As I try to get every last bit of life out of my six-year-old imac (which I bought used two years ago), I've been trying to dump stuff from its hard drive onto an external drive and try other tricks to get it to work at an adequate level, until I break down this winter and buy a MacBook Pro. While doing so I re-discovered a story I spent just about an entire summer on in 2004, while I was largely unemployed. I did multiple versions of the story for a local weekly publication, which in the end did not buy it. By that time I was so frustrated I gave up trying to sell it.
It's a neat story, though, about this old-time circus and the dream the guy who runs it now has had to bring it back bigger and even better, by not only traveling all over the country with it but giving it a permanent home, at least in the winter. It's a pretty long story, so I'll have to divide it among a few separate posts (and maybe at some point I'll relate my week of working at the circus during this time).
** The Dreams of a Clown **
Giovanni Zoppe wants to bring “real circus” back to the U.S. and he wants to bring it to downtown Chicago.
by James Scalzitti
About 1998, while taking a walk in downtown Chicago, Giovanni Zoppe saw that vacant plot of land known as Block 37, and he had an epiphany.
He had not yet, as he would do a couple years later, put his family’s nearly 160-year-old circus back on the road, so the thought he had must have seemed even more impossible than it does now.
He saw, at Block 37, the perfect spot for his family’s Venetian-born circus, an accompanying center for the study and practice of the circus arts, and a complimentary European food and gift marketplace. Even wilder? He envisioned this all occurring in the dead of winter.
To the skeptics, he explains, “Every city in Europe has a winter circus.” Zoppe, the 43-year-old owner of the Zoppe Family Circus, a traveling European-style circus that dates back to 1842 in Venice, points out, furthermore, that the trend is catching on in North America, as well. Winter circuses have been successful in New York City, Montreal and Washington State, and if these spots can make a circus in winter work, then why not Chicago?
Besides the argument that circuses are just plain fun, Zoppe and advocates of the winter circus point out that these circuses take spaces that would otherwise lie dormant for a few months and bring families downtown. For those who envision only snow and bone-chilling cold when they think of winter in Chicago, Zoppe says that winter circuses aren’t totally exposed to the elements; they do take place inside tents, and the air is warmed with heaters. And Chicago is no colder than Montreal in winter. “I was in Montreal last Christmas,” Zoppe recalls. “They had a beautiful horse show in a circus tent. It was extremely frozen outside, but it was an amazing show.”
And even if artificial means were not employed in warming the air, people who wanted to see a circus would no doubt still stay in their seats for an hour-and-a-half or so while they were being entertained, since, Zoppe points out, when Block 37 was home to “Skate on State,” the outdoor ice rink drew plenty of people, and the only sort of artificial climate control employed were the coils used to keep the ice from melting when the temperatures got too warm.
“It’s a mentality, I know,” Zoppe says. “Will people go in a tent in winter?’ But it’s heated.” He adds, “Circus people have always figured out a way to make it work. In summer we use air conditioning and in winter we use heaters. When we don’t use them, we don’t need them.”
“In every city in Europe, there’s a winter circus,” he says. “In Europe, they expect a circus to come in wintertime. And he believes that Mayor Richard M. Daley, who is known for importing to Chicago things that he has seen in other cities in his travels abroad, would especially like the idea.
“I believe it’s what Mayor Daley wants in this town,” Zoppe remarked. “Something small, European, and family-friendly. There’s nothing better than a winter circus for the family. Cities like Chicago need something like a circus for children to go to at Christmastime; something besides Santa Claus.” Observing that the city’s downtown is already a destination point for families from throughout the Midwest around the holidays, he adds, “how much more spectacular would it be for Chicago to have a real, authentic European circus in wintertime?”
Aesthetics aside, what about logistics? Zoppe points out that in a space like Block 37, there’d be more than enough room for his circus, in case city planners felt compelled to include some features more likely to generate income, such as concessions. He adds that not only could it co-exist, but that it would be a perfect compliment to the city’s existing winter wonderland in and around Block 37, such as the annual Christkindlmarket a German-themed holiday marketplace. “I can totally see it,” he says, as if there’s a blueprint in his mind that he’s referring to as he speaks. “When I look at Block 37 I see so much potential. It wouldn’t even take up that much room. My circus would be about the same size as ‘Skate on State,’” and there would still be room for the annual Christmas market. If his winter circus were to join the holiday market and holiday decorations and music that floods State Street during the holiday season, it would be the one piece that “would tie everything together.”