By Roxana Urrutia
SPAIN: There are more bars and restaurants per square mile in Spain than in any other country in Europe, and in Madrid there are more mimes and clowns in the streets than in any other city I can think of.
A live doll, otherwise known as a mime, in Madrid
Everyday it feels like a there is a mime/clown convention. It is surprising to see how many people choose being a mime/clown as a career, and even more surprising that there is a market for them.
There are always people who stop to watch them, to see if they blink, or laugh at what they do, and they give them money funding the entire tradition.
From metro sol to Plaza Mayor, I pass an army of mimes. There is a man dressed as a cowboy all painted, including every exposed part of skin, in silver. When someone throws him a coin, he pulls out his guns and acts as if he is shooting.
A little further up, there is another man dressed in a camouflage outfit and all painted in gold. His trick is the machine gun he holds.
As I keep walking, there is a woman dressed as a butterfly that does some silly little movements accompanied by even sillier gestures; a couple all covered in mud who act as statues that move; a transvestite dressed in a tutu who does plies; a man in a witch costume who slaps people with a broom;
a man dressed in a bullfighter’s outfit who shakes his harpoons; two clowns who put on a boxing match act; an Argentinean tango dancer, and right before I reach my doorway, the all-so-revered, traditional white-faced mime who follows people around and manages to irritate me to no end.
I have never liked clowns or mimes, no exceptions. Clown dolls have always scared me, and I find nothing funny about the way they look. Yet clowns are loved worldwide, especially in Spain and I am in the minority.
Recently, some friends invited me to the circus called “El Gran Circo Mundial” and in between trapeze acts and elephants, while the performers mounted and dismounted between numbers; clowns would appear and entertain the public.
I was sitting next to my friend Bernardo and his wife when one of the clowns started plucking volunteers from the audience and came straightt to us.
I looked away to avoid eye contact and he pointed to Bernardo who quickly and almost instinctively grabbed his knee as if he suffered advanced arthritis and simultaneously cringed his face as if in pain.
The clown then grabbed my hand and a big bright spotlight focused on me and the entire circus audience started clapping in unison so that I would get up …I was obligated, like never before, to do something I didn’t want to do.
My friends cheered me on, with Bernardo wickedly grinning, while I followed the clown to the arena — a spotlight following my every move, all the way to the smack center of the arena. Had I been met by hungry lions, I would have felt less a victim.
The clown had selected four other victims which he placed in front of things. The guy who stood to my right and about 30 feet away had a drum in front of him, 30 feet further to his right and curving down the circle stood a gal with three upside-down frying pans set for her to hit with a little stick; 30 feet to her right a little boy with a triangle that rang like a bell, then 30 feet and circling towards me another fellah with a whistle, and another 30 feet further and completing the circle of fools, stood I with a microphone in front of me.
I felt I got the worst part of the deal.
I tried to get both guys to switch with me, but one avoided me as if I didn’t exist and the other shook a definitive “NO” while he inflated his chest with air and held his lips puckered.
The clown came towards me and since clowns don’t speak, he exaggeratedly ran up to my microphone and screamed a scream that rivaled any shower scene at the Bate’s Motel.
I tried to imitate him, but the only thing that came out of my mouth was a weak yelp similar to how a crow sounds in the distance when it is hurt.
The audience laughed, clearly at me; and it was then, at that exact moment, that I took notice that the biggest payasa (clown) in that arena was undoubtedly me.
I felt animosity towards the clown each time he pointed at me with his baton and I had to yelp, I felt indignant each time the audience laughed at me, and had I had a rock I would have thrown it with all my strength and would have rabidly aimed it towards Bernardo’s knee.
It was an awful experience — which will never be repeated because I have adopted Bernardo’s trick as if it were my own.
I grab my knee as if it is predicting rain and distort my face to show anguish.
I have already practiced in front of the mirror a few times and my performance is so true-to-life that I left the mirror — limping.
Learn more about Roxana:
Roxana Urrutia is a first-generation American, born to a Spanish mother and Chilean father.
She grew up between Spain and the United States, knowing what it was like to not speak English and being treated like an immigrant, and then returning to Spain only to be considered “la Americana.”
Since 1999 she has lived in Madrid and makes her living planning events and conferences.
I used to think that I didn’t fit in either country, now I realize they are both my home.