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Circuses Still Make the Rounds in France

May 7th, 2019 · No Comments · France, Languedoc

In the United States, a traveling circus is a historical curiosity.

The age of the portable “big tops”, which came into U.S. cities and towns, usually by train, often announcing their presence by parading down Main Street … that age is so last millennium. It was two years ago that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey folded their tents and exited the business.

It is a bit strange, then, to see smallish traveling circuses, complete with big cats, still making the rounds in rural France.

Like Cirque du Zanetti, which created a camp here a day ago and announced two shows in two days in our little town of about 600 people.

How do the circuses here survive in a post-big-top setting?

One big reason: France is much more comfortable with a circus full of animals than an audience in the U.S. might be.

So, Zanetti showed up, and the big cats — two enormous lions and a pair of fully grown tigers — had their own cages at the north end of a spacious plot of land right on the main road into town.

We had a look at the caged lions and tigers the other day, and I must concede that was as close to meeting up with big cats as I want to get — while also thinking they were locked into a space so small the cats could barely turn around.

The rest of the plot of local land was marked out for the variety of animaux exotique the Zanetti people apparently carry with them, from town to town. Such as the double-humped Bactrian camel, two one-hump camel cousins, a water buffalo, a Shetland pony and a llama (I think; maybe an alpaca).

The Zanetti circus on its blog page promises entertainment for everyone with their “new show”, which includes clowns and acrobats.

The main event, clearly, is a session with the big cats. In this video, a chubby guy in a spangled suit seems completely unafraid of the two tigers and a lion that have been let into the center of the main tent, through a staging pen.

The “lion-tamer” slowly puts the cats through their paces, coaxing them to jump over several raised platforms in a couple of bounds, getting a sort of half-hearted roar from a two of them and, finally, to “pose” as the act ends, with the two tigers sitting up with their paws forward and the lion between the two.

It doesn’t look like much of a show, but it rates as major live entertainment in this part of France. Enough patrons must have turned out last year, when Zanneti passed through, because they are back, one year later.

Ringling Bros. went down after a couple of decades of court cases with animal-rights groups, much of it focused on elephants, which apparently are the gold standard in the circus world.

Zanetti has no elephants.

What we have found, in more than three years in the south of France, is that the little circuses are common, and could be in your town tomorrow or the day after, and you can only hope the dangerous animals are well-secured.

Many of the natives here don’t seem to have an ethical problem with any of it; the mayor’s office made an broadcast announcement not long ago reminding everyone that the circus would begin soon. It was the second time today the town crier has given the circus a plug.

Remember, this is a part of France where pretty much every hunter has bagged a wild boar, and where hunters and their hunting dogs can be found in copses barely 200 yards from the town. (I wear a bright orange shirt during hunting season.)

French circuses seem to be avoiding the attentions of animal rights groups, which do not seem as politically important as they would be in the U.S. or Britain.

Too, this is a country with more than a few sessions of heavily attended bull fights, from Nimes to Beziers.

Fans of circuses in the U.S. generally will favor the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil, which features no animals — just lots of acrobats doing amazing things.

Maybe France will end up there someday. For now, bring on the animals.



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