Grenoble Diary

This is my diary from the 1996 European Juggling Convention in Grenoble. If you are less than enthralled with the details of my vacation and are just looking for the juggling content, skip the first thousand or so words and make straight for the middle of August 12th.


Thursday August 8th 1996. Somewhere over Canada.

Vin de jour: 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon Bodega Vina Rosa from Chile.

After showing my face at work for a few hours yesterday I returned home for frenzied packing and house cleaning. For this trip we are exchanging homes with a French family we have never met. This means that our rambling Edwardian shack (normally infested by two or more small children and a dog, not to mention the stream of house guests that anyone with a guest bedroom in San Francisco attracts) must be put in suitable condition for total strangers to inhabit. Paula has been going round leaving post it notes on the appliances explaining how they work. I put one on a clock radio saying "This telephone does not work very well" and another on the sewing machine saying "This note was placed here by mistake".

The kids both want to take their unicycles along. Dan, at eight and a half, has just learned to ride one, and Ian, my six year old, is working on it. It turns out that two kid sized unicycles taken to pieces will fit in one large suitcase. A little applied geometry gets the kids roller blades in there as well. I make a selection from my massive collection of juggling T-shirts, and stuff those between the spokes. Socks and underwear, too. There does not seem to be any way of stuffing a juggling club between the spokes of a unicycle, so this will be one more juggling festival where I turn up without clubs.

This morning more post it notes, and two small children bouncing off the walls. About lunch time, we head for the airport, to meet the family who will be staying in our house - a mother and her two teenage children. A stream of faxes while we were negotiating the exchange mean that we are probably more familiar than we need to be with the details of her recent divorce, though lacking such basic information as which day the garbage gets picked up.

Virgin Airlines has three inch TV screens set in the back of the seat in front, with six channels of movies and rock videos. This keeps the kids amused for most of the flight watching "Jurassic Park" and "James and the Giant Peach". However, in order to preserve a decent viewing angle, the seats do not recline nearly as far as normal, which makes it hard to get any sleep.

Friday August 9th. Heathrow, Lyon.

Vin de jour: Greene King IPA.

We have several hours to kill at Heathrow so I take the opportunity to indulge in a pint of real ale. There is a play area for younger kids, where Ian lets off steam. It is full of large foam filled play objects, including a number of disks meant to represent coins of different currencies. There is almost an international incident when Ian wants them all piled up in one place, while a group of French kids want them piled up in another. Meanwhile, a German kid, when Ian points out that he is above the height limit for the play area, replies in perfect English with only a hint of accent that he does not understand English. I reflect on how much international politics resemble those of six year olds.

We make it to the apartment in Lyon without major incident. It is in a old building on the Place Bellecour. Ian sees the flight of stone stairs we have to walk up and asks "Are we in the stone age?" It is large and luxurious, with a refectory table that would seat ten in the kitchen and a master bedroom about the size of Portugal. On the kitchen counter a half eaten camembert is ripening. I taste it, and know for sure that I am back in France.

Saturday August 10th. Lyon.

Vin de jour: Gargantua Cote du Rhone, 1995.

Spent the day exploring the neighborhood and recovering from jet lag. I put the unicycles together, and take the kids across the Place to the playground nestling among the chestnut trees. Dan zooms here and there while Ian wobbles along hanging on to my arms. "Keep your weight on the saddle," I tell him, "Sit up straight." I can't ride a uni, but I do know enough to be a critic.

The shower here has four extra shower heads, arranged on the side walls of the shower cubicle to spray jets horizontally. Two are at about armpit height and two are set to deluge the regions the French traditionally washed with the bidet. Once again France leads the world in genital ablutions. Vive la France.

Some experimentation lets me dial internationally to pick up my e- mail and catch up on rec.juggling. Enough of my schoolboy French remains to allow me to read the instructions in the telephone directory, but not for anything useful like phone sex.

Sunday August 11th. Aix-Les- Bains.

Vin de jour: Chante Cigale Cote du Rhone.

We drive into the mountains to meet Paula's sister Pat, who is camped near Annecy with her three kids. The tent she is renting is a canvas cabin, with fridge, stove and three bedrooms with a bed in each. We eat lunch together, then take it in turns to get lost on the way to see the Chateau Montrottier. The kids are unimpressed by the collection of antiques housed there, but love the keep. It is in the center of a pentagonal courtyard, a perfect chessboard rook on steroids. We enter by a drawbridge on the second floor, and run up the spiral staircase, to defend the tower against a host of attackers.

On to Aix-Les-Bains for a walk on the lakefront, and dinner at a bistro. It takes about half an hour before a menu arrives at the table, and this sets the pace for the evening. Hasty Americans, we, used to the rigors of, say, dinner and a movie in the same evening, this rambling French approach to gastronomy is a little leisurely for us. After one brief fight, the kids sleep in the car all the way back to Lyon.

Tomorrow - "Renault Twingo" is French for "Your luggage will not fit".

Monday August 12th. Grenoble.

Vin de jour: Cidre Brut.

This morning, I wake up in the small hours, as I have done every day of the trip so far. This time, however, I go back to sleep right away, instead of staying awake for two hours as I have done previously. I think the jet lag is finally over. The kids too slept all through the night, without waking up and walking into things as they have been doing.

It is a beautiful morning after yesterday's intermittent rain. The sun is shining through puffy clouds, and it is cool enough that I almost regret my choice of shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt. (The guide book solemnly warned us that shorts are not considered to be appropriate wear by the French, and that men are likely to be refused admission to churches if they are wearing them. In spite of the peril to my chances of salvation, I have decided to inflict my ugly American knees on the French nation anyway.) I cross one of Lyon's many bridges and enter the old part of town, for a brief meander through the narrow cobbled streets. Central Lyon has not been marred by a building boom for the past century or two. All the buildings are about five stories high and have an elegant harmony of architectural style.

As well as trading homes with Mme. Ribaud, we have also traded cars. After Grenoble we are planning to continue up to Val D'Isere, so we have a fair amount of gear. It takes a lot of creative effort to pack the American Family Conway with all our luggage for the next couple of weeks into a Renault Twingo, but we manage somehow. After a pause for laundry we finally set off.

Grenoble is set in a deep valley between beautiful mountains - wooded slopes leading to limestone (?) cliffs. We circle the town on the Rocade Sud, and eventually make it to the Domaine Universitaire. Signposts lead us across the campus to a jugglers' parking lot where we are greeted by security guards who warn us not to leave valuables in our car, even for an instant. Apparently four cars were broken into yesterday, before the festival had even officially started.

As it turns out, registration and the camp site are across a footbridge and round a field, about a quarter of a mile from the parking lot. This is too far to carry all our valuables - a family four just can't live for two weeks out of a backpack. There are rumors of a back entrance which is closer to the camping, and by getting lost several more times we manage to find it. Actually, we end up outside one of the two gyms. Next to the gym is a running track, and the middle of this is where most of the juggling action is.

When I make it over to the camping meadow I suffer from culture shock. There is a vast sea of tents, crammed up next to one another, so that it is hard to cross the field without tripping over guy ropes. There are lots of jugglers here, and I hardly know any of them. I am used to being able to walk into any congregation of jugglers and recognize at least half the faces.

We find Tom Renegade near the registration desk and chat with him for a while. We ask him if there will be a show tonight. "Yes," he says, "but they can be pretty awful. They can go on till five in the morning with one bad act after another." I was amused that the person who pioneered open stage shows at juggling festivals is so pessimistic.

Over a snack in the restaurant tent we chat with Jochen Schell. He is performing the ring routine he showed at the IJA festival in Vegas in the show on Friday. "I don't do diabolo at juggling festivals any more," he tells us. "Now everybody can do my tricks." Moves that were innovative and breathtaking eight years ago are now commonplace. Luckily for Jochen, he is still as creative as ever, as his ring routine demonstrates.

Back in the gym, I see a mustache I think I recognize. No, it's not Dave Finnegan, it's Fergie, maker of the eponymous bags. He tells me that he is tired of the beanbag business, but it is the only way he can make money, and people will insist on buying the things from him. He has more business than he can handle, in spite of putting his prices up. As we are talking Pedro from Portugal comes up and tries to buy bags from him. Fregie manouvers as well as he can - No, he didn't have any with him to sell, and no, he does not sell through stores, and no, he doesn't take credit cards. Eventually, he is forced to part with a business card, and it is clear that an envelope from Portugal stuffed with dollar bills will be forthcoming. Will some enterprising juggling prop vendor please clone the Fergie Bag, and give Fergie some time off?

As I am talking to Fergie, somebody comes up behind me and I feel my ear being licked. I turn around and see Soozee Shireman. Unfortunately it was her dog, Popcorn who had been licking my ear.

We finally get around to putting the kids to bed at about eleven, as the open stage is starting. They are both pretty fried. Ian complains of toothpaste poisoning while brushing his teeth. While Paula is being told by the festival organizers that she can't park there, I am reading a bedtime story. We make it to the last three acts of the show. There is a woman called Noel (?Sp) who does a dance and diabolo routine, a guy called Phoenix who swings fire, (two ropes with three flaming wicks on each, a nice effect) and a guy from Egypt whose name I do not catch who does a very hot diabolo routine. He needs three attempts for a move that goes from a whip catch straight into a duicide, but he nails it in the end. The show certainly does not live down to Tom Renegade's expectations, either in length or quality.

And so to bed, carrying, if not all my valuables, at least cash, passports, tickets, credit cards, and the laptop on which this deathless prose is being crafted.

Tuesday, August 13th. Grenoble.

Vin du jour: Biere Kronenbourg.

A brief shower of rain in the morning dampened the grass but not our spirits. I was the first of the family to rise. A little later I came across Dan in the campground, devastated because he had woken up and found himself alone. When we returned to the tent I was able to point to a suspicious looking lump in the bedding that turned out to be Paula.

There is some great juggling in the gym this morning. Francoise Rochais is cruising with six batons and getting good runs with seven. Next to her someone is working on three diabolos on the string - he usually gets them around three or four times before the pattern falls apart. It is very fast - making corrections to that one is going to be a bitch, but I am sure someone will master it before long - awesome two diabolo routines are becoming commonplace, so somebody has to push the limits.

In the middle of the gym somebody is running five club back crosses for up to forty catches, and at the other end, two guys are passing ten clubs - I see several qualifying runs, including one in which all but one of the clubs are gathered by one of the partners.

Outside on the grass I find a clear corner to crack whips. A German whip cracker, Ullich, comes over and we work out together for a while. While we are practicing I see somebody stack two spinning balls, transfer the stack to his left hand and then put more spin on the bottom ball with this right. OK, so that is how you keep a two ball stack going for ever.

On the other side of the campground from the gym and race track, there is the main service area, with restaurant tent, bar tent, workshop tent, three vendor tents and a big top for the open stage shows. I find the Kaskade table in one of the vendor tents and meet Gabi Keast - I have corresponded with her a lot while working on articles for Kaskade. It is nice to put a face to the Compuserve account. We discuss plans for future articles - a performers' guide to the West Coast of the USA, and perhaps a brief history of the IJA for the 50th anniversary next year.

There is a meeting in which one of the organizers explains how they are dealing with problems - apparently more telephones and more portable lavatories are on the way. The portable toilets that are here are the uniquely French design that have a shallow bowl and two platforms for your feet. OK, I can deal with that. Harder to deal with are the signs everywhere saying "Please do not mistake the trees for toilets". This seems a most unrepresentative of the typical French attitude to elimination. A friend of mine when inquiring for the pissoir was once told, "Mais Monsieur, vous avez tous la France."

In the afternoon we are bussed to downtown Grenoble for the parade. Perhaps there are a thousand jugglers there, blocking traffic, jumping into fountains, climbing onto bus stops, lamp posts and churches, spitting fire and, oh yes, juggling. Going down a narrow cobbled alley, a high tossed diabolo is caught by a lady leaning from a third floor window, to great applause. Around the corner we pass Rabelais' house - though I don't think he lives there any more. The whole thing is great, exuberant fun, a quarter mile long rolling party led by a fine group of drummers, and followed by a fine bunch of party animals.

At some point in the festivities we lose Dan. We ask all the passing stilt walkers to look out for a kid in a red and white striped outfit on a unicycle. Eventually, we find him again. Ian, however, is impossible to lose, as he insists on spending most of the time on my shoulders.

The parade ends in a park in the center of town, and after a break, there is a show put on by the Stromboli Brothers. There are four of them, and the play music in various styles, mostly bluesy rock, do physical comedy, and juggle. The juggling is not particularly technical, apart form the diabolo routines, of which there are many, but I suspect the character development is good. It's hard to tell, though, as the lighting on the outdoor stage is poor, so it is hard to make out facial expressions. I'm sure I miss a lot by not understanding the lyrics to the songs. Anyhow, for me the show is only just worth sitting on gravel in stretch lycra for.

The busses are supposed to pick us up at ten, but they do not turn up where they are supposed to, and by about ten thirty we are led the four blocks to where the busses are actually waiting. Ian is falling asleep on my shoulders, and my feet and back are aching.

In some ways the organization here seems to be like IJA conventions used to be - a lot of dedicated people working very hard, sometimes screwing up because they haven't run a convention before, but fixing the problems as best they can. By having a full time festival organizer running the same event every year, the IJA avoids busses turning up in the wrong place and the lines at the toilets, at the expense of high costs and perhaps a hint of ennui. The average age of the attendees here seems to be about ten years younger than at an IJA fest. I feel even more of a boring old fart than usual.

While I am typing this in the gym, somebody asks me if I am writing an article for Kaskade. "No," I say, "This one is for Juggler's World". (Bill's going to have to edit it a hell of a lot, though.) It turns out that not only has he never heard of Juggler's World, he has never heard of the IJA. Somebody in the marketing department is slipping up somewhere. Here is the largest congregation of jugglers on earth, and there isn't even a stack of IJA membership forms at the reception desk.

Wednesday, August 14th. Grenoble.

Vin de jour: Vin rouge a 20F/litre.

Breakfast with Todd Strong this morning. He is planning to move back to the States in a week. Paula wants some time away from the kids, so I am on duty with them till five. At eleven, we board the navette (shuttle bus) to go the other gym, which is newer, larger and twenty minutes away. The Gandini Juggling Project is setting up for a show at one end.

The show is due to start at twelve, so I stake out some space in the front row. The sound system is late arriving, so the show does not begin till twelve thirty. Sean Gandini tells us that it is 45 minutes long, so if we get bored we can go and get a cup of coffee and come back again.

Ian is getting restless. Thirty seconds after it begins he says "I'm bored." Knowing just how out of control he can get in these circumstances I resort to bribery.

"Ian, if you can sit still and quiet through the entire show, you can have ice cream afterwards."

"How much ice cream?"

"All you can eat. Now shut up." The show is free, so I can afford to blow the food budget.

How to describe the Gandinis? Strange, wonderful, magical, innovative, rough in places, and telling you more than you every wanted to know about the British cherry growing industry. There are two women and three men who manipulate the standard juggling props, clubs, balls and rings, in new and unexpected ways. There are multiple person Mills Mess steals with one person's arms snaking in and out of another's. There are clubs snatched out of balances almost before they are stable, and rings caught by other rings.

In the middle of it all is the puckish figure of Sean Gandini, grinning, leading the dance, directing movement, whispering secrets to his partners, and obviously enjoying his drops as much as his catches. There are no obviously applause points, so the audience is forced to applaud more or less at random. Sadly, the show ends. The audience wants an encore, but Sean holds his arms up for silence and says with his usual grin, "I'm sorry, but we've done everything we know, and we're very tired, so go away and leave us alone please." The audience loves him even more.

I take the kids outside to wait for the navette, along with several hundred other jugglers. We wait a few minutes, when a station wagon pulls up next to us and the driver asks if anyone wants a ride to the gym. All the seats are occupied, but we pile into the cargo space. We are not the only ones - we end up with five adults, two kids and a large German shepherd. Cozy.

We are dropped off fairly close to the gym, but the kids elect to walk to the shops for ice cream instead. Two scoops each, followed by a visit to the cash machine at the bank, followed by McDonalds followed by a trip to the supermarket to buy soda and more ice cream. We're talking serious junk food sell out. I order the meal at McDonalds in French. "Deux Happy Meal avec Chicken McNuggets et Sprite. Un McChicken et un Milk Shake grand." I think I'm getting the hang of this language.

One of the vendors has been doing well selling bullwhips. I see someone cracking one in a non-optimal manner, and can't resist coaching her. She persuades me to sign up to give a beginning bullwhip workshop, since I know enough to be able to teach absolute beginners. It will be on Friday.

I have put a rec.juggling party on the workshop schedule. It's a fine international gathering, Fergie and I from the US, Wolfgang from Austria, Lars from Germany, Tarim and one of the Robs from the UK and several others. We huddle in the darkness of the smaller big top where there is electric power and put together a post. Tarim and Fergie would rather hang out by the bar, but I lure them into the gloom of the tent by buying a litre of wine from the restaurant and serving drinks.

The wine served here is way cheaper than any other drink except water. It is 20FF (about $4) for a litre. The food in the restaurant tent is good quality and moderately priced. A three course meal for the family including wine for the adults is 125FF ($25). After dinner, I put the kids to bed while Paula runs Soozee to the station and goes shopping. She manages to persuade the people at the fish counter at the supermarket to give her a large bag of ice for the cooler. She has even less French than I do, but is much less concerned about embarrassing herself in public.

There is an open stage show that starts around nine. I miss most of it putting the kids to bed, but catch the end. The audience has spilled out of the sides of the big top and is spread on the grass all around. There are a couple of three ball routines, fire and light swinging, Boppo doing impressions, and another hot diabolo routine. I note again the tremendous advantages of working with live music for a diabolo routine, as the musicians can just vamp after a drop while the performer is putting on spin. Boppo, in a desperate attempt to keep his valuables with him at all times, as the organizers suggest, walks on stage with his backpack.

By far the best act I see is Peter Weiss, with his accordion. He starts by dropping his music and picking it up all muddled. The then plays a jumbled up medley of every classical tune you ever heard. the audience laugh as each new tune makes an appearance. In a particularly expressive moment he destroys his music stand, and is forced to substitute a broom which will not stand up. He does a lot of physical comedy with the broom, trying to play one handed, holding it between his legs, balancing it on his chin and his foot. He ends up idling with one foot on a six foot uni while balancing the broom on the other foot, and, of course, still playing the accordion.

Apparently there is a fire show going on now, and another open stage (as Jules the MC puts it, 'very open') later on tonight, but the kids will be up early, so I'm off to shower and bed now.

Thursday, August 15th. Grenoble.

Vin de jour: Cidre Loic Raison.

It's hot today, and none of us feel very energetic. This morning the kids practiced for a while, Dan with diabolo and three balls and Ian on the unicycle, while I lie on a jump mat and read Kaskade. There is an article by Sara Felder on juggling in prison which I helped to put together, and I am very pleased by the way it came out. Sara shares the issue with an interview with Francis Brunn and Nathalie Enterline, so she is in good company.

Todd Strong's dice stacking book is in the proof stage. After this he is planning a book on three ball tricks. I point out that there are lots of good three ball books out there already, but he proclaims, "This will be the best. Soon everybody will be juggling three balls." I recall that I have seen far more diabolo routines that three ball routines so far at this convention, and he is responsible for that craze, so maybe he is right. Certainly I would not go so far as to say he is wrong, but still... He goes on to explain that all toss juggling is based on seven, or maybe eight, sorts of throw, and that three ball multiplex tricks aren't really juggling at all. After lunch I crack whips for a while and the kids play. In one corner of the gym there is a large pile of two foot thick pads. The children at the festival have claimed these as their own, turning them into castles, cliffs, secret passages and towers. In spite of language barriers play proceeds with great gusto and abandon.

Dan and I cruise the vendor tents, checking out the props for sale. Prices seem a bit lower than in the States. I don't feel the urge to acquire any more luggage on this trip, but Dan decides to buy a puzzle. The tents are only open four hours a day, which gives the vendors a chance to enjoy the rest of the festival, and puts the customers into a shopping frenzy which is apparently good for business.

At six there is a gathering of Kaskade writers for coffee and cake. With the Renegade Radar at work, Tom Kidwell notices the party within seconds and comes over to bum a cup of coffee.

I meet the author of the interview with Francis Brunn which I enjoyed. Apparently, it was not well received by the large numbers of Kaskade's readers who had no idea who Francis Brunn is! Gabi tells me that much of the readership has no interest in great jugglers, or in the history of juggling, but they want to read about themselves, or jugglers who are just a bit better than they are. Hmmmph. In any case, Gabi intends to go on publishing what she is interested in.

We talk about Grenoble in comparison with other European Festivals. Gabi comments that there seems to be less of an air of magic at this festival - in the past an outstanding artist working out in the gym would soon have a circle of spectators. Most of the people here seem to be less interested in others. As of last night there were 1,800 registrants, so the final total will be over two thousand.

A couple of times today Ian goes missing, one time for over an hour. We finally track him down in the sand pit for the long jump. This is a pretty benign environment for the kids.

Another show starts up in the big top. Oh, dear, it's more bluesy rock and indifferent juggling and acrobatics. It's a local, act, apparently, three guys and a woman, called les blouses Bros'Heure. After the second number I make my excuses and leave. The audience seems to like them however. What was that bit about being most interested in people who are just a bit better than they are, again?

At eleven there is a UV show followed by an open stage, but I'm going to opt for a sauna (there's one right next to the gym) and bed.

Friday, August 16th. Grenoble.

Vin de jour: Perrier.

The organizers have a pleasingly relaxed attitude to the rules. There are tents in the no camping areas, there is a pirate bar opened up in the van camping area and there are even rumors of people pissing on the trees, but nobody is getting hassled. Paula has usually managed to talk her way into an 'officials only' parking area close to the camping with the explanation that we have small children and can't carry all our gear.

We decide to take the morning off from the festival, and head into central Grenoble to do tourist stuff. Dan elects to stay at the festival, to hang out with his friends on the bounce mats in the gym. Ian comes with us, hopeful for more ice cream.

We ride the telepherique up to the fortifications overlooking the town. The telepherique is two sets of five plastic bubbles hanging from a cable. Each bubble seats six, and as we rise over the river Isere and up the bluff we get a panoramic view of Grenoble and the surrounding Alps. Did I mention that there are spectacular mountains everywhere you look? There are. Above the mountains there are clouds today, and from the battlements we see rising above the clouds still more mountains in the distance, a jagged line cutting into the sky.

Exploring the bastille we discover a tunnel cut into the rock, to allow a secret exit perhaps, or to enable a besieged army to attack the enemy from behind. It is well lit, so we explore it, deep into the mountain and up a flight of stairs still underground to emerge into the daylight higher up the bluff, in a series of rooms cut into the mountainside. Ian is having a great time, defending the castle against the enemies, then being Gollum in the Mines of Moria.

We ride down the telepherique again, have lunch at a sidewalk cafe and wander around the old part of town for a while. I don't like the architecture of Grenoble quite as much as Lyon. Too many old buildings have been torn down to put up high rises - the 1968 Winter Olympics were held here, and that contributed a lot to the 'modernization' of the place.

The bullwhip workshop goes off OK. About a dozen people turn up. On woman gets a couple of welts that will heal eventually and two of my whips lose their poppers. I talk about the stuff in the bullwhip FAQ and then try to teach people the three basic cracks. Of course, bullwhip takes lots of space, and the only open space is outside the portapotties. We end up with a line of half a dozen people with bullwhips guarding the entrances to the rest rooms.

Somebody asks me about the Hungarian Pig Drover's Crack. That made it into the Bullwhip FAQ as a joke - the person I has learned it from did really learn it from a Hungarian pig drover, but it is not unique to Eastern European swineherds - Lash LaRue does it in one of his movies, for example. Anyway, I wanted to describe it and didn't have a name for it, so I called it that. Since by now I suspect more people have accessed the Bullwhip FAQ than any other publication about whips in history that has become its name and I'm a bit embarrassed by it. Oh, well, I demonstrate it anyway.

Paula points out that the busses are about to start for the public show, so we head of to wait in line. Someone comes up to me and introduces herself as Kelly. She says she laughs at my posts in rec.juggling - not all of them I hope - and would really like to learn the Hungarian Pig Drover's Crack.

The public show is in a huge modern theatre in what looks like a convention center. It seats about 1,200, so it takes a while to bus everyone there. There is a second show later, as not everyone will fit in one sitting. Things are a bit hot and sweaty in there, and the show is half an hour late starting, but that is about par for the course for any public show at a juggling fest. There are people sitting in the aisles and nobody tells them that they can't do that. How strange.

Sem and Teresa open the show with their killer unicycle routine. Aurelien does a devil stick routine with flamenco music and dance. There are a lot of moves involving trapping a devil stick between hand stick and wrist, and hardly any standard devil stick moves at all. He finishes with two devil sticks, both between two hand sticks and as propellers. Very nice.

Francoise Rochais does the routine she performed in the public show in Vegas, followed by five fire torches. Sigh. Marcus does a black light swinging routine to a story about the Phoenix which is good for the first couple of minutes, but goes on far too long. It would be a great routine if it was a third the length. There has been an awful lot of swinging bright things in the darkness at this convention. The person who taught me how to juggle also turned me on to acid, I've seen trails already!

Edward, who trained at the Kiev circus school and now lives in Israel, performs some very nice stuff with one to five soccer balls. Some of his moves are very original and interesting. He juggles three balls with the right hand continuously rolling balls across his chest to the left, juggles four while bouncing one on his head, then four with one balanced on his head and a hoop on one leg. He finishes by rolling the one off his head and juggling five.

Quatre-Quarts, (Four Quarters) do a four person club passing act. In the first part of the act, the premise is that two members are passing, and two are there to pick up the drops and put them back into the pattern. Obviously there are a lot of intentional drops which are put back in various ways, then two clubs which were not dropped which get put into the pattern 'accidentally' leaving the principals passing eight. They then go into some four person work with a lot of movement around the stage, and throws in different patterns, but very little of the 'garbage' throws that are the staples of US club passers. I think an essay on the differences between US and European club passing styles may be on the way, with a footnote explaining why Martin Frost is really a European, but not tonight.

OK, who was next? Oh, yes, Gerald. (Say it with a heavy French accent, he's from Toulouse. So are Quatre-Quarts and Aurelien - the circus school there is clearly the place to be from.) He wears a commedia dell'arte mask and a long orange skirt and manipulates one diabolo with a piece of elastic held between his hands - "Look Ma, no hand sticks!" His routine is strange, different and beautiful. He then works with two diabolos, using hand sticks and ordinary string this time. He sits on a stool and swings the pattern around his knees, takes both hand sticks in one hand and walks round the spinning diabolos, and finishes by running two in one hand while looking the other way. There are a few drops in the second part of the routine, but apparently he nailed it in the second show.

Yorg performs a two sided cigar box routine. His friendly face is in white make up, but when he turns his head, a mask on the back of his head reveals his evil twin. The boxes move from front to back and back again - he even does several moves blind behind his back. There are a few drops, but it is a nicely presented act.

A Japanese juggler, Takao does a brief but delightful hat routine. I would like to see more of his work. Finally, the show is closed by Jochen's wonderful ring routine. It is smoother than it was in Vegas last year, and has some new stuff, but there are still some drops. In another couple of years this will be the best ring routine in the world.

I hope everyone is impressed by my spelling all the name right. I stole the poster telling the performers what time their rehearsal slots were to do it.

It was a really good show. There was a tremendous variety of acts with the emphasis on presentation, rather than raw technique. I'm happy to be here.

After the show it takes a while to bus everyone back again. We force the kids kicking and screaming into the shower - luckily there is one changing room at the gym that is unisex, as it takes the combined efforts of Paula and myself to get Ian under undressed and into the water. He has become one with his dirt over the past few days, and objects strenuously to its removal. "You're killing me, you're killing me". All my beautiful dirtiness is melting away. Yes, right.

In the gym, there is a small game of combat going on, while over next to the little big top there is a fire spitting workshop. It appears that in Europe they don't know the meaning of the words 'law suit'.

Saturday, August 17th. Grenoble.

Vin de Jour: Beaumes de Venise Cote du Rhone Villages.

Rising early I decide to take in the 9am yoga session. The instructor helps me to do an elbow stand against the wall. "Zere. Are you comvortable now?" he asks. I am so far from comfortable I collapse in laughter and cannot assume the pose again.

When I get back to the tent, Ian has gone missing once more. We track him down outside the fence. He is happy to demonstrate how easy it is to climb in. Why did we bother to buy him a pass? Actually, for most of the festival he has not used a pass, as his big brother lost his on the second day, and since Ian only looks five years old, we gave his pass to Dan. The passes are one of those puzzles where you slide fifteen tiles round in a four by four frame. When solved, you get a picture of two stick figures passing clubs from Alp to Alp. I attempt to do personality analysis based on whether people go around with their puzzles solved or unsolved, but am thwarted by the fact that many jugglers, being anarchists at heart, do not bother to wear them.

Who is that strange bearded figure in the blue big top running three diabolos on the string for a long time? Must be Guy Heathcote. The best run I see is about sixty catches, and yes, he is making corrections with the right hand stick. The guy I saw running three diabolos earlier in the week was starting one, then throwing two in consecutively. Guy, starts with two, and lets them run in a really small loop, until they are almost touching, before he throws the third in. Donald Grant has also turned up, just for the weekend, so there is a pretty wild diabolo workshop.

One of the vendors asks me for information on high quality bullwhips, so I give her Mark Allen's address, and will also ask Matt Welsby to send her information. Perhaps in a few years bullwhip will replace diabolo as the European prop of choice.

I chat some more with Gabi Keast. She is the first person I have met who was not pleased with the public show last night - it was not put together spontaneously enough for her taste. She asks for a copy of this diary, as she may quote bits of it in Kaskade. I wonder if she will use any of the same bits that Bill Giduz picks.

Some enterprising kids have bought packs of ice cream cones from the hypermarche across the road (but 1km. away by foot) and are selling them at a decent mark up. They sell out within minutes. It's another hot day, and the tops of my feet are getting sunburned. I'm new to this sandal business.

Everywhere there are attractive young people in skimpy summer clothes doing athletic things. Only the shortage of showers and the fact that the tents are only two feet apart prevents this from becoming a sexual playpen par excellence, a Club Med with clubs. The festival is being held in the Parc de L'Ile Amour. Coincidence?

While I am cracking whips, somebody tells me about the tradition of whip cracking near Lake Constance. In festivals the men crack whips which are over five meters long - children use smaller ones. The whips are not woven out of leather but out of some sort of vegetable fiber (he does not know the English word), and have a cotton ribbon for a popper. I'd be interested in knowing more about this if anyone has any information.

I try to attend the 'Crazy Rope Tricks' workshop. The person supposed to be leading it cannot turn up, but a few of us sit around trading string tricks anyway. I wander away after a while and when I check back I notice that people are still trading string tricks in the same place, but that none of the original participants are still there.

The games are planned at the last minute. I think it was Tom Renegade who suggests that the prizes should be a bouquet of baguettes and a bottle of vin rouge. I stay for the shoe, shirt and shilling, diabolo long toss, blindfold unicycling, balance and five ball endurance, but lose interest during the limbo competition, and wander off to talk with Todd Strong and Spotlight Dave. We watch two dogs who have become stuck during the act of sexual coitus, and are now looking pretty tired of the situation. We consider intervention, but the dogs work it out in the end.

The business meeting is translated into English, French, German, Italian and sometimes Spanish. All the country representatives are elected unopposed as nobody can face the prospect of running an election in five languages. The ubiquitous Jules, MC of almost everything and Co-President of the EJA asks if there are any proposals for next year's festival. At first it seems as if there will be none, but the Italian contingent starts shouting from the back, "Italia!"

"Where in Italy?" asks Jules, not too hopefully.

"Torino!" He discovers that there are a hundred jugglers in Turin who would like to host an convention there, and they have been looking at the possibility for six months. Jules seems a little taken aback, and asks that next time people let the committee know before the meeting so they can evaluate the bid and present it properly. Be that as it may, Turin is the only bid, so unless the EJA decides that it is not feasible to hold the convention there, that is where it will be.

The organizers stand up to take praise and comments. There is long loud applause for them, but they all look too tired to enjoy it. I leave before people start complaining about the bathrooms. Haven't these people tried using the trees?

Paula goes on a supermarket run, and returns with fresh bread. Such is the French obsession with bread straight from the oven, the bakery in the supermarket publishes a timetable of exactly which types of loaf will be available when, and the bread for sale is time stamped. Ian is going through a phase when he will not eat crust, so he buries his hand into the center of the loaf, pulling out the bread. I've never seen anyone fist a baguette before.

Already some of the tents in the campground are vanishing, leaving patches of brown and yellow grass behind. The people who have driven here from Germany and England have to leave now to get back to work on Monday morning. The German group next to us leaves us their left over wine and toilet paper.

After we get the kids to bed, Paula and I settle down to watch les Scouts in the big top. They are two guys in boy scout uniforms making jokes about diabolo merit badges, in French. There is too much cigarette smoke in the tent for us, and we cannot follow the dialog, so we head over to Captain Bob's Bar in the campground.

Captain Bob's Circus is running an unofficial bar and restaurant serving good wholesome British food, instead of all this foreign muck. Tonight the menu is mashed potato, fried egg and bread, with ketchup and mustard. Luckily we have already eaten. The bar serves punch, beer, spirits and a mixed drink called the Willie Nelson Experience. (Squeeze half a lime, then pour some of the lime juice back into the rind. Top up with tequila, and add a couple of drops of Tabasco. Down in one then eat what remains of the lime. Nobody knows why it is called that.) Captain Bob's is clearly the place to be, for the Brits, at least.

One side of the bar is a double decker bus that has driven here from England at a top speed of 33 mph flat out. Another side is a truck. Blue tarps form an improvised awning. There are some tables, but they are full, so we settle down on the mats placed on the ground, and hang out with the Bristol crowd. Mandy Dorn has hurt her left wrist, and will not be able to juggle for a while.

We wander off to bed some time around 2am.

Sunday August 18th. Grenoble, Val D'Isere.

Vin de jour: "33" Export biere blonde.

At seven this morning, the fifty or so people who have stayed up partying all night make a tour of the campground playing music and cheering to wake everybody up. I curse them heartily. May all their croissants turn to dust in their mouths, may their wine turn to vinegar, and may their baguettes be forever stale.

I get up, and have a chat with Tarim before he goes to bed. He claims to have had one early night so far at this convention - one night he went to bed while it was still dark. We break camp, pack our gear into the Twingo, and head further up into the mountains.

And that was the 19th European Juggling Convention.