What's a festival des marrionnette? Ten glorious, attention grabbing days for its host city, Charleville Mezier (Elodies hometown). The only other times it manages to make the national news broadcast is when it hits the record for the coldest temperatures in France or when a Belgian Pedophile crosses into its borders. The festival des marrionnette is held every two years with a line-up of hundreds of shows featuring the worlds best puppeteers.
Elodie came back from Jordan for a week to be with her family for the birth of her brothers first born son. We tried to explain to his wife that she needed to give birth by Wednesday at the latest or Elodie will need to pay a penalty fee for extending her return flight date but they for some reason didn't do anything about it.
Sooo..while we were waiting for the little guy to pop-out, we decided to pop-in to the festival at every chance that we could.
When we walked into town the first day, we recognised a huge transformation in the modest town of Charleville. Gone were the middle aged mothers in short bobbed hair treated with multiple layers of differing hair colorings (I call it the 'Grand Canyon look' due to the earthy colored strata of their heads).
Replaced by the moms and strollers was a sort of Puppet Woodstock.
The first type of people are the earthy, artsy folks whom I am guessing are the professional puppeteers. I haven't seen that many people wearing hand woven clothes since I got lost in the Santa Cruz mountains and stumbled upon an enormous hippy drumming circle in a grove of pine trees.
The second type of people are the street performers giving incredibly crappy performances for spare change. I have a theory that maybe these guys are just plain crazy and are just playing out their multiple personality disorders in the form of puppetry... and now we give them money for being crazy!
Exhibit A: Crazy old lady on the bookstore corner playing loud music and displaying decapitated dolls on her pushcart. Every once in a while she will jump up, clap to the music and try to do square dancing with the people passing by and cackle the whole time doing it. Sometimes her drunk ass bearded husband in overalls comes by to join in the celebrations. These guys are regulars.
Exhibit B: Skinny young Jerry Garcia on a black floor mat next to the pharmacy showing a crowd of ONE sympathetic viewer how his skeleton puppet can be made to slowly crawl and die. He spent 2 minutes to show me how slowly he can move the finger to make it look like its dying. I didn't want to point out that the mere fact of being a skeleton annotates that it is already dead.
Exhibit C: Wierd guy making an elf puppet play the violin to a recorded song next to the ticket office. Why an elf, and why a violin? And its the same song. One song. And he does it all day, every day. You gotta be either crazy or have an elf fettish to do that all day, every day of your life.
The third type of people there are the tourists who are asking themselves how the hell they landed in the middle of nowhere in France. Everytime I stood in line for something.. a ticket.. a crepe, a beer.. There was a frustrated tourist trying to communicate in English what it was that they were trying to get. Nobody, and I mean nobody at the festival spoke English at the international festival. Its all made up of local volunteers who don't speak a lick of english except for "voulez vouz couchez avec moi."
Now Charleville Mezier is at most a big, small town. Big enough to have a Carrefour supermarket, but small enough to run into everyone you know when you get suckered into becoming part of a street performance.
Yes, the guy had a street show and it needed an asian guy to play the bad-ass Bruce Lee character. So while I hid in the back, he pulled me to the center of his audience because, well, quiete frankly, I was the only asian in a 200 mile radius to play the part. He even gave me a pair of nunchucks believe it or not.
So he grabbed another guy and a lady and made up this story of jealousy and a duel between two guys competing for the privilege to be with the damsel. Kind of a street Kung Fu theater. The best part of it is that they were expecting some mild mannered nerdy asian guy or something. Instead, I lept in the air riding an imaginary Harley Davidson and made roaring loud motorcyle noises that shocked the hell out everyone . Then I whipped out a set of nunchucks that he gave me and started nunchucking straight out of a bad ass scene from 'Enter the Dragon.' Nobody thought that I would actually know how to use nunchucks. I surprised the hell out of everyone, even my wife, who had no clue I had this hidden talent, gained from fighting imaginary teenage mutant ninja turtles in my backyard in the 7th grade.
After a big round of applause, I had a chance to look at the audience. Elodie was there. My mother in law. My mother in law's friends. Elodies highschool friends. Elodies highschool friends' parents. People who I did not know but were invited to my wedding by Elodies parents were there. Geeze, there is no hiding in this place.
Subsequent walks throughout town were greeted by passerbys screaming 'Ouiii C'est la Coréen'!!! I walked into a Hungarian puppet show about Borat's ancestors and got greeted by multiple members of the crowd. So this is what fame must be like if u live in Charleville Mezier.
On our last day at the festival, we decided to see a big name Australian puppeteer named Neville Tranter of the Stuffed Puppet Theater. The description sounded good. He had been a festival regular. Reviews said 'Shocking and Funny.' Great, just how I like it. Except that, it was anything BUT that.
Maybe I just don't understand art. That's it. I am too uncultured to pick up the subtleties and underlying messages about humanity expressed through puppet rabbits with big giant red penises sewn on them. Ok, it was only one, but that's when I decided that there was no turning back on this show... I would just have to sit there and suffer.
First bad sign was that we had just been talking about swine flu, and this lady ends up coughing a lung into the back of our heads so we decided to rudely move out of the way from her spray. Then there is the puppeteer who is part of the act, wearing fake bunny ears, and evidently he thinks he's a rabbit. Then one rabbit tries to have sex with him, another tries to get him to adopt an orphaned rabbit, another one is a rapping gangster rabbit with a red weiner half his size sewn in-between his legs. The final act ends up with him finding out he's not a rabbit because he 'pisses while standing up', the others kill and grind the orphan rabbit and feed it to the unknowing guy, the guy doesn't have sex with the first rabbit but does get raped by Randy the gangster rabbit and somehow seemed to enjoy it ('I could hear the sound of a butterfly's wings flapping' was his post-coital remark), and half the audience was shouting 'Bravo!' at the end while the other half was shouting 'WTF?'
So there you have it folks. You can come and enjoy the festival next year... err I mean in two years. Just bring a translator, nunchucks, and your schizophrenic uncle and you'll have a blast!