Farewell, Ringling Brothers Circus

The magic of Ringling Brothers Big Top is now silenced and I am sad.-www.tangledpasta.net

 By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

I love the circus. As a child, I reveled in the acrobats, the horseback riders, the elephants, but most of all I cherished the big cats. No doubt this stemmed from my acute fondness for cats. At the age of three, my parents let me select my first kitten from a litter a late uncle had. I named my sweet Tabby cat Kitty Carbon; I cannot explain why, but it made sense to me in my three-year-old head. From then on, I embraced felines of any size. The first time I saw a live circus show, I fell for the lions and tigers. Those cats exuded a royal, regal air from every hair of their glossy coats of fur. Throughout my life I have had cats in it, and I still do. I am attuned to their nuances, as Alexander Lacey of Ringling Brothers Circus is to the lions and tigers he has raised since birth. Lacey is moving with his lions and tigers to Germany where he will continue breeding them.

This weekend marks the last of the live performances of the storied Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, founded by P.T. Barnum in 1871. The grand circus must take its final bows in Washington, D.C. this weekend. Dwindling ticket sales over the last years, and the howling of purported animal rights activists have taken a toll, as have the competition from video and media entertainment. I am very pro-animals; however, the placard carrying “animal rights activists” rankles me. They are anti-circus, anti-zoo, yet I haven’t heard them rail against caging dogs while their owners work all day. I would like to point out that zoos do a great deal of good in the research and breeding of endangered species, like Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo in Australia. Siegfried and Roy, too, have done much throughout the years to raise awareness of white tigers and white lions. Circuses of the ilk of Ringling Brothers of their own animals, but aid those beyond the realm of circus tents, but aid those beyond the realm of circus tents. The elephants of Ringling Brothers performed their last show a year ago; they now live in Ringling Brothers 200 acre Elephant Retirement Sanctuary in Florida. The research going on there is amazing such as why elephants do not get cancer.

The magic of Ringling Brothers Circus held me enthralled for years. All of the performances have been live events, minus stunt doubles. The artists who perform constantly hone their craft. Most of them are generational performers; it’s in their blood. They began training from the time they were tykes, most learning at the foot of their parents. Granted there are smaller circuses in operation in the U.S., but not on the scale of Ringling Brothers. Cirque du Soleil’s “O” show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas had the same effect on me as Ringling Brothers, but with no animals involved. The rarefied grandeur of Ringling Brothers, its performers and its animals are not likely to be seen again. And that is a tragedy.

Ciao for now.

Viva Las Vegas, Part V: O, The Shows!

Bellagio carousel in the Botanical Gardens – tangledpasta.net

In addition to celebrating my daughter’s 21st birthday, a primary reason for our journey to Las Vegas was the anticipated rapture of a Celine Dion concert.  While I admit to listening to some of her music, I would not necessarily have traveled half way across the country for a pop-star concert.  Nonetheless, my daughter thrilled at the thought of her idol performing live at The Coliseum in Caesar’s Palace.

The Forum Shops, Caesar’s Palace – tangledpasta.net

After a delicious dinner at Bellagio’s Circo, we took a cab over to The Coliseum.  Our center-stage seats boded well for viewing Celine Dion and her 31-piece orchestra.  I suspected the concert would be good, but I could not have envisioned how good.  The variety of music [Celine scats!], the musicians [particularly the cellos medley of Michael Jackson songs], Celine’s gowns, the lighting, but mostly, her soaring voice accompanied by the sonorous sounds of those 31 musicians.

Bellagio mosaic tile floor – tangledpasta.net

Cirque du Soleil O, Bellagio’s in-house attraction, was astounding.   One’s senses cannot resist O’s ethereal experience.  O is performed primarily in water, with Cirque’s amazing performers’ synchronized swimming, high diving, aerial acrobats artists performing without safety nets.  The effect is spellbinding.  The fire-twirlers and the clowns on their leaky houseboat mesmerized us.  Singers and rhythm musicians added to the otherworldly aura of Cirque du Soleil O.  A Punchinello-like artist played a ghostly song on a grand piano while his female companion draped herself over the piano’s side.  As we watched, the floor parted and slowly the artists and piano disappeared under the water.

The stage itself was an integral element in O’s performance. Sometimes a floor gradually covered the water to create a “land” configuration.  Out of the depths of the water appeared artists engaged in synchronized ballet.  Three high divers took breath-taking dives simultaneously into the pool from the high top.

For me, the two aerial performers enthralled with their artistry.  One held on to both sides of the trapeze while holding under her feet the head and the lower torso of the other artist lying horizontally across her feet.  They held this position not just for a few moments; rather they lingered, gazing at one another, balancing lyrically as the music played until dissolving their positions.  The denouement occurred when another solo aerial artist balanced on her head waving her legs in a sort of deconstructed dance in the air as the trapeze swung to and fro.

The Fountains of Bellagio – tangledpasta.net

As we filed out of the Cirque du Soleil O theater, we agreed that after witnessing the artistry and athleticism of Cirque’s poetry in motion O show, the performers demonstrated Olympian feats in a mystical show.  Like Celine Dion, the O performers are in a class by themselves.

Ciao for now.

Viva Las Vegas, Part IV: Dining in Style

Original Picasso painting at Picasso – tangledpasta.net


Captivating aspects of travel include partaking of the local cuisine.  Prior to our journey to the land of Las Vegas, I enlisted the help of a Bellagio Concierge.  Reservations were then made well in advance at Bellagio’s Picasso, Circo, and Todd English’s Olives. While the meals were all memorable, two out of the three proved to be our favorites.

Dinner at Picasso was not only superb, but a true gustatory experience.  Seated overlooking The Fountains, we savored delectable creations of Chef Julian Serrano such as Sauteed Ruby Red Shrimp [shrimp stacked and surrounded with zucchini, artichoke, tomato confit and piquillo pepper vinaigrette]; Roasted Tornado Loin of Colorado Lamb [with pisto, mint aioli, and tempura zucchini flower]; Sauteed Medallions of Fallow Deer [with spring truffles, white asparagus, and Zinfandel sauce; and scallops with mashed potatoes in a divine sauce.  Dessert too was pure poetry: Butterscotch Cream Cheese and Lime Tart [topped with toffee read pudding and rum ice cream].  The café au lait topped off a memorable dining experience.  Pleasing to the eye too was the eclectic floral arrangements on the dark wood sideboards enhanced the beauty of the surroundings.

In addition to the cuisine, the non-edible coup de grace of Picasso is the authentic Pablo Picasso artwork that covers the walls.  Large canvases watch diners feast on the French and Spanish-influenced cuisine of Picasso.  The china is fraught with Picasso drawings; each piece is different and makes for an artistic experience overall.  The Picasso ceramics displayed on a wall add to the aesthetic dining and art experience of the unique restaurant that bears the master’s name.

Another tremendous epicurean experience was at Circo, a Sirio Maccioni restaurant.   My parents cooked Southern Italian food, specifically Calabrese style, yet the regional Italian cooking of Tuscany is one I love.  My veneration of Tuscan cuisine was more than sated at Circo.  The imported fresh mozzarella from Italy’s Campagna province with yellow and red tomatoes topped with chopped fresh basil, made for an ambrosial Insalata Caprese. Spring truffles were in season, and the homemade Pappardelle with braised chicken was graced with liberal amounts of the delicate truffles.  The Fried Polenta Parmigiano and the piquant Insalata Misata [marinated Campari tomatoes, organic field greens, pecorino cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette] also enchanted our taste buds.

The Circo servers, Chris and Patrick, made much of Anjelia’s 21st birthday:  Since we were running short on time prior to a show, they asked that we return post-show for her special dessert.  We sprinted back into the restaurant after ten p.m., and our new friends served her up Panacotta [vanilla panna cotta with seasonal fruits of strawberries and blueberries] on a lovely Circo plate with “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate across it.  Tiramisu Tradizionale and a cup of caffe latte rounded out our desserts as we watched the enchanting Lago di Bellagio Fountains from our same table.

Circo’s charming décor brings a smile to one’s face:  It is designed as a high-end European circus motif with a breath-taking big top on the ceiling.  Along with the fine wine and food, Circo, like Picasso, proved to be a Bellagio haunt to which we will return.

Caprese salad with imported fresh mozzarella at Circo -tangledpasta.net