Saturday, December 31, 2011

Out of the Past: Happy Old Year! ... Highlights and Lowlights of the Season Past

First posted December 31, 2011

Tomoko Nakagawa, 1955

Let's give a toast
-- and roast a little, too -- to the season about to hit the history books. These informal impressions are drawn from my visits to most of the big tops and to Ringling. They are NOT based upon a careful evaluation of all I've seen.

Randomly speaking ...

Best News: Big Apple Circus is in fine hands, those of new artistic director Guillaume Dufresnoy. He has displayed both a penchant for novelty (porcupine and pig!) and a subtle flair for top-drawer staging. Will this alone turn the corner? Not exactly, but I think BAC has too much going for it to hit the skids. [comments that follow pertain to Dance On!]

Worst News: Continued media-rattling allegations of elephant abuse at Ringling: Mother Jones magazine doing a story on the issue; the show reaching a $270,000 settlement with the USDA, without admitting guilt. Jay Leno making hay of the issue on the Tonight Show. These unwelcome developments, combined with a bill being passed through congress that would curtail performing animals in circuses -- and the mere idea of the Ringling staff being taught how to handle and care for its own animals by USDA outsiders -- may mark the most embarrassing PR setback ever for "The Greatest Show on Earth." Not to mention the negative impact it will have upon public perceptions in general of all circuses. Who is ultimately responsible? Kenneth Feld.

Welcome Return: The aerial ballet, in new diverse forms, as witness wonderful incarnations of it on Cole Bros. Circus of Stars and Ringlings' Fully Charged.

Best act combing acrobatics and comedy: The African tumblers on Circus Vargas. A sly riot.

Most innovative act: The Wuqiao Acrobatic Troupe on Uni-wheels at Big Apple Circus

Best old thrill turn cleverly recycled. The human fuse on Ringling's Fully Charged.

Most delightful animal act: (hope I got this one right): Jenny Vidbel's horse-riding goats.

Best ringmaster (kindly keep in mind, I do not see all shows) Kelly Miller's John Moss III.

Worst ringmaster. Shall we count the blowhards? How about Cole, Ringling (Iverson), Vargas, and Carson & Barnes.

Best band: Big Apple Circus

Best taped score: Cole Bros. Circus of Stars

Worst performance setting (no rings,no respect): a tie between Ringling and Cole Bros. Circus of Stars

Best spectacle: The second half segments of Ringling's Fully Charged

Most Offensive spectacle: Unused ring curbs stacked in clusters on Ringling Fully Charged set. Rub your indifference in our eyes, Feld Family!

Warmest atmosphere: Kelly Miller Circus

Best little house act bordering on the amateur: The modestly delightful dogs on Carson & Barnes.

Most impressive contortion display: the solo contortionist on Carson & Barnes. [I have since learned that he was likely Franklin Solis]. He brings exciting new dynamics to an act that can all too often seem all too sloooooooooooooooooooooooow. Bravo!

Most dazzling young big top star: Adrian Poema, Jr. on Kelly-Miller.

Most hair-raising thriller: As I recall, on Circus Vargas, the separation between the two halves of the Globe of Death when the thing split open was incredibly wide, giving me a chill I rarely get at circuses these safer days.

Most vexingly uneven show: Carson & Barnes, from world class (Solis, among two or three top turns) to world crass.

Most remarkably scored big cage act: Cole Bros. Circus of Stars

Worst prop department: Cole Bros. klutzy forklift operations.

Biggest downer of the year: the thoroughly mean-spirited new film Water for Elephants.

Worst show-disrupting spiel: A tie between Kelly Miller's Peterson Peanut plea and Ted McCray's prolonged snake photo grind on Circus Vargas, bloating the intermission for as long as it takes.

Best performance setting: Big Apple Circus

Biggest disappointment: Cirque du Soleil's Totem. Is the world running out of talent enough to stock the CDS franchise? A thousand dry ice machines, a thousand flashing laser beams will not completely disguise threadbare goods.

Most welcome sight: A full house at Circus Vargas in Hollywood. Me wonders if the terrific CV product placement in Water for Elephants caused a minor stamped onto the lot at Sunset Boulevard -- boffo location!

The last word: To Baraboo's perennial booster, the good Doc Bob Dewel, who, like too many "visitors" to this blog, never deposits a single comment here but charms his way in through my e-mail. Bob's latest report on restoration work underway at his beloved Al Ringling Theatre: "Apparently we are never destined to have a sugar daddy with a million bucks or so, but are slowly restoring on our own, with a qualified artist. Outer lobby gleams, inner lobby is nearly done---we spent $1000 just to verify for certain the original colors (Peach and Gold, light and bright). ... All eleven dressings rooms restored, Ladies lounge partially finished ...Rapp and Rapp would be proud. So would Al. Ringling. Incidentally Al’s magnificent mansion is for sale! "

The last photos: Let's bring on Lory Lagoyda, whose mom and dad worked on Ringling 1955-56. Her mother, Tomoko Nakagawa, came over when she was just 18 with the Uyeno Troupe -- eight young ladies --from Japan, imported by John Ringling North to lend additional beauty and charm to production numbers. Lory's dad worked with the elephants. Here are some pics of Tomoko, and how happy she looks to be in the great Ringling chorus!

Tomoko Nakagawa in the Mexicanorama aerial ballet, 1956

One of the Mama's in the Park, 1955

Say it With Flowers, 1956 spec

And that's a Happy Old Year!


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Those Were A Few of My Favorite Things ... One Magical Christmas Many Seasons Ago ...

When I first heard the song from the original cast album of the Broadway hit, The Sound of Music, I was utterly entranced by its mystical relevance to the Christmas season -- which was, appropriately, then upon us. It's, I suppose, the rich imagery of Oscar Hammerstein's lyric-- among the gems, "snow flakes that stay on my nose and eye lashes" -- that set the song so hauntingly apart from all others. Only the Great Oscar could craft such magic.

How poignant the stretch of time that has passed, remembering the moment in my bedroom first hearing the song played on a Sunday evening radio show that featured newly released cast albums, and then, a week or so later, playing it on my "magnificent Magnavox" hi fidelity record player. As enchanting then as it remains now.

It became a legendary jazz classic. Lately, it's found its way into the Holiday cannon. Just heard Andy Williams on a Comcast music channel singing it. Wonderful rendition.

It has been sung by millions. One of life's deepest satisfactions is to observe younger generations embracing elements of popular culture that I was there to embrace when they were first introduced.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pretty Pictures for the Holidays ...

Courier & Ives by Monet: From Baraboo with Charm: "Happy Holiday from Al Ringling Theatre Friends"

Out to best Cirque du Soleil? Out to trump The Once Greatest Show on Earth? That tent, under which the horse and acrobatic show, Cavalia, is holding court in Atlanta, is claimed to be the "the world's largest touring big top," its height a staggering 125 feet. Its spread -- 100,000 sq. feet. Came in from Montreal on 115 semi-trucks and a work load of 300 people. Took 'em a month to load up out of Montreal (founded by Cirque spin offs, of which there seem to be thousands), move to Atlanta, and spread their gargantuan canvas. Why not a red and silver train, please, Santa -- in three sections? Please, oh please!

Who on earth is funding this monster? Are they hoping to go broke? Show uncorked on December 7, and unless it gets extended, reports What Now Atlanta (yes, indeed), the big top will vanish from Atlanta's midtown skyline after the last show on January 8.

Cavlia is offering a new show titled Odysseo. I saw an earlier edition, ponderously impressive, several years ago and predicted it had no future. How stupidly I predicted. Or maybe it has funding from Canada, something like that. The audacious magnitude of its physical layout trumps (I did not think such a thing was possible until now) the ill-fated Gene Kelly directed Clownaround, whose set was probably heavier and more complicated than the building itself, the Oakland Coliseum Arena, in which it premiered. After moving to San Francisco's Cow Palace, it went from Clownaround to Clownaground. (Well, I did mange to get Mr. Kelly's autograph.)

Let the sunshine back in, Florida! In land of Great Fallen Irvin Feld Dreams, a much smaller dream is taking shape in Disney World's revamped Fantasyland. This new parcel to be called Storybook Circus neighborhood. They're really, it seems, recycling the Dumbo ride and a few other existing attractions, plus adding, in Disneyspeak, "select experiences."

I'd rather go back to soft dreamy Baraboo ...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday in Shambles: Bandwagon Rolls Out More Historical Grit ... Grandma Rues Her Last Big Apple Season ... Tom & Suri Cruise Upstage the Show ...

Nice little kick off: Something about this photo charms me. It does not look exactly to scale and the banner lines give off a wonderfully crude (should I say simple?) technique. Maybe that's why. It's on display at the Penobscot Marine Museum's Main Street Gallery in Searsport -- wherever that is. Up there in Maine. Called Bex Bros. Circus. Sometimes the distortions and/or simplifications of an amateur's hand can reap superior results.

Bandwagon getting stormed by new subscribers, in the lucky dozens! That's the Circus Historical Society magazine, its articles now digging deep into the nitty gritty of fast money moving or dooming circuses. A neat piece in the current issue turning on the lore spun during a 1921 newspaper interview with Governor John F. Robinson, a sampling of which: "Before he got within two feet of the boy he pulled a pistol and shot his father dead. The performance was finished after that, but it wasn't a lively one." And now, THIS: In 1875, about six years before P.T. teamed up with James A. and crowned themselves the Greatest Show on Earth -- well, hold your convictions! Those four fab words were used on John Robinson's Great World's Exposition. yes they were ... Another item here passing my mind: "Children of all ages" is a term predating John Ringling North or Norman Bel Geddes, the latter in some quarters, I think, said to have originated it. I've seen it in old circus programs, for one, Sells-Floto. So now you know.

Tom Cruise Steals the Show at Big Apple Circus:
That's what it appears, from a story in the London Daily Mail by one Sarah Bull (and boy, can she dish it up) about Mr. Cruise, wife and 5-year-old daughter, Suri, she decked out in frills that suggest advanced prepping to walk the streets a few years hence for some yet-to-be sanctioned reality show. Not a peep in this flagrantly shallow, fashion-obsessed yarn about the show itself, all about the daughter's little pink dress, et all. Biggest scoop, this: Suri's Santa wish list totals $130,000. "Even though she has everything she could ever want, Suri asked for diamond earrings and beautiful dresses, like a fairy princess gown." Pardon me for throwing up ...

Grandma's Big Apple Circus Good byes:
Talking to Scott Simon on NPR, Bary Lubin talks about his career on Big Apple. This his last season. And why not a grand return to the Ringling banner? That's where Lubin developed the character. Only problem -- would he agree to perform it at every show? Perhaps the Feld of Felds would allow him to bring along his regular understudy. I doubt I've even seen Lubin do Grandma at the last few shows I've seen, none at Lincoln Center and none at night. I'm a Grandma fan, but I think its creatively healthy for both parties to part company ... When I see the show in Queens next spring, I'd like to go up to Grandma, shake her hand and in her ear whisper, "Are you my real Grandma?"

And that's dicey disrespectful rap, kids. Blame it on that index for my book, still fogging up my mind.

Wave "Hello" to Little ZaZa!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Circus Book’s World Premiere at Monte Carlo 2012; “Second” Autographed Copy to be Offered in Silent Auction at Famed Festival

MONTE OAKLAND, CA. Inside the Changing Circus: A Critic’s Guide, by David Lewis Hammarstrom (aka: Showbiz David) will make its debut on the world stage in January at Monaco during the 36th Festival International du Cirque de Monte Carlo.

‘I am gratified by this totally unexpected invitation,” said the author, who received it from the Festival’s executive director, Laura van der Meer. He noted that a previous book of his, Big Top Boss: John Ringling North and the Circus, earned a warm endorsement from the late H.S.H. Prince Rainier III, who established the annual festival in 1974. (Circus impresario Ringling North and Rainer were good friends, and North judged a few of the Monte Carlo meets.)

But why the “second” autographed copy”? Answered the author with a smile, “because I promised the first to my good friend, Boyi Yuan, without whom I would never have traveled to China last year and thus would never have experienced close up the bold artistic advances transforming leading acrobatic troupes in Beijing and Shanghai.”

Prince Rainer’s daughter, H.S.H. Princess Stephanie, now oversees the annual event, which generally draws upon the greatest circus talents and is regarded in circusdom as the international “Academy Awards” of the big top.

“The perfect setting, absolutely, to introduce my book to the world,” said Hammarstrom. “Circus is universal, and however you write about it, you are dealing with its many incarnations throughout history — from Egypt to China, London to Paris to Baraboo and Bloomington, Moscow to Montreal.”

Indeed, this author, who says that “until I can see something for myself, it is not sufficiently real,” has traveled the world rings to get the story. In 1979, he conducted independent research in the Soviet Union. And last year, it was China. In the United States, he says he has walked miles, hopped busses and flagged taxis to take in circuses off the urban trails.

“I am thrilled that my book will be a part of the festival. And I hope it appeals to a younger audience. I have done my best to discuss and illustrate not just ‘the good old days’ but the ‘good new days’”

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Morning in the Ancient Land of Circus Syntax: Which Show? What Year?

Preface from SD: For a leisurely stroll down memory lane through the floridly comforting verbiage of yesteryear, I invite you to take a trip back to the ancient American circus in its prodigiously peerless prime, sans editorial restraint or spell checking challenges, this being presented to you exactly the way it came forth in, I assume, a circus program magazine.

Display No. 1 --

The Grand Tournament




A satisfying, edifying, gratifying, ennobling, superb and sublime spectacular prelude, filling and overcrowding vast areas of the racing-track, the equestrian rings, and even the acrobatic platforms with absolutely the finest, richest, costliest display ever seen. Teeming with life and color and animation, and abundantly replete with all the royal pomp and splendor, magnificence and lavish prodigality characterizing a period of the world's history unexampled for extravagance and riches. Four hundred historical characters correctly costumed, representing Egyptians, Philistines, Phoenicians, Sabaenians, Africans, Arabians, Abyssinians, and others, together with mounted guards, trumpeters, heralds, charioteers, knights, nobles, high priests, foot soldiers, archers, warriors, idol men, banner bearers, dancing girls, fan girls, swaying houris, pages, household servants, slaves, servitors, horses, sacred beasts, train animals, triumphal cars,
floats, peons, choruses, etc. The whole forming a brilliant kaleidoscopic vision of animated and irridescent splendors, with every known human and animal accompaniment in vogue with the people of that age and clime."

Your best guess? Okay, here's the answer:

Barnum & Bailey, 1909
the second season under Ringling ownership
I wonder: Did Alf T. Ringling write this?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Water For Elephants Coming My Way Again -- Tonight ... & My Quck Picks of the Best Looking Circus Blogs, Up Front ...

I'm looking forward to seeing a movie that didn't much impress me when it came out, Water for Elephants. Maybe the second time around will be a charm. I've grown accustomed, believe it or not, to Ring of Fear.

Heck, man can't live by The Greatest Show on Earth alone.

This morning, piddling around, I was struck by the appealing graphics of a blog I may never have seen before -- The Circus Blog. So I decided to take an immediate first impression look at all the blogs to see how the others measured up in visuals that instantly speak CIRCUS.

Here are my three top picks:

The Circus Blog

The Balloon Man

Crash Moreau's Circus Visits

Amazed at how many blogs out there aren't really all that visually captivating upon first glance.

I should hire a computer nerd off Craigslist to help me update mine.

Still, it's the content that counts. You've no doubt watched, maybe some of you every day, the Steve and Ryan blog. I wouldn't ring any awards around its visuality other than to say it has it's own quirky look. Ironically, I've seen Steve's very attractive website, but I've not been back since my first visit.

Sometimes, the written word still prevails.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Out of the Past: Feminist Flash! Women Now Actually "Perform" in Circuses; No Longer Just Sexy Prop Assistants, Says the Wall Street Journal

First posted December 8, 2011 

La Norma -- before Betty Friedan

"It's a new era," declared Wall Street Journal guest critic of the Big Apple Circus, Sarah East Johnson, moved by the reality of female performers demonstrating male strength and agility at a circus.

Considering a rich legacy of women who have dazzled the sawdust -- among them, Leitzel and Zerbini, Millman and Herbert and Berosini, La Norma, and Gold and so many countless others -- I was awed by the breadth and depth of Ms. Johnson's self-delusional epiphany, not to mention its breathtaking disconnect to history.

She's the artistic director for LAVA, an all-female NY based dance and theatre company. She spent some time with Circus Amok, which pushed the gender-bending envelope. "Pretty radical, queer, feminist with lefty politics," she says.

I smelled a trail leading clear across the country to the boiler room of cultural rethink by the Golden Gate. There, during the modest heyday of the Pickle Family Circus, a bold manifesto denounced, among a slate of No-Nos in modern circus art, the very thought a woman dressing up seductively to assist a male performer with his props. (Never mind that every time Pinito Del Oro swung fearlessly on the single trapeze, her husband stood below, just in case to break a fall.)

Pinito Del Oro, circa 1953

As it turns out, call me an amateur clairvoyant, yes, Ms. Johnson did spend some time out and around the San Francisco Circus Center. Around 1996. I can only imagine the extent to which she was properly apprised by post PFC people on their mythical views.

Evy Karoly

Among Ms. Johnson's comments while watching a performance of Dream Big! with the Wall Street Journal's Lizzie Simon, her "biggest complaint" about circus in general are those rigid gender roles under the big top; they are, she asserts, "really traditional." The female performer's skill is "typically masked, whereas a man's is acknowledged."

At Big Apple, she was delighted to witness the hand-balancer Melanie Chy, who, typical of other women on the show, according to Ms. Johnson, displayed "strength and skill rather than flexibility or sexuality."

Hmmm. How to rethink this. Might it be that all those great female big top divas were really men in drag? I'm now wondering when they will adapt The Vagina Monologues into a circus spec. Starring Grandma.


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

At Cirque du Soleil's Ploddingly Atmospheric "Totem," The Thrill is Gone -- But S.F. Critics are Wowed

Circus Review: Cirque du Soleil -- Totem
San Francisco, December 1
Tickets: $49.50 to $360.00

Roller skating in the ancient world at Cirque du Soleil

Totem will not mark a high point in Cirque du Soleil history.

This overly directed effort is so curiously weak on star turns, and so weighted down under extraneous choreography, special effects and clever scenic illusions (creamy white waves rippling across a shoreline) -- that, by the time it has worked its empty course, I was left feeling slightly puzzled by what wasn't there. For starters, a soul.

If, like the lady sitting next to me, you go to Cirque du Soliel because you like the "atmosphere," on that count, you'll get plenty of it here.

Along with all the tedious posturing, such as the prolonged entrance and exit movements of a pair of roller skaters in white, before and after actually doing something on a raised platform. And something rather average at that.

There is a chilly existential feel to this outing that reminded me of something you encounter at one of those cutting edge "performance pieces." Creative highpoint is an eccentric prop-intense display in which a juggler works balls bouncing up and down inside a large hour-glass like object, suggesting a scene from a fantasy yet to be sketched out by Pixar -- or maybe Quentin Tarantino. Odd ball characters on the edges create a brilliantly bizarre stage picture.

Talent wise, I remember exactly one act that took my breath away -- five Chinese woman on very tall unicycles tossing between themselves tin saucers. By degrees of complexity, they built to a breathtaking finish.

The athletic action is vigorous, most of it built on humdrum fundamentals. Pole vaulting here becomes plank vaulting. Perch pole work is anchored to tell-tale mechanics. Native American hoop dancing offers a pleasant cultural diversion, after which, a scene on the beach looks as if Bloody Mary is about to enter followed by the sailors belting out "there is nothing like a dame!"

Ah, there is nothing quite like Totem -- Maybe it's not all the fault of Cirque du Soleil. Maybe all the best talent in the world has already been sucked up into other shows -- by Cirque du Soleil.

Music is a variable pleasure, from lovely tinkle to pounding drums. The hard working clowns win a few laughs in their endless bickering. One of them scores charmingly while trying to fish himself a decent meal from a row boat. And here is where Totem's heart lies, not in the circus at all, but in the theatre. Problem is, stranded between the two disparate forms, it fails to achieve a memorable imprint in either category. But, for ambitiously trying -- YAWN, maybe they deserve a half star higher than what I am inclined to give them, So ...

Overall score (4 stars tops): 2-1/2 stars

End ringers: How wrong might I be? After posting this notice, I searched for S.F. reviews and was fairly shocked to see near-unanimous raves from the local critics. In fact, I hadn't seen a single review anywhere until posting mine .... No-show acts: Two acts pictured in the program magazine(one may have been merely part of an ad) did not appear in the performance I attended ... A very short stay in San Francisco? Usually, Cirque hangs out for up to about three months. This time, they're closing up the tent in mid-December, after having held court for around six weeks. When I saw the show, business was certainly good, but there were plenty of empty seats scattered throughout the tent ... From here, they go to LONDON, then BACK to the Bay Area, to hang their tent down in San Jose ... Time spent: First half: 50 minutes; Intermission: 30 minutes; Last half: 60 minutes. Sell. Sell. Sell. Example: "regular" size popcorn -- $6.26.

From Yelp! The average consumer review on Yelp! -- five stars tops -- is an impressive 4. Many of those have never seen a Cirque show before. Here is one of a number of the dissenters (to make me feel not so stupid) ...

From Hector G. in Burlingame: "Cirque is one of those amazing experiences that I can't compare to anything else. The shows I've experienced have truly blown me away. It's because of my experience with Ka that every other show feels like it doesn't stand up. I have such high expectations for the show now that I've experienced the best show they have, in my opinion.

Totem was flat, slow, boring at times and just didn't do it for me. If you have never watched a Cirque performance, I would highly recommend this show. If you are a seasoned veteran, this show may disappoint.

I found myself looking at my watch, a few different times and that is NEVER a good thing when at a performance of this caliber. I wanted to love this show. I wanted so badly to walk away impressed on all levels as I usually am, but this show was near dreadful.

A few shining moments of course, but there was way too much fluff and not enough money shots."

Due out in January: In Showbiz David's forthcoming new book, Inside the Changing Circus: A Critic's Guide, one of the major topics explored is the phenomenal rise and world-wide artistic impact of Cirque du Soleil.


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Jay Leno Rings Jokes On Ringling's $270,000 "Animal Mistreatment" Fine ...

Two nights in a row now, late night's talk show king has made comedy hay out of Ringling's settlement with the USDA over alleged animal abuse. (The show accepted the hefty fine -- pocket change for the Felds -- without admitting guilt.)

Jay's latest barb : "They [Ringling] promise to change their ways; like, you know the bear that rides the bicycle on the tightrope? From now on he'll be wearing a helmet."

Laughter aside, this is NOT the comedy any circus would pray for.

The INDEX is DONE, and I'm Feeling High on the Price of My New Book --

What's worse in a book than no index? An index with names but no page numbers! ... I nearly brought this off, minutes before the final version of my Inside the Changing Circus: A Critic's Guide (due out Jan.) was on its way to a print vendor (the soul, I think, who recruits the best press offer, something like that). Doing an index is torturous enough without trying to proof the damn thing. Which I forgot to do. Horror of horrors! Gerard Souls back there, but all by himself, without a page number. And a spec "Old Vienna" and four guys named Dominguez, whose first names were so confusing, I nearly went crazy trying to figure out how to list them (seems three of them hail from the famed family Quiros) ...

Only a primer, that up there, on how comatose indexing can make me feel and act -- and review, read on, though I fully respects its critical usefulness to a book. Much more so than the damned annotation numbers I've been chained to in the last too many books. Not, thank God, on Inside the Changing Circus! I HATE text littered with numbers. Here, I have listed key sources in an informal section back of the book. That I value.

Another thing I love about BearManor Media, whose young publisher, Ben Ohmart, currently hangs out in Japan (he married a Japanese lady a few years back, not indexed) , is this: My book, in paperback at nearly 300 pages, is priced at only $19.95! Good going, BearManor! I've been embarrassed in some recent publishing episodes with books of mine that were priced sky high; might that be why the editors insisted on annotating? To foster a more scholarly image, thus justifying the extreme price? ... Sure, this means I will get less royalties, but so be it. I'd rather write books that people who might want to give them a chance can afford to. ...

Blame it on the index: That review down there about Cirque du Soleil was composed -- or decomposed -- during the final stages of my indexing obligations. I think it managed to be even more a bore than the show -- Tote Tote Totem, Good Bye! -- that it purports to review. So, I've chopped it down to the humdrum essentials, something like I wish Cirque would do.

I might continue this latter. Lots of big top bits backed up in e-mail. Blame it on cyber courier Don Covington for failing to send footnotes.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Top of the Book: How "Inside the Changing Circus" Was Designed ... A Pithy Primer on True Dark Chocolate ... And It's All Free!

Special impartial consultant Boyi Yuan ponders eleventh hour question: Which photo of Big Apple Circus director Guillaume Dufresnoy should I use in my book?

Really excited about the cover design for my book Inside the Changing Circus, due out around next January. The designer, Brian Pierce, sent it to me last week for comment; my publisher gives author's the rare right to approve cover designs. A FIRST for me. I love the look of the book. And then, I discovered Brian's own blog, where he talks about his thoughts behind the sudden creation of the design.

Second excitements: Inside my changing frigerator now, there are tons of fabulous turkey, American to Chinese leftovers from a big haul yesterday, first as a guest at the house of my nephew, Jeff, and his lovely wife Gannimed, from the Philippines. While I was there, gobbling down, shamelessly, chocolate chip cookies (well, once a year, right? The others times, functionally delicious 85% cocoa chocolate bars ... ) I got to "skype." Oh, please, don't laugh too hard. I've heard the word, but kept the concept out there, resisting the onslaught of new technology (I am usually 7 years behind the cutting edge). Anyway, call me a Skypester now (had I known, I would have dressed up for the occasion) ... I skyped and skipped all the way across the Big Ocean to talk to Gannimed's sister and brother, and they gave me a virtual Skype tour of their lush green neighborhood in the southern region of the Philippines. Wonderful new experience. Jeff and I discussed my hankering for a smart phone, which I call a "toy," but, heck, we all deserve one of those now and then.

Great old fashioned Thanksgiving day feast, the durables -- starring thick gravy, and Chef Jeff evoked rare insight. "This is American soul food." The absolute best I've had in years ...

I might be the last person on earth to finally give up his land phone. Really, it's about economics, not trying to be eccentric (a bent that comes naturally, I fear). I'm on the verge of hitching my rotary to a droid, because the company I get dumb phone connection from at such flexible rates is now offering to help the dumb set go smart.

Back in Oakland, my friend Boyi came by with a container of more turkey, and oh so delicious, with all the sauces and seasonings his dad, a professional cook, applies so cunningly well. Back to chocolate: I tried a different form of 85% smart dark chocolate on Boyi. It's new from Trader Joe's (it tastes remarkably NOT like the other bars) and he fell for it! When he left later to drive many miles for a midnight whatever on a dark Turkey day sale blowout, he took the complete box with him.

OK, onto my book. Boyi helped me make a critical decision between the straight ahead face shot of Guillaume Dufresony that's in the page proofs, and one that I just got from Phil Thurston at Big Apple Circus, of Mr. D. sitting out in the seats watching the show at the gala opening in Gotham. After serious meditation, lifting my room into Buddhasphere, Boyi broke loose in a bolt of common sense favoring the new image and making me feel a tad off my game. "He is looking at the show!"

And the COVER! Remember the book, The Circus: Garden of Eden to Pittsburgh? (aka: The Circus: 1870-1950, among many changing names, guises and shapes) That book's original cover featured a great Braathen shot of the Ringling-Barnum marquee and ticket wagons. Well, folks, I've also got a shot at Big Book Coffee Table Overkill, too! I've got another image of the same wagons and marquee up in Canada in '53! And, no, not cause I suggested anything; it would be improper for an author to push for photos -- unless asked. Brian had just asked for suggestions from me, but before I could lurch, he jumped off his perch in a flash of creative lightning, and out came a great design. Among its many assets, the type face is NOT the usual old fashioned circus script ...

Boyi, on the subtler side, was nearly as excited as was I. My only quibble when I first saw this draft you will see, if you go there, was that four of the six images are Asian. I suggested it might be better to diversify and sent some ideas. Brian went with one of them, and design looks even stronger. I'm not telling which. Yes, you'll just have to wait and see. By the way, is anybody still reading this?

And Boyi last night rushed off to San Jose to stand in line and play with his new iPhone 4G and maybe spend not a penny, while I am mustering up the nerve to dump my land line from Ma Bell, bury my Dumb phone, and go hi tech all the way ..

After two or three more chocolate chip cookies. True dark chocolate had to wait.