The Ringling Museum of the American Circus includes rare handbills and all sorts of circus equipment including artfully carved parade wagons.
” The World’s Largest Miniature Circus”, an authentic replica of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, when the tented circus was in its prime ( circa 1919 – 1938) was created by Howard Tibbals. Comprised of 8 main tents, 152 wagons, 1,300 circus performers and workers, more than 800 animals and a 57 car train. The model is a 33/4 inch to the foot scale replica and is housed in the Tibbal’s Learning Center.
When I visited Sarasota, Florida “Circus City, U.S.A.” in conjunction with an American Theatre Critics Conference, I experienced a whirlwind of tours, lunches, dinners and plays.
I literally spent a day at the circus when we toured the Ringling estate which is the legacy of circus entrepreneur, collector of art and financier John Ringling. First, we toured “Ca D’Zan” (house of John), a large Venetian-Gothic mansion which strongly reminded me of Hearst Castle with its lavishly decorated rooms and gardens situated right on Sarasota Bay. This is where Mabel and John (in 1925 one of the 12 richest men in U.S.) entertained friends and dignitaries such as Will Rogers and Flo Ziegfield.
The couple also traveled extensively in Europe and amassed a world class art collection of masterpieces including Rubens, Titian, Velasquez, El Greco and other painters which makes Sarasota a cultural destination.
After a Western style lunch we drove to Hakone Park which was nestled in the caldera of an ancient volcano and is famous for its hot springs and hiking trails through the tall Pampas grass. Hakone was also a crucial checkpoint in feudal times to maintain law and order.
Our group piled into a gondola for a breathtaking roundtrip ride on the aerial tramway to the summit of Mt. Komagatake for a panoramic view of the surroundingmountains including Mt. Fuji before we had a cruise on Lake Ashi.
The grand finale was riding on a Shinkansen (famous “bullet” train with speeds up to 270 mph) back to Tokyo in 30 minutes.
I would like to return to the “Land of the Rising Sun” for a longer visit.
On our 2 hour bus ride along a super expressway to Mt. Fuji, our guide, Hiro, was full of interesting trivia: fir trees created a lot of pollen causing “polinosis” (allergies); Japan is a stretched out version of California; favorite foods of Japanese people are barbequed eel and green tea; fuji means “Never Die”, “Rich Samurai Warrior,” and “Goddess of Fire.”
Our bus stopped at the 1st station to get a sunny view of Mt. Fujiyama where we learned that this active volcano with a large crater is 12,365 feet high and the last eruption was 300 years ago. At the 5th station, Hiro told us about some of the people who climb to the top of Fuji: Shinto pilgrims; many other visitors from 9 years olf to one man who was 103; and even famous dignitaries including Jimmy Carter.
When we strolled through the Imperial Palace East Garden, the site of the old Edo Castle, we saw some of the same stone walls still standing since 1457. Several moats used to surround the palace grounds before reclamation of Tokyo Bay began and now there’s a plethora of high rise buildings instead.
Before we climbed the steps to the Asakusa Kannon Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, we saw little girls celebrating their 5th birthday dressed up in kimonos and little boys in Shogun outfits celebrating their 7th. Shoguns were military rulers appointed by the Emperor.
Our day ended with a Sukiyaki dinner followed by a performance of an all male cast in brightly colored make-up, wigs and gorgeous costumes portraying a classic Japanese tale accompanied by traditional musical instruments in the Kabuki Theater.
Day 1 ..continued. As we drove by the National Diet Building (the Japanese House of Parliament), Mr. Sato noted that there was very little crime in Japan and the policemen don’t wear guns; however, the riot police are always on duty which made me wonder.
Tokyo started as a fortress on the water for the Edo dynasty and has grown to be the largest city in the world with 12 million people. The Tokyo Tower is a prominent landmark and is 12 meters taller than its Eiffel Tower counterpart in Paris.
Visiting Mt Fujiyama in Japan has been on my “Must-See” destination list for a long time, so I was delighted when I was able to arrange a 2 day visit to Tokyo that included a tour to Mt. Fuji as well.
Day 1 – Full of sightseeing and walking in Tokyo led by Mr. Sato. Our first stop was at Japan’s most famous Shinto shrine dedicated to the Emperor Meji and his consort. Surrounded by gardens and filled with trees donated by the people of Japan, this tranquil setting was a breath of fresh air in the midst of a desnsely populated city. Ema (votive tablets) were available to write prayer supplications on along with racks filled with sacred offerings of Sake.
The tour bus guide pointed out sacred sites and shared the uses of flora and fauna as we drove around Uluru. We also took guided walks into a Multijulu waterhole and viewed Aboriginal rock paintings before we visited the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre where we read about the Tjukurpa. This Aboriginal law and religious heritage is the foundation for the Anangu (brown) culture.
A Multijulu Foundation has been set up to provide assistance to the “people” in matters of health, education and poverty relief. Tjukurpa has taught the community how to navigate the outback, find food, punish crime and has guidlines for interaction and respect.
It was a moving experience for me to momentarily be a part of the brotherhood of men and women in theland “down under.”
Because it tsained and thundered during the night, we were apprehensive about our “Sunrise” tour of Uluru; however, we were up at 4 AM and hoped for the best. By the time we arrived at our viewing site, the rain had stopped and we had magnificent sights of the Red Centre as the first rays of sun lit it up.
Since it had rained we saw many mini-waterfalls as our bus drove us around the 6 mile base circumference while our driver/guide told ancient stories and aboriginal history which have been passed from ancestors to youth for 10,000 years.
Following the appetizers of our “starlight” dinner, our guide led uson a narrow path over some sand dunes to a sheltered alcove where a sumptuous Northern Territory buffet feast of barramundi, kangaroo, emu, crocodile, bush salads and exotic desserts waited for our whetted appetites. The guest astronomer spoke to each table about what we might have seen while the wind kept the flies away, so we really enjoyed our outdoor epicurean adventure.