Belgium: Flight of Fancy

It’s been awhile since my last update. I did not write about the rest of my Mexico adventure. For this I am sorry – it was a wonderful time, and I realized that I have many reasons to be content with my life. It was powerful, but also awkward in a “well what do I do now?” kind of way.

Turns out I travel. That is usually the answer in my life. I go somewhere else and see what there is to see.

In researching my family history, I learned that we have ancestry in Belgium. I have never had a reason to go to Belgium, though my Dad and I have talked about visiting for a couple of years now. Then I learned a friend of mine was going to Brussels because a mutual acquaintance had moved to Belgium and was having a housewarming.

Student loans will be there till I die.
I will never be debt free.
So why not go to Belgium
And see what there is to see?


I presented the trip as a family history project, which is how I convinced my Dad to help me financially with getting to Belgium on short notice. I’ve done it once before – I went to London to search out the woman who corresponded with my Grandpa during World War II. That trip did not yield fruit – all I got was a cool National Archives ID and I scared a man who probably thought I was the immigration police.

This time I would do better, I thought. I have a whole binder and a bunch of useful documentation done by an extended family member. I was going to find Charleroi, Belgium, and explore the homeland of my ancestors. I surprised my friend by asking if I could crash the housewarming party – though naturally I offered to help with the set up and such. She agreed. Dad agreed. I agreed, and off I went!

And so it was I arrived in Belgium on minimal planning – the closest thing I’ve ever done to just up and going somewhere. A weekend bag, my passport, and a giant binder full of photocopies. I arrived with the dawn. My first impression was good – a mix of village and city. My hotel was in Brussels, and a very good deal for a place near the EU Parliament buildings. It all went by in a bit of a blur, which I think is true for all airport to hotel transfers. Everything blurs in highway and the backside of buildings.

On the drive over, my Taxi driver Mr. Kiss (no joke) gave me a brief introduction to the city. It was a good opportunity to warm up my French, as I haven’t spoken it in some time. We chat about the transformation of the capital, the new and old architectures vying for attention and space. He offers to be my driver for my stay, but I demure. I plan on using trains and the metro for the bulk of my travel. Also I am on a strict budget, and the luxury of a personal driver is not one in which I care to indulge.

I decided that, given the short nature of this trip, I needed to hit the ground running. So upon arrival I immediately connected to the wifi and found the hours for archives. There are several branches of the archives in Belgium, with several in Brussels, so I was a little intimidated. Luckily, through some quick research and cross-referencing, I found the archives which would most likely have information on the birth records for churches in the Charleroi area. I took photos of Google maps for my phone (which did not work in Europe) so I could find the metro, and then the archives. I downed a bottle of water, and headed out.

A good use for the cell phone when maps are not readily available.

A good use for the cell phone when maps are not readily available.

I could feel jetlag gnawing away around my edges even in the morning – a consequence of not sleeping well on the plane. But there was no time for drooping! I was on a tight schedule.

Impression of Belgian metro – relatively clean but expensive for a metro. More expensive than Paris, at least (unless Paris has upped the fares for single tickets).

With increasing bleariness I locate the Archives. They are closed for lunch. This was not mentioned on the website. I sit out in the sun by a canal and drink caffeine. This area of town seems more workaday than tourist, and there is a air of slight neglect on everything. Beer bottles and trash are tucked into corners of broken concrete, and there are the bits of graffiti here and there, but the streets and the canal waters are clear.

I’m stalling out on the bench. The pleasantly warm sun is not encouraging me to stay awake. It’s reminding me how much I love afternoon naps. There is nothing to do in the immediate area – no park or monument to distract me. No grocery or gift stores. Just a series of dark brown brick residencies built above halal shops and travel agencies. I can’t play games on my phone because I need to preserve the battery for looking at maps (I don’t plan on getting back to the hotel until late).

A small, unassuming building housing rows and rows of history

A small, unassuming building housing rows and rows of history

Now dragging instead of skipping along, I manage to make it through the hour and return to the Archives building. It is now open, and I drop off my belongings in a locker and get buzzed in. The building is low and cool. Most of the lights are off, and sunlight filters through windows along the top of the back far wall. There is no one in the space under fifty (and that’s me being generous).

There does not appear to be an information area, so I approach a white-haired man behind the only counter visible. I ask about birth records for Charleroi (I’m super proud of myself for looking up the words “birth records” in French), and show him my binder. After some back and forth, I learn that there is a gentleman going through microfilm who might be able to help me. I also learn that there is not a soul in the building who speaks a lick of English.

Normally this would not bother me – I can muddle through enough French to get my ideas across. But this would require a highly specialized vocabulary set that most French courses would not think to teach. There is no chapter in my high school (or college) French texts that contain “Useful vocabulary for researching lineage.” I looked up some key words I thought would be useful, but beyond that I’m stuck using context clues and hoping for the best.

A tall man with halitosis shows up and takes an interested look at my binder. I point to Charleroi, and then we’re off in the microfilm. It’s exciting – I haven’t used microfilm since I was a nerdy elementary school kid at the library. Microfilm has such a lovely old-timey feel to it. It won’t tell you anything itself – you must look for your information. You have to know what you want before you think to go scrolling through those rolls of film. Granted, it’s more time consuming and finicky, but I can appreciate that in research.

In the process of going through the film on the monitor, we (me and tall man) collect a curious collection of aged researchers. They look at my binder, and talk among themselves since I’m falling deeper into jet lag stupor and admitting that my French is falling along with me. They ask why I did not call ahead, why I decided to just visit instead of communicating through e-mail. I explained that the fun is in the doing. Anyone can just write back and forth these days. I like to put my hands on things. I don’t think this impresses them – I detect a note of something like bafflement. They’re totally confused as to what I think I’m doing, or why I’m going about it in such an old-fashioned way.

Don’t they understand that the point is to go out into the world to find things?

We don’t find anything. The records for the registry in my binder do not reveal anyone with my surname from the towns listed. I’m too tired to follow it fully, but it sounds like there is some debate about the spelling. Monfort vs. Montfort. Perhaps there is an error in the immigration papers? The identification of the town? Am I staying around for the week? No, just the weekend. The nice woman who has been chatting with me shakes her head. The archives are closed over the weekend. It’s a pity I’m not staying longer, but perhaps I could e-mail them my information when I get back to the United States. They’d be willing to help me search.

Ah, e-mail. Traditional overseas correspondence these days. Not hands on, but long distance requests. There’s not much else I can say to that. I know that I interrupted all of their projects. Seriously, they were all deep in their own work when I showed up. The tall man with bad breath said he could take a few minutes to help me. The lookers-on just stopped what they were doing. And then the cheerful American with her fat binder yielded no results, and their projects needed to resume. I shoved all self-centered thoughts deep down so that they wouldn’t pop out (they were very vain thoughts about fuddy-duddies and no sense of the moment).

It’s 3pm. Time to head out to meet my friend and the acquaintance.

The canal near the Metro - pretty pinwheels on both sides broke up an otherwise dull cityscape

The canal near the Metro – pretty pinwheels on both sides broke up an otherwise dull cityscape

Isla Mujeres: Whale of a Tale


That is the sound our boat makes when it crests a wave but doesn’t clear the valley to the next one, dropping hard into the valley. A gentle floating sensation is the only warning before an abrupt, hard landing. It’s been like this for the past forty-five minutes, and I’m worried. There was rain before I arrived, pushing the plankton down. The whale sharks followed, and there was some concern that they would not be resurfacing for a couple of days. In fact, sightings had been down compared to last year overall, to the point that a couple of sightseeing groups had removed their guarantees.

All this ran through my head as we sped out at 7am from the Bay of Cancun north along the island, then east out into the Caribbean Sea. We stopped to see turtles mating – awkward but also cool – but mostly it was fast travel over gentle swells. Flying fish dart out around us, gliding over waves for long stretches before disappearing into the blue. They are far more graceful than we are.

Enrique and Jesus stop every so often to listen to their radios. That’s the level of sophistication. There’s a general area where the sharks go, and then the fishermen report what they see when they go out, and the tour boats follow suit.

I’m nervous, but only generally so. I’ve planned this trip pretty well. I put the whale shark tour first thing, in case we don’t see any. That way I can plan a second outing. When attempting to complete a bucket list item, it’s probably best to have a contingency plan or two.

WHAM! My lower back snaps at me for incorrect timing as the boat makes a sudden turn eastward and the rolling gets stronger.

Our whole party grew silent about forty minutes into the trip. The young diver and I shared our favorite dive sites and stories. We politely listened to the husband describe the YouTube videos he found particularly funny, as his wife tried to gently silence him. We joked about Enrique riding the prow like a cowboy, holding the line for balance as he scanned the horizon. Now we are all slightly nervous. Isla Mujeres is no longer visible, and neither is the mainland. It occurs to me that I will get sunburn. I’m only halfway in my wetsuit, and we aren’t allowed to wear sunscreen – it disrupts the plankton.

So it is with a mind full of minor worries that Jesus gives a call and points to a growing speck – two boats growing fast. Enrique motions to don our wetsuits. I pull mine on, and my excitement fizzles around me. I feel lighter, buoyant. I haven’t felt giddy in a good long time. When the others see the sharks before me (something about which I am still dubious), I all but walk out onto the water to look. I can see why joy is dangerous. I have to mentally force myself to be mindful of the space, lest I tumble over my or one of the other swimmers bags.


The whale sharks are skimming the surface of the sea in slow motion. Giant dorsal fins swish back and forth, ineffectual in the air. Unlike whales or dolphins, their heads don’t break the water to breathe (they’re fish, not mammals). I am bouncing up and down inside – and probably outside too. I dash from one part of the boat to another. My travelling companions laugh at my childishness.

As we drift closer, Enrique announces for the first group to get ready. I start strapping on my fins. At the same moment, my “buddy” falls backwards into the water and starts off. Now, normally this is not what you do. If you have a buddy – diving, snorkeling, etc. – you both go in together, or at least in quick succession. He wanted “unobstructed” photos of the sharks. This meant he did not need my fat, bright whiteness messing up his frames. Enrique clicks his teeth in disapproval. It’s not good etiquette, and it means I must rush to catch up.

Trying to handle extreme excitement while getting rushed and trying to be mindful is confusing. I swing my legs over, mask on. I can’t quite make out where I’m expected to go, but Enrique starts shouting, “Now! Now! GO!”

And I go, and nearly land on top of a whale shark swimming towards the boat.

I don’t have time to get my camera out for an epic close up. I don’t have time to process what is happening. I have time to twist and kick. My only thought is to not bother the shark. This did not come from a place of fear, but of conservation. Whale sharks are gentle, and the idea of colliding with one violated all my naturalist principles. I guess I should have been more worried about the shark hitting me.

Liz recognizes this before I do. “Honey, look out for that tail! It’s right by you!” I get the impression of a giant tail swinging towards me – four feet of unconcerned fish tail. I give a second kick, and my ocean fins (which I’ve had for a very long time), do their job and give me distance. The shark had simply adjusted its trajectory so it was nowhere near the boat, which was already gentle moving away.


I will not lie. This is not how I pictured my transcendental moment. I had an idea in my head of a gentle entry into the water, and this giant creature swimming near me. I would have my camera ready, just in case, but I would be in so much awe that the world would stop for a moment of pure peace. I’d float in the sea and be transported.

The panic, the rush, the confusion, the lack of camera, the shouting – not exactly transcendence.

In times like these it is best to take a deep breath and refocus. I do so, blowing out saltwater through my snorkel. I’m a swimmer. I’m a diver. This is my bucket list. I am not going to let this be anything other than what I want it to be.

I put my face in the water and swim with the whale sharks.

Let me tell you, it was beautiful. Imagine a creature thirty feet long ambling by, mouth open for tiny sea creatures. They are beautiful school busses, dappled in white spots. They move with the ease of all fish, something we will never achieve no matter how much we practice. But they’re so big, the ease is almost disconcerting. Forty feet moving quickly next to you. They are faster than I thought. I have to concede in the first go around that trying to catch a whale shark is futile. They’re not only faster, but they can dive down into the blue depths and disappear.


In the second and third entries, Enrique offers to pull me along. He’s a very strong swimmer, and he wants us to get our money’s worth. I refuse at first – I’m a decent swimmer and don’t need to get right up on the sharks. But then I think it might be considered rude not to accept, so I finally accept. He is a stronger swimmer than I am, after all. And he does pull me up right along the head of a giant shark so I can take photos.

The transcendence, if I want to be precise, comes in small bouts. A brief moment where I’m not being directed to go somewhere or look at something I’m not seeing – a minute where, in the deep blue water, I can see the outline of a great whale shark swimming lazily just inside my field of vision. That’s what it looks like – they look like visions when they’re at a distance. I don’t have to be two feet from one to appreciate it. I’m happy in the silence of my own breathing and the presence of so large a creature.


And there’s the pleasant unnerving feeling that comes from not being able to see the bottom of the Sea. The world becomes so impossibly big when you can’t see the boundaries around you. Anything might be in those depths, the space in front of you which you can’t see. It’s what makes the dark basement scary – the idea of more space than we can see. Here there is nothing to hear but the faint hum of the boats and the calls of the other swimmers.

I like being made to feel small in the world. It’s comforting, in its way, to feel unimportant. It releases tension. It takes some of the pressure off to be in charge and in control.

The morning winds down, as it must. I could have stayed all day, but there are other tours and the waters are getting crowded. We head back to the island, stopping on North Beach for fruit and beer. Then back to the dive shop for a lunch of red snapper, ceviche, and guacamole. It’s been an incredible day.

I’ve been writing a lot already – I’ll pick up more tomorrow. In the meantime, the hammock is calling.


Drop in the Bucket

I have a goal in mind, a goal that has been brewing for several years now. Goals simmer in my brain for long stretches of time, and then I just do them.

Whale sharks.

When I was a child, I would read all the shark books at the library. Our county library had a great collection of individual shark books. Mako sharks, nurse sharks, thrasher sharks – I could tell you about shark attacks, shark teeth, shark eggs. This passion for dangerous fish waned as I grew older, replaced by a general interest in the ocean. My middle school health teacher convinced me I’d make a terrible marine biologist due to my chubby frame and home base in the Midwest, and because I trusted authority figures whole-heartedly I trusted him and put the ocean out of my mind. This was just before the internet, and in a small rural town – I lacked outlets and gumption. Oh, if only I were able to go back now and tell chubby little me to tell Mr. *** to suck on a rotten orange. It’d be worth the twenty punishment push-ups.

So I did other things with my life, but marine life has always been in my periphery. When the parents were stationed in Greece, I discovered SCUBA diving. It was magic. It was like being in a wall-less aquarium, with infinite possibilities (within safe dive depths, of course). Still, learning to dive was just a first step. I did not have the time in school, or the money in general, or access to locations (again) to pursue diving or the marine world in any meaningful way.

When I was in graduate school, I admired a photo in a National Geographic belonging to a friend. He gave me the page, which I thought was nice. The photo was of a whale shark, and the great fish was arched toward the surface. The sun was sort of above the creature – there might have been a diver in the shot – but both were in silhouette and the water was green – I can still see it. Looking at that photo, I sensed a check box forming in my mind.

Note: I found the photo I think. It’s of a whale shark in the Arabian Sea. Or it’s this other one of a diver and a shark. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that picture.



For eight years this check box sort of fogged around my brain. It was a cool idea, which became a longing, a wish, a goal, a plan. Then, in 2014 I learned of a whale shark festival in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. The check box solidified and refused to leave. It was now a decision. And once I reached decision, it was a matter of research and logistics.

Isla Mujeres, QR. Mexico. I am going to swim with the whale sharks.

A Few Hours in Atlanta

I’ve been in Atlanta the past weekend, attending the A-Town Throwdown Stage Combat workshop. There, I learned to crack a bullwhip, throw a knife, and renewed my proficiencies in knife and single sword combat (neither a recommended pass, to my great, irksome chagrin. Turns out I still have a bruise-able ego.).

As the vast majority of my time – 8am-7pm each day – was spent on the Georgia Tech campus studying fabricated violence, I had only one afternoon to enjoy being a tourist in Atlanta. Here is what I did with that time.

I asked my hotel registration desk what was worth doing at 4pm on a Thursday. I heard there was an underground mall, the Civil Rights Museum, a giant aquarium – too much to do in a single afternoon that was already heading towards evening. The friendly woman at the Courtyard suggested I go see The World of Coke, as that was the most “touristy” thing I could do.

So I did!

There used to be a World of Coca-Cola in Las Vegas, which my family visited regularly. Riding up the glass Coca-Cola bottle elevator, one could go through a lovely museum, followed by a “Coke fountain” that had sensor and would fling soda into your glass like magic. There was a tasting room with Coca-Cola products from around the world. Many years ago they shut down the museum/tasting part of the Coca-Cola experience. Now it’s just a two-story store full of paraphernalia, accompanied by a single soda fountain. It’s lost it’s warmth. It’s nice for fans of gear, but it’s pure capitalism. The museum is now an Outback Steakhouse. (Should you find yourself near that area of the Strip, opt for the M&M store instead. It smells like children, but it’s far more entertaining.)

Note: The World of Coke closes at 5pm, but you can still get into the World of Coke up to that point. The museum itself is open until 6:30. I showed up at 4:55pm, and they let me in. To be fair, I was very enthusiastic and sweet/hopeful. The cost of an adult ticket is around $18.



The World of Coke is a glorious contradiction. It’s Disney-level gizmo and delight, sound effects and bright colors and a complete sense of “We aren’t in it for the money!” when they clearly are. I found it charming, like being around a good flirt who knows exactly what he’s doing but is pretending like he doesn’t. There are rooms simply packed with antiques and famous Coca-Cola products. There are happy, crisp employees who are always smiling and welcoming, despite the fact that I was part of the last group and they’ve clearly said the same dialogue a hundred times before I showed up.

I’ll admit it – I like Coca-Cola, and I am susceptible to sentimentality. This place has both in full force. Coca-Cola: reuniting families! Coca-Cola: inspiring adventure! Coca-Cola: racially progressive! Coca-Cola: started at 5 cents a bottle, went to 6 cents after several generations, and yet somehow now costs over a dollar (i.e. the price seems to be rising steeply as of late.) But then there are actually interesting, helpful things that Coca-Cola does. They’re recycling plastic bottles into t-shirts, and composting their own waste in the park outside. It’s a genuinely nice thing to see.

I was lucky to be there at closing time. Judging from the turnstiles and the roped off sections, the place seems like it could get really packed. I imagine the shiny, happy, vibe dissipates in the presence of hundreds of people. If crowds are not your thing, early morning/near closing is my recommendation.

Lonely Coca-Cola Bear aimlessly pushing the directions sign.

Lonely Coca-Cola Bear aimlessly pushing a sign around as the lower level begins to close.

While there is no dancing fountain of Coke (which I was assured did exist at one point), there is the tasting area, with the global sodas. Turns out I love BonBon Anglais from Madagascar, which made me think of bananas. I also enjoyed Greece’s Pineapple Fanta. Italy’s Beverly soda was the worst, just the worst. It tasted like old boiled leather baked with expired cotton candy. I don’t know why they were pushing everyone to try it, unless it was to prove to the creators that they had made a mistake.

Then you get a complimentary bottle of Coca-Cola before you hit the gift store – I mean, it was a great way to spend an hour and a half. It is a happy place – there is a sense that Coca-Cola just might be a key to fixing the human condition. I highly recommend it. From there, if you were to have a whole day instead of an afternoon, you could easily visit the Georgia Aquarium which is just across the small park. By then it was around 6:30 and the aquarium was closed. While waiting for my shuttle, I walked across the street to the Olympic Park, and noted the number of businesses I recognized. The CNN building is there, and the American Cancer Society. It was an impressive skyline.

Can't go wrong with a classic Coke

Can’t go wrong with a classic Coke

BonBob c'est très bien!

BonBob c’est très bien!









For dinner, I was pointed toward the South City Kitchen in Midtown. My shuttle driver, Tim, said it was a great place for soul food that wouldn’t break the bank. When I called there was an hour and change wait time, but when I arrived there was one seat left at the bar. I claimed it, and proceeded to gorge on food. Tim was correct – it was delicious. I had my first mint julep (pass – mint and whiskey and sugar did not work as I had hoped). The buttermilk fried chicken was excellent. I’m a sucker for rhubarb, and they had strawberry rhubarb hand pies.

Mint Julep!

Mint Julep!

Buttermilk fried chicken, collard greens, and mashed potatoes. This kept me fed for two dinners!

Buttermilk fried chicken, collard greens, and mashed potatoes. This kept me fed for two dinners!









Waddling back to my hotel, I couldn’t help but feel as though I had done well for four hours in Atlanta. Enough, in fact, to write a post in my travel blog about how you can do the same! (Aside: I stayed at the Courtyard Midtown, and they were lovely. Except for the lack of free breakfast, they were wonderful people, and the scenery in the actual courtyard was inviting and appealing)



Olympic Park

Olympic Park

Las Vegas: Circus of the Sun

Alright, it’s been awhile, so here’s a bit about a place I’ve been:

Las Vegas

I’ve been going to Las Vegas since I was a kid. I was a child when Vegas was going through its “No, really! We’re great for families!” phase. White tigers, pirate fights, Nile river boat rides, all good times for a young girl too young to gamble. This was back when the machines gave out real money when you won. Mom was always willing to let me tally her nickels at the end of an evening. When they switched to paper print outs, she literally stopped gambling all together. She said the fun was gone. Though there are still great things for families to do in the City of Sin, the sin has come back in a big way with the advent of giant strip malls on the Strip, and a big nightclub boom.

When people ask me what shows they should see, I always tell them to catch a Cirque du Soleil show. There are other good shows, but Cirque du Soleil is such an unexpected Vegas collaboration. In a way it makes sense – Cirque shows are full of spectacle and special effects. But then it doesn’t – there’s a lot of metaphor and no stripping, two things which tend to appeal to the yard-long margarita crowd. Cirque shows feature classic clowns and mime. Few characters speak English, and there’s a kookiness which runs through productions which I love, but doesn’t seem like it should work in the superficial lies of Las Vegas. Yet they do – enough so that there are several shows to see. Here they are, and here are my thoughts on them. I’m starting at Treasure Island, and working my way along the Strip.

Mystere: Mystere was the first Cirque du Soleil show to come to Vegas, and it is the oldest, located at Treasure Island.  It was my first Cirque show, and after some difficult mental wrestling it remains my favorite.  I think it the best Cirque show because it is more classic Cirque –  no real plot, but a sort of desert theme. The acts – giant cube manipulation, silks, strongmen, Japanese drums (my Dad’s favorite), and bungie acrobats (mine) – all sort of flow into each other. It’s weird and wonderful, and is a great value for the ticket price. My nephew still doesn’t understand why there’s a giant friendly snail that appears out of nowhere, and he gets a kick out of the red bird dancer. Mystere is a show that gets a lot of “oohs” and “aahs!” from the audience, impressive after twenty (!) years of performances.

Love: The first of the “themed” Cirque shows in Vegas, and is located at the Mirage. A celebration of all things Beatles, it combines the symbolism of Cirque with the story of actual people. The result is transcendent. After Mystere, I think Love is my favorite Cirque show. Perhaps it’s because I also love the Beatles, and combining theater with good music is (probably) never a bad idea. Part of what makes Love such a treat is the joy of the production – there is a lot of energy in the performances. I find the costume effects of “Being for the Benefit of Mister Kite” to be especially mind-bending, and there are some cool tech effects as well.  Under all the color and familiar tunes is a rough history. The bombing of London, the trip to India, Beatlemania, and John Lennon’s loss of his mother are all expressed in beautiful musical touchstones. Also, by the end anyone who knows the music is singing along. It’s a show that succeeds in bringing an audience together, provided you’re willing to let go and enjoy.

O: It’s easy to see why O’s tickets are some of the most expensive Cirque tickets. The theater at the Bellagio is massive, and the entire show takes place on/in/over a giant pool of water. I got to go on the O stage during Cirque Week , and it’s squishy like a race track. I was told this is because it the material sheds water quickly, which is essential when the stage is going from submerged to dry and back again. O is a celebration of the aquatic, and so the bulk of the acts involve water – synchronized diving, swimming, high dives, acrobats on raining apparatuses. There are also some fire spinners, and an excellent set of clowns. If you go, please cheer for the scuba divers when they appear. Each is a Master Diver and is in charge of making sure performers get air when they “disappear” underwater.

Zarkana: Before Zarkana, the Aria held another Cirque show – Elvis. Elvis had some truly fantastic acts, but the narrative was odd and far too literal. In my opinion that’s why it failed to stick. Zarkana, it’s replacement, is a throwback to old carnival and freak show acts. Acts include an amazing juggler, the tight rope, and giant hula hoops. The plot, such as it is, is bare. There’s a ringleader and his pack of talented performers. He is looking for a woman, who he keeps meeting in different forms, and these provide the setting for new acts. Zarkana is weird, but I liked it a lot. It’s a bit heavy on two main singers, but then it felt old-timey and off-kilter in a good way. I will say that there is a giant animated, singing, dead baby in a jar effect, which might make kids uncomfortable. It made me uncomfortable, till I remembered that at the old carnivals that came through my town there was always a tent or two dedicated to “grotesques.”

Ka: Ka is the MGM’s Cirque production, and it has a definite story. A good king and queen are murdered by a rival, and the twin brother and sister must enlist allies to take back what is there. Ka has a lot of martial arts, and my favorite music. In particular is the song in the forest, which has some fantastic puppetry to boot. It’s got a lot of actual fire in it, and certainly has a harsher story with people dying, and a breakdancing starfish for levity. It also has a crazy rotating series of stages. Ka is one of the more infamous Cirque shows, as the finale fight, which requires vertical climbing and jumping down a stage resulted in the death of one the performers. The show retooled and is back, just as strong.  It’s a sobering reminder that these gravity-defying actors are human.

Zumanity: Ah, the attempt at “adult” entertainment, Cirque style. Zumanity is at New York, New York, and attempts to explore sexuality through circus. This one was average for me, though I freely admit that seeing adult entertainment is not my cup of tea. There is also a tension in trying to be risqué while at the same time being super athletic. Just because a girl is doing a bondage act with the silks while a soundtrack featuring suggestive moaning plays all around doesn’t make the silks less of a feat. It’s hard to see the sexuality when being awed by the techniques required in some of the performances. They try to make up for this with goofy burlesque acts and a suggestive emcee, which only partly succeeds. Still, it’s a fun sort of romp, but definitely not for the kids.

These are the shows I have seen on the Strip. The two I have not are Chris Angel’s “Believe” and the Michael Jackson “One.” The former because I am not a huge Chris Angel fan, the latter because I’m not into Michael Jackson. At least, not his persona – his music was good.

The nice thing about Vegas shows is that there are always deals going on. If you are looking to see a show, call ahead of time and see if there is a dinner/show combo, a sale for the season, or a military discount. BE SURE TO CHECK BLACK OUT DATES. Each show has two days a week when it’s “dark” (or off), in addition to some holidays and rehearsal/tech breaks, so check out the websites ahead of time.

In my next post, I’ll go through some other worthwhile shows to check out. This one is all about Cirque du Soleil because I love what they represent and how they’re willing to expose audiences to new experiences through theater. Their music is live, not recorded, so there’s a sense of immediacy. This is even more present with the performers. It’s fascinating for me to see what happens when a landing doesn’t stick, or a grab gets missed. It’s a testament to showmanship that such mishaps don’t derail an act. It’s good for kids to see how to handle mistakes.

I had a vision of me singing the forest song in Ka, and rather than wish I tried to manifest that dream. I sent in a video audition to be a singer. They said I could reapply in three years. I bet I’m not the only one with that dream. Still, there’s a little Cirque in all of us, and I encourage you to see it unfold in an impossible city.  If you cannot, see if one of the touring show is around you. You will not be disappointed!

Enjoy the show, and bon voyage!