A Journey Into European Puppetry

Lady With An Ermine

From Jet Lag to Disappointment to Recovery

The Lady with an Ermine, Leonardo Da Vinci as Street Entertainment

So let’s briefly start in Krakow…

Krakow, Poland, turned out to be a fine place to begin the process of getting over jet lag. On Thursday the 4th I wandered into the local train station/slash/Galeria Krakowska mall with over 270 spanking new stores. I was trying to get my practical issues out of the way. I had to get my Eastern Europe rail pass validated, get Polish money for the rest of my Polish adventures and buy some food for my spartan hotel room and the trip ahead of me to Berlin the next day. I was also defeated by the maze of krakovian streets from getting to a children’s puppet show on time at the Teatr Groteska.

The Ghosts of the New Krakow

I was again mightily reminded that Krakow, ounce for ounce, or should I say gram for gram, has more street entertainment than any other city in Europe. Paris surely has more, but not in such concentration. In the afternoon I passed a couple of living statues, including a charming silver version of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Lady With an Ermine painting, which is actually housed in Krakow, wandering brass bands, classic Polish accordion players and a guy who had probably been juggling a little soccer ball since 2005 when I last saw him in the old town square. But at night it was even more of a talent competition with fire twirlers, a Polish jazz band, amplified flamenco guitar and a guy named Arne Schmitt who played under a blue seductive glow in the dark at his baby grand piano. And last but not least I wandered into a street festival featuring copious quantities of kielbasa, mushrooms and potatoes.

Sleep came but so did 4:30AM very clearly. The next day I grabbed a stuffed ‘reservation only’ train on the way back to Warsaw. I didn’t have a reservation, which caused no end of consternation to the lady conductor who finally charged me a penalty for the errors of my ways. As I sat on the worst seat in the train with a paper thin cushion. I pointed that out, which was probably the wrong thing to do. A Polish woman sitting across from talked to me for a moment trying to understand my dilemma, which she translated for the conductor. It didn’t matter. And charged me four times the cost of a reservation back at the station. From Warsaw I switched to another reservation only train going to Poznan, then Berlin. No one else was peeved at my transgression or charged me anything and a good conversation was had with a Pole named Tomas.

In Berlin my friend Jeff picked me up at the station and took me over to his apartment where he and his wife, and also my good friend, Millay lived. I spent the weekend there in good company. My real point in visiting Berlin had originally been mostly to drop in on them and to catch up with our friendship. I had also had hoped to go to Die Schaubude to see a puppet show. That was what I originally thought. But something else came up that focused the whole Berlin visit upon the technical aspects of the film.

The Old Communist Television Tower – a Symbol of the New Berlin too

Originally I had tried to get a grant for more money than I eventually received. Some of those who took part in the fundraising drive may remember that. Well the amount I didn’t get was to cover the cost of camera equipment, etc. And so though I had a shoestring budget for traveling what I would do to record my interview was, to say the least, up in the air. Christos in Switzerland, who was interested in possibly producing the film had said he could help. After many attempts to locate a camera stateside this seemed like a real relief. But many obstacles supervened. Getting the camera to Berlin proved to be a logistics nightmare. Also the camera I was hoping to get was unavailable. So he was sending another model. Eventually he sent his wife by plane with the camera as carry on luggage. Jeff took me to meet Deena his wife whom I’d met back in California several years ago. I was now relieved and the main issue was getting up to speed on the technical side. Then I looked at the camera. It was top of the line… back in 2002. But prosumer then had become cellphone quality now. This would never work. It would end up making the film look like a home video on antique tools. I had actually had access to better equipment back in Haines.

This was truly a depressing thought. I had received confirmations from so many truly interesting people to be interviewed, including most recently Buchty a Loutky. (I would be jumping up and down about this… but I was in serious condition.) That damned money and tech stuff was defeating me. The way it was, I had also forked over expensive euro cash for a cellphone to use for contingencies and emergencies, a digital voice recorder for back up sound, or in the case of the Brothers Quay most likely the entire interview (but that’s another story). I’d also studied my bank account online. After several withdrawals of euros, zlotys and soon Czechs karunas to build up a reserve to get around the paranoia of current debit card conditions (don’t even get me started on this insanity) I could feel the skin through my pockets.

But Christos came to the rescue! He told Deena to buy me a new camera down at the massive Media Markt tech palace. I met her in a whirlwind and though I was prepared to kick in some more precious euros, Deena basically paid for the whole thing minus a few shekels for spending cash. I was impressed. And also felt much more certain about their commitment to the project. (I’m due to meet Christos later in Lucerne to discuss the project.)

And that had been the last minute! I had delayed my train travel to Wrocław and had been hurriedly climbing up and down U-Bahn / S-Bahn stairs to make my connections. Finally Millay took a break from her translating work (she’d recently translated a short piece by Robert Walser into English that I was hoping to present to the Brothers Quay) to make her traditional accompaniment to the train station with me. I couldn’t have done it without help from Millay and especially Jeff, who drove me all over Berlin to help get things done. And I couldn’t have done it without Christos and Deena. And now on to Wrocław and the documentary begins.

From Uta Gebert’s ANUBIS at Die Schaubude October 6th 2012

Oh yes… I forgot one thing. I did indeed go to Die Schaubude where Millay and I watched two puppet shows by Uta Gebert, both on the subject of death. Stylistically and technically they were fantastic. Serious thought went into the dark look of the pieces. The use of black space, the floating figure of Anubis in a boat in the middle of the air in the middle of the stage, the sound effects, the realism of the other figure who struggled against the man at the door in Limen, all quite well done. But, and it’s a big but, they seemed to be puppetry lite. After a deep dark introduction to the first piece ANUBIS suddenly this strange unearthly figure is dancing to lightweight prerecorded background music. Limen was inspired by a short piece by Kafka, but it contained little of his paranoia and doubts and ended on an optimistic note. Kafka on an optimistic note? Nevertheless my first puppet shows had been finally seen and new thoughts with them.

Limen by Uta Gebert – Based on a piece by Franz Kafka

Byrne Power

Wrocław, Poland

9 / 10 / 2012

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