A Journey Into European Puppetry

Miscellaneous Travel Notes

Epiphany Pig

The Epiphany Hog’s Head in Paris

This little essay has almost nothing to do with anything and is more or less just a series of travel observations that have accumulated thus far and didn’t really fit with any particular place. Some might consider this travel advice. It might contain such. But basically it’s just detritus.

Cyclops Selfie

A Cyclops Selfie taken in a Strange Concave Mirror in Scotland

Those who have followed this journal of my Gravity From Above trip thus far may remember that I had a horrible bout of gastroenteritis after a few days in Paris. The feeling of having been punched in the gut persisted until I was in London. I felt I needed some medicine. I happened to be in Chinatown, where I’d found exactly the kind of Chinese food not found in Alaska, when I passed a Chinese pharmacy. I thought ‘They have medicine for everything. Let’s give it a try.’ A pleasant woman behind a counter lined with wooden, trays filled with who knows what, first tried to get me to see a Chinese doctor. Then she suggested acupuncture. Finally I was able to get a bit of medicine out of her. She said it was a granulated tea made from special ingredients that would work with treatments one a day for seven days. I suggested that I only needed about three. She said “You can only buy seven.’ How much?’ ‘Sixteen pounds.’ I blanched but my queasy stomach wanted it. So I laid my money down and took the sweet woody tasting stuff four days in row. Maybe it helped. Maybe not. Either way it was a $23 experience. And you thought American drugs were expensive?

Drug Opera

Don’t understand. And I really don’t want to understand.

Here’s a little something for those for whom English is not a first language. Rough, bough, dough, through and ought are ways of saying ‘ough’ in English. Our evident lack of a rule here drives non-English speakers crazy. Good news! I found a new pronunciation! In England ‘borough’ is pronounced ‘bur-a’, with a very short ‘a’ sound. It rhymes with Edinburgh. (I know! It can get tough.) And in order to get to Edinburgh the train passes through places with names like Biggleswade and Darlington. And when you get to Scotland there are loughs. Just don’t hiccough or cough when you get there!

Me Too!

Me too!  From a graveyard in Edinburgh.

It’s time for a fashion thought! I notice that many women in Europe are now wearing winter coats that on first glance look like military wear. Olive drab has come back in vogue. But unlike the Seventies, these are not actual military surplus. They in fact are scrubbed of any military symbols and are upon closer inspection made of much softer material. And the expensive non-faux fur lined collars give the game away. But for just a second I feel like I’m glimpsing someone from the past, a rebel appropriation of army jackets in an act of subversion. Instead… it’s just chic.

Adults Only?

This seems a strange way to communicate that this is a Sex Club. But it is Scotland.

I saw a David Bowie memorial on a mall wall in Belgium. I’m sure Bowie would have laughed ironically. (It was actually a bit of advertisement for his last album with some flowers beneath it.) And yet it spoke of what Mr. Jones meant to so many in his role as primal shapeshifter.

Bowie Memorial

Bowie Memorial in a Brussels Mall.

And it was in Brussels that I had a chance to go see Sylvie Testud in a new film. Arrête ton Cinéma! (Stop your movie!) which was an amusing takedown of the French film industry, based on her own novel of the same name. If you’ve never heard of Sylvie I can’t blame you. A television channel was having a Sylvie Testud night, when I was visiting the town of Le Puy back in early 2005 on my original puppet expedition. I watched and was captivated by her comedy and her expressiveness. Cher Sylvie is never going to win an award for the most beautiful girl in the world. But there’s something about the way she talks and subtly uses her face that, to my view, is unique. Fear and Trembling (Stupeur et tremblements) would be a good place to start. Or perhaps Tomorrow We Move (Demain on déménage). She’s also a serious actress as well and her role in the Murderous Maids (Les blessures assassines) is chilling. But mainly she has the most blissfully ironic smile I’ve ever seen, as well as a capacity for truly wide-eyed astonishment. Her films always make me feel that I’m just watching a friend. So there! Go watch a Sylvie Testud movie!

Arrete Ton Cinema

The obscure charms of Silvie Testud.

Speaking of friendly, Paulette Caron and I were eating lunch at a Lyonnais restaurant when suddenly a cat poked her head up on the free seat next to me. She definitely wanted to be invited to the party. Evidently the health rules were less than stringent in Lyon, at least as interpreted in that restaurant. The owners said don’t mind her. We didn’t.

Cat at Table

The Lyonnaise Dining Guest.

What to eat in Switzerland: Chocolate, first of all. I prefer the chocolate in Switzerland to the Bon Bon style in Belgium. Not that those are bad mind you. It’s just that the Swiss chocolate bar is more about chocolate and Belgian more about the filling. And I must say I have a crucial craving for the chocolate bars filled with kirsch liqueur. Next cheese: Gruyere? Absolutely. Raclette? Definitely. Ementaler, the real Swiss cheese? Of course. But this time I discovered smoked fresh wet cheese up at the laiterie in Villars. Words fail me. And finally that I found that one illegal substance in the USA. We would eat it if it just had a French name, viande de cheval. Instead we call it horse meat. I split a horse steak with a pleasantly surprised L’Abri student. Most importantly I picked up my old favorite dried shaved horse meat. I can’t describe the joy.

Trendy Cinema

I’d been looking for Trendy cinema.

Okay that’s the plus side of Switzerland. Here’s the rub. I ran out of a few necessities. (Note to self: Never, ever, ever, run out of necessities in Switzerland again.) I go up to the ski-town of Villars, we won’t even mention the bus fare here. I go into a small pharmacy. I pick up a small finger length tube of toothpaste, a similarly small bottle of shampoo, and a small bottle of Listerine. How much would you expect this to cost? Figure that you’re in a ski resort in the Alps. Did you count on these three items costing $35 US. I didn’t either. But then again I had a week and a half to go before departing, leaving dirty hair and teeth in need. Next time get enough in France! Enough to get me to the Czech Republic or at least Germany.

Wet Charleville

Down the Wet Streets of Charleville-Mézières, France looking for Puppets.

And that’s a good place to stop because soon I’ll be writing about Germany.

If there’s advice here take it. If the observations help I’m glad. I’m sure I’ve forgotten even more vagaries along the way. But I sure do indeed intend getting into these strange situations again. And getting out with a bit of aplomb.

Byrne Power

From a train near Dresden


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