Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve in London...

for Greg and me, it's our 17th together, and our 17th different city.

Memories of this one...
Marvelous Indian dinner. Always our favorite thing to do.
The police. I'll never forget the hundreds of transit police and event security staff that patrolled the streets of London tonight. All in fluorescent coats and helmets, barking instructions and preparing for any hell that might break loose. At one point we were stuck behind a barricade of them, as they blocked the entrance to the Underground station.
Fireworks. Seen in glimpses, behind buildings, as we walked, made me think eerily of a city being bombed. Flashes of light, loud explosions, people running through the streets. It was a little frightening.
Drunken lewd behavior. I'll leave that one to your imaginations.
They said there were 250,000 people watching the fireworks in central London tonight. I can only imagine how many were blocked out, as they closed the viewing areas early. I wish my view had been as good as this one! But I'll post the photo anyway, to celebrate.



And in the end, a new year begins... happy 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A smattering of London, part 2

I've been having trouble posting videos on this blog the last couple of weeks. I've contacted support, so hopefully it will be resolved soon. In the meantime, if you missed the last video I made in Amsterdam, it's on my Facebook page.

Yesterday I took the kids to the Tower of London. Known as a tourist trap, but still awesome, it lived up to its reputation. The kids and I were thoroughly entertained, exploring for over four hours, despite the crowds. Along the way I got to teach them about the English royalty and line to the crown, and of course about beheadings. Some unexpected lessons included seeing the Crown Jewels, the Ravens and the vast collections of royal armor in the White Tower. And you've got to love a place that gives small children a chance to hold a crossbow.



Today, December 30, they are back at school. They have school today, and on Dec. 31 and January 1. It felt so strange dropping them off at the elegant, imposing Royal Albert Hall, unable to even peek inside. For the duration of our time in London, Isa and I will not be able to go into RAH, except on Premiere Night to see the show. It is an odd disconnect for us, to not be able to have lunch in the artists' cafeteria, to watch the show from backstage. But the RAH is not Cirque's venue, and only employees and schoolkids are allowed inside - no exceptions.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A smattering of London, part 1

A quick rundown of our first few days here.

British traditions: opening Christmas crackers, watching the Queen's speech on the telly, going into red phone booths a la Doctor Who.





Hyde Park, across the street from our apartment - despite some lingering snow and ice, a good place for geese, and running races. (Baz can actually give me a run for my money now. at least, for very short runs.)

And at the far end of the park, gigantic Winter Wonderland amusement park. Here we are, our first time riding a Ferris wheel in December.




Found out that kids ride free on the London Underground. Woo-hoo!



The kids were able to patiently schlep through the crowded halls of the British Museum, admiring antiquities, for 2 hours, but were thrilled and relieved at the end to discover the quiet museum library, where they could settle into books and games.

We really enjoyed Christmas Dinner at the Hoop & Toy Pub. Cirque du Soleil rented it out, with a wonderfully catered meal, and we packed the place, artists, families, technicians, tour support staff. It was so warm, and enjoyable, to be surrounded by so many friends on Christmas night.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

We're in London!!

I am totally wired and unable to get to sleep.

We're in London!!
And tomorrow is Christmas Eve!!
And our new apartment is FANTASTIC!!
I think I would like to live here forever.

If all that isn't amazing enough - when we arrived at our new place, all of our luggage was safely here, packages from family had arrived, and a Christmas elf had dropped off a TREE for us! Our dear friend Sam, who Greg and I have known for more than 15 years, lives here in London, and brought us this most perfect present. We decorated it with a few small things that we picked up or made in Amsterdam, and voila - we are ready for Santa Claus.

Tomorrow I get to hit the stores early for some last-minute gifts, and I'm just so full of excitement and Christmas warmth, I can hardly stand it. My life is a perfect dream. Love, peace, and happy holidays everyone...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This week

Fitting in the last of our Dutch adventures - I brought Ayla to the rink at Rembrandtplein, so she could try ice-skating for the first time. It was a great and rare thing, to have a little time with just me and my girl.

And, since you've been asking, the packing is DONE, and sent off to London. I can't say it was done well. Lots of last-minute changes, suitcases packed overly tight or overly loose, and generally just too much stuff. But I'm hoping our skills in this area continue to improve over time.

Now the big question - will we make it to London?? This week apparently a little bit of snow fell in London, causing city-wide panic, and all airline traffic came to a grinding halt. Fingers crossed that they pull it together over there. We're going to have a hard enough time keeping the kids entertained for 48 hours without all of their toys and books. (...OK, and the other reason is that I have to get to London to finish my shopping on Christmas Eve...)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pre-Christmas in Amsterdam

OK, Amsterdammers. It was amusing, at first, to observe how you don't shovel sidewalks here. But several weeks into winter weather, it's lost its charm. Although I appreciate how kind and courteous you are helping people who slip and fall on the ice, is this really necessary? And your determination to keep riding your bikes through it all just adds to the absurdity. The bike wipeouts are really something to see. Trust me, folks, I'm from New England - a shovel and some rock salt goes a long way.

I just noticed, today, the sign at the grocery store that announces:
No Purchasing Alcohol If You Are Under 16.

The Kinderkookkafe, in a hard-to-find corner of Vondelpark, is not as great as it sounded. It's advertised as a place where little ones can cook for themselves! On our trip with Isa and Kiana, they had the distinctive culinary experience of putting decorations on a cupcake.

Tonight's treat was the Christmas party after the last show. A "special guest" was promised, which we figured could only mean Santa Claus or Guy LaLiberte. :) We were right on the first count. Head Usher Philippe did a marvelous job as the man in the red suit, ho-ho-hoing and posing for pictures and giving out presents to the kids. The best part was at the end, when a group of acrobats picked up Santa Claus and tossed him up in the air a few times.

This week, the
Totem show had its last 10-show week in Amsterdam. There are only two shows remaining in this city, on Tuesday and Wednesday. The houses have been packed, as everyone scrambles to get tickets before the show leaves town.

In the meantime, we are immersed in the preparations for Luggage Day on Tuesday. Doing laundry, economizing food and metro passes, counting our last euros, and trying to organize 11 suitcases. And then on Thursday, we're off to London!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

6 months

It is 6 months, today, since I left Philadelphia to join the Totem tour. Time to step back and reflect a little.

For the most part, I am very happy with this new life. Some of the things I am especially enjoying:

- of course, being a (peripheral) part of a Cirque du Soleil production, which still gives me a chill of excitement every time I see it.

- the time and space to pursue hobbies and exercise

- time with my kids. including tucking them into bed every night, volunteering at their school, and helping them with homework. I handle all of the potty-training and the discipline, and I am here for every milestone and every questioning-the-world conversation. I get to savor every cute moment.

- travel. as everyone I'm sure understands, it's pretty damn awesome to be given beautiful living quarters in the middle of foreign cities. I love the challenges of new cultures and languages.

- change. I've always had a real restless side to my personality - it's a "grass-is-greener" mentality and a nervousness about staying in any one place for too long. That's all solved now. Every place we go is just temporary, love it or hate it. Change (the dramatic, moving-to-another-country kind) is always just around the corner. So far, I really really like this. Just when things are starting to feel routine, it's time to pack up again.

- perhaps surprisingly to some of you, I do not miss my house. Having a big house and yard often felt like more of a guilty burden to me than a pleasure. So many cooking appliances I should be using, dusty areas I should clean, gardens that should be weeded. I never wanted to do any of these things (not to mention grouting, toilet-unclogging, changing lightbulbs, washing bedsheets, changing vacuum cleaner bags, etc...), and it's one area that I've been really happy to give up control.

It is not, of course, all perfect. There are some things I don't like about this new life.

- boredom, and a feeling of unimportance, are my biggest problems. I came from a place where a hundred urgent things came at me before breakfast. I was needed, constantly, to make decisions and take actions, in my business and in my family. Every day was jam-packed and exhausting. This is no longer the case. And empty hours, for me, can eventually lead to a sense of failure, and to depression. More immediately, they simply mean that I don't get much of anything done. When the day stretches out in front of you, with nothing more pressing to handle than laundry, why study, or respond to messages, or tackle a project...? when it can just be done later, or tomorrow. It's a weird frame of mind, and one I do not like to be in for very long.

- Marriage & family dynamics have necessarily shifted, as Greg is working long, exhausting hours, and I am at home. Every couple goes through this when someone quits or changes a job - a friend of mine recently described it as the coordinates shifting in the relationship. It's quite true. And no matter how much I want, on one level, to embrace the homemaker role, there's still too much fire in me to really fill the apron. My ego just flares up, when I consider that what I'm doing is just not as important or demanding as what Greg's doing. And it's not easy for me to answer my daughter when she says, "Mom, why did you quit your job?"

- I do miss the freedoms I had when I was working as my own boss. I had childcare - which meant that I could go out in the evenings if I wanted to, or go out for lunch by myself. And I was completely in charge of my own schedule. Now, my life has to be structured around Greg's schedule, and his, in turn, is structured by the company.

I have not come to any crushing realizations about touring life, and I am not completely stir-crazy or homesick yet. (of course I miss you all, my friends. but Facebook is really a pretty awesome invention!! and coming back to the U.S. at the end of February, it does not seem so far away.)

As 2010 comes to a close, I think that this is still a very good place for me, for Greg, and for the kids. Will I feel the same at the end of 2011?

Monday, December 13, 2010

l'Ecole de Cirque de Bruxelles

I went back to Brussels today to visit l'Ecole de Cirque de Bruxelles. I have heard this school mentioned for many years, so I was honestly a bit surprised by its un-glamorousness. It is located in an old industrial complex - the gare maritime - and clearly does not spend much on cosmetics. But despite my hastily-announced visit, I was given a warm reception, and a tour around the school, seeing the various rooms where the students train each day.

The school is a non-profit, in existence for nearly 30 years, and in its current location since 2001. Its director, Vincent Wauters, was the original founder of the school in 1981. They currently teach over 600 students, including 12 students in the 3-year professional-track program. When I was there, these students were involved in a dance class on the top floor, which I peeked at. The secretary giving me the tour said that they've had students from all over the world in the course, but none so far from the United States.

This is their largest training space. It isn't all that large, but they only do static aerials, and for 12 people I'm sure it works fine. Rather than a big gymnasium space, this school is divided up into smaller rooms, which I'm sure has many advantages.

Besides the pro-track, the school also prides itself on children's programs, and especially, programs for the handicapped. By "handicapped" they are referring to mental & developmental disabilities, not physical ones - but they have quite an extensive, and experienced, program of offerings for these children.

Outside, there is a chapiteau, which I was told is used for performances and special events throughout the year. On this cold December Monday, it didn't look very inviting from the outside. But I believe it is one of the most prized parts of the school.

I left with souvenirs from the school, warm images of the students and staff, and my curiosity satisfied. Back through the streets of Brussels - streets which are, in my impressions, full of anonymous office towers, grungy subways, and people looking tired and preoccupied. I've been to this city three times now and I can't bring myself to love it.

POSTSCRIPT: I just found out that there are TWO circus schools in Brussels. The Ecole Superieure des Arts du Cirque is on the other side of the city, and looks to be the one for more serious professional artists. I feel like an idiot for making the trip all the way there and not seeing both. But I had no idea. And imagine that, the folks at the one school did not mention it to me. Argh.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

People

The Dutch people seem to be moderate, civilized, and friendly. They strike up conversations with me in the market, at the gym, and on the metro, and when I tell them I can't speak Dutch, they immediately and warmly switch to English and try again. I have experienced almost no instances of public rudeness or anger. The couple of times I've even observed inconsiderate behavior, the culprits have been drunken foreigners. (there are a lot of those, here.)

I was quite surprised at the gym the other day, though, by an older gentleman named Levi, working out beside me, who wanted to chat. He appeared to be in his 60s, in good shape, and, when he learned I was American, told me all about his vacation last year to the West Coast of the U.S. He was very sweet and enthusiastic, raving about the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, but then also rhapsodizing about how much he loves Holland, and how he never wants to live anywhere else.

Our conversation started veering off track, however, when he began to lament that the Jewish people are becoming displaced once again in Holland, and that the Arabs are taking over everything. There was a real concern and sorrow in his voice as he described classrooms full of headscarf-wearing schoolgirls, and mosques proliferating all over the country. My attempts to interject with "really? I hadn't noticed that..." or "are you certain?" or even "it's a common problem around the world, different cultures trying to come together...." were quickly steamrolled over. According to Levi, his beloved Holland is doomed, and it won't be long till everyone is forced to speak Arabic.

My workout was over and I excused myself, as he exhorted me to visit his hometown of Utrecht, which he claims is just as beautiful as Amsterdam. After I left the gym I kept thinking about our conversation, and his fears. I'm sure that there are plenty of people, in all countries, with feelings like his. This type of xenophobia surprises me, though, and I am at a loss for words. It reminds me of the feeling I had a couple of months ago, when I was asked by a Russian friend if the black people in the United States are dangerous. How to respond appropriately... how to even get my head around the question??

While we're talking about "People", we had the happy news of a new baby born on the tour the other day. Russian Georgi was born to Pavel (of the perch act - he's the guy who balances the perch pole on his forehead) and his wife Nastiya! It is their first baby, and it's very exciting. They are living on the floor below us, and I'd like so much to be able to help with the newborn; but this Nastiya doesn't speak a word of English, and I'm afraid that my efforts to help/communicate might just be exhausting and frustrating for her. I will give it a little time.

And one more photo for today. In the kids' schoolrooms, they normally use road cases as their desks. But they recently acquired wooden desktops to lay over top of the road cases, and spent a few days carefully painting and lacquering them. Here are the three youngest kids - Ayla, Baz, and Yahor - displaying their desktops.

December's double-dark

A much-cherished event this week with a double-dark (both Monday and Tuesday off). The Totemites scattered – to Spain, Italy, Germany, France.

I spent most of the past month trying to plan activities for these two days, changing them, cancelling them, and planning new ones. We considered dozens of different places to go, but most, in the end, just seemed too exhausting or expensive. In the end, here is what we did.

Day 1 – Amsterdam. Baz pointed out to me that there is still a lot we haven’t seen in Amsterdam. So, after a stay-at-home morning catching up on things, we went out in the afternoon and walked around the city a bit. It was, unfortunately, freezing out, which made it less-pleasant than it could have been. Still, we saw the Magere Brug and the Carre Theater, had lunch, and then went to the canal house museum. In the evening, we went back out again, taking the kids to see Rapunzel 3D! - their first movie-theater trip in about a year. We all thoroughly (and surprisingly, in the case of me and Greg) enjoyed the movie, and went across the street for an excellent Italian dinner afterwards at La Traviata.

Day 2 – Brussels. We took a train (2 hours, 45 mins) to spend a day in a different city. I didn't do a lot of research on Brussels before going - for example, upon arrival, I had no idea what language people spoke there. I spent a while trying to listen and figure it out - but there are so many internationals in Brussels, it was hard to tell who was native. I finally asked someone. The answer: French, as the first language. Second is Dutch/Flemish. (I'm not sure of the difference). English and German are the next most common after that. ...so, I enjoyed being able to chatter en francais for the afternoon

Most of our time was spent at the amazing Natural History Museum. We were all dazzled by their Dinosaur Hall, including many full skeletons of allosaurs. I snuck out for a little while to visit the nearby European Union Parliament building.

And then of course there was the Brussels Christmas market, and this marvelous light projection on the Town Hall.

video

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Totem profiles - Nikita Moiseev




Nikita Moiseev, age 15, is a Russian/American who has been with Cirque du Soleil all his life.

Nikita’s father, Alexander Moiseev, is the coach of the Russian Bars act, and was the first to design & perform the Russian Bars, some 30 years ago. His youngest son is Nikita, and Nikita is now part of the act.

When Nikita was born, the family was in New York, on tour with Alegria. When Nikita was 3 years old, they settled in Las Vegas, while his father worked with O and Mystere. Then, when Nikita was 7, the family went back on the road with Alegria.

He started performing in Alegria when he was 8. For his first appearances, he came out onstage to make the pre-show announcements, and had a character role in the show. He also had a part in the Russian bar act. The flyer would hold little Nikita in his arms, and then do a flip on the bar.

When he got too big for this trick, Nikita began more serious acrobatic training, and he is now a flyer in his own right.

The Moiseevs left Alegria when Nikita was 13, to come to Montreal and begin the creation of Totem.

Now Nikita is in 10th grade. After he finishes his highschool years with the circus, he plans to go to a regular college. For the moment, however, he is enjoying the adventure of traveling, and being in the circus community with so many familiar faces.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cold!

December is here and the temperatures have dropped! It's been below freezing every day this week, and on several days it has snowed. Like the Amsterdam rain, just light, frequent drizzling, but this has resulted in a small amount of accumulation. The children are delighted. And as you can see, it has made for some lovely scenery.

The "no-Christmas-carols-sung-before-December" ban has been lifted, so our apartment is now filled with children singing "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph" a bit too often. I think of some of the more modern, elegant, holiday songs that I've enjoyed as an adult, and realize it will probably be some years before I can have that kind of music at home again. For now I will try to embrace "Frosty the Snowman" and "We Wish You A Merry Christmas". Baz has developed a sudden fondness for Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which seems to make a good soundtrack for his simulated battle scenes.

Nothing seems to keep the Amsterdammers off their bikes.


In other news... Greg, along with a number of other Totem artists, received his 1-year Cirque du Soleil jacket this week. They have 1-year jackets, and I believe even nicer jackets for 5 and 10 and who knows how many more years. Though it's not quite up to these winter temperatures, it's a great fall or spring coat, and very cool to own. ....a memory... of the last week of 1994... Greg and I visiting Pat McGuire in Las Vegas, where he was performing with Mystere. It was my first time ever seeing the backstage of a Cirque du Soleil show, and I was very much in awe. I remember that Pat had a CdS jacket, which he let me wear one evening, and I was giddy. I'll have to make sure Greg doesn't let any teenage girls near his jacket.

Greg seriously cut his left index finger this week, doing some shoe repairs with a knife, and it has really made his training and performing difficult. A couple of days he's had to stop his training session because of the pain & mess, and he is not happy about it (nor are the physiotherapists)! Unfortunately it's hard to give his fingers any real rest.

We've been spending a little less time on site. Now that it's so cold outside, there really isn't any place for me to go with Isa, except for sitting in the kitchen, and that's not fun for very long. I'm hoping the temperatures will ease up soon so we can get out more.