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  • Jerome Kocher

58. The Circus is in Town

I’ve been in Kazakhstan for five curiosity filled days.  Who are the Kazakhs? What is their history? Why don’t I know anything about them? Before I peel away the layers of that onion, let me start with a total surprise. The circus is in town and so am I.

On a Sunday afternoon, within thirty minutes I was able to walk to the Metro subway, travel four stops and get out at the Theatre Station. I still cannot read Russian to identify the different stations, but I made this trip before to buy a ticket and it was “four stops.” So like in the fairy tales I drop a magic bean at each stop to count my way across the city. Four beans there, four back. The same for walking to local restaurants, two blocks south, turn right, one block, then left. Not knowing the language and unable to read the Cyrillic alphabet on the street signs puts me into a prelinguistic mentality of counting landmarks. My world is a binary one of left and right turns. I just have to remember how far.

I get out of the Metro. Across the street is the Circus, an indoor year round event hall. Children of all ages are being magnetically drawn to this site, accompanied by parents and grandparents. Like the Pied Piper we are being pulled into a magical world. Hey, I’m with my people. The circus is the one theatrical event that doesn’t use language to communicate. It’s all body skills, strength, and gestures from tightrope walking to clowning. And amidst the kids I now speak their language. Wow! Oh! Oh no! Ahhh! 

We are all full of anticipation. I notice there are petting booths for kids. One has two bunny rabbits that parents can have their child photographed with. Another has two poodles, colored orange and blue. Pretty exotic. It’s not the San Diego Zoo, but who cares. And it’s so sweet. We are in an urban environment and to lovingly stroke an animal while you’re mother is beaming ear to ear, how cool is that. Even grandma is pulling out her cell phone and using blue tooth to download this precious moment. And everyone’s cell phone is bigger and better than mine. Hmmm. An American invented the smart phone. And they’re in Kazakhstan, and most of them are more digitally capable than I. But the show is starting.

Inside the round arena everyone is finding their seat. My ticket is in Russian, but it thankfully uses Arabic numerals for row and seat. Thank god I know a little Arabic. I sit down next to a mother and daughter. They switch seats so the daughter is not next to me. Is it because I’m American? Old? Probably all that and being a guy. Don’t risk it, not at the circus. But once the lights dim down we’ll all be clapping and laughing. We will all be one, in a prelinguistic world of awe and wonder.

Tightrope walkers are first. Unbelievable. I need handrails on stairs and these performers are thirty feet off the ground. The man can even do it with a black sack over the head so he can’t see. And a woman walks a diagonal rope at twenty degrees. Part of the showmanship and drama is that at first she can’t do it. Her shoes slip backwards on the rope with every step. She shakes her head, “Nyet.” We all gasp! Then she takes her shoes off and walks it barefooted. All are silent until she completes her stunt and grabs the pole again, dramatically. Everyone else is grabbing their seat. Hey, we are one again, prelinguistic.

The acts are universal. Acrobats, contortionist, aerial feats Cirque du Soleil style, and  of course a performing bear, especially since it’s a Russian circus. The clowns were the highlight as they were the thread that wove in between the awe inspiring feats of the human body. I loved the clowns. We all loved the clowns. I don’t laugh enough, and they made me laugh. I won’t describe their acts, because any time one explains good humor, it’s suddenly not funny. Another prelinguistic moment. If you want to unify humanity . . . send in the clowns. They speak a common language. We overthink so much. Clowns don’t. They’re innocent, vulnerable, wear their heart on their sleeve . . . until it falls off.

After the show the clowns mixed with the crowd in the foyer. We all took selfies with them. Especially the children. And of course, me too! The circus makes you a child again. It was fun.

On the way home I held the escalator handrail tight as I descended into the underground. Not taking any chances here. I kept my shoes on. And counted . . four beans coming, four beans back.

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Jack Greenspun
Jack Greenspun
May 13

You have finally achieved oneness! All hail the prelinguistic mind.

And bring in the clowns! Or is that redundant…


May 13

Looking good Jerome. A circus, wow, that's cool. Great to see you are having fun.

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