I fell in love with/befriended the hottest new international circus, had some epic times with the troupe, + cried when I said goodbye.
And, it all started with getting dropped off at the wrong place at the right time.
I had no real expectations about London, it was just the cheapest flight into (Pre-Brexit) Europe. I never thought it would be so hard to leave, and never imagined I would be in tears on the underground after saying au revoir to a French Canadian circus.
It was my first full day in London, I was en (Uber) route to see a friend emceeing a youth event, and I fell asleep in the backseat. My driver dropped me super far away, at the London Eye. Not interested in the mega-tourist vibes, I walked around disgruntled, hoping that my surprise location was fate. I passed London’s Wonderground and noticed “BARBU,” a big poster with 7 hot acrobats, mostly bearded, tattooed, Quebecuoise. Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet.
Distracted by a great glass of South African wine, I had to run to the show, and quickly bought Ghanaian plantains and a Pimms on my way. Yum. Despite my "cheap seats," I was sat in a booth with a good view.
The show blew me away. Roller skates, musk, daisies, a fiddle, insane acrobatics, campy wit, raw, sexy, soul-pleasing, beautiful beings wow-ing every sense I own. Fate for sure. :)
(If you haven't booked your ticket, do it now.)
Cirque Alfonse is like Cirque de Soile’s deep, super-sultry, folk-vibed, hipster, homegrown, unpolished-but-equally-talented former roommate. This poor description fails to express the performance’s hot richness and profound artistry. The music alone. The physical splendor. The video visuals... amazing. I was enthralled… and in love. With the performance, and everyone in the company.
Being a silly girl, also I tried to decide which one I would most wanna have a kiss and snuggle with... tough call. The gingie-blond, super-fit one. For sure. When the show ended, it was like eating a grand, foreign, 5 course meal; I was satisfied, stoked, + sad it was over.
I stayed in the Wonderland beer garden for a moment to take advantage of free WiFi. I looked up from my phone and saw the company hanging out; drinking, sweaty, in more clothes, still eye-linered. HOT.
I walked over to the bar. I glanced their way and realized that (maybe?) I had caught the eye of the blond acrobat that I might have fantasizing about during the show. #winning So I bought them all drinks. They would later buy all of mine.
Getting to know them was easy, delightful, and after 20 minutes, I felt in the presence of potential friends. I tried to balance being genuine with my genuine excitement. I tried to share my admiration for their courage and art. They invited me back stage.
It was a beautiful, colorful, slightly smelly mess. I offered to deejay the hang, put my iPhone in a mug, and opened my eyes to take it in. The conversation flowed between cute labored English and easy French. The crew talked "notes" with firm gestures about better ways to grip, catch, throw, and hold each other. Rainbow streamers lay on beard oil and deodorant.
"We're going back to our home in Camden. Come. We go to, ah, the Spiritual Bar."
Like it would take much convincing. Gen Morin, the female acro-wonder and partner of cirque founder, Antoine Carabinier Lépine, asked if I would ride her bike back so she could take it easy on the tube. Seemed dangerous, I dug down into my intuitive sense. "It would be my pleasure."
This meant a 5 mile ride, through busy London streets, at 11pm, in the rain, following the man I just witnessed defy physical possibilities.
Gen called to me, "Oh, Shaina, don't shift gears! Broken!" (smile)
If I wasn't alive to life during the show, I was now. Rainbow street lights glistened at high-speed around me, tires slid, my face was wet with rain, we were going fast. I was grateful I was rocking trail running shoes with my lil romper. I needed that grip. I felt true appreciation for my physical capacity and shocked by my body's ability. I had made a concentrated effort to get into great shape before my travels, and it was needed now. I had to tighten my eyes and push through something big to keep up with Antoine.
I followed him through quick changes, squeezing tight between red double decker buses, up a bridge, on-and-off the narrow edge of sidewalks. Wow, I was smiling huge. This was one of the most epic, and most fun, and most dangerous, moments of my life.
We met at the Spiritual Bar. My new friends, who had traveled by underground, carried my bag and were excited to tell me that they had gone through my stuff and took photos with my camera. Here they are:
The Spiritual Bar was a great little Brazilian Camden hang, and the owner's frequent shoulder grabs and placement of the cirque's photo on the wall confirmed his shared admiration for the gang. They were cool. The night was young. And, Jean-Philippe (the blond one) held his smiles with mine.
The bar closed and we moved on. I walked with the group's über talented deejay/fiddle-player, Dâvi Simard. He told me he'd be leaving the cirque to go pick blueberries in Quebec with his family. I promised to make him a mix to pick to, he offered a mix to travel to, we pinky-swore.
We walked into vinyl soul night at Joe's. We danced, drank, laughed, and hugged into the night. Jean-Philippe was a great dancer; funny, fun, fast, on it. He held me and kissed my forehead as if we knew each other for years. Gen asked if she could hang with me in Florida while on break from their tour. It was one of those stretches of time that words won’t ever cover, my fingers were crossed that I would be able to recall the night and the magic glitter in our wild smiles.
The following day I left for a few days of trail running in Northern England, and then an impromptu trip up to Scotland.
I had to return to London to fly to Dublin and I debated if I should hang out with my new favorite friends again. It was pretty perfect night and I didn't want this one to be a let down. Again, my intuition egged me on. And it was the fourth of July. Best to spend it with French Canadians in Britain.
Jean-Philippe invited me to meet them for fish and chips. It was warming to see their kind faces after a stretch on my own. I dropped my bag at their flat, and I asked if I could do a load of laundry. An easy yes and JP helped me figure out the crazy British washing machine. We went back to Joe's, and as the night warmed up, this time to doo wop, it too was golden. Intuition rocks.
I woke up to the smell of bacon, a knock-knock, + "Breakfast!!!"
Antoine had made a delicious spread. My laundry was hanging in the kitchen, my heart was totally full and my excitement about boarding a flight to Ireland was minimal. We ate, they talked about meeting Madonna a few nights earlier. She had come to their show and expressed similar appreciation after. Glad everyone seems to get it. Even Madonna.
Jean-Philippe walked me to the underground and ran back to the flat to retrieve the bag I left behind. I cried on the underground. The hardest thing about meeting super groovy people while traveling, is continuing to travel, without them.
I'm surfing in Tarifa Spain now, and I smile every time I dry my face with my towel. It still smells of their detergent and bacon.