By Gloria Marthai


mexican-circusThere was a time when elephants and prancing ponies paraded through cobbled village streets to announce the arrival of a circus. Today, pickups with loud speakers blare the news. Legendary and glitzy, the mystique of the circus has appealed to both simple and sophisticated societies for hundreds of years.

The recent beach encampment of a small “big top” for six days in San Pedro Tesistan was even more exciting because of its real proximity. The vehicles of modern nomads include trailers, cars, campers, pickups and flatbeds, and all encircle the main tent. The performing animals (such as a pair of caged African lions) graze along the perimeter. A Peruvian guanaco hastily tries to work up saliva to spit when someone draws near, while a gangly, long-limbed black monkey leaps from branch to branch.

Large extended families, descended from strong, proud generations of circus people, still caravan throughout Mexico to bring delight to even the most remote villages. Their diversity astounds, fascinates and mystifies.

There are five performances, none of which is repeated. The circus’s repertoire seems endless. Young kids peddle candied apples and cotton candy while the villagers anxiously await the fanfare that heralds the entrance of baton-twirling young women in sequined leotards.

Chiapas-born Cados Martinez, charismatic owner and manager of this circus is dark-skinned, with his long locks tied back in a pony tail. He speaks with passion about his family. His children and grandchildren perform, as does his wife, who while on her back with her legs up, twirls flaming torches with her feet. In the finale, the newest baby of the group, wrapped in a sequined blanket, makes a whirling debut.

Concentration is paramount to survival on the trapeze and high wire. Months earlier, when a traffic accident claimed the lives of two of the performers, the trapeze act went on that same night, as the brothers of the dead men laid aside their grief to make sure the show would go on.

However, for all their valor and unique talents, the circus performers live simple lives, replete with all the usual problems. The women wash and cook, raise children. TV antennas top each trailer. Everybody works at maintenance, animal care and training. In off-hours they practice their specialties in the big tent, which serves as the center of their temporary community. There they chatter and discuss and their trained poodles can simply be dogs.

But mounting costs now threaten these small traveling circuses. The lions alone consume 50 kilos of meat every day. The indomitable circus spirit, however, has prevailed for centuries, and hopefully it will continue to enthrall many generations to come. Long live the Mexican circus!

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