• December 19, 2014

The illusionist of Baghdad

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Posted: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 12:00 pm

By Sgt. Joshua Risner

Multinational Divison-Baghdad public affairs

BAGHDAD - The practiced art of misdirection, sleight of hand and nimble fingers may conjure up visions of carnival side shows, or politicians, depending on your level of cynicism.

This particular set of skills, however, distinguishes one 1st Cavalry Division trooper from his fellow soldiers.

Spc. Jose Barrientos, a Bradley mechanic with Delta Troop, 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, has a particular talent. He is an illusionist.

Born in Michoacan, Mexico, but now from San Diego, he has performed magic most of his life. His interest in the craft started at a very young age.

"When I was 5, my uncle took me to the circus in Mexico. There were all these tents set up but I don't know what was in most of them because when he took me to the magician's tent, which was the first one, I didn't want to leave," he said. "That blew me away - it was almost like an obsession. That was all I wanted for birthday presents after that."

As soon as he learned his first illusion, he began absorbing as much as he could of the tricks of the trade. He also began performing for friends. But the going was rough.

"Every trick that I had when I was little were famous tricks that you could find in any magic store, so I ran into a lot of people who knew the tricks and I had a lot of negative experiences with people because of it," he said with a shrug. "From there, I made it my mission to start developing my own illusions."

Barrientos started watching other magicians and figuring out their illusions in his early teens. His strong background in magic allowed him to pick out the elements of a trick and see how they were done. He began developing his own illusions based on the things he had seen and people began to become interested.

One of his newer tricks is called "Stigmata." A person picks a card from an ordinary deck and puts it back in.

"Then they grab on to my wrist and they think of the card and when they let go, you see … it almost appears scratched on my wrist whatever card they picked," he said with an air of mystery. "I did it for my pastor back home and he sat me down and said, 'Hey, wait a second, what's going on here?' I teased him a little and said, 'I don't know, it just started happening.'"

The illusions in Barrientos' arsenal have grown in both number and skill. He can now put a card through a glass pane, burn a dollar bill and reform it, and make a deck of cards move without touching it.

His skill with magic has led the Iraqi federal police who share Joint Security Station Istaqlal with him to call him the genie.

"The thing is they don't have a lot of street magicians because in their culture there are people who claim to legitimately have powers, especially in superstitious countries," he said. "They think that I have genies with me that help me do my tricks."

Wherever his powers lie, Barrientos has become quite popular on Joint Security Station Istaqlal. People come from all over the base to see him perform and are constantly amazed.

"What I love about magic is that you can kind of reach out and touch people with it," he said. "You can bend the rules of the universe for just a moment and everybody goes into that place in their mind where anything is possible. It disarms people right away - it's a great icebreaker."

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