Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wearying of Toronto

I'm ready to be done with Toronto. We've been here for ages. I'm sick of schlepping back and forth from the site on the long, undependable bus. I'm bored with hanging around site all day with Isa (which I often do to avoid schlepping back and forth all day on the bus.) I don't even want to watch the show anymore. (You were all waiting to see how long it would take me to say that, weren't you??) We've seen the sights. The artists are all exhausted from the 10-show weeks. Let's wrap this one up and move on.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

This weekend's activities

On Sunday night, the 54 crew (carpenters, riggers, technicians) hosted a giant party on site, with the theme "I Love the 80s!" It was their most epic event to date. It included raised DJ platforms and a band stage, a gigantic disco ball, colored strobing lights, old-school video games and an inflatable running course, and a flair bartender. Just about the whole Totem community attended, most in elaborate 80s outfits. Here is a picture of some of the little girls, a blurry swirl dancing under the lights.

Then, on Monday, we finally visited the CN Tower. Since we arrived here in Toronto, we'd been put off by the price - for our family of 5 merely to ride up to the observation deck cost us $108!! ...but we felt we had to do it before we left Toronto, and Monday was a beautiful day for it. Here are Greg and the kids, sitting on the glass floor. The second picture is the view looking down through the glass floor. It's pretty cool. $108 cool? I'm not convinced.

In the evening, Greg and I got out for a dinner date, and went to see Second City. This well-known improv troupe has a permanent theater here in Toronto, a half-block from our apartment. Shows 7 days a week! It was a great treat for us to get out to see some live theater on a Monday night. The show itself was very good - more sketch comedy than improv, but we had a lot of laughs.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Team Evolution!

The Totem Running Club officially had its first race today - the Toronto Zoo 10k! It was great. More hills than expected, but perfect weather, and animals on view.

Running, this past few months, has been mostly a hardship for me. My hamstring has continued to ache periodically, my mind has been distracted, and my heart's been with Bikram Yoga. (which, unfortunately, is just too difficult for me to get to on a regular basis.) But this Running Club has given me a new boost of energy. It's fun to run with a group! I run faster, the time passes more quickly, and I feel motivated to do more.

So today we all piled into the Totem van at 7:00am, groaning and complaining and laughing our way to the race site. We all finished with times we were proud of (mine was 1:04:30) and shared high-fives, post-race snacks, and more laughter on the way home.

The other members of the group are all Cirque employees, support staff on the tour. They include a technician, a schoolteacher, and staff from Tour Services and the Box Office. Jeff (white shirt, center) is the unofficial team leader, and he is Totem's Company Manager. It's a nice chance for me to get to know a different set of tour members.

So now, I have to decide if I want to tackle the Half-Marathon. It's just 6 weeks away, in San Francisco, and the other runners have already registered... I'm sure it will sell out, so if I'm going to do it I've got to commit now. I dread the training. But I really do like running with this group, and it would be a great accomplishment to do two half-marathons, wouldn't it? and I'll have the rest of the winter to sit on the couch (or, lie in the yoga Hot Room) - right? ...I'm trying to talk myself into this. My aching hamstring, and the memories of long, cold, lonely runs last fall, are trying to talk me out of it. Decision to come shortly.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Celebrating Ayla's birthday

Today was Ayla's birthday party. (Her actual birthday is Tuesday, she'll be 7!)
We looked at a number of different options for her party, but when we discovered Creature Quest online, she wanted nothing else. This is a company that will bring live animals to your location. And we're not talking about cats and dogs here. The animals included a chinchilla, a tree frog, a scorpion, a tarantula... and for every animal, the handler would talk a bit about it, and then pass it around for the children to hold or pet. The kids were thrilled!! The tarantula was perhaps the biggest hit. To my surprise, this tarantula was not de-fanged. Apparently you can't de-fang a tarantula. It wouldn't bite the children, our handler assured us, because the kids looked nothing like bugs. ? We trusted her, and the kids all got to feel the sticky feet of this giant spider walking along their hands and arms.

I love the fact that no one in our apartment building was the least bit concerned about us doing this, in the community lounge downstairs. There were no special reservation forms to fill out for the room, no waivers to sign, no one calling a halt to a party full of exotic animals. This is one of the things I really like about Canada. The less-litigious culture, and slightly-European value set, makes for a more trusting social environment. Gay people will get married, you'll bring your own bags to the grocery store, and no one will raise an eyebrow if you want to give your children a live coral snake in a room of their building.

My girl is growing so fast... here she is, having birthday cake with her friends.


Friday, September 16, 2011

A few photos of life on tour with kids

The discovery of a snail gets everyone excited. In Russian it's улитка.

They've had a couple of special school projects... one day it was cooking in the kitchen, and chef Mia taught them how to make pretzels. (Isa was the Guest Assistant Chef)

Today was another event, they went and did a Lakeshore Cleanup at the beach right next to the Cirque site. Baz and Ayla were amazed and impressed with the amount of trash to be found on beaches.

So, it's hard to see what's happening in this photo, but it was a moment I wanted to capture. Totem's Artistic Director sometimes teaches a Ballet Barre class for the artists, and one afternoon Gipsy and Isa wandered into it. She let them stay (though their attention didn't hold out for the whole class) and it was super-cute to see them imitating the adults.

There is Wi-Fi in the kitchen, and artists are often chatting with their family and friends on Skype. Here is Alya, with her daughter Alisa on her iPad, and Gipsy and Isa eagerly saying hello. The girls drew pictures for each other and held them up to their screens.

Every once in a while, Greg keeps Isa with him while he trains, so I can get out to a yoga class. Here's Isa, playing contentedly at the top of the stairs while Dad whizzes glowballs around.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Totem profiles - Olli Torkkel

Olli Torkkel, age 33, from Helsinki, Finland, is an acrobat in the Rings Trio. A lifelong athlete, before coming to Cirque du Soleil he was working in Finland as a professional gymnast.

Olli’s gymnastics career followed a traditional, high-powered route in the early years. He started around age 5 or 6, and became part of a gymnastics club. The club traveled to meets internationally. His terrific skills kept him competing at a high level throughout his school years and beyond – when Cirque found him in 2009, he was earning a living competing and coaching.

Now, he has spent two years immersed in the world of Totem. He likes this life a lot. When he’s not working, or hanging out with his “circus family” of close friends and colleagues, Olli can be found reading, or studying, as he pursues a business degree. For the most part, though, he is happy to take things one day at a time, enjoying the adventure. “Compared to gymnastics…. It’s kind of the same but more fun. There are none of the disappointments of gymnastics competitions. You get the reward from the audience every night.”

Monday, September 12, 2011

Videos, pictures, stories

This is a mix of different videos and pictures of our experiences over the past week. The first one is a video clip showing a typical lunchtime conversation with Ayla. Here she is telling me about her current school art project, which has something to do with Andy Warhol.


One of my favorite places to be is backstage when something new happens in the Totem show. Whenever a new act performs for the first time, or someone in a new role, everyone gathers around the video screen to watch attentively. And when the act is over, you have a scene like this:


Shandien is our new Hoop Dancer. She is the sister of Nakotah, our regular Hoop Dancer. Some parts of the show will now be a duet, and she'll be backup in case Nakotah ever has to miss a show.

We had a very unusual week, because Greg was leaving Totem to attend the wedding of some dear friends of ours. So finally, after a year and a half of training, Greg's understudy was called in to work. They spent a lot of time over this past month getting him completely prepared to fill in for a weekend's worth of shows. Due to Dmitri's other responsibilities in the show, however, they had to train a second person to fill in for Greg's "cues" during the show. So it was odd and complicated, but in the end everyone was ready. It was too funny for us to see two other artist friends in the show dressed up as the Scientist! Here they are....

The wedding was in New Jersey. Greg was a groomsman. This meant that the five of us had to be out the door by 5:00am. It would have been around 8.5 hours driving, if we hadn't hit the flooded-out areas of southern New York! Major highways were shut down, and we were improvising detours, and running into scenes like this:

We found ourselves driving through the mountains on dirt roads, not at all sure that we were going to make it to the wedding on time.

But get there, we did. Greg was immediately whisked off for bridal-party duties, the kids and I put on our fancy clothes, and the festivities began. It was an unusual, and beautiful wedding. Our friends, David Smith and Rachel Katz, had decided, instead of one taking the other's last name, to pick an entirely new last name for themselves. Their choice? Darwin. So now I have a lot of practice to do, calling them David and Rachel Darwin. (I've known Dave for over ten years, and Rachel for probably five).

To add to the adventures, they had James "The Amazing" Randi as their officiant, Dave carried Rachel across a pile of broken glass, and there was pre-dinner entertainment by their magician and juggler friends. (Greg included). The fashions and the food were top-notch. And there were many tear-jerking moments! Like their amazing personal vows to each other, and their dances with their parents. When I saw Dave dancing with his Mom, I actually got all choked up from the Mom's point of view... imagine that I might do that someday with Baz, as a tall grown man! It is impossible and beautiful to picture.

The next day we rushed through Pennsylvania, visited with Greg's family, and then spent today (Monday) making the long drive back to Toronto.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Toronto School of Circus Arts

Today we finally got to visit the Toronto School of Circus Arts. Due to traffic problems, we ended up with very little time there... but we still got a glimpse, and got to speak with the school's owner, Decker LaDouceur.

This morning, the facility was being rented out for a special event; you can see the group in the picture. And you can also get a glimpse of the beautiful space... one side of it, with the flying trapeze rig, has 39' ceilings, and 14 aerial fabrics hanging. This winter they're expanding, knocking through a wall to add an additional 5000 square feet of space. The light that comes through the windows is particularly wonderful.

TSCA is the first privately-owned circus school that Greg and I have come across in our travels, so we were especially interested to talk with Decker about the history of the place and its current operations. He and his wife do the lion's share of the work, from admin to teaching to cleaning! They have 18 total on staff, and more than 400 weekly students. It is a labor of love, and heartwarming to see. The school has been in operation for 13 years, 3 years in its current space.

I wish we'd had more time, but very glad that we got to see the school, in any case.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Trip to Montreal (or... Being Spoiled)

We had a double-dark this week. But instead of relaxing / adventuring, we had to use our two days to go back to Montreal (6-hour drive each way) for Baz's orthodontist.

I mentioned before that Baz has a Palatal Expander contraption in the roof of his mouth right now. I didn't go into too much detail about how difficult it was for us to make this happen. Doctors in Canada did not want to work with us when we said we could only be there for a few weeks, and would need to coordinate treatment with orthodontists in other cities. The one we finally got to agree, did so on condition that we take a trip back from Toronto for a check-up with him. Then, he gave us a full package of records to bring to an orthodontist in San Francisco.

So, this week was our trek back. We rented a hotel room, and since it was on our dime, we went low-budget, staying at a bland cheap chain hotel somewhere in the north-middle of the city. Views of highways out the window. The area had so little resemblance to the elegant Vieux-Port that I'd gotten accustomed to! Even the French language and signage had a raw edge to it, as the neighborhood had heavy populations of other ethnicities.

Having 5 of us in a hotel room was not the most fun I've ever had. When the kids went to sleep we couldn't do much but sit quietly in the dark. I slept poorly, waking up at every small movement or sound of the children. And in the morning, Baz was up at his usual 7am, which meant that the rest of us were, too. Here he is trying his best to stay quietly out of our way.... he's reading a book by the light of the window. :)

I'm worried about this because we have a lot of plans, over the next few weeks, to stay in hotel rooms. We're attending a wedding next weekend. And then in October, we are planning to spend a full two weeks driving across the country, staying at cheap motels and lodges throughout. And somehow I've got to stay sane throughout.

When I was a kid, when my family traveled, we camped. All in one small camper or tent. We never even had the luxury of hotel rooms. And every other family I know travels together to some degree... sleeping everywhere from motel rooms, to cabins, to cars! why am I feeling like I can't handle these kinds of living quarters, that I'm going to go batty unless I have an apartment suite?!

Deep breaths. First, I must acknowledge that I have been spoiled for almost a year and a half now. Everywhere we go, we are swept into these beautiful lodgings, with separate kitchens and bedrooms, and we carve out our own spaces. I have gotten used to this travel routine, and to spacious apartments and some measure of privacy.

Second, as I think I've mentioned before, I have a powerful need for solitude. In the evenings, after all of the responsibilities that I handle during the day, I absolutely must have an hour or two shut up by myself. I often wish this wasn't the case... that I could get just as much solace from social interaction; but it just doesn't work for me, and I've come to accept that.

So in our travels I will simply have to take time for myself when I can; and when it's impossible, I'll take more of those deep breaths and try to stay in the moment. Hopefully, the adventures will be worth it.

On our way home we pulled off the highway to visit a Big Rock!! It's the Bleasdell Boulder.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Niagara Falls

On Monday, we did the family trip to Niagara Falls, Canada side. As everyone reported, it was beautiful, and touristy. We managed to stick with just the Falls, taking the kids on the Maid of the Mist boat for the full water-spray close-up experience - and we avoided venturing away from the waterfront to the more ridiculous attractions.

The highlight for me was this exquisite rainbow, which lingered for the last half-hour or so of our visit. We attempted numerous times to get a cute photo of the kids under the rainbow. But the sun was pointing directly in their eyes, and none of the tricks / acting coaching we tried worked at all. ("just close your eyes, and then when I say go, open them really fast and smile!") You can see how it went.

In the end, the best photo I got had none of us in it...