The Human River

I had a Russian circus coach in his sixties, Alex, who could still do standing backflips.  He was able to pluck you out of the air one-handed if you were about to land on your head; it was like being caught by an oak tree.  He looked like a bear, he walked like a zombie, and his secret to maintaining his form was taking good care of his intestines.

People have strange ideas about how their bodies function.

It was a Russian coach fad at my school; fasting one day a week and fasting one week a month.  It was all part of a solemn ceremony which culminating in a glorious herbal enema to keep your colon clean, supple, and rubbery like a nubile squid.

I wasn’t ready to go that far, but he afforded me this advice:  Eat a grapefruit every morning; don’t eat anything cooked, never talk during a meal, always eat meat last, and enjoy a handful of organic peanuts before physical activity (softdrinks are poison, and processed food is good to make your stomach feel full, but it won’t do anything for your body).

He was my teacher, I listened, and it made sense, at least when training 12 hours a day like the good circus school students that we were.

This kind of ascetic eating regimen fit with his personality.  Even his sense of humor:

One day, the denizens of a small village awoke to a loud, rhythmic pounding.  Each pound was punctuated by a man’s screams of pain.  The villagers, shivering in the morning chill and dressed only in their nightclothes, left their huts to find the source of the screaming.  In the middle of the public square, a man was repeatedly striking his phallus [Alex always said phallus when he told this joke or any other joke that featured a penis.  He always lowered his voice and blushed a little when he said it.  Ever seen an embarrassed bear?] with a blacksmith’s hammer.  The patriarch approached the man to ask him why in the world he was punishing his member so.  “Doesn’t it hurt terribly?”  “Of course,” replied the stranger, “but nothing compares to blissful respite that comes between each strike.”

My Lithuanian roommates have explained that this is actually a very Eastern European kind of joke.  They tell another one that I like:

A wife walks out onto her porch where her husband is looking at the sky with a serene smile on his face.  “Why are you so happy?” she asks.  “Our neighbor’s house is burning down.”

I told this joke in Boston to a mixed audience of Canadians, Americans, and Bulgarians, and sure enough, the Bulgarians laughed while the North Americans waited for the punchline.

My point was that people have lots of different theories one how to best care for their body.  The FDA of America has a great one, which happens to be very different from that which is professed by their Japanese counterpart.  But I think that having your own cartoonish view of the human body is helpful, as long as it makes sense to you and it keeps you healthy.

For me, I believe that the key to everything is water.  Lots of water.  If I can keep a steady flow of water through my body, I find I can train harder without being sore the next day, I am more flexible, I have more energy, it is easier to maintain my weight (or lose weight when necessary), and I can drink alcohol with no ill effects in the morning.

For me, I see the body as a riverbed which is constantly polluted by our everyday actions (like every other riverbed you have ever seen).  If you can keep that river flowing at nearly flood levels, all those pollutants (lactic acid, alcohol, excess nutrients, etc) will be washed away.  I also see water as a sort of lubricant for cells, particularly muscle cells, that help them to work more efficiently.

I know that this is all a huge oversimplification and sounds a lot like a placebo (based strongly in sports medicine and common sense, of course), but it does serve as a nice little feather to hold onto when I force my body to do impossible things.


Dieting and the Aging Acrobat


I am on a diet.  It is not the most natural or fun thing for me; but I guess I must be getting older.  This aging manifests itself in strange ways; for example:

Strength: I still gain strength very quickly, but the retention of that strength is much attenuated.  I used to be able to maintain form for roughly a month after heavy training, but now, a week or so off and I weaken noticeably.

Flexibility: Flexibility, on the other hand, is much more difficult to develop as well as maintain.  I used to feel like if I took one week off of flexibility training, it would take me two weeks to get back to my previous level.  Now, one week off can translate to a month or two of dedicated training to get back up to speed.

Technique: Strangely enough, my handstand technique is the one aspect of training that seems to be improving with age.  It is easier for me to maintain stable handstand positions for longer periods.  Before, a shaky 10 seconds at 80% success rate in the classical one-armed position (see picture) was great.   Now, a stable 20 seconds is the norm.  It seems to support my theory that this particular acrobatic discipline is largely mental in nature.

Weight:  I have always been able to eat as much of whatever I want without gaining appreciable weight.  This is still true, but I find as though my equilibrium point has shifted a bit.  I used to settle in at around 58 kilos (128 lbs), but now my natural state seems to be at around 62 kilos (136 lbs).

So that is it.  I have not been able to exclude the possibility that some of these shifts are due to being two years out of circus school rather than being two years older as the lifestyle difference are obvious:

Circus School:

  • Average of 10 hours a day, 6 days a week of intense physical training.
  • Home-made, meager, low-fat meals.
  • Drinking only on weekends, maybe once a month.
  • Nearly insurmountable stress (external and internal).

Developing Projects in Asia:

  • Average of 2 hours a day, 5 days a week of intense physical training.
  • Restaurant food picked up on the run from meeting to meeting.
  • Drinking with friends whenever we have a free moment to meet, maybe 3 times a week.
  • Nearly insurmountable stress (only internal).

But the fact that my handstands themselves are improving is still a little mysterious to me.  Perhaps it is like riding a bike, only there is infinite room for improvement.  Perhaps it is just the different levels of stress; these two hours a day are often pure meditative joy, as compared to the often tortuous feel of my hours spent in training in Montreal.

I should also mention that after only four days of moderate dieting, I am well on my way to my goal of 58 kilos.

Diet Rules:

  • Weekends, I can eat whatever I want.
  • Weekdays, I can eat whatever I want for one meal, but:
  • No snacks at all
  • Only drink water or tea (alcohol is especially verboten, dame, interdit).
  • Moderate hunger and grumpiness at all times is a good sign.
  • The other two meals, no meat, minimal carbohydrates.
  • Weekends, I can eat whatever I want.

One I get back down to 58, I am going to forget all rules, increase my training regimen (July promises to be full time training for four weeks; no outside distractions – I must promise myself!), and switch to monitoring mode.

Anyways, all submitted for your approval.  All theories are welcome.

General Tao Chicken and Satay Chicken

General Tao’s Chicken (Le Piment Rouge)

10 oz Chicken Legs, deboned

2  c  Soya Oil

1  tb Ginger Root, minced

2  ea Scallions, chopped

1  tb Garlic, minced

2  tb Dry Chili Pepper

2  tb Sugar

2  tb Soy Sauce

1 1/2 ts Vinegar

2 tb  Cornstarch

1/4 c Chicken Stock

1 ts  Sesame Oil



1 ea Egg White

1 tb Cornstarch

1 tb Soy Sauce


  1. Cut the chicken into pieces no larger than 1 inch square. Prepare marinade by combining egg white, cornstarch and 1 tablespoon soy sauce in a large bowl. Add chicken pieces and set aside for two hours. In a deep pot, heat the oil until it reaches 350 degrees. In a basket, or with a slotted spoon, lower several marinated chicken pieces into the fat. Fry about one or two minutes or until the chicken becomes crisp; test for doneness before completing the batch.
  2. Continue until all pieces have been fried. Set oil and cooked chicken pieces aside. In a wok, on high heat, reheat two tablespoons of the reserved oil. Add prepared ginger, scallions, garlic and chili peppers.
  3. Stir to prevent burning. Add the fried chicken and stir quickly. Add sugar, soy sauce, vinegar and cornstarch mixed with chicken stock. Remove from the heat and stir sesame oil into the sauce. Spoon the mixture on to a hot platter and serve immediately with steamed rice. Serves 4. Hazel Mah who owns Le Piment Rouge Windsor (translation: Red Pepper) and Le Piment Rouge Laurier graciously agreed to share the recipe for the popular dish.

This dish dates back to the Chin Dynasty and is named for General Tao, a governor of the northern Chinese province of Hunan. According to legend, the old general ate nothing but poultry and this dish was his favorite.

Le Piment Rouge Windsor, 1170 Peel in Montreal. From The Gazette, 91/02/27.


4 c. peanut oil for frying

1 1/2 lb. boneless chicken breast (dark meat also may be used)

1/2 c. reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 c. low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 c. sugar

2 tsp. oyster sauce

1 tsp. hoisin sauce

2 tsp. white wine

3/4 tsp. minced fresh garlic

1 tsp. white vinegar

1/2 tsp. chili paste

3 tbsp. toasted sesame oil

5 tbsp. sherry

6 tbsp. cornstarch

Place peanut oil in wok or deep-fat fryer and heat over medium-high heat.

Trim fat off chicken breasts and cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch wide strips.

Combine sauce and set aside. In a medium-size bowl, combine sesame oil, sherry and cornstarch for chicken coating. Toss chicken strips in coating ingredients. When oil reaches 370 degrees or a haze forms above it, deep-fry chicken until tinged light golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and allow to drain on several thicknesses of paper towels.

Pour oil out of wok; a small amount will remain. Replace over medium- high heat. Add sauce mixture and stir 20 seconds. Add cooked chicken and stir-fry about 10 seconds longer to warm and meld flavors. Serve immediately with steamed rice. Makes 4 servings.


2 whole chicken breasts, skinned & boned

24 bamboo skewers

1 med. green bell pepper, cut into 1″ squares

1 med. red bell pepper, cut into 1″ squares


1/2 c. creamy peanut butter

1/2 c. vanilla lowfat yogurt

1/4 c. water

2 tbsp. soy sauce

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 15 x 10 x 1 inch baking pan. Cut chicken into lengthwise strips 1/2 inch wide. On each skewer, thread 1 piece each green and red pepper and 1 strip chicken. Place on greased pan.

In medium saucepan, combine all sauce ingredients; blend well. Remove 1/4 cup of the sauce; brush on chicken pieces. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink.

Meanwhile, heat remaining sauce over low heat until hot, stirring occasionally. Serve chicken and peppers with warm sauce. 24 appetizers.


6 cloves garlic, chopped

4 tsp. coriander

4 tsp. light brown sugar

1 tbsp. black pepper

2 tsp. salt

2 1/2 lb. boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2-2″ cubes

1/2 c. shoyu

4 tsp. ginger, chopped

2 tbsp. lime juice

6 tbsp. oil

1/4 c. fresh coriander, chopped (for garnish)


1 c. chunky peanut butter

1-2 tsp. hot chili sauce (oriental section of your store)

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3 tbsp. honey

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 c. lime juice

1/4 c. shoyu

1/2 c. peanut oil

Combine garlic, coriander, brown sugar, pepper and salt. Rub mixture on chicken pieces. Place on tray and marinate 45 minutes. Combine shoyu, ginger, lime juice and oil in shallow NON-ALUMINUM pan. Add chicken and marinate covered in refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight. Turn several times during marinating process.

To make peanut sauce, place peanut butter in food processor. Add chili sauce, garlic, honey, cayenne pepper, lime juice, shoyu and peanut oil until smooth, thick paste is formed. Sauce can be made ahead. Cover and refrigerate, but bring to room temperature before serving. Grill or broil chicken on skewers soaked in water. Cook until tender (8-10 minutes).

Sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve with peanut sauce. Absolutely ono!!!

Peanut Butter Chicken

1/2 c. teriyaki or soy sauce

3 tbsp. sugar

1 tbsp. vinegar

2 tsp. ground cumin

1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. cubed pork or chicken

2 tbsp. peanut butter

1/2 c. water

Mix first 6 ingredients, pour over meat cubes and marinate 1/2 hour or more. Put cubes on skewers and grill or broil until done. While grilling, mix the leftover marinade with water and peanut butter; cook a couple of minutes. Serve sauce with meat as a dip. Serve satay over cooked rice.

Yu Hsiang Chicken

4 T Oil

1 lb diced chicken (boneless + skinless)

1/2 diced red pepper

1/2 diced green pepper

6 sliced water chestnuts (fresh is best!)

2 T cloud ears (tree fungus)*

2 scallions, minced

1 t minced ginger

1 clove garlic, minced

1 t cornstarch made into paste with cold water

Chinese spicy yu shiang sauce ingredients:

3 T soy sauce

generous dash pepper

1 t sugar

2 T sherry

1/2 t salt

1 t vinegar

1 t Chinese chili sauce

1 t hoisin sauce

1 t sesame oil

Soak cloud ears in boiling water for 1/2 hour and then cut into large pieces.

Combine sauce ingredients together.

Heat oil in wok. When hot, add chicken

and all the vegetables except the scallions.

Stir fry until almost done-chicken should be white. Remove these items from your wok and set them aside in a bowl.  Meanwhile, add more oil to wok; then add scallions, ginger and garlic. When aroma is evident, add the sauce ingredients. Bring to a boil.

Return reserved chicken and vegetables to wok and bring to a boil again. Quickly restir cornstarch paste and add some of hot liquid to cornstarch paste, then add to wok. Stir until thickened.

Circus school student getting stretched for his center splits

Psychoactive Tuna

My computer died so I had to reinstall everything.  These two weeks of silence have stemmed from me feeling as though nothing I accomplish in life is going to make me that I’ve finished anything.  Weird to look ahead at a whole lifetime of feeling that way.  But what is, is. 

I’ve been feeling very misanthropic.  It’s just been frustration with people who seem to be at the school just to have fun and play around and pretend to be circus artists.  It makes it difficult to really train seriously.  I’ve been concentrating so much on the problems I have on form in handstands or that various tricks aren’t coming. 

We have a new huge coach for hand to hand, Ivan, who is taking over for Sylvain.  We call him “Ivan the Terrible” (behind his back of course), but we all really like him.  He worked in Australia for 9 years.  Sylvain is working with him now because he doesn’t speak any French, just English and Russian and it is obvious that there is a big difference in their styles.  I get to be a flyer and a porter which is all good.  

Today The Clown and I went on a “porter strike” in ITA because the Quebecois in our ITA class had been complaining that we never do trapeze or high bar.  So today,  we just did that and left the flyers to port each other which I’m not sure they enjoyed.  I think they got our point and we got to relax from porting for a day! 

We’ve had two Quebecois guests come to talk to us about substance abuse and balance and life.  We all had to bring in a can to make the case that you need to put big stones in your can first and then put the little stones in because if you put the little things in first there won’t be any room for the big things.  It was in French so I didn’t get any of that and ended up asking why we had to bring the cans in just after they had gone through that whole explanation in French.  Oops. 

We had a presentation about psychoactive drugs and The Clown and I had to do a sketch about stimulants, depressants, and psychoactive drugs.  W e imitated the nervous system before and after alcohol and then acted out what our classmates were reading in a monotone about stimulants which culminating in us running out of the room and stripping to our underwear in the hallway and then running back in.  Then, I read about hallucinogens as The Clown acted it out with me eventually joining in doing contact improvisation in our underwear.  The class next door told us we had to be quiet a few times. 

I’ll be playing Aladdin for our acting class’ final presentation and it’s hard getting people to have realistic characters – they always want to play cartoonish images like old people with bent-over backs and canes and things like that.  Its also a challenge getting them to be more perfectionistic.  Their point of view is that “everyone knows the story so why do we need to show everything?” 

Yesterday we had a good time doing our first workshop for the end of the year show and things went pretty well but it really comes down to who you work with.  If you work with the right people you know you’re ok.  I ended up working with a great group.  We’re working on things that we’re going to do in the outside part of the show.  We were in the car wash group, another group worked on VIP scenario, and another worked on a picnic animation that we’re doing with the public. 

The night before at a duo birthday party for The Tumbler/complaining session, The Gang were all worried that we were going to end up working with people we didn’t get along with. 

I think part of reason I’ve been feeling low energy the last couple of weeks or months believe it or not has been a lack of tuna.  I say that because after not much protein for a really long while I had a can of tuna today and found I had a lot of energy for the rest of the day, so I think there’s something about the protein in the tuna or something that really helps.

Two circus students from the National Circus School of Montreal shooting images for their streetshow

Back To School

My first day back in school after gramma’s funeral was better than i thought it would be and it was really nice to see everyone.  I guess they knew what had happened because they weren’t coming up to me with the usual “ca va? ca va? ca va?”  

Flexibility was cancelled so we did acro into the pit and I worked on my standing side summies.  I may have tweaked my knee.  i hope isn’t going to be a pattern of immediately twisting my knee like I did after midsession last semester. 

In dance we learned new combos which was fun and i’m picking that up pretty quickly using my new “think of it as martial arts” technique. 

My evaluation was not great: D in general because the only classes I missed have been dance classes.  we learned the first two bars of the adagio today and The Hotshot and I will be working on a sequence for it to present on Wednesday. 

She’s working on musicality with everyone (counting music and feeling it).  This is the one thing we’ve done in dance which i feel totally comfortable doing – having to do a pattern in a three count with different accents. 

Equilibre was frustrating because these two weeks off have resulted in a lot of lost strength and how everything is supposed to go together but maybe that’s just normal with handstands.  I remeber it was that way after the last break as well, so hopefully it will come back up to speed pretty soon. 

Acro was fun. i talked with Esteban about working iron cross drills because i really want to beat jc at getting a good iron cross.  Esteban’s technique really turns the shoulders forward to use your chest muscles, so the work i’m doing is really to try to recruit my chest muscles to hold the cross. 

Did a lot of good side summie work today, but trampoline was all over the place.  That comes from losing the tempo of the bed after two weeks.  My plongeons were coming out pretty well because it’s one of the skills i wasn’t afraid to do on the MIT trampoline over the break.  It seems so much smaller than the one at school which has all the safety mats around it. 

Byamba equilibre was fun and i actually talked with him for a while.  I guess The Trapesist’s porter didn’t have a very good audition.  She said he sort of approached the audition as a sure thing because, as she said, “he has The Trapesist’s name on his forehead.” 

She told me that maybe she was going to do equilibre and i asked Byamba if she had told him that.  He told me that earlier she told him that she thought equlibre was too hard and said that if you have that mindset it will be tough to do handstands. 

He asked if she was open to doing the rolla bolla – I mean i’m not interested in rolla bolla either and I wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t for my wrist injury, but i can find ways to make it fun and she said she can do that too.  That said, it’s one thing to say it and another to live by it. 

I told him was giving myself six weeks to learn a one armed handstand and he motioned over to the canes to say, “Well, get to it!” 

So i worked at it and its getting there but its still sloppy and not sturdy at all, but I’m working them all up against the wall and i think that that’s helping.  I did three 1-minute handstand holds against the wall today and then three 10-second one arm handstands against the wall on each side with legs together.  I think that’s helping.  It’s just one of the things that you just need to commit to if you want to do equilibre.  Being able to hold a handstand with your shoulders pressed out as if your against a wall, its just one of those things that you need to be able to do. 

I also talked with Estaban about changing my acro goals to just master the basic skills rather than push myself to do harder skills and sacrifice some of the work that i could be doing on the simpler one that may help more in the long term.

It was nice to be back and see The Contortionist and The Clown because i think that we really missed each other.  

When i was setting up the rings, the cables flew up.  One of the riggers just happened to be around so he was able to pull them down for me but that was kind of embarrassing. 

In general it was a crappy day because the way you eat and sleep affects the way your body performs and after two weeks of not doing that very well I need to get back into eating correctly, sleeping correctly, and all that.  I’ve set up a special timer light to have little sunrises in my room at 6am which is good.

My ideal schedule would be sleeping from 10 to 5 and doing a run in the morning according to Alex who is in Belgium right now possibly talking to the Moscow school on my behalf.  Hopefully the students over there are doing a great job, so good luck to them!

Coming home today I realized that the stupid people are shaping our society on a day-to-day level.  What I mean is that so much in everyday life is put there specifically to keep stupid people from screwing it up, like “coffee is hot” warnings.  One stupid person results in a policy that forever affects the rest of us every day.

Byamba’s son tried out for the school and hopefully he’ll get in for Byamba’s sake.  it would be nice to have another Asian person in the school!