The parade to Gibraltar. (Paul Keast photo)
Cobblestones, burros and firelight... Europeans learn how it might have been for their busking ancestors.
'So, another soap bubble is launched.' The fragile dream became brief reality, and will become a tiny thread of myth in the huge tapestry of the castle's 2,000 year history.
A castle on a rocky mountaintop at the furthest reaches of Spain, just 20 miles from Africa. The 1986 European convention was a meeting in the mountains, not a sports event or a package holiday. For Europeans on a small continent, 1,600 miles was a hell of a long way to drive for a juggling convention!
The journey took its toll. Jugglers' cars were broken into on the way. The Balls Up Jugglers from Cardiff, England, not only had stuff stolen, but the thieves set fire to their van. The charred remains of unicycles on the camping ground at Castellar were a very sad sight.
But the wind and the sun and the swirling dust and the uneven cobblestoned squares didn't spoil things for most people. Jugglers began to arrive several days early and formed a campsite on an open space beneath the castle walls. There were Moorish tents of sacking, Balls Up's dome, the Circus Hazzard big top for those with sleeping bags, painted vehicles and many small tents. From this place it was a steep walk up the cobbled track to the castle, so a lot of juggling occurred down at base camp.
The local wildlife was occasionally annoying. Wild pigs regularly ransacked rubbish bags, and mules were always on the lookout for a camping bus with an open door or a camping stove that had something good cooking on it.
The difficulties of organizing and controlling the site were eventually overcome by the use of rumor and a reliance on peoples' willingness to talk, cooperate and improvise. The place offered many rewarding compensations -- the ever-changing light, mountains vanishing in the haze, the wide sky, millions of stars and moonlight you could juggle by.
On the first day of the convention people were treated to an exciting display of authentic flamenco dancing, followed by some impromptu displays by the best jugglers there. Encouraged by Sangria, the welcome party went on deep into Thursday night.
Friday, 52 people left to perform in the prison in Algeciras. It took a long time for to pass security checks, but the show was exciting. The Butterfly Man "boffed" a prison guard, Michael French pulled coins from the ears and pockets of the prison governor, and a human pyramid of jugglers showed inmates a way out over the high wall.
Jet Set Jesters from Madrid announced both the prison and the public shows with an amusing double act in Spanish and English. Both shows had a good mix of related skills.
Saturday's parade got off to a chaotic start. The buses that were supposed to take jugglers to Gibraltar refused to try to negotiate the winding road with its hairpin turns, so all had to wander down on foot. Then it took ages to get through the border at Gibraltar. The parade was not finally formed until mid-day, when would-be spectators had gone off for the siesta. Mad dogs and jugglers to romp around in the sun alone.
A shady spot with a sign proclaiming "no ball playing" was located as a site for games. No one could think of anything but the five ball endurance. At long last this was won by a European, Michiel Hesseling from Amsterdam, who had to hold out for 9 min. 30 sec. before his last rival dropped out. Naturally, an impromptu show began. Hesseling went on to show off his impressive repertoire of five ball tricks, including Mills Mess. Cotton McAloon's ball and club and lots of talking routine showed why he won the Covent Garden Street Entertainer of the Year Award in London last summer.
The public show took place the same evening in nearby Algeciras on an open-air stage in a beautiful palm-shaded park. Mercedes did comedy magic with a member of the audience, Uffe and Co. did their team acrobatics, Charlie Brown and David Lichtenstein did boxes, and the Amazing Larry Vee offered one of his originals involving several hula-hoops, a basketball, a club and several small balls. Kevin Brooking clowned with tongue and trumpet. Robert Nelson appeared again, but was unlucky enough to choose a pacifist for the boffing routine.
People began to leave Sunday. At a business meeting that morning, Jean-Marc Lucas and Tim Roberts of the Institut Francais de Jonglage emphasized all the comfortable facilities that would be available if next year's convention were held in France. They mentioned the word "showers" in every other sentence, and won the vote unanimously. The Institut were in charge of the European convention three years ago in Laval.
Hermann Klink, who lives in Castellar, organized the 1986 castle convention with help from Fritz Brehm and other friends. When the Spanish site was accepted, Brehm said, "So, another soap bubble is launched." The fragile dream became brief reality, and will become a tiny thread of myth in the huge tapestry of the castle's 2,000 year history. If you want to visit again, you will probably find that jugglers are still welcome.