Another tangential Richard Armitage reference tourism day with dad

Today, the Richard Armitage reference in our father-daughter vacation was the much impugned circus!

Dad and I went to the Ringling estate in Sarasota.

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The Ringlings are a well-known quantity in our family because they are adopted Wisconsinites (they settled in Baraboo before founding their famous circus), and we have been to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo several times. Circus sites are on dad’s list with locks and caves as vacation sites always worth visiting, since he saw a circus as a little boy. I’ve seen a fair number of circus museums (the San Antonio one stands out in my mind) and I have been to the circus three times — twice in Green Bay with a school group, I think somehow sponsored by the Shriners, and once in 1990 in St Petersburg (then USSR). I hadn’t thought about it in a while but when dad decided to visit, I knew we’d go. It’s about an hour drive.

Before we walked into the museum, we visited Mable Burton Ringling’s rose garden. The weather was not great, but there were still some roses on view

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Although there were also clear signs of last night’s wind and rain.

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We didn’t want to see the whole estate. One of the Ringlings’ most important contributions was their collection of European art, which they left to the state of Florida. Dad doesn’t have much patience for that. He also didn’t want to pay the extra to tour the fancy upper floors of the Ringling mansion (Ca’ de’Zan).

But we did go into the circus museum, and the “learning center,” which has an amazing, amazing set of circus miniatures and some fun displays. (Apologies for the lack of instructive pictures but we weren’t supposed to use flash in most of the museum.) Here’s the obligatory silly “dad” picture.

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It turns out that the circus has a long, venerable history, about which we learned in our three hours spent in those two exhibits (including a tour that showed signs of being boring but actually was quite interesting.)
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When we had finished with the circus museums we walked over to the Ringlings’ mansion — the real reason the museums are here. I’m sorry to have to report that it is a typically tasteless example of American neo-Victorian over-aping of European style (and that is putting it mildly). Its decoration is overdone in every respect, beginning with its design as a copy of the dogal palace in Venice.

2012-01-01 00.00.00-38Another gratuitous dad photo. (He also thought it was over the top.)

It frustrates me no end: why so many wealthy Americans of the later nineteenth century did not develop their own style but did a sort of churrigurresque version of European style. It’s a bit like the social climbing version of Ludwig II on steroids. Anyway. Enough expostulation. Mable Burton Ringling died at 54 of Addison’s disease and diabetes, and John Ringling got caught in the Florida land bust of 1927 and barely came away with his art museum, which he left to the state. His lasting legacy to our world is truly the American circus and its many lieux de mémoire. If you’re going to give me kitsch, give me circus kitsch and not neo-Victorianism.

Screen shot 2014-12-31 at 7.43.27 PM(Another example of the Ringlings’ magpie borrowing. Do not ask me why this copy of a famous statue is on the grounds of a neo-Gothic neo-Venetian estate in Florida. I mostly took this pic for Obscura.)

I have to admit, as we walked through the exhibit, I really got an impulse to go to a circus again, something I haven’t thought about doing in years. I know Richard Armitage was only doing circus work in order to get his Equity card, so he didn’t see it as a permanent destination. At the same time, while I grant all objections to the genre as valid, when we watched the videotapes of performances, the combination of skills shown and the apparent enjoyment the performers share with their audiences are simply infectious. There’s something refreshingly but enjoyably naive in giving in to the trickery and spectacle of the circus (as P.T. Barnum apparently knew well). It definitely makes one look at the world with childlike wonder again.

If there’d been a circus to watch, we probably would have. However, the offering for the evening was As You Like It.

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This exciting neither dad (Shakespeare?) nor me (As You Like It?), we decided to get a few beers instead.

Tomorrow, I think we are just going to laze around in his hotel. He leaves Friday morning, and I have to be at work at eight. Sigh.

~ by Servetus on January 1, 2015.

8 Responses to “Another tangential Richard Armitage reference tourism day with dad”

  1. Lol…I started reading this wondering what the Prima Porta Augustus had to do with the circus! (Brings back fond memories of Circus World…the lion water fountain and spitting, cotton candy stealing llama.)


  2. Emperor Augustus in Florida!? 😀 Happy New Year to you and your Dad!


  3. Omigosh, your dad looks so much like my dad!


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