When the doctor on call drew back the hospital curtain, he looked my way and said, “Injury to the face, huh? Nice.”
“Thanks,” I said. I would’ve rolled my eyes but it hurt too much. “Will I need stitches?”
“Not unless you want me to reopen the wound,” he said, reopening my wound as he poked my face. “I would recommend a tetanus shot.”
The real question is why was I in the hospital? That’s a good story. It all started the day I smashed my face at Circus World.
Around this time four years ago, I had just finished reading Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. I loved this book. Loved it.
While researching the author, I learned she did quite a bit of research on traveling circus shows in none other than Baraboo, WI at the Circus World Museum. Winter resting grounds of the legendary Ringling Brothers, Baraboo was just a two hour drive away.
I called up my bestie and invited her on a road trip.
Armed with licorice and mix cds, we headed for a place I was ecstatic to go.
The Circus World Museum contains the largest collection of vintage circus wagons, a room full of circus organs, and costumes, photographs and advertisement posters of the greatest trapeze artists, sideshow freaks, clowns, and their animal counterparts around.
I was engrossed. I needed to explore every inch.
And I wanted photographic evidence I had been there.
I was enamored with the magic of the circus. I took pictures with every cutout image I could stick my face in. I took shots of circus miniatures and mannequin sideshow freaks. The only thing I didn’t photograph was the cheeseburger I ate for lunch at the picnic table, and that’s because Instagram wasn’t a thing yet so I didn’t know the world would WANT to see my cheeseburger from the circus.
I got to feed an elephant, you guys. She was beautiful and her name was Tiny. The owner had an animal rescue plantation down in Florida. Tiny’s parents were killed by poachers and he took her in. As she grew up, she wandered in and out of their house – when she could fit – and when she was bigger, stuck her long trunk in through the windows to greet the family.
Tiny was just like Rosie in Water for Elephants. And I was pretending I was Reese Witherspoon, forming an unbreakable connection with this exotic beast.
I was in a bibliophile’s wet dream!
I was seriously having one of the best times of my life because I felt like I was walking through the world of this book that made me fall in love with the circus.
You could say I got a little carried away.
I was off snapping pictures again. Running both to and from my friend in a harried frenzy. Along the cement sidewalk was one of the old animal cages they used to hitch to a horse or truck for parades. It was open. We could go inside.
“Take my picture,” I told my friend, handing her the camera.
With the reckless abandon of an animal that’s been freed, I headed toward the cage, running at full force up the metal stairs and through the doorway.
Almost through the doorway…
In my blind enthusiasm, I failed to notice that the doorway was shorter than I was, and therefore ran smack into the metal frame which clanged in revolt and propelled my head backwards.
Down the path I heard someone’s father say, “OHMYGOD, are you ok?”
Not even a concussion could stop me from enjoying the circus. Without a single second’s delay, I ducked into the circus cage, grabbed a hold of the bars and feigned normality by bearing my teeth and shouting once more to my friend, “Take my picture!”
“No,” was all she said.
“Am I bleeding?”
I put my hand to my face, which yes, throbbed from its introduction to the doorframe moments ago, but I assumed I was fine.
When I pulled my hand back down it was full of blood.
My friend stood in the grass a few yards away. Speechless.
She ran to me in the cage, threw our stuff down on the floor and said she was going to get some paper towel.
Which left me, for the record, bleeding from the face – in no less than 3 places – from the inside of an animal cage in the middle of Circus World.
Children were running up with their parents to go inside and stopping midway up the stairs. They didn’t expect to see a demon inside.
After what seemed like hours, my friend returned with two handfuls of paper towel.
“I’m sorry! The first person I found, it was like her first day, so she didn’t know where the bathrooms were, and I had to run all the way to the front entrance to get these,” she explained out of breath. “But look at you! Not a drop of blood on your white shirt!”
Both my arms were covered in blood however because I’d used them to plug up all the holes on my face.
“Do I look like Carrie?” I asked, embarrassment settling in.
“Let’s get you to the ladies’ room.” And that’s the sign of true friend.
So the emergency room. I awoke the next morning with two black eyes, a baseball size lump on my forehead, and a chunk – one might say a divot – of skin missing from the bridge of my nose.
Oh, and because I’m not athletic in the slightest, I didn’t know I should’ve iced. *sigh*
You know what? I still enjoyed the circus. After cleaning myself up, frightening more families in the process, I put on some sunglasses and headed into the hippodrome with my bestie.
Damn that was a good time!
Tell me about a time you faced disasters
and still managed to come out smiling.
Or, I’m still in the market for a good scar minimizer.
Got any suggestions?
So begins Erin Morgenstern’s book The Night Circus. It’s a short, simple line, but I was intrigued.
Well that, and we know I have a soft spot (read: scar) for circuses. 😉
The Night Circus is the story of two illusionists who must compete to the death inside an arena of circus tents. But neither of them knows that. All they know is that they’ve been raised to perfect their skills for a competition they know nothing about, and that they’re falling madly in love with each other.
The book can be classified as magical realism, which is a growing genre trend that involves magic, but in a way where it is unmentionable. To clarify, for example with this story, both of the main characters have the ability to create things and distort reality with their illusions, but it’s never said outright that they are magic. The setting is considered normal world. And it’s believable.
I did an exercise at the writers conference I just attended for a class on setting. We took the idea of ‘home’ and wrote a scene that was detailed both in the senses and feelings. The activity was captivating. Everyone who attended the class was talking about it the whole weekend, because as we shared examples the scenes were so varied yet we each created a picture of a place and an emotion that emanated there. Where Morgenstern succeeds in this novel is that the world of the circus is very astutely described.
I have a confession. Place has never drawn me into a book. When I read Wuthering Heights, I skimmed over the moors. When I read The Thorn Birds, I flipped the pages right past Drogheda. But the Night Circus?
I wanted to know more.
My Favorite Setting Stand Outs in The Night Circus:
- Colors – Everything in the circus is decorated in black and white. The tents, the walls, the costumes. They are only ever black and white. So, when you have a scene where a character very deliberately changes her gown from emerald green to black to green again – the visual becomes more intense. The color stands out a little brighter. The “Revers” (meaning ‘dreamers’, AKA: circus folk) all wear red scarves so they know one another. In a crowd of black and white, the red pops.
- Clocks – A fascinating side character is a clock maker who works closely with Celia, the female illusionist. The main clock over the circus tent is described as transforming from day to night as the hours pass with dancing scenes floating by like the most elaborately created cuckoo clock your imagination could describe.
- Circus Tents – Of course the circus itself is described in great detail. There are rooms of mirrors in which you only see yourself, but when glancing over your shoulder, there is a crowd behind you. Another room is all white – floors, walls, and ceiling – and it snows there, but there is a great bonfire inside.
If you haven’t read The Night Circus, I highly recommend it.
Its world and its story are rich. A very good read indeed.
Have you read it? What did you think?
What’s your favorite book that highlights a place – fictional or not?
Did you participate in a book challenge this year? There are so many fun ones it’s hard to choose, but I completed my first year with the To Be Read Pile Challenge. It’s a contest to complete 12 books that have been sitting on your shelf for over a year. The prize for all those who complete their 12 books is a chance for a $50 gift card to Amazon or Book Depository. Pretty awesome, right?
To learn more about the To Be Read Pile Challenge click the 2013 link above and sign up for next year’s contest!
Part of the qualifier for the contest is to write up a review of each of the 12 books you read. It can be as elaborate or simple as you like. Check out my 2012 book list and past reviews at any of these links:
My TBR Pile Challenge Books:
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
- Little Bee by Chris Cleave
- Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
- The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
- Blessings by Anna Quindlen
- The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
- The Lace Reader by Bromonia Barry
- The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee
- Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
- The Preacher’s Bride by Jody Hedlund
- Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters, Jane Austen
I have yet to do my final review of the last book, so I present…
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Geek Love is the story of the Binewski family, a bunch of circus freaks taking their act on the road.
That, and they actually create their act. Al and Lil Binewski willingly subject themselves to various mixtures of drugs in hopes of birthing the most wonderful freaks and geeks for their family show! There’s Arturo, the aqua boy. Iphy and Elly the siamese twins. Oly, the dwarf hunchback. And their newest member, Chick, who’s the most special of all.
The story actually jumps around a bit between the family’s early years on the road and where they ended up down the line.
The shining glory of the story is in its bizarre, twisted writing. It’s strange phrasing of words reminds me of my first encounter with A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.
Sample the Writing:
Here’s a sample, one of my favorite descriptive paragraphs wherein the father is telling the children about his wife’s glory days in the ring as…the woman who bites heads off of chickens!
She fluttered around like a dainty bird, and when she caught those ugly squawking hens you couldn’t believe she’d actually do anything. When she went right ahead and geeked ’em that whole larruping crowd went bonzo wild. There never was such a snap and twist of the wrist, such a vampire flick of the jaws over a neck or such a champagne approach to the blood. She’d shake her star-white hair and the bitten-off chicken head would skew off into the corner while she dug her rosy little fingernails in and lifted the flopping, jittering carcass like a golden goblet, and sipped! Absolutely sipped at the wriggling guts! She was magnificent, a princess, a Cleopatra, an elfin queen! That was your mama in the geek pit.
It’s quite entrancing really. I loved the writing. But, the story did wane a bit for me. I would’ve been perfectly content reading more stories about them on the road together as youngsters. As the story unfolded to their later years, and the subsequent demise of the Binewski circle I began to hate many of these characters.
I do think this book would make for a fascinating movie. And if I were a make up artist/creature creator I’d so want in on the production! Visually, I love the book.
I am a big Goodreads fan and check out other reader reviews on there often. It seemed most readers were really divided. Cumulatively, Geek Love holds a solid 4.0 rating out of 5 stars, which is pretty dang high. But reader response was quite split between full on love and then other 2.0 ratings like myself where it was a lot of I really liked it, but… statements.
Don’t take my word for it, read it yourself! It’s certainly an interesting premise!
And 2013 is almost here! Sign up for the To Be Read Pile Challenge at Roof Beam Reader. See you there!
Preface: I recently finished reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and learned that she did some of her research at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. So this Memorial Day Weekend, my best friend and I, took a two hour road trip TO THE CIRCUS!!!
History: Set on the grounds alongside the Baraboo River, the Circus Museum is where the Ringling Brothers grew up and also where they rested and repaired their acts during the winter. The museum is set up in a series of buildings as well as the circus grounds themselves. Eight out of ten of the original winter quarter buildings are part of the museum. Originally begun by the Ringling Brothers attorney, John M. Kelley, and then signed over to the state of Wisconsin, the museum has been open since 1959 and is now operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Gruen’s setting of the traveling circus set during the depression is a very realistic depiction. The time between 1880 and 1930 is considered to be the golden age of the American Circus. When the Depression hit, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey show was the main circus to survive. Commissioned by the army for WWII recovery, they had tents made by the canvas department. The army also studied the circus for its efficiency in packing the train cars, everything always going into the same car in the same sequence so everything was accounted for. Circuses kept up morale, so the RBBB show was excluded from the wartime restrictions on rail travel.
Circus Posters: The first room you enter in the museum is the history of the circus poster. Examples of original wood cut and lithography are shown. What surprised me the most about the posters is the strange images and shows they advertised. I had no idea how exotic some of the first shows were. There are posters depicting Burmese Long Neck Women and animal charmers from the African forests. No wonder shows like RBBB had crowds of 10,000 people and three rings entertaining simultaneously. Where else would you be able to see such things?
Spectacular, Spectacular: The second half of the room gives you the history of the Ringling Brothers and their top performers. Lillian Leitzel is considered to be the Queen of the Circus, performing trapeze acts never accomplished again. She was only 4’9″ and 95 pounds which makes me love her all the more. She tragically died during a performance in Copenhagen.
If you’re traveling with kids, you won’t be disappointed by the Spectacular room. There are costumes!!! I so would have been in one, but we got there with a massive group and everything was swiped. Kids of all ages will have fun checking out the parade wagons and glitzy costumes on display here. And one whole wall is a recreation miniature circus. You can see the whole overview of the three rings, animal tent, sideshow tents, rail cars, etc. Really cool to visualize what the whole set up looked like.
Meet Tiny: Next up, my friend and I crossed the bridge that led to the circus grounds. First stop, go meet the elephant!
Tiny, a female elephant, was rescued when she was about six months old. Her parents were poached for the ivory in their tusks, and she was left behind. She lives most of her days at an animal reservation in Florida with her human family. She used to be allowed in the house when she was little, and now she taps her trunk on the upstairs windows and pokes her head inside for treats and toys. Her owner grew up in the circus and his family does the act with Tiny in the Hippodrome. Tiny is such a part of the family that she doesn’t need to be chained up. She roams the paddock and is funny and gentle in the home she’s come to know.
Wagons: Two of the buildings at Circus World are for wagons. One room houses a vast collection of over 200 circus wagons, the largest and most significant collection in the world. The second allows you to view the wagon restoration process and see inside what a personal rail car would look like.
Sideshow: There’s also a history of the sideshow. One tent houses replicas of the most famous freaks of the RBBB show.
Major Mishap: Ladies and Gentlemen, next up at Circus World witness Jess take on the Animal Cage in a fearless stupor of enthusiasm!
Yep, that’s right, I had a little accident at Circus World. The museum is full of wonderful photo opportunities, funny cut outs, animal rides, rich historic wagons, costumes, and memorabilia. One of the attractions included an open animal wagon you could go inside. I should tell you, the whole day I had been running around the house crying “I’m going to Circus World, I’m going to Circus World, Freaky and Fabulous can be found at Circus World!” At this point in my friend’s and my trek, we had fed and pet an elephant, and learned all kinds of cool things about the history of the circus and what a big role our state played in one of the greatest shows on earth!
So, we’ve got this animal cage, right? You walk up the steps, go into the cage, grab the bars, growl or smile for a picture and walk out. Simple? Should be…but if one has the anticipation and excitement of kid let loose in a world of sequins, big animals, onion rings, cotton candy, and an upcoming circus performance, it’s not that easy. All I ask, dear reader, is that you show a little sympathy, but I understand if you laugh at my injury induced enthusiasm.
You’re familiar with the expression “Walk, don’t run?” Mmm, should’ve listened more. I RAN up the metal stairs into the metal wagon whereupon I HIT with a thunderous bang my FACE on the doorframe. Families walking down the path cried out, “Are you ok?” *Shake it off, don’t make a scene*
The following is a re-enactment of the dialogue between my friend and I:
“Are you ok?”
“Yah, I’m fine. Take my picture!”
“What’s wrong, am I bleeding?”
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I hit my face so hard, not only did I have a gash, and I mean gash, on my nose dripping blood, I also had a gusher of a bloody nose, and one bad headache. My friend ran off to get paper towel, unbeknownst to me couldn’t find a bathroom and the one volunteer she ran into was the girl’s first day and she hadn’t a clue. So, if we’re taking notes here, that would leave me BLEEDING IN A CAGE IN THE MIDDLE OF CIRCUS WORLD, FRIGHTENING LOTS OF CHILDREN!
“Here’s some paper towel. Let’s clean you up.”
“Is it bad?”
“Um a little bit. But look at you, not a drop on your clothes!”
“My arms are covered in blood!”
“Can you make it to the bathroom?”
“Do I look like Carrie?”
“Let’s use my water bottle first.”
You know you’ve got a true friend when they help you clean blood off your face. Despite the baseball size lump on my forehead and the 3/4 inch chunk of skin missing from my nose that bled all day and forced me to make period stops in the restroom to clean my face up, I demanded with the same enthusiasm that we STAY AT THE CIRCUS! I put my sunglasses on and some tissue in my purse, and we headed for the hippodrome.
So, one road trip, and one ER visit/tetanus shot later, I’m a bit puffy, there’s an unattractive cut on my nose, and I’ve now earned a black eye, but I highly recommend you all HEAD TO THE CIRCUS! I had a freaky, fantastic time!
What story should I tell everyone at work tomorrow?
Leave your suggestions in the comments! I’ll need all the help I can get. 😉