Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Wild-Animal Tamer

From Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez:

....During the same time a gigantic man came into the offices of El Universal unannounced, removed his shirt with a great sense of theater, and walked around the newsroom to surprise us with the sight of his back and arms mottled with scars that seemed to be of cement. Moved by the astonishment he had inspired in us, he explained the devastation of his body in a thundering voice:

"Lions' claws!"

It was Emilio Razzore, who had just arrived in Cartagena to prepare for the performance season of his famous family circus, one of the great ones in the world. It had left Havana the week before on the steamship Euskera, of Spanish registry, and it was expected the following Saturday. Razzore boasted of having been in the circus since before he was born, and you did not need to see him perform to know he was a wild-animal tamer. He called the beasts by their first names as if they were members of his family, and they responded with behavior that was affectionate and brutal at the same time. He would go unarmed into the cages of tigers and lions and feed them out of his hand. His pet bear had given him a loving hug that kept him in the hospital for one entire spring. The great attraction, however, was not Razzore or the fire-eater, but the man who screwed off his head and walked around the ring holding it under his arm. The least forgettable thing about Emilio Razzore was his indomitable nature. After listening to him, fascinated, for many long hours, I published an editorial in El Universal in which I dared to write that he was "the most tremendously human man I have ever met." At the age of twenty-one there had not been that many, but I believe the phrase is still valid. We ate at La Cueva with the people from the paper, and he was cherished there, too, with his tales of wild animals humanized by love. On one of those nights, after thinking about it a good deal, I dared to ask him to take me into his circus, even if it was to wash out the cages when the tigers were not inside. He did not say anything but gave me his hand in silence. I understood this as a secret circus gesture, and I considered it done. The only person I told was Salvador Mesa Nicholls, a poet from Antioquia with a mad love for the circus who had just come to Cartagena as a local partner of the Razzores. He too had gone away with a circus when he was my age, and he warned me that those who see clowns cry for the first time want to go away with them but regret it the next day. Yet he not only approved of my decision but convinced the tamer, on the condition we keep it a complete secret so that it would not become news too early. Waiting for the circus, which until then had been exciting, now became irresistible.

The Euskera did not arrive on the anticipated date and it had been impossible to communicate with her. After a week we established from the newspaper offices a system of ham radio operators to track weather conditions in the Caribbean, but we could not prevent the beginning of speculation in the press and on the radio about the possibility of horrifying news. Mesa Nicholls and I spent those intense days with Emilio Razzore in his hotel room, not eating or sleeping. We saw him collapse, diminishing in volume and size during the interminable wait, until all our hearts were confirmed that the Euskera would never arrive anywhere, and there would be no report on what had happened to her. The animal tamer spent another day alone in his room, and the next day he visited me at the paper to say that a hundred years of daily struggle could not disappear in a single day. And so he was going to Miami with not even a nail and without a family to rebuild piece by piece, and starting with nothing, the shipwrecked circus. I was so struck by his determination in spite of the tragedy that I accompanied him to Barranquilla to see him off on the plane to Florida. Before he boarded he thanked me for my decision to join his circus, and he promised he would send for me as soon as he had something concrete. He said goodbye with so heartbreaking an embrace that I understood with my soul the love his lions had for him. I never heard from him again.

See Time magazine's story from September 20, 1948 on Emilio Razzore and his lost circus.

The photo, which I realize is a clown not a wild-animal tamer, has been borrowed from:

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