A Journey Into European Puppetry

Samuel Beckett

X-rays and Reflections

Lonely Puppet Face

A haunted homunculus. One of many puppets at the Gadagne Museum in Lyon

I woke up early, packed my fifty pounds plus (over 20 kilos) for the last time and extricated myself from Hôtel Saint André des Arts before I had a chance to eat the miniscule bread and tea breakfast one more time. Fred wasn’t working that morning and I had already paid so I simply turned in the key then disappeared into the RER station to pop up later at Aéroport Charles De Gaulle. It was a fairly uneventful trip back through London, Seattle and finally to arrive in Juneau at about 9:30PM Alaska Time.

Although come to think of it I did set a new personal record for baggage checks in one day. Four! The first in Paris. They took a small blunt pair of scissors that I originally bought in France in 2005 and had grown quite attached to. Yet the Americans and Brits had let me through with it! The second was at London Heathrow, which is now resting securely at the top of my list of worst airports in Europe. And in 2005 they didn’t make me go through that? At that point they assumed that you were in the system thus were already scanned. No longer. You know the paranoia isn’t going away. Example number three… I get random searched by US customs officials for answering the following questions in a cheerful manner. ‘Is that all of you luggage?’ ‘Yes it is.’ ‘Did you check anything?’ ‘Nope, this is it.’ ‘Please go to aisle 6 for a random search.’ Nothing found. Five minutes sucked away forever. Finally, about twenty feet away, the TSA folks made me go through yet one more X-ray machine death march, computer inquisition and shoe removal seminar. Beautiful.

Lazaro and Dummy

François Lazaro in Paris preparing the stage before a performance of Actes Sans Paroles I by Samuel Beckett

But at last I stepped out into the brisk fresh Alaskan night air in a snow covered Juneau where the Best Western van was waiting to take me to the most expensive hotel on my entire trip. But the chill in the air, the homey, sometimes homely, Alaskans, the familiar Tlingit guy who drove the van at 5:30 the next morning, the waiting ferry, the dozens of local folk I met on the way up to Haines, the conversations, ‘How was the trip?’, ‘Are you just getting back?’, all greeted me as the old friends they were. Finally there was no one to greet me in the chill of the Haines Ferry Terminal, but that was soon rectified when Scott Hansen (the elder) arrived to pick me up after getting waylaid in the way Hainiacs often do. (In truth I could have gotten at least six rides from friends on Le Conte.)

And it was over.

Svankmajer 25

A Jan Svankmajer puppet work of art never featured in a film

I was drained but satisfied. My goal now was to simply stop for as long as I could and catch my breath. And to begin to reflect on what this whole adventure meant. Aurélia Ivan’s question kept coming back to me. Why are you doing this? I don’t think she was so worried herself as to what it was all about, rather I think she wanted me to think about it. What exactly was I trying to accomplish?And what exactly had I accomplished thus far? Quite a bit it seems.

When I thought about all of the people I met, the puppet shows and other theatrical events I’d seen, the wanderings through European towns, the discussions both formal and informal, the moments of dislocation, the music and food from many different cultures, the film files on my hard drive, the moments when things didn’t work and the many, many moments when they did I realized that I had just done something. What exactly it all meant, that would take some time.

Guignol

One of the earliest Guignol Puppets at the Gadagne Museum in Lyon

And there was plenty of work to do. I had to edit together something to pass on to the Swiss. I had to plan on part two of this trip. which would involve a crew filming the performances. I had to keep up my contacts overseas. Money was still very much an issue. I’d drained my resources to the bone to get this done. There was translation, writing, and rights to puppet films to research. And then there was organizing the details all over again for the second half of next year. (But I should have help this time.) But whatever that looked like it wouldn’t quite be the same as this trip. Trips with others are never as edgy as trips alone. But whatever it took I was committed to the process.

Teschner 12

More of the exquisite puppets of Richard Teschner

But meanwhile I was grateful to have done this whole thing safely, with as much support as I had, with a sense that others besides myself were starting to see what it was that I was actually constructing. And it is with a fond memory that I look back on moments with all of the people I met or reacquainted myself with along the way.

I will now take a break from this writing too, until there are new developments… in a month, or two, or six.

Wood Books 1

Books made of wood at the Strahov Monastery Library in Prague. Inside the books were all of the parts of each tree.

Thanks for following along with me on my tour of European puppetry and as I start this documentary. Take your own journey someday. Discover something, don’t be just a tourist.

Better yet make a puppet show out of scraps you find in your closet, backyard or the hardware store. And think about what there is to communicate that is not a cliché or propaganda.

Now get off this infernal machine and go outside!

Byrne Power

Haines, Alaska

1/9/13