Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I am thrilled to have arrived, today, in the city of Baltimore.

Although I was a little skeptical about Baltimore - in the past, it's never been a place I sought out, just the in-between-Philadelphia-and-Washington city. But being here, and being right in the middle of everything, feels a bit like coming home.

The reassuring sounds of trolley cars and street musicians. The runners out by the harbor. The familiar products at the grocery store. And all around, the lights of a busy urban environment. Here is the view out my 10th-story window:

I'm so happy!!!

The kids and I went out exploring the Inner Harbor today. They have such a good time in urban parks, coming up with endless games, and playing on sculptures.

Our apartment here is actually the most basic one we've had yet. It's no-frills, but seems to have everything we really need. Because the rooms are smaller, and we need the space, we took the unprecedented step of asking the leasing company to remove all the television sets. There were four of these monstrosities here, and the rooms are so much more open now.

We still have lots of unpacking to do, but my eyes keep wandering to the windows and all of the sparkling lights.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Goodbye Charlotte

This is the girls' room on packing day. Yes, I did get it all into that suitcase.

It's time to say goodbye to Charlotte. We never got around to making a real "apartment tour" video of this place... honestly I was too depressed when we got here to celebrate it at all. But it really has been a perfectly nice apartment, which I'll show quickly in the video below. If nothing else, we'll have the consistency, since every other place we've stayed has been video'd. I promise to do a more thorough job in Baltimore!


Totem Profiles - Massimiliano Medini & Denise Garcia-Sorta

Massimo and Denise are the breathtaking Rollerskate Duo in Totem. Their act is amazing, and their life stories, even more so. They are a real-life married couple, with a 5-year-old daughter, and they have both spent their entire lives as circus performers.

Both were born into traditional European circus families. Massimo, 34, originally from Tuscany, Italy, is a 3rd-generation performer. His grandparents were clowns, and his parents were roller-skaters and aerialists. Massimo's first performance was at age 3 in his grandfather's clown act. By the age of 12 he was performing on rollerskates, as a flyer, with his uncle as the base. He continued doing this act until he was 21.

Denise, age 36, is from Benidorm, Spain. Her parents and grandparents were aerialists. As a child, she was trained as an acrobat. When she was 3 years old, her father had an aerial accident and was no longer able to perform. So her brother, age 7, and her sister, age 10, stepped into the ring as performers, supporting the family, while her parents took smaller jobs in concessions and photography.

Denise, throughout her childhood, resisted performing. She was finally persuaded to earn her keep at the age of 18, and she put together an astonishing, world-class hula hoop routine. You can see it here. (that's Massimo as her assistant)

Denise and Massimo met as children, but didn't really get together until their early twenties, when they left their families and stayed together as a couple and a performing partnership. The hula-hoop act was their main one, with the rollerskate act as a second performance. Five years ago they took a 14-month break from performing to have their daughter, Gipsy.

They are all enjoying and appreciating life on tour with Cirque du Soleil. Massimo says that CdS takes really good care of its artists, with physiotherapists and massage therapists and sick-leave policies. And it's a great cast. He says that CdS has so many rules - at first it was really difficult for him, but now he understands why this is.

Denise appreciates working with the artistic directors in Cirque du Soleil. She feels they really have solid direction, feedback, and critiques to bring the rollerskating act to continually higher levels, which they never had in previous jobs. And they're excited that in another year, Gipsy will be old enough to attend the Totem school.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Random pics

This is Isa when she doesn't want to eat her food.

(which is just about every meal.)

It's really fun to watch the Tent Technicians climbing around on the canvas. I don't know what they're doing up there, but it's a not-infrequent pastime.

Alisa, Isa, and Ayla playing around in an old train car on our recent day off in Freedom Park.

Massimo (rollerskater) giving James (drummer) a haircut outside the tent.

The kids in a pile on the red carpet, backstage during one of the shows last week. Clockwise from top left: Alisa, Gypsy, Baz, Ayla, Kherlen.

Monday, March 21, 2011


We are nearing the end of the Month of Many Birthdays, with two festive events - last night at the tent we had a small party for Greg, with drinks and cake. Here he is with some of his castmates - Fabio, Nick, James and Josh.

For some reason (we blame the Russians), birthdays are traditionally celebrated this way on Sunday evenings, with toasts of hard liquor. Often vodka, but last night it was cognac.

After that adult evening, today we had my little Isa's 4th birthday. She has been anticipating this day for ages, and is beside herself with excitement about being 4. I took this picture of her with a couple of the great gifts she received - representations of her all-time favorite animal. We spent a quiet day at home, letting her enjoy her new toys, such as a new princess dress and princess play tent, a Leapster learning game, and various little dolls (Tinkerbell and Little Ponies are current favorites).

Despite her rapid maturing, Isa is still my baby! I am so glad that she is over her sickness, and was able to have fun on her special day. "Now," she tells me, "I'm almost 5!"

Saturday, March 19, 2011

This week

It's been a mixed-bag of a week. In the plus column:

- Birthdays! We celebrated Baz and Isa's birthdays on Monday with a trip to Monkey Joes, a big inflatable play-zone nearby. I was super-impressed with this place, which has pretty much mastered the art of the children's birthday party.

- nice visits from our friends Janell & Bram Lovelace (from Durham, NC), and from my cousins Scott, Lisa and Alison Denny (from Richmond, VA).

- English classes! I've taught three classes so far to the Russian wives and I am LOVING it!

-We had a meeting today with the Totem school teachers, the Supervisor of Minors and the Tour Manager, who formally presented to us their plan to begin a gradual-immersion program in French language for Baz and Ayla. It will start this fall; in addition to French class, their math class will also be taught in French. Greg and I are thrilled that they have this opportunity.

On the minus side:

- Isa has been sick this week, with the same illness that bogged down Baz and Ayla the previous week. It's mostly coughing and fever, but the fever seems to spike up and down; she is fine one hour and miserable the next. Hate seeing my baby so unhappy... I got Sesame Street on iTunes for her this week, which cheered her up a little.

- And despite getting more active and involved with the Cirque site and the other families this week, I still feel like a black cloud is hanging over me. I just hate it here, and I'm spending a lot more time wondering what the heck I am doing on this tour. ... we have just over a week left here in Charlotte, and I do hope that our next chapter (tour dates in Baltimore, events for me in Philadelphia, and a weekend back in England!) will bring back my good spirits.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Walkin' in Concord, NC

I missed the shuttle bus today and decided to try walking home from the Cirque site. This is what it looked like.

The anti-pedestrian vibe is not limited to this one road. It's pretty much the entire area. Besides the tractor-trailers whizzing by, walking around here just feels wrong. When you're driving, every once in a great while you'll see someone walking along the side of the road. The inner dialogue goes something like this:

- oh my! what's that person doing?
- walking.
- really? what on earth for?
- there must be something wrong. maybe his car broke down.
- or maybe he's just really, really poor.
- or a drug addict, or an ex-con.
- maybe he's hitchhiking. don't even think about stopping!

It's alarming on many levels. Visually alarming, to see endless stretches of space with no human beings outside their cars. Mentally, to see how quickly I can click into this American-sprawl mentality, when I seriously contemplate whether I have to walk the 5 minutes to the store, or if I could get a ride.

You can also see why running has been a no-go here.

As for scenery, the most I saw on my 30-minute walk was some roadkill and litter.

The whole atmosphere just feels like a kick in the stomach to me. And although I complained of loneliness in London, how I miss the big city!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Charlotte, NC - check

With my parents in town, we finally got out and did a little sightseeing in downtown Charlotte. The weather was gorgeous, and the town center, while small, was quiet and pretty.

We enjoyed exploring The Green, which is a literature-themed park in the middle of town, and Thomas Polk Park. But this fountain, I have to say, is a big example of civic stupidity. It's a fountain with little statues of children climbing all over it and splashing in the water. However, when my kids tried to climb on the surrounding walls, they were shooed away by a security guard. ?!

Most of the day was spent at Discovery Place, Charlotte's science museum and aquarium.

And here is an inspirational quote from the Visitors Center, in case anyone out there is doubting that Charlotte is THE place to be.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Scenes from the Artistic Tent

The Artistic Tent is a quiet place in the mornings, when Isa and I are sometimes there. She really likes to play with the High Bar mascot, this little frog. He normally lives attached to the High Bar someplace, but he does get around.

Very few people are milling around the tent before noon; among them are the cleaning staff, the riggers, and the costumers. So we got a chance to inspect up-close the Crystal Ladies' new shoes, which are, naturally, super-sparkly. They only wear these for the finale dance - in their act, they can't wear shoes, as they're twirling carpets on their feet.

Monday, March 7, 2011

1 week down. 3 more to go.

Fortunately, with little else to do, we've been getting out on our bikes. Here you can see Baz's new 24" bicycle! It was an early birthday present - so much bigger than his 18" one, we were skeptical at first. But he took to it immediately and wants to ride all the time. Daddy sometimes takes him out and they try mountain-biking on the woodsy paths near the apartments.

There are not a lot of easily bikeable places in our immediate vicinity - it is possible though to drive to some nice bike trails.

And here is Ayla! Greg took Baz's old bike apart and painted it bright pink for her. While she's not an enthusiastic rider, she's learned to ride and balance and keep the bike in control very quickly. We've only been here a week, and here she is all by herself! In another couple of days we'll probably try taking her to the bike trails.

And here's a photo of the favorite place I've discovered so far in Charlotte. It's a real, honest-to-goodness secondhand book shop. The Last Word buys books and sells books, they have couches and easychairs and clerks with great senses of humor. It's a place for real readers. What a delight to walk out with an armful of books for $10! We've gone there twice already in the past week.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Totem in Charlotte - renewing love

Today was a truly great day. I spent it at the Totem site, all day with the kids.

As you can see from the picture, the tent here is set up at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. During certain seasons this is a NASCAR mecca. Right now, it's off-season, and that's why we're in one of their parking lots. You can see a bit of the speedway behind the tent.

The day started off with lunch in the new kitchen. For reasons unknown to me, they have a new kitchen facility for the American tour. It's based out of a tractor-trailer, high off the ground, and it seems spacious, well-equipped and homey - I love the new tables, which are decorated with photos of other Cirque du Soleil tours, and the cozy play area with kids' toys and cushioned benches.

The afternoon was full of nice reunions with other tour members. I had long conversations with Marina, one of the Crystal Ladies, and with Melanie, the Artistic Director. I learned that Fabio is interested in improving his English, and Marc is staying steady with his Chinese practice every day. Alexander helped me pronounce the names of the months in Russian, and Jean cleared up a confusion I had with "можешь". I met the new singer, Coco. Gipsy and Isa practiced writing their letters, and pretended to be a marching band around the site.

With everyone I encountered, there were lots of hugs and air-kisses. There were plenty of laughs about life in Concord NC. There was lots of checking-in - how is that new baby sleeping? How's your shoulder? Did you decide to get a car here in the States? Have you heard yet where the tent will be in Baltimore? etc. It felt, again, like a family.

In the evening, I brought the kids to see the show from the front of house. Our dear friend at the box office put us in front row center! It was the first time I'd sat there for the show, and I couldn't believe how thrilling it was. Although some things do get lost with the angles, the proximity to the artists is just amazing. They flew over our heads, peered into our eyes, breathed and sweated and somersaulted only a few feet away. And knowing so many of them as I do now, it was especially exciting to watch them in action, so close up.

And the Charlotte audience! I must ask forgiveness for the slights I've laid on Charlotte's population this past week - this was a great and appreciative group of people. They laughed loudly at every joke, gasped, oohed and aahed, and generally gave the Totem cast all the love they deserved. It was heartwarming.

Some of my most-cherished moments in the show this evening - the lizards and frogs and fish in Carapace were close-up, creepy, and fantastic! Nakotah was marvelous in Hoop Dancer 1, looking as alive and charged-up as I've ever seen him. It was fun to see all the new things in the Perch act, and the new trick in the Russian bar act, with Nikita floating high above the bars. The new moment with Joe changing from the monkey to Crystal Man is nice, and thought-provoking. And Lovebirds, always my favorite, never loses its power for me.

Giving them their standing ovation at the end, with my three kids around me, and meeting everyone's eyes with my excited smile and applause, filled me with a glowing, happy energy. In a magazine I was reading the other day, they asked "what fills you with joy, gets your heart racing, and brings you fully present in the moment?" It was easy for me to answer that - circus, of course. And although circus happiness can take a lot of forms, the simplest one is just this - being in the audience of a magnificent show.

It's all going to be OK.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Giving up - and trying again

I made a mistake today.

I gave up. After 5 days here in this apartment in Charlotte, my spirits had sunk so low, I was at the point of despair. (I'm sorry, North Carolinians, but this corner of your state really is my idea of Hell). The only options I could see were either to shut the doors and wallow in it; or else, to escape, and I spent a good amount of time this afternoon trying to research any possible method of getting the kids and me out of here, without bankrupting us or wrecking their school year. (the answer – not possible).

I couldn’t bear to try to pretend anymore that everything’s OK. I didn’t want to go to the Cirque site, and put on a smile. I didn’t want to see all of the people with their warm hellos – because, when I’m not there, does anyone think about me at all? I became convinced that no one there really gives a damn about me. And to top it off, I’d reached my breaking point with being barred from the Cirque site – it’s an entirely degrading feeling to stand outside the gate, unable to go inside. I did that for two months in London, and when I was turned away here in Charlotte (during the setup week, when families aren’t allowed in), it put me over the edge.

I began to think this afternoon that I simply can’t handle this life. And I thought more about Philadelphia, where a lot of people really do value me, and want me as part of things. Where I’m not begging for people’s attention, and I have a real role.

So I resolved to skip Premiere tonight. The time when most of the family members will reunite, get dressed up, the kids will run around being crazy together and the moms will share commentary on the new city. I just thought, I can’t handle this. I want to be alone in my misery. And even though seeing Totem has a good chance of making me feel better – I didn’t want to feel better.

We had to get Baz and Ayla from school, anyway, and Isa and I were waiting for the shuttle bus when Olga pulled up. Olga is one of the Russian wives living here at our apartment complex. I’ve never really befriended her as more than a passing acquaintance. She is very close to Nastya, which is probably the only reason I see her at all. She has a 2-year-old daughter, Alina, and she and her family seem to usually keep to themselves.

I got in Olga’s car and we made small talk in Russian. (my Russian, when last I left it, was at a staggeringly basic level – it’s now a rusty, staggeringly basic level.) Two things I can tell you about Olga – one is that she is always elegantly dressed and made up (she is blond and beautiful to begin with). And the other is that she speaks to me only in Russian, despite my struggles. This is rare. During our car conversation, she said a couple of sentences that fairly magically turned around my day. She said (in Russian of course) “I was looking for you yesterday. I wanted to talk to you, about the English classes? When can we start?”

My answer was clumsy and unclear, but later on I realized how important this had been for me to hear. She was thinking about me. She is interested in something I suggested, and it’s not all me taking the initiatives.

The only other person I ran into on site was the kids’ teacher David, and he and I chatted for a few minutes, commiserating about America, and the craziness of living in a place with no sidewalks.

When I left site, I realized that my tantrum of trying to isolate myself was just hurting me, and unnecessary. And on this tour, we are all, I imagine, struggling here. I don’t always know how to reach out to the others. But they probably don’t know how to reach out to me, either. And getting defensive and putting up walls isn’t going to get me anywhere.

The children were devastated when we left the site without seeing the show. I determinedly dragged them home, but then I really saw their pain and disappointment, and realized that my self-absorbed wallowing is now hurting them, too. And that they, too, need to feel connected to the show again, and I’ve prevented that (for today at least).

The moral of the story is, I’ve got to pick up and try again. This city will pass. But these people will be part of my life for a long time to come. And when I open the doors to them again, I will be stronger and happier.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Why I don't drive

This seems like a good time to explain what some of you may be wondering about - why I don't drive a car. It will require a little history.

I grew up in suburban Massachusetts, where everyone drove. All of us kids couldn't wait to be 16.

When I got to that age, I found that I had no desire to actually drive a car. It felt scary, in fact. And from a philosophical standpoint, I was opposed to America's driving culture - the environmental pollution, the physical-fitness implications, the country's priority for road-building instead of public-transit building. But as much as anyone else, I wanted freedom, control, and escape, and a driver's license seemed the only route to that. So I got my license and briefly enjoyed some liberation.

A few months after I got my license, I made a stupid driving mistake (I was in an emotional, stressed-out state of mind and I made an illegal turn on a highway), another car crashed into me and I totaled my parents' minivan. I'll never forget the quaking fear when the police arrived and I realized I had left my license at home. When I called my parents in tears, they brought it to me at the accident site, and the police quietly overlooked this mistake. I was lucky to be unhurt, and not to have hurt anyone else. And I became much more reluctant to drive.

Nevertheless, immediate convenience often trumped my anxiety, and I drove now and then throughout highschool. I fortunately moved to Washington DC for college, and didn't need a car for a number of years, through college, circus school and my first year living in Center City Philadelphia. In DC I got a job at a bike shop, and opened my eyes to this wonderful way of commuting, exercising and having fun. I got myself a good bike and a messenger bag and I was perfectly happy.

When I moved to Germantown in the year 2000, it felt very far outside the city to me, and I thought I needed a car. Though there were bus and train routes, they didn't go everywhere I wanted to go. And once I started having kids, it seemed my fate was sealed - playgroups, preschools, grocery stores, doctor's visits - I began to rely on the car completely.

So for 10 years, I drove, all the time. Greg and I managed with just one car between us, but we squabbled over it frequently, despite the fact that most of our work and school obligations were within a couple of miles of the house. And throughout all this time, I remained an anxious, unhappy driver. What's more, I was a bad driver. I was the multitasker, talking on the cell phone, eating meals, changing CDs for the kids. On long drives, I'd find myself fighting not to fall asleep, even if I was well-rested beforehand.

The 2009-2010 school year was a rough one for me. Greg was away almost the entire year. I was on my own, trying to run my business, hire a new Director, and manage the household and 3 kids. I was, in short, an exhausted lunatic. It all came to a head in the spring. See the earlier blog posts (March & April 2010) if you'd like the details of my two big car accidents!

After the second one, I said, enough. I am not meant to drive. I've always hated driving, I've always been a poor driver, and now I have three little lives in my hands, who are at risk with me behind the wheel. For everyone's safety and sanity, I'm turning in my car keys for good.

It's been 10 months since this decision, and in that time I've become even more certain. The kids and I have learned to rely on buses, and bikes, and our feet to get us where we need to go. It's forced me to slow down the pace of my life - the extra 5 minutes I'd gain by rushing somewhere in a car is no longer worth it. We enjoy our travels on planes and trains and subways. I feel like I'm doing right by the environment, by my kids, and by my own conscience.

And now, here we are. Stuck in the first place, so far, where simple day-to-day errands without a car are impossible. And Greg has purchased a new minivan so that he can drive us around the country on tour. At this point, I can't just pick up the keys - my license is expired, and I am not insured on the car. But I feel trapped. And I feel guilty, asking Greg to drive me around. There is not much to do but wait it out. I have no intention of driving again, even if everyone else thinks I'm crazy.