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October Wrap Up - Hungary, Circus and Garden

October 23-31, 2016
Written October 30+
Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,

A pattern.  I have slipped into a pattern.  A couple of diaries a month, each collecting whatever bits and pieces we might want to remember.  I recall the old days when one day was often enough to fill a single diary and a month might require many. Sign of the times, I guess.  (Secret:  We really do miss the days, the weeks, or, especially, the months of European travel.)
Anyway,  we still do travel and sometimes it involves foreign languages.  On Saturday, the 22nd, we drove up up to Shaver Lake, to a Hungarian celebration of the 1956 Hungarian Rebellion.  Val, a 1956 refugee, hosts this gathering every year and we find ourselves attending, for Marianne's Mom's sake, more than anything.
This year, despite her 96 years, Magdalena was not the oldest, as Val's 101.5-year-old father was up from San Diego.  The two of them give guidance for the rest of us for proper aging.  Both are sharp and manage to get along, with the help of walkers, friends, and children.

These Hungarian gatherings also have a pattern.  Authentic food first, then a mix of speeches and song, mostly in Hungarian, which leaves me free to take pictures.  Val did manage to shift some of the discussion into English, long enough for me to feel very uncomfortable with the far-right diatribe.  Too bad, but it gives me an excuse to avoid these gatherings in the future.

The next event of the week was Marianne's birthday.  We held a very small celebration, especially compared to last year's 70th blowout.  We started with prosecco in the living room and moved on to The Annex Kitchen, our first trip there.  We were impressed!

The rest of the week saw two or three of the most rare of local events: rain.  I suppose everyone will start complaining if this continues, but for now, a filling rain gauge is cause for celebration.  The good news is that rain remains in the forecast for the upcoming weeks as well.  Now maybe a half-inch of rain is not important in your neighborhood, but it is in the Fresno desert.

d161029_02_enter.jpgMarianne is a real Cirque Du Soleil groupie and we have seen shows on both sides of the Atlantic whenever we could, so it was a natural to sign up for the "Toruk" show when it came our way. I think this was our eighth Cirque performance and it was ... interesting.

d161029_04_venue.jpg First, it was held in Savemart Center, the local indoor arena on the Fresno State campus, rather than in Cirque Du Soleil's normal "big top" tents.  Even though we were far from the most-distant seats, our Row X seats did disconnect us from the spectacle.  Too bad, because the normal tent venues are custom-sized to fit the presentation.  A better arrangement.

Toruk was also different in approach.  It was elaborate dance rather than amazing feats of circus skills.  That's not to diminish the climbing, balancing, and tumbling skills required by the amazing artists of the show,  but there were no oh-my-god-she's-going-to-die moments.  Normally, there are.

There is a tight connection between Toruk and James Cameron's Avatar, another departure from Cirque's normal creative independence.  The connection is most obvious in the blue hue of a majority of the performers and the show's full title: Toruk, The First Flight.

This Cirque show was also in English, more or less, a departure from the language-independent presentations we have seen before.  I can't decide if the booming voice of Oel Kgati Kameie*, The Storyteller, was or was not too distracting.  Different, that's all. In keeping with that difference, I will try to fit my pictures and impressions within a shortened version of The Storyteller's words.

(* The names of lands, people, and clans are reminders of the normal Cirque practice of "language independent" narration -- not really independent of words, just not words matching any current or historic language.  Hard to follow sometimes, but ... interesting.)
The story starts in The Storyteller's land of the Omatikaya on the moon Pandora.  Young brothers Ralu and Entu are starting their coming-of-age testing, when a seer's prophecy sends them off to the other four lands of Pandora in search of a talismen to allow them to tame the feared Toruk so that some sort of Pandora-ending curse can be stopped.  (My story is a bit fuzzy here and in many other areas, but it didn't really matter since the play was the thing, not the story.)

d161029_10_tawkami.jpgd161029_12_tawkami2.jpgThe Tawkami people wore gossamer wings, perhaps the best of the evenings elaborate costuming.  The show costuming was truly exceptional, a Cirque Du Soleil signature. The Tawkami were not completely sympathetic to Ralu and Entu, but after enough dancing and floating, did go along and donate to the save-the-moon cause.

d161029_15_anurai.jpgd161029_17_anurai2.jpgThe next people to solicit were the Tawkani, whose talisman was a balance assembly made of the bones of an ancient Toruk bird-dinosaur.  Here it was the engineering that amazed me as the dancers put together the skeleton before our eyes and then jumped aboard and brought the structure to life.

d161029_20_tipani.jpgThe third land to visit was the land of the Tipani.  Their shtick was stick climbing.  They too seemed not too sympathetic to the quest, but after threatening to run the boys through with spears, they too agreed to join in to save Pandora.  (These guys should have worked on this year's US election.  At least they got agreements after all sorts of bluster and threat.  A model for future governments.)

The final foreign moon-land was Kekuna, the land of spectacular kite flyers, whose pictures I managed to avoid entirely.  Oh well, same story, after threats and trials, the last of Pandora's people agree to lend a talisman so that the end of the moon can be stopped.

d161029_30_treeofsouls.jpgd161029_32_lava.jpgBack at the center of Pandora, trials and tribulations are not over.  The Tree of Souls is under threat from an angry moon's lava flood, the moon-ending threat that had been foreseen.  The projection of the lava flow over the stage was one of the highlights of tonight's stagecraft. It was completely believable.  Clearly, there needed to be a dramatic rescue.

d161029_24_kikuna.jpg Talismen in hand, the young rescue team calls for Toruk, the giant flyer who is key to stopping the disaster, despite his normal reputation for killing anyone he flies near.  Not exactly like calling up Uber. Toruk answers the call and young Entu manages to lure the multi-colored monster to his service. He thus becomes the first of Pandora's people to take flight on a Toruk.  (Avatar fans will remember the role such flights took 3,000 years later, when James Cameron was finally around to make the film.)

d161029_34_torukarrives.jpgd161029_38_enturides.jpgIn the style of old-time silent movies, the hero seems to come too late.  The lava flow has started killing the sparkley Tree of Souls, apparently dooming Pandora's people.  But, the show must go on, so Entu flies Toruk into the fire to grab a cutting from the Tree, fatally injuring the flying creature in the process.

d161029_40_lifeagain.jpgThe blue people plant the cutting among the roots of the Tree of Souls and twinkling Woodsprights descend and resurrect the Tree, making heroes of all, and allowing James Cameron to stage Avatar on Pandora three millennia later.
Lights come up and the Toruk crew take their bows.

Our verdict?  A good show, unfortunately placed in a too-big venue and seen from a too-distant row.  The experience was not what we had come to expect from a Cirque Du Soleil performance, but after 37 different productions, maybe it becomes harder to keep inspiring both actors and audiences.  We hope they continue to try.

Before we end and point to our Yosemite visit (next), here's a bit of my own Monet's Garden.  He spent years painting the same scenes, with ever different results.  I think that's what I am trying with our backyard, especially the roses.  This time of year, they struggle to avoid winter death, but under a little rain they give it one more effort.

So that's it for October, except for our 24-hours in Yosemite.  I decided to break that out as a separate diary, because I got carried away with pictures and it was just too much to add to my second-half-of-October diary.

No sooner did I intend to do month-half diaries, than I changed my mind.  I can do that.  I'm retired.

Stay tuned.

John and Marianne


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