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She Owns Flea Circus


by Bill Russell


In Copenhagen recently, I made the acquaintance of the owner and ring mistress of a flea circus.  In addition to learning that the vacuum cleaner is the flea's deadliest enemy, I discovered that although a flea is a tiny thing, it's a full time job to get him up on his trapeze.


Else Torp, a firm-bosomed Danish lady with gold-rimmed spectacles, told me she spends most of her waking hours in intimate contact with her fleas.  She is so devoted that I got the impression she would probably sleep with the fleas as well if there weren't the danger they would get lost in the bed clothes.


The Else Torp flea circus is in Copenhagen's Tivoli Park.  Before the entrance stands a young man with a Napoleon haircut, not much bigger than a flea himself, murmuring over and over into a microphone the Danish equivalent of flea -----




This soft sell pulls the customers into the circus, where Mrs. Torp presides over the miniature arena with the dignity of a roulette croupier paying out chips.


Between performances, in a tiny room adjoining the circus, the flea lady told me her story.  She has run the flea circus for five years, following the death of her first husband, who  put the animals through their paces for 30 years.  The flea circus has been in Tivoli Park for the past nine years, and Mrs. Torp likes that arrangement better than the traveling she formerly did.


"Before we settled in Copenhagen I was in Egypt for two years,"  "The Egyptians love the fleas, but we didn't like the Egyptians."


Mrs. Torp's little dog kept jumping up on me during the interview.

Although he appeared in need of a bath, I kept hoping for the best.


There are 800 different kinds of fleas, Mrs. Torp explained but only one breed that live on human beings.    "I use human fleas because they are the strongest of al, "Mrs. Torp said. 


"I cannot use dog fleas.  I can't feed them because their tiny platinum wire harnesses would get caught in the dog's hair."




Feeding Fleas Takes Time and Blood



She feeds her 60 fleas herself twice a day with her own blood.  She-places them on her arm, where they graze to their heart's content.  "It requires one and one-half hours to get them all fed,"  Mrs. Torp said. "I feed them one hour before we start working the circus, and once more when we get home at night.  I never get to bed before three in the morning."

I inquired whether Mrs. Torp ever felt like going to bed and letting her fleas fend for themselves.


"Oh, I couldn't get to sleep if I went to bed and left my fleas hungry." she said.  "I would roll and toss all night."


The Fleas come from a fisherman living in a distant part of Denmark and they cost her 30 cents each. "The vacuum cleaner and central heating are extinguishing Copenhagen's flea population," Mrs. Torp said sadly. "In earlier times, Danish housewives scrubbed their floors and the fleas could lay their eggs in the moisture that was left between the planks.  But today, they use vacuum cleaners instead and the flea's eggs dry up and die."


This bit of modern progress may have made life easier for the Danish housewife, but it makes it tough and expensive for Mrs. Torp to get her fleas.



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