Saturday, August 27, 2011

Some Toronto photos

Isa, practicing her "ta-da" hand.

To keep reminding us that it's not just foreign countries that have bizarre signage. We see this sign every day at the bus stop, so if any of you have a clue what it means, do let me know.

I managed a quick walk through Busker Fest today. There are quite a number of circus acts and rigs set up. It's funny to think that, as a teenager, this would have been my idea of heaven. Now, I am mostly irritated by the detours it's causing in my commute to and from the Cirque tent. :( in any case, I wish I had more time / energy to enjoy the festival, but c'est la vie. This act caught my eye, two girls performing a hoop act in a wooden cage. The hoop act was nothing exciting; the best parts were when they climbed around inside the cage!
(note to self: get Greg to build cage for circus school. will have numerous uses I'm sure.)

Last of all, a glimpse of the Totem artists in between shows....


Monday, August 22, 2011

The Islands

Since we arrived here, everyone on tour has been raving about the Islands. Toronto has a series of small islands in Lake Ontario, a short ferry ride from the city, which are basically set up as public recreational parks. There are beaches, walking paths, and little attractions like kids' rides and a petting zoo. (no cars) Today we finally managed to spend a day out there, and it was as wonderful as everyone claimed.

To begin, I joined the Totem Running Club (newly formed) for a run around the islands, while Greg, my parents, and the kids did some exploring. What a great place to run! We had perfect weather, a fun group of people, and gorgeous scenery.

Then, after a picnic lunch, my Mom and Dad rented a quadracycle so we could explore a little further. We had a wonderful ride... Ayla made huge leaps today in her bike-riding confidence, and started asking us to ride her bike at every opportunity, all day long. We are all so excited about this!

I loved this image of Grandpa Ron and Isa, which I took during one of our riding breaks. Isa has a deep affection for her Grandpa Ron, and takes every opportunity she can to spend time with him. Of all of us, he is often the one most patient with her 4-year-old whimsical self ... her arbitrary and delighted observations of the world, her odd sense of logic, her complete absorption in the present moment.

We weren't finished yet. I was determined to get at least a few of us in a canoe - which I hadn't done since I was a kid, and something my kids had never experienced. Ayla bowed out - she was too nervous about the possibilities of capsizing, and sharks. (?) But Greg, Baz and Isa were game, and so we spent an hour paddling around the lagoons. It was great fun, despite a couple of mishaps caused by my adventure-seeking husband (I got knocked over in the boat at one point by a low-hanging branch, and we got stuck on a log in a swamp!) ...I was mostly just amazed by the peaceful joy of it. Listening to the sounds of the wildlife, coming up close and personal with swans, feeling the fall of the oar in the water.

At the end of the day, Mom and Dad took us out to dinner, and I just felt like I could not have imagined a better day. We are all going to sleep tired and happy from all that fresh air and sunshine.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Canadian National Exhibition

My Mom and Dad are visiting, and that's helping me to get out to see a bit more here in the city.

Today we tackled the enormous Canadian National Exhibition, a sort of World's Fair / State Fair. I'd never been to anything on quite this scale before... like a giant amusement park, bazaar, carnival, agricultural expo, arts festival, and craft fair all in one. The midway alone - with its endless stretches of carnival barkers, games, and deep-fried food - was the most extensive I've ever seen.

We went to shows - the Strongman show, the Aerial Acrobatics / Ice Skating Show, and the Superdogs show. All of which were very entertaining. I have to say that the Aerialists were not super-impressive - strange choices of apparatus and choreography, and basic tricks. Here's a photo of a doubles act, performed on a horizontal triangle. Why not a trio act on a triangle? I have no idea. But hey anything is more fun to watch over ice. Note that there was no ice skating / aerial overlap (which is a fun concept and has been done before)... in this show, the aerialists were carried out to their apparatus by the ice skaters. It must be really hard to stay warm... we were all chilled up in the bleachers, what's it like for those aerialists??

There were rides for the children. There were marketplaces - wholesale products, specialty, international, craft. There were music stages, and farm animals, and buskers. It was exhausting sensory overload. In our 8 hours there we did not manage to see even half of the attractions! ...Here are the children admiring the sand sculptures. This art form / competition brings to mind numerous questions. Such as, who are these professional sand sculptors? Well, thank goodness for the Internet, you can check out the World Sand Sculpting Academy "the global network of sand sculpting experts". I had no idea that you can do sand sculpting as a corporate team-building activity.

My eyes are closing as I'm typing... that is what a day of CNE ("The Ex") will do for you. Off to sleep, with visions of caramel apples, miniature horses, dogs jumping through hoops, and Ferris wheels.

Friday, August 19, 2011

First Day of School

Baz started 3rd grade today, and Ayla started 2nd grade.

The orientation meeting, while just covering basic information, was a crowded trailer buzzing with multiple languages being translated at once. The new child starting 1st grade this year is Russian, with Russian-speaking parents, and he is starting in French immersion. We were also joined by the Chinese students and their interpreter.

They are making an effort to overlap the studies of the Chinese-school students and the Canadian-school students a little more this year. So, while the Chinese will still have their own trailer and an independent curriculum, one of Cirque's teachers will work with them a few hours a week, and in exchange their teacher will be giving a Chinese class to our kids once a week! Baz and Ayla seem partly thrilled and partly worried about it.

I do hope we can build some stronger ties with the Chinese girls - they've been on tour with us several months now, and few of us can remember their hard-to-pronounce names, let alone hold a conversation with them. They are still so young, and so shy about trying to speak English.

The other new challenge for Baz and Ayla this year is that their Math class is being taught in French. It's part of a program to gradually immerse them in French - if we stay for more years on tour, each year they would add another class taught in French. They both came home today saying, "that was HARD."

As an icebreaker game to kick off the school year, the kids had this scavenger hunt assignment. They were turned loose on the Totem site, exploring all around the common areas to find people with the listed qualifications. It was great fun.

...So, our summer vacation is over. It was short. I feel a bit discouraged that we accomplished so little. I had great ambitions of sight-seeing, skill-acquiring, goal-achieving. In the end, we did very little - spent a lot of afternoons at libraries and playgrounds. But we did have to move to a new city in the middle of it. We managed to squeeze in a handful of lessons, as well, in swimming, Russian and ballet. ....mostly, though, the kids had a break, and I suppose that's what summer is supposed to be for!

I enjoyed spending the day on site today. Spoke some Russian, caught up with some people I hadn't seen in awhile, sat in the sunshine and got used to the layout of the new site. It's a big, nice site, with plenty of space for kids to play and trailers surrounding an outdoor picnic area by the kitchen. There's wildlife too!! the kids got to see raccoons, a praying mantis, and several grasshoppers today.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Toronto days

We are settling in to our new Toronto routines. All of the families live in one apartment building here, and so there's a great energy - part college-dorm, part extended-family-holiday. We knock on the door when our next-door neighbor's pillow fights get too loud. We meet in the lobby and head to the local playground together. One of my English students just visited me, at 10:30pm in her fuzzy pajamas, to deliver her classwork and check on our next meeting date. It's all pretty fantastic.

Across the street from our apartment is a place called Metro Hall. It contains a branch of the Toronto Public Library, which thrilled us until we found out it's only an adult research library. So we are still trekking around trying to find a good children's library here in downtown.

Outside Metro Hall are some fun statues and fountains. Here is our favorite - these are our adopted pets for the season, the Babbits. This name is still under debate - we are trying to combine "rabbit" "bear" and "beaver", although some voters want to include "donkey" and "giraffe" as well. Nevertheless, we visit our pets on a regular basis, and we can even look down on them from our window, 20 stories up!
A description of the artwork can be found on page 5 of this PDF:

Today we launched new Toronto classes. Here are the girls clearly warming to their new ballet teacher, Angie, at the National Ballet School of Canada. It's a beautiful studio, in a beautiful building, six levels of soaring spaces with tons of glass and light and modern art. (it reminds me a bit of Ecole Nationale de Cirque actually). Feels quite exciting to be there, where the real ballerinas train!

And then Nastya started Kids Russian class today! It was an overly-large group, because the older kids are on summer break. So there were 11 energetic little people speaking four different languages in Nastya's apartment this afternoon, and I thought she did a great job. I'll do whatever I can to help this class keep going. My kids have homework, learning to write their names in Russian.


Saturday, August 6, 2011


We have arrived here, in the largest metropolis in Canada. This city is huge! And we are staying right in the middle of downtown, about two blocks from this:

It's the CN Tower, 1815 feet tall and for a long time, the world's tallest tower.
We will, at some point, go up in the fun elevators to the Sky Pod, but we're saving our pennies, it's $23/person!

In the meantime we are doing the usual settling-in things, finding the grocery store, unpacking, filing complaints with the building about items that are missing or broken.

We did sneak out for a couple of hours yesterday to a nearby beach.

My kids, as it turns out, are out of practice with beaches. They are nervous in the waves. They complain of the cold. They don't know what to do with themselves in the sand. How did we end up with this bunch?? I am hoping to get them out there a few more times this summer, so they can get the hang of it again.

Greg and I weren't especially good examples, I have to say. With the air temperature below 80, and the water of Lake Ontario freezing, we didn't want to do much more than sit on our towel. We are getting old that way.

More to come as we adjust to our new living space and explore our surroundings...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Whirlwind New York trip

We changed our travel plans last-minute, and decided to make a quick trip to the States in between Montreal and Toronto. We first went to Massachusetts, to visit my parents and my old hometown of Natick. Then we left the kids with Mom and Dad, and drove down to New York City for an overnight!

It was an excellent visit. We checked into the Hotel Pennsylvania, right in midtown Manhattan across the street from Madison Square Garden!! The hotel was built in 1919, and had a grand, elegant feel to it. At least, the lobby and public spaces. The rooms were a little less glamorous - quite small, and not renovated in a great many years; but all of this felt like real New York City.

Then we were out in the streets - walking through Times Square, and Rockefeller Center, and finding a wonderful Italian restaurant for dinner. We were on our way to the 8pm showing of Zarkana at Radio City Music Hall.

Zarkana was impressive. It's a big-scale show - including a 15-person flying trapeze act and a 15-person banquine act. There is a ton of video projection, as well.

But I had mixed feelings about the content of the show. Greg and I both really loved the Flag Manipulation and the High Wire and the Handbalancing acts. The Sand Painting was just about the weirdest thing I've ever seen in Cirque du Soleil. And the other acts had pros and cons - clean skills but poor presentation, or interesting presentation but not-too-dazzling skills; Greg and I both thoroughly disliked the music, which is rock-opera-esque. It's weird having the main character as a singer, and to have him singing melodramatically in English throughout the show. The video projections are occasionally marvelous, but often just distracting. An example: when the Roue Cyr act is going on, with a bunch of Roue Cyr artists spinning around on the stage, the video projections show lots more identical artists spinning around above and behind them. Instead of giving you the effect of a hundred Roue Cyr artists, it instead makes you question the real ones. Is the whole thing just CGI? I really hate it when technology gets in the way of circus, so that you appreciate the human feats less.

It's a strange show, and especially strange to be in this groundbreaking role; it will perform in gigantic theaters in Madrid and in Moscow, next. The show is designed to be staged in exceptionally large, unique theater spaces for longer runs, 6 months or so. To me it feels quite un-Cirque... but what is Cirque, these days, anyway? The company has expanded its definition continually over the last 25 years. It is always changing and trying new things. And so, we'll see how Zarkana fares in the world... so far its reception in New York seems excellent, and the seats are full.

Being in New York City is, to me, energizing and inspiring. The next morning I took some time to write in a new journal, here is what I wrote...


There is no place like New York. I'm convinced of it. There may be other crowded cities, but none with the rich diversity of this place. It overpowers the senses. People-watching feels impossible, with the swirl of constantly-changing faces. I love the energy here, though it can feel exhausting.

Studying the map of the city brings back a sprinkling of memories. Though I've never spent any significant time here, for 20 years I've had moments in the Big Apple. I remember coming here with my mother to see my first Broadway show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Years later, I was sitting on the floor at the Port Authority, heading back to Washington DC after a visit to Greg, when we were first seeing each other. There were the times Greg and I saw Philippe Petit, Alegria, Lazer Vaudeville. I remember being a stiltwalking toy solider at the NY Public Library one year. There was the time on my birthday, a few years back, when I asked Greg to watch the kids so I could take the train up, and spend the whole day walking around the city by myself. Then there was that Thai dinner with Ludger, and taking the kids to the Bronx Zoo...

In any case, I am here now, and the city continues to bubble and boil and burst at the seams with all of its color and life. This morning I have been in the dank crowdedness of the subway, the fresh greenness of Central Park, and the jostling corridors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

There seems to be no quiet time here, no real open space or room to stretch. Millions of people with all of their own ideas and agendas zoom around in mass anonymity. Nothing is strange here. Every imaginable type of person, clothing, behavior, all just mixes together. It can be a little bit dehumanizing. What are we all doing here? Does anything I say or do matter to anyone else? How is it at all possible to make connections in a place like this?


It is greatly satisfying to me to know that I'll have another opportunity soon to find out, when we spend a couple of months of 2012 actually living in New York City with Totem. Another one of my life's dreams will be fulfilled!

With that, it's off to Toronto....

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Montreal ballet

Four of the Totem girls (Ayla, Isa, Gipsy and Dasha) took ballet lessons this summer at Ballet Divertimento in Montreal. It was great fun for them to be in a real studio, with barres and mirrors and other dancers running around. And they loved their teacher Odette. Here is a short video of their final performance: