Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Huron-Wendat Nation

This has been our week to learn about the Native American reservation here in Quebec, Wendake. We were able to visit the traditional village and learn a little of the history of the Huron-Wendat people, and even attend a Pow-Wow, which brings together a large community for ceremonial dances, songs, and crafts.

As it happens, there is a member of the Huron-Wendat Nation in the cast of Totem. Christian Laveau is one of the singers in the show, and he consulted with Robert Lepage as Totem was being created, to keep its imagery of Native American culture as accurate and respectful as possible. As the dances, music, and clothing of the people represent their spirituality, great care has been taken to make sure they're not caricatured. You can read an interview with Christian, and our other Native American performer, Nakotah, here.

The children and I loved everything that we learned about this week, and it seemed fitting that the Play Area recently constructed at the Totem site should contain a teepee. Here are Baz, Ayla and Isa with their friend Gypsy.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

More adventuring around Quebec

My parents, the kids and I have been soaking up the sights and scenes of Quebec City this week. Yesterday we went to Chute Montmorency, and climbed up this staircase (487 steps) !

I'm starting to feel like I can't climb another stair... between the 4 levels of the house, and the 394-step staircase behind our house leading to the upper town, my legs are complaining loudly.

Here's the sign of the day... it translates to "the gourmet corner". :)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A few good days

My mood has perked up considerably in the last few days.

Sunday - morning Boot Camp, then Mom & Dad arrived, Baz befriended Igor on the playground, and we went to watch Totem from backstage.

Monday - ran 7 miles, Mom took me grocery shopping, in the afternoon a bunch of Cirque people came over for the afternoon to play soccer, go to the pool, and barbeque in our backyard. In the evening Greg and I finally got out for dinner on our own, Indian!

Today - yoga class ($5, at the Hilton with Cirque employees), and exploring the Citadelle with the whole family. Here we are listening to a tour guide, and a view of Quebec from the top of the Citadelle.

In amidst all of this, I made some good connections with some of the other wives on tour. Several are helping me learn Russian. One is training aerials and invited me to practice with her. And with another, I've set up an exchange - she's going to teach me private Pilates lessons and I'll teach her aerials. We OK'd this with the Head Coach, so now I just have to find time to go down to the tent and hang up a rope.

Happy times!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Passing the time

I took the kids to the Musee de la Civilisation yesterday which was fun. We spent most of our time in the exhibits on African Music, Forestry, and Ancient Egypt. Never quite made it to the Quebec History area. One of the things I liked about this museum was that in many sections, they had costumes for the kids to wear. So you can see Ayla and Isa here in their Egyptian costumes as they check out a sarcophagus.

I must admit though, that our Quebec City life is starting to wear on me. Despite having a big beautiful house, I'm finding the days here harder, and lonelier, than Montreal. The main reason is that we are so far away from everyone else. In Montreal I was always bumping into friendly faces in the hotel lobby, at the on-site cafeteria. Here, for two weeks I've had no other adult company, it's just me and the kids all day, every day. It's also a drag having to take the bus to the grocery store, and having no access to gyms or yoga classes. I've been running, but again, it's always alone.

We have no babysitters here. I have been trying to figure out who to ask, but no solutions yet. So for nearly 6 weeks Greg and I haven't been able to do anything without the kids. I know there are couples who always function like this - I have friends with grown children who never had babysitters raising them - but Greg and I have always relied on our occasional evenings out to keep us sane, and not having them now is hard for us both.

I know this won't last forever. My parents are coming to visit next week which will be great. And the kids' school starts in just two more weeks (August 7) - a different schedule, and less time trying to entertain Baz and Ayla, and more chances to be at the Cirque site bringing them to and from school every day.

In the meantime I am pining away for an adult exercise class, or a playdate, or dinner and a movie.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Premiering in Quebec

Apparently, in every city we go to, there will be a dress rehearsal, and a premiere. Last night (Wednesday the 21st) was the dress rehearsal for Quebec City, and Greg was able to get 4 tickets for us. It was an 8pm show - way later than I like to keep my kids out at night - but a nice opportunity to have real tickets, and see the show all the way through, instead of rushing in late with the last-minute tickets that we sometimes got in Montreal.

The dress rehearsal - sometimes called an "avant-premiere" - was played to a pretty full house. I guess everyone has a lot of friends in Quebec City that they give these tickets to. And everything about it was run like the actual show - announcements, intermission, concession sales.

It was especially nice for me to see some of the other wives and kids in attendance. Living so far away from the chapiteau here in Quebec, it's hard not to feel disconnected from the action. I'm inviting all of the families to come out to our house for a playdate next week, I hope many of them will be able to come.

The show itself was exciting, as always. Some small changes have been made since the last time we saw it - the Perch Pole costumes, for example, and some of the choreography of the Rings Trio, and the "Entreacte" sign at Intermission. Overall the artists did a great job, it looks like they are well-rested from the break. Supposedly the creation team is coming back in August to continue the show's development.

The show schedule so far is not quite as exhausting as Montreal - 8 shows per week instead of 10. But it's unclear still whether any of the "options" will be called in - these are a few shows listed as "possible" on the schedule, which would fill in the weeks a bit more. So far Totem seems quite popular in Quebec City ... everywhere you go (taxis, shops, restaurants) - people are talking about it. It has the national-pride factor of Cirque du Soleil, plus the hometown-pride factor of Robert Lepage, the director, who lives here.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The great outdoors

It's the weekend, and we decided to rent a car and get out of the city for a couple of days. Saturday we spent the day hiking around these waterfalls, the Sept Chutes ("Seven Falls"), and learning about the hydroelectric power plant that runs here. The site is less than an hour from Quebec City, and includes a mini water-park / playground area. How the kids found the energy for a playground after three hours of hiking is a mystery to me. They slept well that night.

Here's a photo of them checking out some bugs. (Daddy's territory, not mine.)

Then today, Sunday, we went biking in the Jacques Cartier National Park. There is an amazing network of bike trails around here - some paved, some packed-dirt, all really well-maintained. I've heard that there are bike trails like these that cross the full length of Canada. We're really enjoying these family outings, and Baz is getting better and better on his bike. We agree though, that next spring when we come back to the U.S., it's time to invest in a proper car bike rack, and two quality new bicycles for Baz and Ayla. They're riding craigslist-salvage stuff right now.

Here's my favorite pic from today.... a sweet little moment when we came across a fisherman, and the kids got to watch real fishing in action. He even caught a fish while we were watching!

Sign of the day - this one's from the waterfall park, just to make us parents feel good about bringing kids to the scenic overlooks...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Quebec City!

We are here in Quebec City staying in an amazing house! Here's the video I made to show off the place....


We arrived here on Monday, and Greg has a whole week off from work. Mostly it's been lazy time... we've been catching up on rest, exercise, hanging around the house with the kids, eating meals at home. We've been out for lots of walks, a few bike rides, and we've been to the pool across the street a couple of times. We've figured out the local bus routes, and found the library and the Cirque tent.

For the most part, this is a really wonderful place to be. The city of Quebec is, as everyone has told us, utterly charming. We are living about 1 mile outside of Vieux Quebec (and about 2 miles away from the Cirque tent). The house is an oasis, with so much space, and access to the outdoors, the kids and Greg are especially enjoying being able to stretch out. Me? I wish there were some kind of shops nearby that I could walk to. Even for milk and bread, I need to take a bus.

One night, feeling adventurous, we walked into Vieux Quebec to see the free, outdoor Cirque du Soleil show that runs here every night during the summertime. We don't know the whole story of this show, but it's called Les Chemins Invisibles, and it's somehow under CdS's auspices and also includes students from the Ecole Nationale de Cirque de Quebec.

Hundreds and hundreds of people line up to get into this event every night. It doesn't start till 9:30pm. And when you get in, you're in a gravel, outdoor basin, with stages and lighting set up around the perimeter. The rigging is hung off an overhead bridge.

I wasn't prepared for the challenge of having three little children, out late and night and scared and exhausted, clinging to me for a standing-only performance. They couldn't see, so we were constantly picking them up, and Isa was so confused and tired we had to hold her the entire time.

But we did get to see most of the performance, and it really is an interesting phenomenon. They've done their best to really use the outdoor space, and the moveable audience - performers appearing all over the place, coming through the center of the crowd, flying overhead on wires. And there are some real talents in the show. Lights and sound and music are all high-quality. But there were also some less-polished elements.

We've been doing a lot of just walking around the city. The kids are getting stronger all the time, I think we walked with them for about 3 hours today, up and down hills and staircases. Here they are on the Plains of Abraham, with a view of the St. Lawrence River behind them.

I've decided to start taking photos of particularly cool/interesting/funny signs that I discover in my travels. Here are the first two:

If you don't read French: the first one translates to, "you are going to ask the children, what are kites for" and the second one says "for cats only".

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Circus festival in Montreal

We are officially in the middle now of Montreal's circus festival, Montreal Completement Cirque!

Totem is in town only for the first few days of this festival, and as we ship out, many other wonderful shows are just arriving. But fortunately Cirque Eloize was not afraid to compete for audience with Cirque du Soleil, and they set up their tent right next to ours on the waterfront.
The kids and I went to see the show this afternoon.

Cirque Eloize is a company I love dearly; they were one of my first exposures to New Circus in the mid-90s, and the productions I've seen in recent years have blown me away. So I was thrilled to have the chance to see their brand-new show, iD.

My review of iD was facing some obstacles right from the start. I've spent the last 4 weeks in the ultra-production of Cirque du Soleil, where everything is gleaming and high-tech; Eloize looked like a garage show in comparison. The tent was hot - I'm sure their budget for air-conditioning is not as high as CdS. And I was immediately put off by the chosen theme for this show, which is mostly about urban machismo. The show is full of grungy street-style costumes, breakdancing, and simulated gang interactions, all taken quite seriously. It made everything in the show look rough-edged, loose, sloppy. It took some effort to look through all the posturing about and see the terrific talents in the cast.

Some artists in the show clearly showed great physical technique, but lacked compelling stage presence / performance energy, such as the handbalancers and the Roue Cyr artist. On the other hand, the guy who did the excellent Chinese pole act shone throughout the show, he looked like he was really in his element.

I made a note to myself at the end of the first act (which was, by the way, only 37 minutes long - ?!) "Do jumpropes, rollerblades, BMX bike tricks and breakdancing make a circus?" because really, that was all that was in the first act, with the addition of one (decent) aerial hoop piece.

The breakdancing elements particularly got to me. They seemed really implausible - you'd have all of these street-tough characters strutting around the stage and suddenly everyone would jump into a synchronized dance. And, of course, synchronized anything just asks for trouble - every tiny difference in their movements was noticeable. We definitely weren't seeing Rhythm Nation going on here.

The second act was better. There was a stacking-chairs act which was really thoughtfully designed and choreographed. An audience-volunteer bit with the BMX bike guy was good fun. The contortion piece, where the artist portrayed a beautiful bug-like creature, was lovely. And although I wasn't impressed with the Roue Cyr act, the transition from that act into the aerial fabric piece was great. The fabric piece (where she interacts with a rollerblader on the ground) was nothing to get too excited about, though she was clean and elegant. And I was just about ready to brush this off as an "oh well" show when the TRAMPOLINE ACT started, and pretty much redeemed the whole show!

The stage set was a cityscape, designed with blocks of building outlines cropping up in tiers along the back. They were moveable blocks, so throughout the show you'd see them changing orientation - and they used a video projector to display images on them, which was nice. But the trampoline embedded in the set was a well-kept secret until a spotlight showed a man at the highest point of one of the buildings, suddenly leap off as though to his death - and then spring right back up again to his platform.

It was magic from that point onwards, as everyone joined in the game, falling, bouncing, ricocheting off surfaces, flipping through the air, and jumping through windows, all to a great upbeat piece of music. The video projections added another element - constantly changing, obscuring the window openings and then showing them again, tricking the eye and keeping the piece continually dynamic and exciting. It was utterly marvelous, and I was happy to have paid my ticket price just for this one piece.

I found out later that there was supposed to be a very interesting juggling act in the show - it didn't happen. And in the preview you see aerial straps, which also didn't happen. So I'm not sure what the full story was. In any case, Cirque Eloize is just debuting this show, and if it's anything like Totem, it will still have a lot of tweaking ahead of it. With luck they will be able to bring the whole show to the level of artistry and excitement in that final act.

One last item to post for my blog in Montreal: I discovered today that Jeanne Mance park, and the Mont Royal park across the street, turn into big outdoor parties on Sunday afternoons. People pack the grounds, playing music, throwing Frisbees, and showing off a wild assortment of circus skills. I saw juggling club-passers, poi-spinners, and groups such as this one. I couldn't watch these people for long - the branch in which this girl hung her fabric was woefully thin, and the various people playing on the silks throughout the afternoon seemed to get less and less skilled. I couldn't help thinking that in the States, this would NEVER work. What big-city park would just look the other way? I'm not going to say that we never rigged in trees - in our younger, more-reckless days we certainly did - but in our own backyard, not on the equivalent of the Mall in Washington DC. Holy schmoly.

We left the park this evening with hugs goodbye for Alisa & Mila, who leave tomorrow on flights to Europe. We'll miss them in Quebec!

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I promised the children they could each pick out one souvenir to buy in Montreal.

That's right, two pink teddy bears and a little gold Buddha. Can you guess whose is whose? ...what can I say, my kids are weird. If any of these items says "special Montreal memory" to you, let me know. But this shopping experience took over two hours of schlepping them around little tourist trap gift shops, being glared at by shopkeepers over "Do Not Touch!" signs. I was just relieved that they finally made their choices.

Our days here are still very full. We had one last trip to the Montreal Science Center. We've played at the playground, watched a couple of movies on iTunes, and the kids have come up with still-more hotel games. This weekend's top picks have been Making-Forts-Out-Of-Blankets and Circus/Puppet-Show. Circus/Puppet-Show, however, came to an untimely end when their "backstage" closet closed on someone's face. New rule to add to our list: No playing in closets. (also: No locking your sister or brother in a closet, at any time. I'm not kidding about that one.)

One more image to add to today's blog is this photo of the Luggage Truck. This morning, this giant tractor-trailer pulled up in front of our hotel, to take everyone's luggage to Quebec City. We joined in with 8 suitcases. This does not include the various overnight bags, backpacks of toys and books, and bikes, that we still have with us, which we'll transport with our rental car on Monday.

Everyone is excited to be moving on to Quebec City. There are two final shows tomorrow and then a short parade around the Old Port area, before packing up the tent and saying goodbye to Montreal.

It's been a tough week for the technicians on site. First they've had to deal with the massive heat wave - using every resource at their disposal to keep the tents cool, and even then the artists were struggling in the heat and humidity. And now it's break down time - the site has turned into a mega-construction zone, with forklifts and cases stacked everywhere. Families are not permitted on site during this final weekend, as they can't have any more people underfoot than necessary. They'll have 9 days to break everything down, move it up to Quebec City and then set it all back up again, before the shows begin there.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

100 shows

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Last week in Montreal

It's our last week here. Most of the Cirque folks seem thrilled to be moving on ... they've been in Montreal forever, it seems. But I've only been here three weeks and I'm not sick of it yet! Oh well.

To begin the week Greg had two full days off, awesome. Monday and Tuesday we caught up on a lot of stuff with house and kids, and also had time for some adventures.

Ever wonder what the "Muscle Beach" Rings Trio act performers do on their day off? Go to the beach! Along with Alya, Massimo, Denise and Gael, we took the metro and bus to l'Ile Notre Dame, where there was a fine sandy beach, with lifeguards, snack shops and a playground. It made for a great afternoon out, although it was very crowded for a Monday. I really enjoyed the chance to hang out with the other artists away from the Cirque tent; we were able to talk more easily, far from makeup and costumes and performance stress. And the kids, of course, had the time of their lives - including our three, plus Gypsy and Alisa.

On Tuesday we went for a bike ride, and actually biked through the city back to our hotel. This is a first - up till now we've played it very safe riding in wide open pedestrian areas. This time, we were able to use the designated bike lanes (separated by curbs from the main roads) that cross the city. We're not quite ready to let Baz out in open traffic yet.

This would be a good time to mention some of the cool things I've noticed in Montreal (different from the USA) in the 3 weeks we've been here.

- ladies wearing high heels, bicycling to work
- no one walking around on the street talking on a cell phone
- clean public restrooms
- yellow ambulances (Ayla claims she's seen these in Philadelphia)
- neato playgrounds - old-school crazy climbing structures, not the safe-and-sanitized new ones we have in the U.S. (here's Baz, terrified)

I've also gotten a handle on the bilingual life here. It's a constant odd challenge every time you go to speak to a new person here - should you speak in French or English? I get the sense that everyone else is similarly confused. Some general rules of thumb - true only for central Montreal:

- all signage and public announcements will as a default be in French, and they use the metric system.
- anyone who is in any kind of customer-service position, in any job, from grocery store clerk to computer technician, will be fluent in English as well.
- if you speak to them confidently in French, they will answer in French. But any hesitation or confusion, and they will switch immediately to English.
- Anyone who clearly speaks only English will be met with perfect English in return.
- Every once in a while I do find someone who clearly prefers to speak French. Some examples would be the plumber who came to work in our apartment; occasional cab drivers; some older people I meet in elevators or at bus stops.

I've heard that this changes the further you go outside the city, and that it's much more French-only in Quebec City. This is fine with me; I've been thoroughly enjoying the language and I'm still learning a lot of nuances.

Our schedule is as follows: We have to have all of our bags packed on Friday, to deliver to the luggage van early Saturday morning. We'll keep overnight bags for the weekend - we leave on Monday morning. We could have gotten spots on the coach traveling there for $25 each, but decided it wasn't much more expensive to rent a car one-way, and then we can take our time.

The next few days will be a jumble of last-minutes - visits to the library, science museum, old port area, trying to fit in a few last bits of sightseeing!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Visiting America

This past week, the kids and I took a short trip down to Plattsburgh, NY, to visit my relatives and to see Circus Smirkus.

What a great show! I was especially excited because a PSCA student, Aaron Berman, was in the show this year. (and he did a fantastic job!)
...I worked as a summer camp counselor for Circus Smirkus when I graduated from highschool in 1994. But I had never had the opportunity to see the big top show! So it was about time.

We had a wonderful trip, overall. We stayed with my Uncle Bob and Aunt Marilyn, who took great care of us. We got to visit my grandmother, who has had to settle into a nursing home over the past year. She was in good spirits, and it's good for my spirit to see her - it brings me back to so many memories of childhood.

I forgot to take my camera out during the Smirkus and Grandma portions of the trip, but I couldn't miss capturing Baz and Ayla's discovery of hunting. My Uncle Bob is an avid hunter, and took great care in showing them his collection of rifles and other hunting gear. Here they are checking out an elaborately decorated compound bow.

Note Baz's bright-orange hunting cap. He is now well-versed in the various reasons to wear bright orange, vs. camouflage, when out in the wilderness.

Uncle Bob and Aunt Marilyn were even kind enough to bring us back to Montreal on Saturday, and we were able to take them backstage at the Totem show. It was a fun ending to our visit with them, and we sent them home to celebrate July 4th and Uncle Bob's birthday in their beloved rural environment! Meanwhile, the kids and I rejoined the crazy-quilt cityscape of Cirque du Soleil.