Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Done camping with the jugglers 

I survived camping with the jugglers.

We just got back from the 2005 Israeli Juggling Festival at Gan Hashlosha National Park near Beit Shean. Everyone in attendance, including Yours Truly, had to camp in order to participate in the multi-day event. Since there were hundreds of participants, there were on the order of hundreds of tents.

Ok, since I'm a software engineer, I can understand if you want to check my math. So here is the rigorous proof (the non-mathematical, or equationally queasy may skip this part with no reduction in final exam score):

I was there, you weren't, so just take my word for it: there were a lot of tents. If you're worried about my journalistic standards, I'll get my 3-year-old to look over my reasoning and clap excitedly, then show it to the cat living outside our house (I will take her silence as an all-clear) and finally run it by a spell-checker. This should give my reporting the LA Times multi-level validation seal of approval. So there!

Ok, as further proof, I offer a photo.

Again, you will have to take my word for it that this photo is indeed of the event in question, and that there were actually a whole lot more tents set up there than you can see in this picture.

Our tents don't really show up in the picture, but trust me, they were nearby. We set them up in a circle, together with another family, to help ward off the encroaching hordes. This strategy didn't completely work because as we completed the circle, we noticed an outsider's tent was included. That interloping tent was occupied by a young couple whose minimalist style of camping made me feel older, and more desparately attached to my comfort and belongings, than I've felt in a long time. The only competition comes from those moments when my ever-bushier eyebrows, and sprouting ear hair, make me think I may someday need them for an elaborate combover. But until that day arrives, the sobering effect of the contrast between that little tent, and our elaborate fortifications, will stand unchallenged.

We were camping with 20% of our worldly possessions, distributed amongst a series of tents: air mattresses (electric pumps to fill them of course), gas burners, and all the medications we could get a prescription for. In the meantime, while we were roughing it, this young couple had only a single tent -- about as big as my three year old's bath towel -- a tea kettle, and a single change of underwear between them. Camping means something entirely different when you're young.

On the other hand, however, the young man was kind enough to explain to my 3 young girls all about his tattoos, the needles and ink, and how much it hurt. He might have even slipped them the phone number of a good shop, but I can't be sure. In case he reads blogs, I address these personal words of gratitude to that kind young man:

Dear young man, thank you, SO MUCH. May you be blessed with daughters of your own someday.

Once I managed to pry my daughters away from the tattooed camper and his concumbine, we found that the other campers were indeed juggling. Or at least they were watching others juggle if they themselves weren't. There was one big contest portion (pictured) involving the many clever and difficult ways to juggle 3 clubs -- I always thought it was easy, who knew?

The kids were crowded in front while the adults relaxed up in the bleachers behind. Sadly, although I was eager to prove my journalistic mettle in covering this event -- or at least the 5% of it that I actually attended -- I missed filming the one moment that actually had any sense of drama or intrigue. While the juggler was tossing his 3-club salad, a little 2 year old in the front row crawled right out under him and could have caused the juggler to flub a club and lose valuable points. Fortunately a rescuer, concerned for the child's welfare of all things, sprang up and dragged the little tyke squeaking across the gym floor to safety. In another journalistic lapse, I failed to secure exclusive interview rights with the tot, but I assume AP got her on record as blaming coalition forces for her near-fatal ordeal.

Most jugglers kept juggling approximately 23 hours a day, doing breath-taking shows, or practicing their skills during open gym time. My family, however, did not do this. They spent most of the time swimming or begging for ice cream. That doesn't mean we aren't jugglers, at least at heart. During one of the open practice sessions in the gym, I got my two youngest girls out there to practice their technique. I flinched a few times when they were almost run over by a unicycle, or whacked with one of the many varieties of airborne objects in the gym, but the were really little troopers.

Pictured is Miriam, aged 3, and a prodigy if there ever was one. You can't tell from the still photo, but her technique was sublime. You might be noticing, as I did shortly before I purchased her equipment, that it is just a long ribbon on a stick. You might be wondering if this qualifies as juggling at all. Well, take it on good authority (mine, and the salesperson who sold me the stick) that this indeed does count in today's world of juggling. In fact, there are now so many ways of juggling that almost everything more difficult than rolling out of bed would qualify.

Swinging little beanbags around on strings? Counts. Spinning one or more batons, any length? Yup. Balancing a ball on your arm? You bet.

There were also jugglers on stilts. And unicycles. And perched on boards, carefully balanced atop freely rolling tubes (although far more of this type of juggler actually ended up sprawled on the floor, rubbing their bottoms and staring at the few who really were perched, carefully balanced on their boards).

And most importantly to at lest one proud papa, was the "Waving a Ribbon on a Stick" juggling.

Probably the most exciting juggling, however, was the segment where you combined any of the above methods... with fire! Especially the "Flaming Jump Rope of Death" -- again, not what old-school purists think of as juggling, but trust me here, it counts. Once more, I must sadly report I am unable to bring you any pictures of these near-death experiences. Not that I didn't try, but they insisted flash bulbs might distract a juggler. Granted, as a photojournalist, I could have turned off the flash and gotten cool picures of bright smears showing moving fire being juggled, but I wasn't sure which button turned the flash off and which fired an immediate test flash.

Next time we go, we'll improve on all that we learned. I'll figure out that flash thing. My kids will probably volunteer for the "Flaming Ribbons of Death on a Stick" section of the fire show. But absolutely, positively no tattoos.
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