Monday, 9 October 2017

Chapter 214: Postcard from La Rochelle

 Seul, on va plus vite. Ensemble, on va plus loin.
On my own, I go faster. Together, we go further.

My stomach lurches each time we walk along the sea wall.  We are in France, in La Rochelle, and the French are pretty laissez-faire when it comes to health and safety. It is clearly a well-trodden walkway, yet there is no sign of a barrier, a "garde-fou" or "protecting-the-idiot" (moi!). The wall is a good couple of feet across, the drop either side barely a few feet, threatening at most a twisted ankle, yet despite my love of tightwire, my palms sweat each time as I follow my children, who are skipping along without a care in the world. One day my youngest slipped her hand through mine. "Mum, why did you decide we should go sailing round the world when you love circus? It must be hard to like two things at the same time." 

For nearly a month now we have been living in La Rochelle and working on the boat. It is a very pretty old port, one that I can still hardly believe exists after reading about it for years in the Tricolore textbooks at school. I have fallen for the towers at the entrance to the old harbour, the cobbled streets in the pedestrian centre, the houses set behind walls, doors sometimes opening onto an inner courtyard to offer a stealthy glimpse of a grande manor or hidden secrets. Now into October the wave of tourists is subsiding, but the tide of bicycles is pretty constant, and we zip around on our Bromptons too, our helmets a clear indication that we are visitors. We have stayed in three different Airbnbs here now, finally moving onto our boat this week, a 40ft catamaran called La Cigale. She is named after the Cicada in the old La Fontaine/Aesop's Fable story, singing and dancing her way through summer while her friend Ant toils makes yproverbial hay while the sun shines in readyness for the winter months. For us the music in the name conjures up continental summer evenings, and, of course, she will always be our "Sea Gal".  Ironically though, with all the preparations in tow, I feel more formicide than singing bug right now, but it's all about balance: connecting with both the industrious Ant and the carefree Cicada. That is why I turned to learning recreational circus skills several years ago at a time when I couldn't see the wood for the trees. Circus, and cicadas, are a state of mind. 
I carry my circus aerialist necklace with me, a talisman from a dear friend, my sea-green silks are safely stowed on board (picked up from Jair during a week intensive at Freedom2Fly - click here) as are a whole bag of juggling balls (in case any slip overboard), but still, I do miss actual circus, the community.

Then one day passing La Coursive, a renowned theatre-dance space here, a Gallic Sadlers Wells, I saw a poster advertising Cirque Le Roux bringing Elephant in the Room to La Rochelle next week. It accentuated, if not homesickness or "mal du pays" exactly, rather a sense of "mal du cirque". I had seen these guys up at the Edinburgh Fringe a couple of years ago (see post - click here), and would have loved to see the production again, wondering how it had developed over the past couple of years, and what it would be like to see it in such a different environment among a non-circus going crowd - or so I assume. Cirque Eloize brought I. D. to La Rochelle a couple of years ago, but contemporary circus does not feature heavily in La Coursive's programme in general. When it transpired that further delays to the boat meant I'd be in town to see them after all, I was further gutted to find the dates were completely sold out. 

Ah well, maybe it really is simply time to open a new chapter and not look back as my youngest assumes. But then the day we moved onto the boat a funny thing happened: I passed by the maritime-themed playground my daughters adore in centre-ville, next to the harbour, to find all sorts of circus shenanigans taking place. My Flying Fantastic-loving daughter spotted the black silks rigged first and tugged at my arm. Mum, look! It turned out that the new playground was being inaugurated that day and Cirque en Scène, both a training space and company from 45 minutes down the road in Niort, had been brought in to entertain with all sorts of activities. They had a trapeze up too, a training tight-wire, rolla-bolla, globe, all sorts of juggling equipment and equilibristic apparatus. We were in seventh heaven, because, of course, I joined in too. I loved watching one of the trainers Mikhail clowning around with the kids, putting on his Donald Duck voice and getting them to fall about laughing so they would relax and forget their fear. It worked on the Mummy too, when persuaded up on my old nemesis of the globe, a hard ball that requires the penguin tapping of happy feet to balance atop. The girls and I are itching now to string up our silks alongside the sheets and get cracking again. Setting sail out of the Bay of Biscay on Wednesday, who knows what circus stories we'll discover down the road...

If you are interested in following our sailing journey, we have set up a webiste for friends at My husband has posted a few videos and photos there already and I will be writing a blog at some point too...