Thursday, March 31, 2011

Yet another puppet!

I was just walking past The Toy Store. I had no intention of going in. Really. But there I was, in between performances at the Lawrence Arts Center Preschool. My car was around the corner getting the tires rotated and aligned. What harm could there be in just stopping in to see if there were any new puppets?

Sigh. This one reached out and put itself on my hand. Since I walked out of the store with him in my puppet bag, he has joined me at twelve more shows in this preschool residency week, part of the Lied Center of Kansas' Performing Arts Three to Five program.

At first, I gave him a generic bird squawk. No, he's just a baby. He spoke up: "Peep? Peep?" That fit better. On the first day, I was calling him Peep, but I made a slip and called him Peepy by mistake. Most of the kids didn't hear that, but I knew it was dangerous--if I have a puppet named peepee, I'll never get the children's attention back. His name is now Peeps. He likes worms, but he's like my turtle puppet Billy, susceptible to hiccups.

At home, this new guy ran into unexpected danger.

At first, there was no problem. He was napping in his shell.

He began to wake up. He's got bedhead, hasn't he?

He's just a baby, unaware of the perils in this life.

Still oblivious to the danger, he was cheerful, hoping for a worm or three.


Thank goodness for that shell. Those evil claws can't get through.

Back on his perch, Peeps let go of the trauma. After this, I put him back in the puppet bag, where Trixie and Baby will always protect him. Mr. Bacon turned his attention to the scratching post and is now in his favorite chair.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Art in Louvain-la-Neuve

I'm winding down my posts on the 2011 Belgian tour.

My search for pie brought me to this piece of pi, near Marie's house.

This sculpture is right by the train station, welcoming people to the city of Louvain-la-Neuve. It was, as you can see, market day.

This statue sits with its back to the indoor swimming pool.

I saw three statues in this style, but only this one had a background of "soirée cocktails." So much more refined than a keg party.

Fee-fi-fo-fum! I wonder if Jack sat in the little chair by the door.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Paper or plastic?

I'm faced with a dilemma. I'm getting my new DVD ready, once again using OasisCD to manufacture it. In this world where there's WAY too much plastic I cringe at the idea of 1000 plastic DVD cases. However, many of my DVD and CD sales are to libraries, either directly or through companies like Follett Library Services, the AV Cafe and Midwest Tape. As a former librarian, I'm well aware of how annoying non-standard packaging is.

Oasis has something called a Digipak, which they describe this way:
"...we use only 100% Green Forestry Practices Certified board stock and high-quality vegetable based ink on both the board and the discs. We also protect your package with poly wrap and your choice of a sultry, high-gloss UV finish or a subtle matte finish."
The cost is a little more than the plastic cases, but I'd pay.

I'm leaning toward the Digipak. Will I be shooting myself in the foot if I use those? What do you think I should do?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Begin the Béguinage

In a country where it rains often, a clear day feels like a blessing.

It was still chilly, still winter coat weather, though I didn't need a hat.

This was my last Friday on the Belgian tour. I walked across town to my friend Christine's house for lunch and then we set out in her car for Leuven.

I wrote earlier about how the French and the Flemish split the Catholic University of Louvain in the 60s. The Flemish stayed in the old city of Leuven, while the French built Louvain-la-Neuve from scratch in the middle of a field. I vaguely remember going dancing with friends in Leuven as a student.

Christine wanted to show me the Grand Béguinage of Leuven. I knew the Cole Porter song Begin the Beguine, but that's completely different. I wonder what the Béguines would think about the dance of the same name, a slow rumba.

The Grand Béguinage is a historical quarter that housed the Béguines, a community of unmarried women who were not nuns but who carried out good works and lived a life of religious contemplation. This community began in the 13th century, with its height during the 17th century. The last Belgian Béguine (say that five times fast) died in 2008. The church--and men in general--had no authority over these well-organized communities of women, so clerics were nervous about them. Women did not have to renounce their property and they could leave at any time.

The Béguinage is a lovely, quiet area.

Cloistered, yet not a cloister.

Christine hates to have her picture taken, as you can tell.

The Dijle river forms two canals surrounding the Béguinage.

I love all the patterns in this picture!

Little half-chick up there was brilliant against the blue sky.

This was part of the door of the church, which was not open for visitors. Looks a bit forbidding!

There's plenty of work for an industrious brickmason here.

As you can see, everything is pristine.

I don't know what the initials in the cobblestones stood for.

There were saints' niches in many of the buildings.

This seal of the university has been used by both the French and the Flemish for hundreds of years. Christine told me that the French have begun using a different one.

The university now owns the Béguinage as part of its campus, primarily for student and visitor housing. No, there are no loud parties, no frisbees on the lawn, no sunbathing.

There are, however, plenty of bicycles.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A little more of Belgium

Darn this short attention span! I had all kinds of good intentions for blog posts about Belgium. Maybe this set of miscellaneous pictures will jog my memory.

This restaurant was in Louvain-la-Neuve when I lived here almost 30 years ago. Sure, you can buy crepes on the street as a sweet snack, but here you can treat yourself to a whole meal of savory filled (and filling) crepes.

Louvain-la-Neuve still has a few older farm buildings, enveloped by new buildings.

This one (above) is about two minutes from Marie's house.

Looks bucolic, doesn't it? The Ferme du Biereau, now a cultural arts center and music venue, is right next to a school, not far from the Cyclotron Research Centre, of interest to all you nuclear physicists reading this blog. I remember going to concerts there--at the farm, not at the cyclotron.

Marie and I walked from her house to pick up her veggie subscription from the CSA (community supported agriculture). We passed sheep--notice the buildings of LLN in the background.

This CSA pickup was in "La Baraque." It's a neighborhood that is an alternative to the sameness of LLN architecture, mentality and lifestyle. Many of the houses/structures are built by the residents, who live cooperatively. Here are a few of the buildings in the neighborhood:

Refreshing to see these interesting houses after the relentless brick of Louvain-la-Neuve.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"The Ghost with the One Black Eye" on video

I'm home from Belgium, and though I'm not done blogging about the trip, I wanted announce that I've just put The Ghost with the One Black Eye up on the Interwebs, both on Vimeo and on Youtube. This is part of the new DVD, The Itsy Bitsy Tiger and Other Ridiculous Stories and Songs, which I'm hoping will be ready for release in April or May.

Ghost with the One Black Eye from Priscilla Howe on Vimeo.

By the way, this is the first time I've used Vimeo on the blog. Do you have a preference for this or for Youtube?

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Kots in Louvain-la-Neuve

In Louvain-la-Neuve, many students live in a "kot," student accommodations. That's a Belgian word. The kot where I lived in 1981-82 was a pleasant apartment with seven small bedrooms, bathrooms, a kitchen and a dining/living room. There was no theme to our kot, except maybe hanging around drinking coffee and shooting the breeze. Some kots have projects, such as Kap Contes, the storytelling kot that put on the festival this week. I didn't see a sign for that one, but I saw plenty of other kots à projet:
This was no alien idea to me: at the University of Vermont, I lived in the Living Learning Center for two years, in Russian House. Well, not a house, but a suite of rooms in which we attempted to speak Russian as much as possible. The first year, Russian House was downstairs from the mimes and fire-eaters. The second year, we moved upstairs from German House. The Russians and Germans got along well.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Saucy love stories

Le festival du conte finishes with a big hoopla and fanfare on Monday evening. Alas, I won't be here. I'd have liked to listen to the storytellers from the Belgian Federation of Professional Storytellers. I love that name--it sounds impressive, doesn't it?

Did I mention that at every performance, there have been cushions on the floor in front, then chairs behind with some on risers so everybody can see? Did I mention that the place has been packed every night, with about 100 listeners, mostly students, happy to soak in the stories? Did I mention the cash bar available before and after the evening shows? Did I mention that each evening, there has been a band after the stories? Maybe American storytelling festivals would begin to draw younger listeners if they were a bit more like this. Reminds me of Fringe festivals.

And of course the content must appeal to students...Last night Catherine Caillaud from France told love stories. Not sappy greeting card stories, but spicy, saucy stories for grownups. In the US the rating would be R or maybe NC-17 (and since younger kids often read my blog, I won't go into detail on the stories). The folktales were told with in a relaxed style with good humor and a lovely economy of movement. A few times, because of some back-and-forth with the audience and because of certain suggestive gestures, Catherine couldn't help but laugh. It didn't take us out of the story, as sometimes happens; instead, the connection with the audience grew stronger. She handled the distractions of a bottle dropping on the floor and a cell phone ringing easily, drawing a laugh each time.

I liked the form of the evening: Catherine created a frame story in which a young girl was told stories and proverbs of the intricacies and intimacy of love by her mother, sisters, aunts, great-aunts, grandmothers, that is, by all the wise women in her world. At one point early on, Catherine invited the students of Kap Contes, the storytelling cooperative running the festival, to come up on stage. She had each one read a traditional proverb on the subject, which she later wove into the stories.

It was a fun evening. I'd have liked to talk with the storyteller. I thought about staying afterwards, but I had an attack of timidity. I know that many people don't realize that some storytellers are quite shy at times, but we are.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

But is it a story?

This Festival du contes has been good for me, because it brings up all kinds of questions. In the past post, the question about retirement. Today, the question is closer to the heart of storytelling. What makes a story?

Tuesday night, the storyteller was Olivier de Robert, from France.
The performance, as advertised, was Les Cathares, destin inachevé, about the Cathars, a religious sect in Europe from the 11th to the 13th century. At the end, because he had time, he told a short story, a classic of French literature, La chèvre de M. Seguin (Mr. Seguin's goat) by Alphonse Daudet.

Let me say at the outset that I enjoyed both parts and found his presentation well done.

And yet. And yet. I don't think it was a story. It was history. It was a kind of lecture (for the francophones out there, that doesn't mean it was read, just means it was a speech to inform), a discourse. Lively, interesting, but missing something. What? The more I mulled it over, the more I realized it was lacking a plot. Or the narrative arc. Or maybe it's something else. Or did I just misunderstand, was it merely a problem of translation? Possible, but I don't think so.

Of course, history is often told as a story. I do this in my story of the Siege of Leningrad, but I have a main character and we see the siege from her point of view. Is that it? Maybe it was that the point of view in Les Cathares kept it from being a story, keeping it for me in the realm of straight history.

There was definitely conflict. At the end, it almost became a story, when Olivier asked us to imagine being taken prisoner during the Inquisition and then he took us through the way in which one might be manipulated into turning in other Cathars.

La chèvre de M. Seguin was a real story--and told well--but it was not the main attraction. Though in some ways it echoed the story of the Cathars, a story of unfulfilled destiny, it felt tacked on.

I left the festival that night feeling well-informed, but dissatisfied. I guess I'd expected something different from the evening. I'd expected stories.

I'll be puzzling over this for a while. What determines if one is telling a story or just explaining a historical event or series of events? Is it different for different listeners? Am I so conditioned to story with plot that I can't hear something outside of that? Is this me just being closed-minded?

Tonight is the last performance I'll be able to attend, an evening of love stories. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Festival, and a question of retirement

What luck! By chance I came to Belgium in the week of the Louvain-la-Neuve Festival du conte, a storytelling festival not far from where I'm staying. It's put on by the Kap Contes, a student cooperative formed around storytelling (more on these later). It's different from other storytelling festivals I've attended. There was a performance for kids on Saturday, then this week there are three evening shows for adults. Next Monday is the grand finale with fourteen storytellers, music and more. I've got tickets for this week.

The performance Saturday was in the form of a short play with stories embedded in it. The students themselves staged this and clearly had fun, as did the audience.

Last night I went to hear Joel Smets. I heard him years ago at the Belgian storytelling festival in Alden Biesen. Here's a clip of him performing at the festival in Chiny:

He tells traditional stories in a lovely relaxed style, occasionally accompanied by accordion. Though his personality is present (and should be), it never gets in the way of the stories. I enjoyed the stories last night. I'd heard many of them--and even tell some of them--but found them no less compelling. His show was long, almost two hours, and was followed by a band.

At the end, Joel made an announcement that I'm still puzzling over. He said this would be his last performance as a storyteller. He looks to be about 60, in good health, with a strong and effective storytelling style. From his comments, I'd say he has been storytelling about ten years more than I have (I began in 1988). At first I wasn't sure I understood. Surely he's not giving this up? Then I thought maybe he was kidding. He was speaking seriously, though.

It made me wonder if I'd ever retire. No time soon, certainly. Would I ever be able to say definitively, "This is my last show. No more." And if I did, would I hold to it? I know a few storytellers who have stopped giving performances. I guess I'd rather be like my friend Dorotha Douglas, who told stories up until about six months before she died in her 90s.

I stayed around afterwards for a bit, but I didn't see Joel. I would have liked to ask him about his decision. Interesting.