A Journey Into European Puppetry

Czech Puppets and a Song

Damsel in Glass
A Damsel in Glass at the Plzen Puppet Museum

My last few days in Prague were spent battling a fever and it’s various symptoms. On a day when I still felt I had a bit of strength left I went on a morning walk up Hradčany hill with Wang Jue. Our stated goal was to look for Jan Švankmajer’s Gambra gallery/home beyond the castle complex. Sadly it seemed shuttered. Closed for ‘technical reasons’ read some internet search engine. I hope Mr. Švankmajer is in good health. We ended up exploring the rooms of the Strahov Monastery, with books made of wood and a dried baby dodo bird. (Described elsewhere.) And ended up with some authentic Shanghai style food in a little hole in the wall. But soon my sickness made it clear I needed to rest and so I bid adieu to Jue and went to the hotel to rest.

Gambra Gallery
Svankmajer’s Shuttered Gambra Gallery on the Prague Castle Hill

There were people I wanted to see still, but the fever raged on for the rest of the day producing a sleepless night. All of Saturday was given to recovery. I wanted to be in good shape for my final trip to Georgia. I had to get out once though to find food and exchange a bit of my dwindling currency to pay off my bills before I left the city. Sunday morning I stayed in late as well. Finally that afternoon I felt almost good enough to go out, scrounge up some food and go to the David Cronenberg exhibition called Evolution in the Old Town Square at the Prague City Gallery – House at the Stone Bell (Galerie hlavního města Prahy – Dům U Kamenného zvonu). I’ve followed Cronenberg’s work ever since stumbling into the climatic scene from The Brood in a 42nd Street grindhouse in New York City in the very early 80’s and having my eyelids peeled back by the experience. This show contained many of the strange props from his films including some prosthetic beings that could only be called puppets.

Cronenberg Puppet
One of the Puppets used in David Cronenberg’s films.

Finally it was time to leave the Green Lobster and to get myself to the train to Plzeň to visit my friend Silvie Morasten a Czech artist and singer, the same friend who had helped me interview Švankmajer back in 2012. After the hour and a half ride Silvie greeted me at the train station. She had hoped to have some sort of small concert while I was visiting, since I’d never really heard her sing. European train stations had recently start leaving pianos without casters and seat chained to them so that anyone could play the piano and no one would steal it. As we walked off of the platform she said let me play you a song. Before I could even get out my good camera or recording equipment she began to play. I managed to get out my feeble little camera and set it up on the piano to capture the song. Even with the sound rattling because I had forgotten about the piano vibrations the video gives a flavor of the moment. And what a moment it was. She began to sing a haunting tune, accompanying herself with chromatic minor chords that filled the train station, turning it briefly into something far beyond the mundane. Silvie has an unusual voice low in register yet sharp and clear, with sad emotion in her words. People walked by at first not really paying attention. But a few slowly realized what was going on. They stopped. And I stood there realizing that this was one of the defining moments of my journey as the mournful words of a Slovenian poet drifted through the echoing hall with Silvie’s own music illustrating the mood, changing the dreary station into an epic denouement on the journey thus far.

The next day I went into Plzeň (Pilsen birthplace of Pilsner beer) to the Muzeum loutek (Puppet Museum). And I was actually very much impressed since it was the home of many famous Czech puppeteers including Josef Skupa, Gustav Novák and Jiří Trnka. And in recent years Plzeň has been home to the Theatre Alfa. All these were presented well by the museum. The stand out display was the automatic puppet theatre of Karel Novák, which featured a parade of puppet automata marching out in a line and performing.

Automated Jester
Automated Jester Juggling

Finally after much good discussion my time with Silvie was up and after a final morning concert at the station she let me go. I just couldn’t depart while she was singing this eerily beautiful music. The train was late, but it didn’t really effect my departure time. After a couple of hours I made it to Prague only to discover that my month long metro pass didn’t cover the train’s bus to the airport. But I immediately hopped aboard the metro and jumped off at the appropriate stop to catch the city’s bus to airport, which my pass did cover. And there I met Eti, the English puppet student from the workshop, who was on her way home. We had a vivid discussion about puppets, meaning and indeed the use of these homely little things to perhaps aid the people of our age to touch reality again. And with that the Czech Republic disappeared behind me, new friends made, old friends met, puppets seen, and puppeteers primed for the future filming of Gravity From Above. And after my Lot jet deposited me for an eight hour stopover in the Warsaw Airport I finally boarded a plane mostly full of Poles to arrive at 5 in the morning in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Trnka Puppet
Slender Jiri Trnka Puppet at the Plzen Museum

But THAT is a completely different story

Byrne Power

Tbilisi, Georgia


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