Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The circus on Christmas!

‘Tis the season to be jolly and here it’s no exception. Though Christmas as we know it isn’t celebrated—the Orthodox Christian Christmas is on January 7th and is a much more subdued affair—the celebrations around New Year’s (or novi gode in Russian) more than make up for the lack of Christmas. It’s Christmas and New Year’s traditions all rolled into one big holiday—Christmas tree (yolka), big family dinner, presents (though much less than the US), a version of Santa Claus called Grandfather Frost (who apparently travels from Finland but minus reindeer—unclear how he actually gets here), fireworks at midnight, and the circus! Yes, that’s right, a special edition of the local circus, and special it was.

On Sunday, PCV friend Cheryl and I went with Serdar and Safie to the circus, thanks to free tickets from Lenura’s workplace. And since Sunday happened to be Christmas, it felt like we got a little Christmas celebration in after all. Actually, there was a gathering of about twenty of the Crimean Peace Corps Volunteers in the apartment of one of the Volunteers in town, so Cheryl and I went there briefly before the circus. It was fun to get to meet some of the newbies (only been at site for a week) and see again some of the Volunteers that have come in the last year. But I wasn’t really into being at a big PCV gathering in a tiny apartment (as usual), so was glad to take off for the circus.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I have always been curious about the circus when I walked by its building located in the center of the city. Circuses here in Ukraine and Russia and maybe all of Europe—that I don’t know—are different from the traveling affairs we know. Any city of any size has a permanent building that houses the circus and a company that puts it on, much like a repertoire theater. Traveling circuses also frequently appear—recently the circus from Moscow was here—but the rest of the time there is a continuous circus with different themes. So what we attended was the circus celebrating New Year’s.

Even though the building looks quite large on the outside, it is a fairly small space and every seat provides a good view. And there wasn’t an empty seat—the place was packed with kids and adults. It was what I think of when I think of old time circuses—a single ring with clowns, music, a juggler, a unicyclist, acrobatic and high wire acts, a mime, Grandfather Frost and his attendants, and… animals. And amazing animals they were. Not the usual circus animals of elephants and tigers—which I was glad of because I know of the charges of how circuses treat their animals. But instead we had “damashne jhivotne”—as Safie called them—home animals. Which consisted of: dogs of all sizes and breeds (though those performing poodles dominated the pack), pigs, one monkey, a raccoon, an animal that looked like a raccoon but wasn’t, a skunk, a goat, two different foxes, a porcupine-looking animal, and birds. Lots of different birds—homing pigeons, a rooster who was trained to play dead, chickens, owls, parrots, three storks, a cormorant, and an enormous vulture of some sort. And they were all trained to at least do something, even if it was just to walk around the ring. Well, I’m not sure about the vulture—I think his deal was just to awe us all by flapping his enormous wings. He didn’t seem overly happy about it. But entertaining it was, though I kept thinking that one of the dogs, who shared his act with three pigs, was saying to himself, “you’ve got to be kidding me—what are those pigs doing??”-- as they went sliding backwards down a slide.

I’m not sure Serdar—being the cool young man of 18 now—was totally into it, but Cheryl and Safie and I had a great time. As a result of Safie taking over my camera, I have a LOT of videos of the various acts. As we were all waiting for the bus to go home, Serdar asked me if I would go again and I said, “well maybe not tomorrow, but yes, someday I would like to go back,” and once again have a circus experience that I feel I have only read about in novels.

Hanging out with the new PCV's before going to the circus.
We meet up with Serdar and Safie in front of the circus building.
The front of the circus building in Simferopol.
Inside the circus.

Yes, that really is a pig rolling that drum.

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