First off, travel this time went well. The bus from London arrived in Bruxelles 20 minutes earlier than planned. I got into Gare du Nord and was able to buy a metro ticket with no problem: “Un voyage, s’il vous plait.” Got on the metro. Made the connection to the next line with one minute to spare. Perfect. Two stops later, I run my fingers through my hair. Something seems strange about that act, and not just the fact that I’ve been experimenting with life without shampoo. I run through what I plan to do as a street act in Brussels: Will I be able to find the necessary rope for the ropewalking bit, or will I still have to do the cups and balls, the finale of which is where I produce a coconut under my hat?
My hat? My $120 Nils Poll Manipulator, the Mercedes Benz of jugglers’ hats? The one that is made in Denmark, shipped to California, then ultimately to me in Maryland? The one that would be a cat-and-mouse game of having no fixed address to ship it to? Did I cram it into my overstuffed luggage? Ohhh, shit! If I turn around now, will I be able to get back to the bus before it heads onward to Antwerp, and ultimately Amsterdam? I already realized that Eurolines does not have a customer service phone number, so lost and found would be a similar clusterfuck of trying to catch up with my damned wayward headwear.
Carrying 70 lbs. of bags (thank Goo for rolling luggage – major testimonial for Porter Cases) back along escalator and staircases and moving walkways and construction and on trains and off trains, I got back to my bus — still there — to a sarcastic, mocking Dutch bus driver: “What, you miss me? You want to marry me?”
There was my hat, in the 6th row, under the seat. Whew!
Met up with Christo about 25 minutes later. Beers, rum, wine and hangover ensued. One of the coolest people I know, he regaled me with his exploits, sailing across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans have made him a “minor celebrity” in his native Bulgaria. You may purchase his wonderful quirky Joyceian book of anecdotes (that is not really about sailing) here, (http://sailingserenity.org/press2/) … his precise talent for storytelling made it no surprise that his public speaking engagements are well-attended.
The next day I finally found the type of rope I need for my finalé: 20mm 3-strand natural fiber rope (actually, I found a synthetic substitute as the real thing would have cost twice as much, or nearly 4x the price in the USA. It was at the Belgian equivalent of the rope store in London. Its name? La Corderie.
Wednesday night, I went out into town, a notoriously difficult city for performing. There were a number of musicians out, but no circle-type shows like mine. Perfect! I scoped out my space. The best place would be the Grand Place, which was described by Victor Hugo as the most beautiful place on Earth, but the police are extremely efficient at preventing such activities there. I found the spot on a side street, which I had played with some success 20 years ago, but the façade had changed, making it a strange energy for foot traffic. It now is part of a church which I had not noticed in 1991.
The next best place was on the other side of the path. I started to slowly set up, still working out a game plan. Just as I was contemplating starting, a loud karaoke machine started up through a Fender P250: Two hundred fifty watts of power, pumping out the muzak version of “What a Feeling” as a gypsy trumpeter blasted out his attempts at the worst of Western music. After about 15 minutes, I decided it was middle-of-the-road enough to blend with and I put on my music, starting to gear up for the performance. Then I was approached by the Hungarian bubble guy. He stood up the inclined street from me, with a huge loop and a vat of bubble juice. He allowed people to make giant bubbles for tips, and he was worried that his floating detritus would be in my way. It wasn’t. But the loud “Yay!” and “hoot-hoot” and clappy-clappy every time he got a 20 cent tip was kind of distracting. I went ahead anyway.
The energy of the space was difficult; people were walking quickly, trying to get somewhere, and still I managed to stop about 20 people by changing my clothes (I made a 4×6 foot bag, which I can use as a portable changing room). Once I started playing though, I realized although I have the meat of the show reasonably thought out, I hadn’t worked out just how to hold a crowd long enough to make it a big crowd.
In other words, I gained and lost a crowd. So back to the drawing board; all part of the process. So still, I’m a week in Europe now, took me this long to get to “the beginning.” And I see I have a loooong way to go. I know I have all the parts for a show, but they are scattered in my brain and bulging prop case.
There are those performers that say, “the first 20 minutes is not the show; it’s the build. The actual “show” is when I start the finale.” Of course, once I asked one of these performers, “what if you are hired to do a corporate function to do a show? Do you just do “your show, the last 20 minutes?” “Uh, no;” he said, “Then I do the first 20 minutes…and the last 20 minutes…”
The next couple of nights were spent hanging out with Christo, swapping stories, reluctant to go out again for a repeat performance, but he also wanted to introduce me to his Italian partner in crime, Fernando, with whom he used to twist horrible balloon animals next to a huge animatronic puppet rig they had created. Laughs
were thrown around the boiled taro root and intestine-blistering piri-piri sauce at their favorite hole-in-the-wall Congolese restaurant, one of the beautiful things to come out of the brutal practices of Belgian imperialism.
Brussels busking total: €0.00. Visiting old friend: Priceless.
Rationing in the failures slowly to keep my ego from melting like so many water-drenched Margaret Hamiltons.