Sunday, February 27, 2011

Our gated community

video

So let's focus on the good part, to begin with. It's springtime here!! It's going to be 78 degrees today!! The sky is bright blue, the air is fresh. It feels fantastic to put the boots and scarves away in a closet and pull out the T-shirts.

Now, the other part.
I hate this place that we're living, with a level of venom that has surprised even me. It seems to embody all of the things I dislike about America, in one sanitized & commercialized place.

It seems to have been designed for people who, not feeling quite safe and isolated enough in the middle of North Carolina, decided to build a housing complex up on a hill, behind black iron gates. I have to use a key even to get out of the gate.

Inside the gates is a very Edward-Scissorhands-esque sea of identical buildings. Our apartment is on the 3rd floor, which made hauling 11 suitcases and a week's worth of groceries not the most fun. Outside the gates, the sidewalk disappears into a 6-lane road. There is not even a shoulder wide enough to ride a bike, or the remotest possibility of walking anywhere. It looks like, once Greg is gone with the car each day, I am going to be completely stranded here.

The panic this brings on me is not pretty. Already, in our first 24 hours here I'm a nervous wreck, pacing, stockpiling, staring out the windows. My only comfort so far is that there is a gym on site. I'm going to have to rely on the elliptical machine to keep me sane here, I think.

I have neglected to mention the excellency of our apartment, once you actually get inside. It's perfectly beautiful, spacious, and has everything we need. So this may also need to be a little fortress for me, a place to find comfort in the soft carpets and perfect appliances and ample closets.

Still, I can't help but feel, why would anyone want to live in a place like this? And how am I going to get through 4 weeks in this safe, sunny prison?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Philadelphia

Three days in Philadelphia passed by in a blur. Some people I was thrilled to be able to spend time with:

The Kennedy-Lange family (Greg's sister, her husband & kids), The Gialdo family, The Dhondt family, Cindy Eddy, Eric Belcher, Robin Marcotte, Kitsie Lundell, Kyle Driggs, David Smith.
...and there were numerous others who I was able to see more briefly, with hugs and conversations and hopes for more time in the next visit. I spent a good amount of time at my beloved Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, talking with the staff and observing classes and practices.

I have to admit, though, that I found this visit to the circus school more painful than last time. There was an intense familiarity, and a strong sense of "why am I not here?!" ...As much as I am enjoying the traveling adventures with Cirque du Soleil, PSCA feels like my home, like another baby, and I miss it terribly.

And of course I miss our Philadelphia friends. Here's a video of some silliness during our playdate with the Dhondts. They have three kids, ages 9, 8, and 5, so when we get them all together it can be pretty entertaining.


video

Thursday, February 24, 2011

This week, travels

As I expected, this week of traveling from London --> Boston --> Philadelphia and eventually on to Charlotte is turning out to be very busy.

We arrived in Boston a few days ago with a smooth and uneventful trip. Oh, that's if you don't count the incident at London Heathrow, where I dumped an entire fruit smoothie all over my clothes and had to actually buy new clothes. The less said about that, the better, really. Otherwise all was well.

Jet lag hit hard, with all 3 kids snoring at 7:30pm and wide awake to start the day at 2:30am. At the same time I got hit with a head cold, so these first few days of blissful homecoming were, for me, mostly a groggy blur.

There were some very nice moments - Greg purchased his new minivan, the "Grand Caravan Hero". It's honestly about as macho-looking a minivan as could possibly be. I will post a picture soon, but I'll have to find some kind of rocky crag or lava-filled chasm to pose it next to.

There was snow, and the kids sledded and played until they were soaking wet and frozen through. We did not get them proper snow gear this year, figuring they'd have only a very few days of the white stuff. Everyone survived.

After that excitement, we also managed some social outings with these two old friends:

Scott Jameson has been a good buddy for about 20 years, since we were in middle school or highschool? As a teenager, he was an aspiring magician and I was an aspiring juggler. Freaks attract, and our lame attempts to juggle for money on the streets in downtown Boston will surely go down in some kind of history. Now Scott is a successful professional magician and I'm... something else? Regardless we are still close, and he's recently purchased a fixer-upper home in Massachusetts so we can compare homeowner stories.

My friendship with Tammy dates back even farther, to kindergarten, or even earlier? We were neighbors on Walcott Street, and best friends. Our friendship continued through elementary school, but somehow lost its way in the middle school and highschool years, and I hadn't spoken with Tammy in at least 20 years when we found each other's Facebook profiles, and, subsequently, blogs. I thoroughly enjoy Tammy's blog, which is lighthearted, honest, and personal. Now that we are reading up on each other's lives, it was time for a get-together, and we enjoyed a cup of tea together earlier this week, attempting to catch up on two decades' worth of stories!

But at last it was time to leave Natick - on to Philadelphia!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Goodbye London!

We have flown the coop from London town, but I have a few photos and videos still to post of our adventures there. Now that I'm back in the U.S., I believe that posting videos will work again! So there will be a little bit of catch-up to play. To begin, here is the video we made, back in January, showing our London apartment.

video

Next up - a video of Isa's ballet class. We loved this class, taught by the fiancee of one of the Totem riggers, in London and Amsterdam. Sadly, she is leaving the tour for the rest of the year! And planning to come back next year. The girls will miss her, and these wonderful classes.


video

More to come soon!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

World News

My news source of choice here in London has been the Economist magazine, UK version. I have learned so many interesting bits of information lately! And I thought I should share a few of them with you.

The Welsh are about to vote for further independence from Great Britain in a couple of weeks.

Londonism is defined by the Economist as "a commitment to relentless growth and openness". It's the political philosophy of London as the "ultimate global city", welcome to immigrants and diverse populations, dynamic, cosmopolitan, financially powerful.

360,000 American schoolchildren last year played rugby.

Soon-to-be-independent South Sudan is a mess. It's one of the least-developed parts of Africa. A South Sudanese girl is more likely to die in childbirth than to learn to read and write.

In Thailand, hundreds of people are in jail for "not preventing comments on online bulletin boards that might have offended the royal family."

Attacks on boats by Somali pirates are going on all the time! Average one a day.

Germany has great economic success, thriving businesses, secure jobs. But German schoolchildren's test scores are relatively poor - partly because 3/5 of kids are sent to trade schools and not the academic Gymnasiums.

Companies in the U.S. are developing technology to blast household garbage into atoms and collect the resulting energy.

And also in the U.S., the Defense Department is actually cutting its budget, a little. (it's still 1/2 of all federal discretionary spending).

So much going on in the world! The older I get, the more I feel humbled, my mind stretching and trying in vain to comprehend the scope of it all. I'm intrigued by the movie coming out this summer, Life in a Day, which captures everyday moments from people all over the planet.

I'm so glad that I have time and space in my life to consider these things. And amazed at how easy it is, in the ordinary busy-ness of adult life, to just tune out.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A final day of sightseeing

I'm pretty sure this is really it, the last day the children and I drag ourselves all over London to check off more of our must-see list. Sometimes, the most enjoyable things, though, are the places we bump across in between our destinations. A few of those experiences today -

En route to St. James Palace, we meandered through St. James Park, admiring the waterfowl and the Blue Bridge. Coincidentally, the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace was going on, so we got to hear the music from the marching bands and watch soldiers strutting past, which the kids love.


At Westminster Cathedral we were able to go to the top of the observation tower, which has great views of London.








In the Bank area we stumbled across Leadenhall Market, which I've been told has some Harry Potter movie connotations.




And we had to check out St. Mary Axe, familiarly known as "The Gherkin". You can see why. I love the ancient church right in front of it.

For me, it's still the educational moments that I thrive on. Today I had to explain to them about Catholicism, and about King George VI and his stammering, and who the Prince of Wales is. I'm sure that Baz, Ayla and Isa have different favorite moments of the day - we made up new games to pass the time on the Underground, we discovered a restaurant that had kids-all-you-can-eat for 3 pounds, and heading down to the Central Line at one point we had to go down 128 steps.

No matter how you look at it, we're all exhausted.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I decided to play hooky from my life today and went to see an afternoon movie. It felt deliciously irresponsible to be sitting in a dark theater at 3:00pm, all by myself. And the movie was great! I've had my eye on The King's Speech since arriving in London, with its combination of English royal history, famous actors and rave reviews. I was not disappointed. And the cinema was the "The historic Coronet Theatre, which opened in 1898. It is one of the best and atmospheric venues to watch films in London." so I have an even further cultural excuse.

Yesterday they had USA Information Meetings for the staff at Cirque. Mostly the meetings covered logistics (paperwork, visas, taxes) but also went into some detail about our travel in the US. For example: in the first city, Charlotte, NC, we're actually outside the city, in Concord. There is no real public transit in this area, so Cirque will be running a shuttle bus all day long between the site and the apartments. We also found out that once in a while, between cities, Cirque will, instead of placing all of its employees on commercial flights or buses, actually just charter a plane or a bus.

It has just begun to dawn on me, the reality of traveling around the United States. Up until now I've been focused on the convenient parts. My cell phone will work! I'll be able to visit Philadelphia! I'll be able to find my favorite foods at the grocery store! ... and I haven't considered much how it's going to feel, when I have those inevitable lonely days, in places like Connecticut, Georgia, and Texas. When I don't even have the little thrill of being in a foreign city to keep me energized.



Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. To close tonight's post, a photo of the kids with Yahor and Ilya. Every day after school (as long as the weather is mild), they play outside the Royal Albert Hall for a while. It's just an open plaza, concrete all around, but kids are amazingly inventive. Every variation of tag and running races has been explored. And then sometimes they just get wacky, and of course Nastya and I encourage this sort of behavior. :)

Monday, February 7, 2011

A smattering of London, part 4

Traveling on the London Underground is fun. It's a labyrinth. It's a teeming mass of humanity. And to keep you feeling securely located, and happily entertained, it's got good signage. I particularly enjoy all of the advertisements that play off of the Tube map, like this one.

We spent the afternoon at the Museum of London today, studying up on the history of this city. I'm very impressed with how much the kids are retaining about the things we've seen so far - pointing out familiar buildings and paintings, recalling the histories of the Tower of London and Kensington Palace. Ayla noted that the model of St. Paul's Cathedral simply couldn't be St. Paul's - where is the dome? (Answer: the earlier version of the cathedral, before the Great Fire, did not have a dome.) Quiz - where were we in London where we first heard about the Great Fire? (Answer: The Monument!) Baz also has a good attention to detail in these things, able to rattle off the statues in the northwest corner of Hyde Park, and the various sights we saw on our day in Southwark.

Our three hours at the Museum today finished up with this famous object, the Lord Mayor's Coach, which all three kids name as their favorite thing in the museum. (Greg and I had different preferences, like Charles Booth's Map of Poverty and the exhibits about the Plague.)

Overall, a free! museum and really excellent - Greg and I agreed that sometimes, it's nice to have a museum on one topic, so you feel like you can really get a grasp on it.

London's economic reality, though, is never easy to accept - on the way home we got two takeout pizzas which were on a special "Family Saver" deal for 21 pounds ($34). Really?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Are you out there?

OK, blog audience, here's looking at you.
My blog has, of late, gotten an increasing number of readers. And I'm quite flattered, but I have to admit, you're making me nervous. What do I have to say, that you want to hear? Self-consciousness on the Internet might just sound loony, but there you have it. Despite my relative invisibility, here in a strange city, in a strange apartment, late at night, sitting around in my sweatpants - quite a few of you are out there listening.

So I must try to keep it interesting. But days like today, I'm at a bit of a loss.

Do you want to hear about my walk in Kensington Gardens this morning, eavesdropping on passers-by to catch what languages they're speaking? (50-50, something other than English).

Or about my afternoon, when I agreed to babysit another child, putting my household just over the edge into a daycare atmosphere? How lucky I am to speak French, so that I can firmly tell a 2-year-old in no uncertain terms to stop eating the crayons?

Or should I tell you about the naked man who appeared at my kitchen window yesterday? ...OK, that one's going to require a more detailed explanation, isn't it. Unfortunately I don't have much to offer. Here in this most-upscale of London neighborhoods, I really don't know why a man was standing outside in his birthday suit. I think he may have been trying to urinate on the sidewalk. But he was there for an awfully long time. And it is February. I am immensely grateful that I was able to distract Isa away from the windows, so I didn't have to explain this situation to her.

And speaking of naked men, it was Movie Night here in the Kennedy household, and I rented Disney's Tarzan. We all enjoyed it immensely. What does it say about me, that I'm a sucker for Disney movies? (don't answer that.) And that Baz and I were both openly weeping when Tarzan had to say goodbye to his gorilla-mommy?

It's time for more serious fare, I'm off to read some more biographies of the kings and queens of England.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Circomedia


This week, I had the pleasure of visiting Circomedia, in Bristol, twice - first, with Greg and the kids, and then a second afternoon on my own.

Circomedia is my alma mater. I took the One-Year Foundation course in 1995-1996 - a full 15 years ago!! - a year which was, for me, transformative. It set me on an entirely different path for my life. Besides the invaluable coursework, the personal connections I formed there have been lasting and meaningful. I went back to visit for our 10-year reunion in 2006, and we're approaching our 15-year reunion this spring.

The school has grown tremendously since I was there. In 1995-1996, there were 16 of us full-time students, and a handful of evening / recreational classes, all located at their facility in Kingswood. In the last 15 years, Circomedia greatly expanded its Kingswood space - there are now about twice as many studios and twice as many offices - and opened up an entirely new building in the city center, at St. Paul's Church. The church is an extraordinary space, as you can see from this photo.

In the picture with me is Bim Mason, Circomedia's Artistic Director. Bim has been the head of Circomedia since its beginnings. He has now handed over the CEO title to someone else, but he remains deeply involved in all of the workings of the school, and now he has more time to teach again. When I was there, he was our Performance teacher, coaxing us through a LeCoq-based curriculum including mask work and clowning. Bim is a brilliant artist and teacher, and I have greatly appreciated the mentoring role he has taken for me as I've formed my own circus school.

When I arrived at Circomedia today, the 2nd-year degree students were in the middle of their usual Friday performances. Every week, they set up a space complete with lights, sound, backdrop and videocamera, and a number of them present original pieces. At this time, mid-year, the 2nd-years are building their Performance Portfolios, which means that every two weeks they have to present a new piece. After all of this is done, they'll spend the last part of the academic year focusing on one of those pieces to more fully develop.

The students who presented today were lovely to watch. While the pieces were unpolished, they were full of effort and ingenuity. The audience of other students was terrifically supportive, and volunteer stage techs kept it all moving quickly. I was delighted to see some new trapeze transitions, some fun juggling-performance ideas, some impressive character work and the first aerial act I've ever witnessed utilizing piles of gardening soil. :) ah, it's all about experimentation.

Circomedia has about 50 students enrolled in its 2-year degree program, and another 30 students in the BTEC (highschool equivalent). The most notable thing about the school, however, is its mission. Bim will say that Circomedia is not a circus school. It is a physical theatre school, fostering the development of artists, with circus arts as a medium. He considers this a very different approach than schools which aim to train technical circus performers.

It remains, as it was when I was there, a place where students can thrive when they come with an open mind. They have to be willing to try lots of different things, to find out who they are going to become. Performers focused on developing a world-class 7-minute act aren't that well suited to the exploratory environment that Circomedia creates. And Bim really wants to prepare artists to work in the world, to create art that speaks to people. Some Circomedia graduates end up in circuses, but many others end up creating their own theater companies, or bringing their artistic insights to other realms.

When Greg was with me, I offered to have him speak to the students about his work, and Cirque du Soleil. Here they are in Studio 2, listening to Greg wax philosophical about creativity in juggling, and working for the biggest circus company in the world. They seemed to be appreciative listeners, and I was thrilled that we could share this with them.

I will be back in Bristol in just a couple of months for our student reunion. I can't wait!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Circus Space


I had a wonderful visit to Circus Space today ("Powerhouse of Britain's Contemporary Circus"). Kate White and Eira Gibson gave me a warm welcome, and took time out of their busy schedules to talk with me about Circus Space's history and current projects, and to compare notes on the US and UK circus communities.

I was truly dazzled by the institution that Circus Space has become in the last 20 years. From a loosely-organized home to roving jugglers and fledgling acrobats, CS is now indisputably ranked with the country's premier arts organizations. As Kate and Eira explained to me, they are a higher-education institution with a firm commitment to excellence.

Circus Space is bursting at the seams. With 58 students enrolled in full-time classes, and an additional 15 beginning in September; with a full roster of recreational programs, team-building & corporate events, kids classes, and rehearsal facilities - every nook and cranny of the building is scheduled and fully booked up, from 8:30am-10:15pm every day.

And this is not a small building. It comprises numerous studio spaces, many reflecting the building's history as an electric power station: The Combustion Chamber, the Generating Chamber, the Energy Centre. Surrounding these main spaces are smaller studios and offices, home to the school's 35 full-time employees and over 150 part-timers.

It's all rather awe-inspiring. Just reading the prospectus of the degree programs boggles the mind: "Higher education courses in Circus Arts include the Foundation Degree, the BA (Hons) Degree and the Postgraduate Certificate, all of which are validated by the University of Kent." In September they will add the BTEC, National Diploma in Performing Arts, for students ages 16-18. They even have a Youth Circus program, open to students by audition, for serious-training-minded kids ages 11-18.

My visit has all given me a lot to think about, and I'll be sending more detailed notes and observations to my colleagues in Philadelphia. For the moment, Circus Space is truly living up to its energy-generating potential.