Two nights ago, Shanley and I went and did what is perhaps our favorite activity in Key West: Watching Dominique and his Amazing Circus Cats perform at sunset in Mallory Square. Key West has a nightly sunset ritual in which dozens of street performers take over Mallory Square, an otherwise mostly disused and dingy plot of brick fronting the least-used cruise ship pier in town. There are sword swallowers and jugglers (of ALL varieties, from flames to knives, from standing on the ground to balancing on wobbling platforms 10 feet up), musicians and artists, and even a rather disappointing (but very cute) performing pig, whose main trick is “Pig Bowling.” Pig Bowling, in case you were wondering, involves setting up a tiny set of bowling pins, which are then knocked over by the pig trotting into them. One night, Shanley spent 15 minutes in a long conversation about the meaning of life, and how Love powers the world, with a man dressed in flowing robes and flowers, seated on a pillow under a tripod bedecked with geodes. He had brought some extra pillows and arrayed them on the seawall nearby for tourists to sit upon while watching the sunset, just because he felt it was the nice thing to do.
None of these wonders, however, hold a candle to Dominique and his Amazing Circus Cats. If you walk a bit further South along the waterfront, you’ll soon come to the best show in Key West. At first, it is a bit unprepossessing – what is this grey-haired, scraggly man wearing outrageous cat socks doing with all those cages? Did he really just tell his audience that there were only 5 minutes to go until the show, despite having said that there were 3 minutes to go 5 minutes ago? People crowd around, wondering what could possibly happen next, drawn by the incomprehensible French accent and contradictory proclamations.
Then, without warning, the magic starts! Cats pour forth from a wicker laundry basket, and for the next 20 minutes, Dominique and his cats entertain! Cats leap from stool to stool, climb ladders, climb ropes, even walk across tight ropes! Sometimes they leap over the heads of giggling children, spanning four gleeful faces in a single bound, or bound through tiny hoops or tambourines. The grand finale comes when a cat leaps through a flaming hoop over another cat, all on a pole not more than 2 inches wide. The backdrop to the amazing circus cats is, of course, Dominique, who punctuates the tricks with unintelligible yells and shouts, contradictory instructions to the audience, “Back to your seat! Stay where you are!,” terrible puns (if you can understand what he’s saying), and the occasional bout of all-out lunacy. The other night, he leaned back, hands held level at his chest, and hooted and yelled at the sky for a good 15 seconds as the audience first stared with confusion, then startled to chuckle, before snapping back to the performance just quickly enough to keep his cats from escaping through the crowd and chasing down a rogue pigeon.
When I think of Key West, where we’ve spent so much time with Sea Dragon on the hard, grinding and chipping, breathing dust and mud, I am always loathe to return to this town where the party never seems to stop, and it seems like the official occupation of 80% of the population is hanging out in bars. But then I remember that there are amazing things here too, whether it’s watching the sunset over the local fleet of schooners, biking down tree-shaded back alleys on the heart of the island, or my favorite part, watching Dominique and his Amazing Circus Cats perform.
-Eric Loss, 4/17/2014