The Greatest Show on Earth

In another life I spent lots of time in Sarasota, FL as my first husband’s family lived there. Fast forward to a recent trip to Longboat Key visiting good friends from Canada. Blessed with spectacular weather, we took a little time out and, partly in homage to the announced closing of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, went to the Ringling complex.

Full disclosure: I’ve always been something of a circophile as I went regularly with my father as a child and, even by myself as an adult, never missed the show’s annual appearance at Madison Square Garden. Something about so much spectacular all at once that appealed to my multi-tasking self.

We went to the Circus Museum that houses the enormous Howard Bros. Circus Model, a 44,000-piece re-creation of the circus from 1919-1938 when it played one-night stands all over the country. The model is terrific, depicting the gigantic cook tent where thousands of meals were served daily; rehearsal areas, tents devoted to circus horses, raising the big top and more.

Small section of the circus model

Adjacent displays include several calliopes, costumes, posters, circus wagons and memorabilia including enormous rings, exactly like one that the “World’s Tallest Man” nonchalantly slipped off his finger and into my hand so I could wear it  as a bracelet.  There are videos of famous circus acts including the Flying Wallendas, Clyde Beatty and Gunther Gabel Williams, both of “wild” animal training fame. I loved the poster of one of my fave acts, the seal who played the horn (does anyone remember the song–could it have been My Country ‘Tis of Thee?) Sadly, there was no mention of another act I loved, Unis, the man who balanced on one finger wearing top hat (never removed) and tails.

 

I remember the pre-show fun of going downstairs to feed the elephants and see Gargantua, the gorilla who hulked in his specially air-conditioned cage. I found him terrifying as I was always sure this would be the day he’d break free and crush me to death –not very Jane Goodall but that’s nine years old for you.

In May Ringling Bros. will close, partly due to rising costs, partly to animal activism and probably also because entertainment is now available at the touch of a button on an electronic device. Despite all the work it took to arrange and perform, the  circus remains a romantic, romanticized part of American history.

 

Popcorn is an integral part of circus lore. Herewith, Popcorn Cauliflower:

Florets from 2 cauliflower hearts–if florets are too big cut in half.

1 tsp salt

2 tsp. sugar

1/4 tsp. onion powder

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. turmeric

1/2 tsp. paprika

About 6 Tbls olive oil

Preheat oven to 450. In large bowl combine everything except the cauliflower and mix. Then add cauliflower and toss to coat well. Place in single layer on a cookie sheet and roast uncovered for 30-35 minutes, tossing pieces occasionally.

And that, ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages, is it.  Pink lemonade is the time-honored  circus beverage  but if this veggie will be part of dinner, how about a cold white wine?  A toast to Ringling and his confreres.

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