Talk to Strangers

When I think of a thoroughbred horse, the word “majestic” comes to mind. As does “beautiful” and “dignified.” They are not, for example, the sort of animal that seems any more impressive if they’re wearing a hat or running around in small circles. You’re thinking of cats.

With that in mind, I have a question for the producers of Quintessence, the aerial and equestrian show by the Alexis Gruss Circus that I went to see over the weekend in Paris. Whose idea was it to stuff a dozen horses into matching outfits and then make them run laps at full speed in a ring not much larger than a swimming pool? Because I don’t care how naturally elegant those horses are, there’s no way to not look like an idiot after that. And you should be ashamed of yourselves.

But, luckily for me, I enjoy when animals look ridiculous. So while I didn’t necessarily enjoy the performance, I at least found it entertaining. I mean, not since Austria have I seen a horse look so impressed with his own ability to fancy prance in perfect time to the sound of a trumpet. And I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any animal – not even a dog – run around in a simple circle with such enthusiasm. The horses did actual tricks too, which you can see in the trailer, but it was the pointless running that really got me. They made it look like it never got boring and it never would. And that alone was worth the price of the ticket.

 

Halfway through the performance I realized why I found the running so comical. The horses reminded me of a game that my brother and I used to play called, Running Around The Dining Room Table. As one might expect, it involved the two of us running around a table, sometimes with blankets over our heads and occasionally backwards. There were few rules and absolutely no point, and yet I remember it being competitive, which kept things interesting. A long-time favorite for ours, my mother hated Running Around The Dining Room Table, though I’m not sure why since it was relatively quiet and didn’t end with me getting shipped down a flight of stairs in a cardboard box, as so many of our other games did.

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If you think the horses sound funny, let me tell you about the dogs. Midway through the second act, two Jack Russel terriers who most likely flunked out of obedience school came on the scene. Why there were two dogs, I don’t know, because one of them was working the ring left and right while the other was only trusted to play dead. And he even screwed that up. More than once, he lost interest and wandered off the stage only to get dragged back out by a horse handler with a whip.

Things got even better once the crew set up a some hurdles. The first dog took a running start and then cleared them one by one, which wasn’t really as impressive as it sounds because they were barely taller than he was. Dog #2, who up until this point had been sitting on a box with varying degrees of success, then sauntered up to the line and simply ran under all the bars. He was, quite literally, an underdog and for this I applauded wildly.

In case you’re thinking that I might have missed the humor of this act, let me assure you that I did not. The second dog wasn’t comic relief so much as he was simply a show dog who didn’t have much to show. I can’t help but think his story would make for a great children’s book, one about the importance of trying your best and, when that’s not enough, being extra lovable because, let’s face it, sometimes our best isn’t going to cut it.

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On my way out of the venue after the show, the man who sold me popcorn at intermission asked me how I liked the performance. Sensing that I didn’t really love it and that I also didn’t want to make small talk, he canned whatever other lines he had planned and cut right to the chase:

“Would you like to go backstage and meet the horses?” he asked.

I’ve watched enough episodes of Dateline to know that this wasn’t exactly a good idea. But I ignored that little voice of reason because if someone gives me the opportunity to pet a mini horse in Paris, I’m going to take it. That’s my philosophy.

“Um, yes,” I said. “A million times yes!!”

Obviously, I lived to tell the tale – so you can take all that advice about not following strangers into barns and shove it. Because, evidently, this how you meet show horses. You take a walk with Mohammed the popcorn guy and try extra hard to be lovable, so as not to seem even remotely killable.

As if my backstage tour wasn’t enough, Mohammed then arranged for me to get a ride back to the Metro station… in the Quintessence tour bus.

“Which stop are they going to?” I asked. “You know what? NOT IMPORTANT! You can take me anywhere on this bus and I’ll just figure it out later.”

And that seems a fitting way to celebrate my travel-versary. One year in and I’m still saying yes. Here’s to one more lap around the world… with just as much enthusiasm as the first.

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A few more pictures:

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