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Generally Recognized As True: Going to Carnivale Lune Bleue

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Going to Carnivale Lune Bleue

[ 2008/09/02 update: I have posted my review of Carnivale Lune Bleue ]

In a decision that was relatively spontaneous for someone as stoic as I, I have decided to go to Carnivale Lune Bleue, being set up in Ottawa during the month of August. I say it was spontaneous because I very rarely make decisions this quickly. I heard about it on Sunday and had made all of the arrangements by Monday afternoon.

I'm not much of a vacationer. Camping an hour a way from home is as good to me as a stay at a Dominican resort seems to be to some others. Compared from my own perspective, I infinitely prefer the camping trip because I have no desire whatsoever to experience the latter. My main priority is that the environment be different, the plan be simple, and the travel be painless. I don't like endless itineraries, hectic advance preparations, or regiments and I feel stress for a couple of weeks prior to these things arriving, so there's not much point in having a vacation that requires any of them.

Back in February, I wrote about the TV series Carnivàle. From that post, I think it was obvious that I have an affinity for the travelling carnival, even though I never lived during the time that they were popular and have never actually seen one in real life. I like the idea of them. One of the reasons I liked Carnivàle so much is that it brought this image that I'd built in my mind to life, pretty much exactly. The atmosphere was almost tangible.

What does a carnival mean to me? Dusk and low light; the smell of dull but colourful canvas tents and the muffled sounds from within; a dusty floor; the smell of popcorn and candy floss; and the promise of something you've never seen before while never discarding modesty.

Carnivale Lune Bleue promises to deliver this sensory experience, putting itself forth as a replica of a 1930s carnival.

I have reasons to be skeptical. The 1930s travelling carnival was a product of its time, of the people as they were in that time, and of the attitudes and perspectives that were common. Its appeal was sold to modest people by seedy characters; hard-working people who came to get good value for money and some cheap thrills from fantasy that they imagined could well be possible. This carnival is quite different: it is selling to expectations of people that have seen far too much; at $60 per ticket just to enter the grounds, it is decidedly middle class; we know it's all a charade; and there's always the chance that they'll sacrifice genuine atmosphere in order to meet middle class expectations. There's a chance that the small-scale atmosphere will be sacrificed in order to sell more tickets and pack in more people. In short, there's a risk that it could essentially be a theme park.

But there are also reasons to be optimistic. The $60 ticket price gives them resources to do some very fine artistic work. The 6pm opening time suggests that they are serious about creating a genuine carnival atmosphere, which relies on low light and shadows. They are holding the carnival in a rural fairground about 50km outside of Ottawa. And they've hired some genuine experts in carnival atmosphere to put the whole thing together.

What would be most disappointing would be to arrive and find a lot of studio lighting and boom microphones. Or to find the place full of shutterbugs in outrageous clothing taking pictures of themselves next to everything as they do with the guards outside Buckingham Palace these days.

It'll probably be a mix of both. There's a snake show, a freak show, and a big top circus performance. A refurbished 1917 ferris wheel and a 1930s carousel. More reasons to be optimistic.

We'll see.

As always, doing what I can to avoid driving, I will go to Ottawa by VIA train from Georgetown and rent a car in Ottawa. Driving the 900km roundtrip is something I have no interest in doing. I'd hoped to avoid the car altogether, but the fairground is about 50km away from Ottawa and transit only takes you within 20km of the fairground. I found a provincial park about 15km away from the fairground, so I will stay for a few days and do some camping at the same time. I may walk the 15km from the park to the fairground, but I didn't fancy walking 20km from the southern limits of the Ottawa transit system to the campsite with camping gear on my back. This will be my first single-bag camping trip, limited to what I can carry on the train, so it'll be a small (but interesting) challenge.

If I feel cheated by the whole experience in the end, it may well be a more authentic travelling carnival experience than I'd planned for.

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Kristina Dniprenko said...

Hello there! I suppose I've just become impatient, but I stumbled upon your blog because of this post and have been waiting for the follow-up. I'm an artist at the Carnivale Lune Bleue and I've been checking back periodically to see what you've thought of the whole affair. When are you coming? I want to make sure its an extra good show that day!

mattbg said...

I'm coming near the end of the month (e-mail me at if you want to know the day!).. because I couldn't get any time off until then! I'm looking forward to it, and I've been reading about circuses and sideshows lately. What do you do at the carnival? It must be fun. I'm interested to know what your experience has been like.

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't want to say too much, I would hate to influence your experience. I don't want to set any expectations either. But I can say this: as a circus artist, I have always been drawn to the romance of early 20th century circus. As an artist in 2008, its not something I should ever have had the chance to experience. So its really a unique and magical experience for me to be a part of something like this.

I admit, on nights where there aren't a lot of people you don't feel that energy as much, but its still a really great event. I'm really happy to be a part of it.

I'm one of the acrobats in Cirque Maroc. I'm told we're the main event. But I think that really depends on your taste. Personally, I love the snakes :)

See you soon!

mattbg said...

Thanks, Kristina! I know what you mean about expectations. I'm hoping mine aren't already too high. It's a bit disappointing to hear that there are nights when the crowds aren't so good, because it'd be nice if it became an annual thing. Well, next week...!