Below is a copy of a couple of emails sent from Europe describing some of Magical Moonshine Theatre's tour and performances in Slovenia and Italy, summer, 1998.
Part 1 Ankaran, Slovenia
We are staying with some friends who are puppeteers and have a great old house and across the street from their house they have a beautiful garden, (almost all foods, fruits and vegetables) and a guest house, which is where we reside. From our balcony we can see the sea. It is very relaxing inspite of the cicadas and roosters. Our friends are wonderful people and ask that everyone write the Slovenian minister of the treasury to complain that it is stupid to have new money with a bill for an amount of Slovenian tolars that is worth about 4 cents American (that would be the 10 tolar note). We have been here 5 days and have done 4 shows. All of the shows went very well and have been in very interesting places. First show was in an old plaza in the seaside town of Izola. We were almost in sight of the water and had a great crowd for our first show. Afterwards we sat outdoors at a restaurant and had pizza within view of the water. It was balmy and the streets were full of Slovenes, Hungarians, and Italians.
Our second show was in Koper, in an outdoor courtyard of a museum, filled with old carved stone, etc. Very nice, and again a wonderful evening out in the balmy Mediterranean air. Then we drove 4 hours into the interior of Slovenia to Maribor where the villages are less like Italy and more like Austria. Maribor is the center of an important wine growing region and boasts the oldest grape vine in the world (I think it is 400 years old). There it was raining and we performed in a beautiful little puppet theatre in the town hall building, an old historic building in the center of the city. We then dined with the director of the theatre, the president of UNIMA (international organization of puppetry) Slovenia (or Yugoslavia) for 10 years, I think until the country broke up. We stayed in a hotel (kind of modern but nice) and the next morning went to a huge hot springs-spa. There were 3 levels of hot pools with waterfalls, bubbles of every kind and many seats underwater and ways to relax. We also tried our first Turkish bath (I looked for the godfather types doing quiet business and smoking cigars, but they were not in evidence) and Benjie and I took a sauna that was 95 degrees C. (Water boils at 100 degrees). Then we drove to another town, Sevnitsa, about 2 hours, and performed in the outdoor courtyard of a 14th cent. castle on a mountaintop overlooking the town with a beautiful river going through it. We later ate in another outdoor rest. having trout with garlic from the river (the trout, not the garlic). Slovenia is covered with forests, including some of the only virgin forests left in Europe. It is quite beautiful. There are many bears we are told, but we have yet to see one. Today we leave for Italy, for Genova.
All in all we are having a great time, and having the experiences that are just why we go to the trouble to do these kinds of trips!
Part II (2 weeks later)
Here we are back in Slovenia after 2 weeks in Italy. We started our Italian part of the journey with a long train ride all the way across Italy from Trieste to Genova. The trains in Italy are very good, and seem to be quite on time, but they are not so easy if you have as much luggage as we have. In any case, my efforts at putting wheels on our luggage paid off nicely, as our new friend Carlo met us at the train station in Genova without a car, so we walked to his house (about 2 blocks) wheeling our 225 lbs of luggage. He lived in a second floor apartment on a commercial street in Genova in an old building. He had a room for us and another guest room for Benjie and we stayed (unexpectedly) with him and his wife Cristina (from Argentina) and their manic kitten. They are lovely people and we spoke Spanish with them, and they chain-smoked (as do most Italians, it seems), and we walked to the old Genova, and performed our show in one of two old entrances to the walled city. The show went quite well, and the audience seemed to enjoy it, which is always heartening for the first show in a new country.
Throughout our stay in Italy we continued to meet wonderful people. One characteristic I observed continually in Italy is how friendly everyone is. People are eager to smile and talk with strangers, even those who do not speak Italian well. We were invited to stay in stranger's homes...we had the waiter in a restaurant offer to bring us our dinner at our show after he was finished with work because his restaurant would be closed when we were done, etc.
After Genova we had our most difficult train ride. We rode to Pisa on a train that got more and more crowded. Piles of luggage were topping ours and there were no seats, so we had to stand in the isles with dozens of young tourists with backpacks, etc. The trains only stoped for a few moments at each stop, so when we had to get off we had to make many frantic trips through the congested isles with large heavy boxes. We made it but it was hair raising. We arrived from Pisa (where we did not see the famous tower) to Firenze (in Eng. Florence) where we went to a suburb called Campi Bisensio and we closed their festival of children's performances. There was a panel of 25 or so children judges that each night after the performance wrote comments and rated the shows. After our show they told us that we had taken second place in the festival, (losing out to a rendition of Little Red Riding Hood), which we thought was pretty good given the fact that our show is quite different and the audiences here are not used to such puppetry. It was very interesting to read the pages that the children had written and see what their comments were.
We got to see another performance in Campi Bisensio, Theatre Tandarica from Romania, doing Cinderella. A large show, with 15 persons, 7 of whom performed. The show was long (80 minutes or so) and had some interesting parts, but was done in Italian, so I could not really judge if it was too long. The show was outdoors and had an audience that included enough children that were quite young, so that even audience restlessness was not a good clue.
After the Campi Bisensio show we went to the other side of Florence where we closed another festival. It was in a beautiful setting in a park with a spring nearby that had a constant flow of persons filling water bottles on the warm summer evening. (almost all of our shows in Italy were outdoors, after dark, in warm balmy air. very nice. After our show, (at about midnight) we went out to dinner to celebrate the end of the festival with the organizers and the tech crew. We went to a restaurant on a river (almost literally -you could drop bread over the balcony to the huge carp slowly circling below). We stayed one extra day in the nice little hotel there (the only lodging we have had to pay for in 4 weeks) and went in to see Florence the next day. The days were hot, and in the city was hotter than the country, but we took our time, and saw wonderful architecture and art.
After Florence we headed south to the ancient city of Certaldo were we performed 4 nights in the palace garden in the street theatre festival of all festivals in Italy. There were 100 companies performing and 10s of thousands of spectators. Our schedule was as follows: We slept in a youth hostel about 15 kilometers from the city, awoke about 10 am, had our first meal of the day (lunch, provided by the festival) at 1:00, then went to the pool in town where performers could enter for free. There we cooled ourselves in the too-warm pool and sat around with the other performers who were way too brown for safety (according to what we are told, although Valerie and I have a theory that maybe constant smoking is a preventative for skin cancer), and watched near naked acrobats practice various contortions...most entertaining. The festival itself is quite amazing, filled with a middle ages ambience (if you overlook the constant cell phone use in the corners of crumbling walls...every Italian has at least one cell phone, and they use them all the time...at the festival we wondered who they could want to talk to with 1000s of people all around them, until we realized that they were using them to talk to other people at the festival.) There were several fire breathers, stiltwalkers, a man who lay on beds of nails, a snake charmer, knights in armor who battled with a flaming scythed Death on stilts who shot fireworks out of his wings (which fell among the crowd in a random fashion), puppet shows, musicians, acrobats, and all sorts of entertainments that had most likely entertained nobles there centuries before. We had to haul our show each night up through the rough, rutted cobble stones, up and down stairs, using our backs just like peasants of yore. It felt authentic anyway, and after we returned to our hostel at 1:30 am and had our dinner (until about 3am) we made liberal use of the ancient painkiller from the vine, listening to farmer folksongs placed by traditional musicians from Napoli. All of the persons staying at the hostel were performers, and we had a great time and made many new friends whom we will hopefully see again. This crowd of mountebanks were international and we spoke in a variety of languages, just like travelers of yore. This festival to me give me the greatest sense of old Europe.
After Certaldo we rented a fancy brand new opel vectra and headed up into the alps for 2 more shows. On the picturesque drive we had a tempesta, with thunder and huge lightening that seem to hang immobile in the air for seconds. We had extensive map books which were important in finding ones way, as in Italy there are not road names outside of the towns, but rather at each intersection there were be signs telling you what you will find in each direction. You must always be aware of what the next town is on your route or you may not know where you are going. The look of the land changes in the mountains, and also the look of the villages...we drove from Toscana to the alpine villages where Heidi would be right at home. Due to the rain, our show was moved indoors and we had a small audience, but by this time my Italian introduction had grown to the point where we were making a very good connection with the children in the audience right off, and I think it helped the rest of the Italian performances somewhat.
Our next show was in an old Villa, Villa Manin, the summer home of the Doge of Venice. Huge, with scores of statues in the gigantic gardens. We played on the marble steps in front and afterwards went over to the restaurant-bar at the villa and ate dinner out on the piazza while a wedding was celebrated upstairs above us (wedding bands in Italy play the same songs as in the U.S.)
The next day we left Italy and came back to Slovenia to our friends house where their festival was still going on. We saw 3 puppet shows in the last 3 days, one of which was on of the best I have seen in long time...a beautiful display of traditional puppets, stories and music on the bagpipes and hurdy gurdy by a wonderful couple from Belgium. Had I known of them before, I certainly would have tried to have them at our festival last summer in Toledo.
Yesterday Benjie and I swam in the Adriatic Sea. Today we leave for our last show in Europe this trip, to Ljubljana, the capitol of Slovenia. We will stay around Lju. for a while visiting lakes caves, and some of Europe's largest remaining virgin forests, then we will pass a few days in Venice before we fly home on the 6th.