The Orange Road

by forumholitorium

This week I finished reading two books received as gifts. In a previous post, I talked about The White Road by Edmund de Waal, a sprawling story of the obsessive quest to make porcelain. I have zero interest in porcelain, but the book vibrates with de Waal’s enthusiasm for the subject. The most interesting parts were those in which he talks about why and how he creates his art and what he associates with the color white. Porcelain, he concludes, comes at a great cost, and he honors those who have made it possible to work in this finicky medium by telling their story, describing one of his motivations for writing this book as a journey to pay dues to those who have gone before him.

Inspired by his exploration of white, a color I associate with paper, rice, swans, the moon and snow, I am knitting a new sweater for myself. My first striped project will alternate two cotton yarns of different off white shades. Earlier this year, I described why I associate certain colors with different months. May is orange, and June is blue, but it wasn’t until June 1 that I finished my previous journal (green for April) and started writing in a new orange notebook. Though I am a little off with coordinating month and notebook, I have been very drawn to this warm color lately: my journal matches my v-neck and the cover of the second book I just finished reading, Amazonen der Arena: Zirkusartistinnen und Dompteusen (Amazons of the Arena: Circus Artists and Female Animal Tamers) by Stephanie Haerdle.

One of my secret dreams has always been to run away and join the circus as a contortionist/trapeze artist/tightrope walker. Knowing this, a friend presented this book to me last summer. It profiles strongwomen, female animal tamers, female circus directors, and stuntwomen in the circuses of Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I started it but soon put it aside, disappointed because my desired circus careers weren’t highlighted. Fast forward to a week or so ago. One of my projects this year is to read biographies of women who have done unconventional and extraordinary things. Restarting the book, I was captivated.

The world of the circus, writes Haerdle, was probably the first where women were able to work on an equal footing with men. All positions were open to women, who were able to earn a living as well as escape from the strict social control of the day and live however they wanted: on their own or with a husband, partner, or children. One of the strongwomen profiled, the Belgian Athleta, performed feats of strength with her talented four daughters, while most of the animal tamers remained single, preferring the company of their troupes of lions or polar bears to human society. The fearlessness and audacity of women like Hélène Dutrieu (stunt driver and pilot) and Mauricia de Thiers (stunt driver of Autobolide fame who suffered numerous injuries but kept performing) are phenomenal even by today’s standards.

So now I’m dreaming of the circus again, the circus as a symbol of unrealized visions I have for my life. We all have them collecting dust in a corner. Instead of the white road to porcelain or the yellow brick road, I am seeking out the orange road, the road to my inner contortionist.

Hope you dust off some of your idling dreams!