. There is always bread, peanut butter and jelly, cheese, and plenty of milk and juice available, so I'm sure they won't starve. I pay for my meals, but it's not expensive - a full plate of cooked food cost me $5.

Getting home was long and challenging, since we took the bus - lots of walking on either end, and traffic, and trying to figure out the payment system, etc. - we weren't home till 8:45pm, and with baths and bedtime stories, kids weren't in bed till 9:45pm. We were all exhausted. ...the bus route home went through one of the seedier areas of central Montreal, so I got to field questions from Ayla like, "why is everyone smoking cigarettes here?" "why does that woman have pink hair?" "why does that woman on the sign have no clothes on?" Ah, city life.

Friday was our day to meet our downstairs neighbor, Alisa. She is the 5-year-old daughter of Alya, the rings acrobat in Totem. During the day Alisa is with her Russian nanny, who speaks no English, but does speak French. So I spent the day speaking French with a Russian, challenging for both of us! We visited their apartment first and played some Russian games, then went out to the park for a while, and then came back to our apartment for more playtime and dinner. At the park the kids found a pet bunny rabbit, whose owner had brought him out to run around.

Alisa is a lovely little girl - totally athletic like her circus-performing parents, but loves dolls and jewelry and dresses just as much as Ayla. I think they could be great friends - but we will see if Alisa stays on the tour, there is some uncertainty about that because her father and grandparents are in other countries, and she travels around. She speaks fluent Russian, German and English.

I was so tired at the end of the day Friday that I tucked Baz in at 9:15pm, lay down on our bedspread fully clothed, and fell sound asleep.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


On Tuesday, June 15, we ran around in a frenzy from 6am-noon, then finally got out the door. The minivan was jam-packed for the trip to Montreal. I ended up bringing way more stuff than I intended. Mostly because, in the last-minute rush, I didn’t want to throw things out, and it made more sense to pack bags full of extra paper towels, ziploc bags, drawing paper, and foodstuffs, all of which we had in plenty. So my four original suitcases were complemented by about a dozen smaller bags, coolers, and when we ran out of containers, garbage bags full of stuff.

The trip was going fine until midway through, when Isa had a total blowout diaper situation (she’s been back in pullups since having some tummy trouble this past week). I’m talking about wreckage of clothing, car seat, and everything else within reach. It took a very long time to clean up. I thought we were done with this stuff, now that I have no more babies! But cleaning up toileting accidents seems to be my fate in life.

We arrived late, around 10pm, at our hotel. Sorted out half-asleep children in new beds, got car unloaded, and crashed around midnight.

Before I went to sleep, I lay awake for awhile feeling something new and unmistakeable: fear. Like a child moving to a new school, or an adult starting a new job (I imagine), I had this terrible worry – it’s real now. I’ve put aside my familiar life, closed up everything in order to begin a fresh chapter here – what’s going to happen now?


Wednesday, June 16, our first day here, was a much-needed low-key day. I got out for a short run - hopefully this will become a more frequent occurrence! - and grocery shopping. The prices of food here are still horrifying to me, I'm going to have to be a lot more discriminating at the store.

Greg had to leave at 2pm, and I had the rest of the day here with the kids. We tried to go for a walk, but it started to rain. We tried to go explore the hotel, but Isa had an accident, and I had to rush her, dripping, back to our room. So eventually we just hung out. We unpacked, read books, played cards, and generally got to know our new space.

The kids are so inventive. Without any guidance from me, they continually come up with new games, which I love to see. The big one on Wednesday was Restaurant, where one person is the waiter, one is the cook, and the third is a customer. They can use the whole apartment for this, with the cook way back in a distant kitchen... Baz put signs on our outside doors to notify anyone coming in about the new restaurant. And Ayla, as waitress, will very solemnly tell her customer, "I'm sorry. Your food is going to take a long time. The cook is on the potty."

And then we started a new document. (which will be continually added to.) Printed it out and posted it.

Rules at the Hotel Trylon

1. No screaming, or yelling “help!” unless you’re really in trouble.
2. No playing with lamps.
3. No going out onto the balcony without a grownup.
4. On balcony, chairs are only for sitting on – not climbing on.
5. Mealtimes – sit down. Don’t get up until you’re finished.
6. Clean up all toys at the end of the day.

You'll be happy to know that the Kennedy children infamous Dance Parties live on in Montreal...


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Goodbye Philadelphia

Our last weekend in Philadelphia was a whirlwind. Friday was Baz's last day of school in Ms. Mullins's first grade class.

Saturday was the yard sale. Here's a picture of the living room as we were preparing for the yard sale!

My Mom and Cindy were there to help - Mom came Thursday night, and Cindy came for a sleepover on Friday! It felt like it should have been more of a party, but instead we were up till midnight schlepping, labeling, and sorting - then up again around 6:30am for more of the same. It was an exhausting day, emptying out the contents of the house, negotiating sales prices with buyers, and trying to avoid sunburn, unsuccessfully. My arm muscles served me well, hauling couches and bed frames around all day. At the end of the afternoon, I went up to Baz's room just to "organize things a little" and fell into a deep sleep on the floor in a pile of Legos.

Sunday was a recovery day, and then on Monday Greg was home for the final rush. He focused on big house projects - fixing the fence and the porch, clearing out the basement, getting a new dehumidifier - and I was mostly running around, doing last errands and goodbyes. Then, in the evening, there was a party at the circus school!

It was a lovely event, kind of a send-off for me and Greg, and a celebration of the two-year anniversary of the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts. There was food, drink, and lots of awesome ambient entertainers!!

Best of all, the room was filled with people I love, friends new and old. And just to look around and see So Many People who I've reached in some way with circus arts, amazing!

When I trained at Circomedia, back in 1995-1996, it transformed my life. It gave me a sense of confidence, passion for life, and focused energy that I had never had before. I still feel all of those things, fifteen years later. Nothing could be more fulfilling than to give other people that same opportunity.

And here is a fun photo to end this post with - me, with Robin and Kitsie, the two utterly amazing individuals who are keeping this grand dream going. They presented me with two gifts - from the students, a Kindle!! OMG! and from the staff, gift cards for a Running Watch!! which I've been drooling and daydreaming over for most of the last year. I can't wait to get it and put it to use.

Thank you, everyone, for all of the help, and all of the love, sending us off on our circus journey.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Anxiety building

As the days tick by (and my house remains a chaotic, unpacked mess), I'm feeling more and more anxious. Must sort through food in cabinets. Complete final projects at work. Advertise the yard sale. Cancel gym membership. Return library books. etc. etc. it is a long list, and I often seem to be a nervous wreck and can't face any of it.

Sometimes in the evening I watch Cirque videos, which are comforting and inspiring - reminding me why I'm doing this. My latest favorite:

Here in Philadelphia, the last few days, I've also had a lot of nice times with friends. Last playdates, last lunches together.

One friend and colleague, Christy Gorigoitia, has started her own blog:

Aerial Mind

It's a beautiful way that she thinks about aerial work, and her site has a lot to offer. Her latest entry is so touching!

As a final thought tonight... here's what summer evenings are about. Kids with popsicles on the back porch, counting fireflies.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Goodbye Big Backyard

It's beginning - the season of graduations, goodbyes, endings. Thank-you notes, gifts, letters, cards, hugs, and of course, tears.

Today was Ayla's last day as a preschooler. I surprised myself by getting all choked up when it was time to go - an ending to this chapter, and to this beautiful community that has taken care of my family for the last four years. I can't believe how fortunate we've been.

The Big Backyard is a co-operative preschool in Mt. Airy. Co-operative means that the parents share the work of running the school - we act as classroom assistants, snack-providers, cleaners, bookkeepers, etc. It creates an environment where the parents really get to know one another, and we share, with the teachers, the care of our children.

One of my favorite recent rituals at BBY: at the end-of-year picnic, the teachers give every child an award. Here's the presentation for Ayla's:


It's the "Best Fairy-House Maker, Helper to All, Smarty Girl Award".

And here are a couple of photos of her with BBY friends... (showing off their awards of course)

We're going to miss this place.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Michael Jackson Show

I have to hand it to Ms. Paulino, the Henry School music teacher. She put together an entire show of Michael Jackson dances - every class had a song they danced to, from the Kindergarten's "Bad" to the 8th Grade's re-enactment of the "Thriller" video.

The show was really very entertaining, and it was inspiring to see how much this music unified the kids - and the entire school community. For Michael Jackson show day, the whole school was dressed in signature colors (black, white, red) plenty of hats, gloves, sequins, socks and shoes to match.

The show opened with the 2nd graders singing and dancing their hearts out to "Black and White". Was I the only one who teared up?

Baz, like many of the kids in his class, took his performance quite seriously, and spent many afternoons practicing in the living room. (sisters make good audience members.)


And below is the video of performance day! Baz is on the left at the beginning, and then he's pretty hard to see once the other class steps in. But then the other class goes away again, and you'll see him for the second half. He's right near the star, his buddy Chase, who is uncannily awesome at being Michael. These kids are 7 years old!