Charleville-Mézières is a town of only 50,000 in the Grand Est region, very close to the Belgian border, but absolutely everybody in France knows it for one reason. And I knew it for the same reason, as well as the fact that it has some of the worst weather in France, cloudy, frost late into spring and absolutely horrible winters. We are having one of the worst months of May in many years, so it seemed like the perfect time to go.
I Whatsapped this photo to three different friends without comment, and they all replied the same thing: "Arthur Rimbaud."
Arthur Rimbaud remains an obligatory topic in French school programmes and fascinates just about everybody, even those who don't like to read. He was a brilliant student but he dropped out as a teenager. On top of that, he published just one book -- A Season in Hell -- at his own expense and abandoned literature completely at age 20. He became... well, I am not going to recopy his biography here because it's easy to find.
I am convinced that his popularity owes a lot to the most famous photograph of him, taken at age 17. He looks like the perfect insolent teenage snot.
I can imagine his mother screaming that he could at least have combed his hair. No matter -- he was off to Paris to join the Commune. But here I am to discover Charleville.
It turns out the Charleville-Mézières has another claim to fame, but not even the French from other regions know this. It is the world capital of puppetry. It has the marionnette museum, the Institut International de la Marionnette and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts de la Marionnette. Every two years it hosts the World Puppet Theatre Festival with more than 30 nations participating and more than 130 troupes. Charleville is also the headquarters of the Union Internationale de la Marionnette - International Puppetry Association which was founded in Prague but transferred to Charleville in 1981.
So when I saw a sign showing where to find the Marionnette clock, I followed it immediately.
At noon, the curtains opened.
Actually, it all just lasts a few seconds. One of 12 possible scenes is performed. This one was about killing someone!
The entrance to the marionnette museum is just below the clock (yes, just 4 more days...).
It is on the same square as the war monument.
The local prison, still in use, is on the same square.
Time to drop off my stuff at the hotel. Ha ha, a new comedy of errors. I arrived at the hotel at 12:10 and it was closed. My reservation clearly said "check-in at 12:00, check-out at 11:00." But there was a notice on the door giving new pandemic hours. "Closed from 12:00 to 18:00." But a chambermaid inside saw me. She of course explained that they were closed, but she also phoned the owner. He and the receptionist arrived by car about 5 minutes later (why were they together?) and I checked in without delay. I explained that I could have easily checked in at 11 a.m. but I had respected the information on my reservation. No apology was forthcoming, but I am not the sort of person who requires such things, so no problem. I received the code for opening the outside door when the reception was closed. This was really an old fashioned place because I think it was the first time that I have received a real metal key for opening the door of the room in at least two or three years. But the room was fine, and that's what counts.
There was supposed to be a puppet festival put on by two troupes this weekend. Well, it was one weekend too early, so it was cancelled. But the troupes decided that they needed to do SOMETHING so they devised a short show performed from various balconies at 15:00, 16:00 and 17:00.
Can they attract a crowd on a chilly rainy day?
The puppets complained about life of this past year. Two actors wanted to go out "but what if a producer calls? We'd better stay in." A prostitute was ironic about CULTE (religious) and CUL (sex) places being open but not CULTURE, while her eccliastical customer complained about waiting behind the curtain. Madame Death was quite happy, though. One year of total success! "We brought them the plague and cholera and other diseases in the past and they kept the sick people inside. This is the first time we managed to lock up the healthy people and it is better than ever! We have lots of new afflictions -- claustrophobia, agoraphobia, alcohol and tobacco abuse and, best of all, domestic violence!"
The crowd grew in size.
I have always found it astonishing how one's eyes completely filter out the puppeteers when the puppets are in action.
Frankly, I found it brilliant considering the constraints.
Lebanese flag, but how associated with Mount Olympus in Greece, no idea. The young girl statue with the palm frond(?), any idea of its significance? Ever since being traumatised by Punch and Judy at the seaside as a kid, never much gone for puppets. There's plenty of skill to them for sure, but watching a puppet show is not my thing. At least it looks like it didn't rain all the time. Nice trip out though with a real mix of architecture, and it's nice it's not just me who has to go up and down loads of steep steps.
Yes, my mistake. Quite clear and unambiguous what you said. It is evident you knew what the flag was but not in this context. How on earth could I have thought differently. Must be old age creeping up on me.
Just trying to preserve you from excess words. Next time I will write "No, I know nothing about why the Lebanese flag is there." If it had been the flag of Burundi or Brunei, my original statement would have been accurate in terms of ignorance.
. Really interesting and enjoyable thread thank you K2. It is so good to see members being able to spread their wings finally.Yes the weather looked crap at times but that is the case in many parts of Europe right now. So Charleville-Mézières can know at least now it is not alone.
I could easily spend an afternoon happily tripping around there on a sunny day I think. The marionette clock borders on the brilliant and it seems to have the not inconsiderable usual charms of an anonymous French town.