A Journey Into European Puppetry

From Troubled France to Alaska


A makeshift memorial at Place de la Republic in Paris

The Tbilisi Airport at 4:00 in the morning was chaos incarnate. It wasn’t until I was actually in the air on my way to Paris via Warsaw that I had a small fraction of rest to even begin to reflect on the last three weeks of my journey in Georgia as the lights of Tbilisi vanished in the dark skies. But I was also a bit concerned about making my connections to France. On the way to Georgia the EU customs lines at the Warsaw Chopin Airport (who decides to name an airport after a composer?) were unbearably long and this time I only had an hour instead of nine. And then I discovered something about the Georgians that I hadn’t noticed before.

Leaving Warsaw

Leaving Warsaw

When I exited the plane I obviously wasn’t the only person concerned with getting to a connecting flight on time. At least half of the flight was filled with Georgians on their way to Europe. As we followed the signs and ramps to our flights a confused airport employee told us to wait and then closed an electronic glass door, which cut us off after letting a few of our throng through. She swiped a card and it was locked and we were in the middle of nowhere. She kept motioning for us to turn around. Some of the Georgian family members had been cut of from the rest of us. Now I had been in Tbilisi for three weeks. Georgian men seemed rather low key most of the time. I had been told that they were an emotional people. But it didn’t register the way it would if we were Italy or Spain. And also I was told that they were descended from fierce mountain warriors, as was clear in many of the folk dances. But I hadn’t seen much to confirm that. Suddenly these men were cut off from their wives. Families were separated. And then I heard them speaking in voices, voices well schooled in strong singing, stentorian voices, lungs filled with anger over the rather strange and ultimately stupid move by an airport employee. Her swipe card would not work. She was reduced to tears as the Georgian men behind me were preparing to save their families. Finally her supervisor arrived and chewed her out in fine Polish style. And I looked at these men behind me and said ‘Aha!’ That’s how they managed to stay uniquely Georgian in the face of centuries of outside aggression.

Paris CDG

A bomb scare at Charles De Gaulle Airport

I made it through the line in mercifully good time and was soon winging my way to Paris with Warsaw in the window below me. Paulette Caron met me at Charles De Gaulle Airport after I negotiated a bomb scare and took me back out to her parents house in L’Haÿ-les-Roses in the southern outskirts of Paris. I prepared my final return journey and was taken by Paulette to a local market. Paulette and other friends have often commented on how Alaska stops you in your tracks when you visit. That is how I feel about wandering through a French market filled with perfectly fresh produce, cuts of meat rarely seen in my neck of the woods, cheeses (I can’t even begin.), savory tarts and too many other edibles to discuss. And I won’t torture you with descriptions from the pastry shop. (O if only the wild nature of Alaska could just have a smidgen of French cuisine!)

Cuisine et Paulette

Paulette and a few vegetables at the market

The windy weather prevented us from visiting my friend guignoliste Pascal Pruvost. But we did have an appointment with a respected and inovative hand puppet artist Brice Coupey. We met him at a cafe and I had an excellent discussion with him about his puppetry and about a possible interview in the future for Gravity From Above. He was quite receptive to the project and agreed. Obviously that interview along with many others would wait for the future.

Brice and Byrne

Meeting hand puppet artist Brice Coupey

Paulette also took me for a walk over to Place de la République which had become a shrine to the victims of terrorism from November 13th and now Brussels, which had occurred since I had passed through. And simultaneously the doomed carnival atmosphere had become a staging grounds for a French style series of protests, which sadly had adopted the confused Occupy Wall Street trappings, in other words there was no specific goal, and which have since occurred to no particular avail, except adding to France’s woes.

Place De LA Republic

At the Place de la Republique April 17th 2016

As I walked through the square pondering the dead and looking at the kids playing at revolution I mused on the many problems facing Europe: Immigration/refugees, the old walls from pre-EU days beginning to be erected again, terrorism, economic uncertainties, Islam and Europa, the lack of faith and the near terminal decline of Christianity, the influence of the worst aspects of American pop culture, the rise of right wing isolationists and fear-mongers, the insane utopian dreams of the left as now constituted less by any concern for the working classes and more by gender politicking. And here were the youth practicing what to do if sprayed, if clubbed, ready for endless demands and no wisdom to draw upon. I confessed to Paulette, who could only agree while rearranging some of my details, that the European future looked stark. And the near future would bring Brexit, Munich, Nice and the tides of Islamic conspiracy to Turkey. And meanwhile America continues it’s long course following the dwindling laws of diminishing returns as we prepare to vote again for the lesser of two evils. And I suspect fewer Americans care about Europe than ever in my lifetime. How can anyone care about anything when they are staring into a screen in their hands?

The Lost

The Future of Revolution in Paris

Eventually it was time to say fond farewells to Paulette and her family and to spend my last night in Paris at my usual Hôtel Saint André des Arts, where I had the perfect final conversation with the manager Fred, whom I’ve known since 2000. We wondered at the strange shape of a world where people more and more were disappearing into wireless devices. We wondered at the worrisome fate of France and Europe. And likewise America. But we agree that at all costs we must remain human and to continue thinking without paying heed to the barrage of various propagandas beating down our ears.

Tear Gas Workshop

The Pepper Spray Workshop

Martyrs de Cute

The Disturbing Presence of Teddy Bears at Memorials Gets at the Heart of the Problem with the Revolutionary Ideas ca. 2016. Is the Revolution to make the World more Sentimental and Cute?

On April 19th I boarded the first leg on my journey back to Alaska on British Airways. I then left London for an excruciating flight smashed into a seat near the toilet stall for nine hours. I missed my connection on Alaskan Airlines and spent the evening in a truly depressing American hotel near SEATAC. I resumed my journey the next morning to Juneau, where actor, teacher and clown Roblin Gray Davis put me up for a couple of nights with his family and graciously drove me to the early morning ferry. And finally I got to the ferry. As is the custom I talked with many friends, walked around the deck in the cool air and was picked up by Scott Hansen and delivered to my doorstep. I wish I could say I plopped down on my bed and slept. But I had to crawl under the house to turn the water on, spend the afternoon trying to get the heater working and try to get my life back in order before finally achieving the goal of all journeys to rediscover my shower, my bed and home.Victoire

Byrne Power

Haines Alaska


2 responses

  1. What an oddessy you’ve had!! Thanks for sharing such a fascinating journey with us, I really enjoyed following your posts. Best of luck with the film, we will be excited to see it once it’s done!

    July 27, 2016 at 7:49 AM

  2. Pingback: Learning Puppetry in Charleville | GRAVITY FROM ABOVE

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