Trip Start Oct 04, 2007
Trip End Feb 03, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Florida
Sunday, October 21, 2007

Today we devoted to the Ringling Museum of Art.  We arrived late, about 11:00 (deciding what to eat from the buffet breakfast can take time) which Ruth knew was cutting it fine.  This is a fascinating complex.  It was built by John and Mable Ringling as their winter residence.  John was one of the five brothers who created Ringling Bros. Circus and at one stage he ranked about 12th richest man in the USA - which means he was super wealthy.  He and Mable went to Europe at least once a year, partly to look for new circus acts but also to buy art and antiquities.  When he decided to build his winter mansion, which they called Ca d'Zan (house of John), the architects had warehouses of stuff to find room for.   The dimensions of some rooms in both the house and the museum he built later were determined by the art work that was to go in them.

We first visited the Asolo Theatre.  This was originally built in Asolo, Italy in 1798 to commemorate the Italian-born 15th Century Queen of Cyprus, Caterina Cornaro.  In the 1950s the Director of Ringling's Museum purchased the by now derelict theatre, transported it, restored it and installed it at the museum.  Now it is used for performances by artists, both local and invited as well as for presentations to tourists like us about the museum and the Ringlings.  

Our next stop was at the Circus model built by Howard Tibbals over 50 years.  It is a painstakingly accurate replica of the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey circus from 1919 - 1938.  It consists of 8 main tents, 152 wagons, 1,300 circus performers and workers, more than 800 animals and a 59-car train.  It occupies 3,800 square feet.  Photos do not do it justice.  Inside the ticket office, where no one can see, is a man sitting at a desk, with a cash register, with money in its drawer.  When asked why he built something no one would know was there, Tibbals said he knew.  

On to the Circus Museum where we took a tour with a very knowledgeable guide.  This had costumes, clown faces (did you know that clowns patent their look?), circus wagons etc.   

We just made the 16:00 tour of Ca d'Zan which was conducted by the same guide.  She is a lace restorer and she had spent years restoring the lace work in the house.  We found this house overwhelming - not the sort of place you'd feel comfortable curling up on a sofa and reading a book.  Often at weekends the Ringlings would invite people for a sit down dinner - about 100 people.  Mable liked to look after her guests so she would employ 50 butlers so everyone was served at the same time.  The guide pointed out that for someone used to providing 1300 meals three times a day for the circus people, 100 was simple.  We had been told earlier that in the circus meal tent every person had their assigned seat and was served the food they ordered - no buffet or set menus.  

After this tour we just had a little time to quickly race through part of the Museum of Art that John Ringling built to house the Art he donated on his death to the State of Florida.  By no means could we say we did this building justice.  But we did see the two rooms he bought when one of the Vanderbilt (we think) New York mansions was being demolished.  There was a beautiful display of intricate fans in one of these rooms.  

Back to the hotel for a swim in the pool for Tom (Ruth had found the water too cool yesterday) before a wander downstairs for dinner in the hotel restaurant.
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