Thursday, February 5, 2009

dijon to strasbourg

ah finally the machine works again - we are back in toulouse but here is what i wrote on the train to strasbourg - will post strasbourg experiences shortly.

On the small six carriage train from Dijon to Bescancon we bypass a patchwork of dormant fields. A dry forest of trees crowd each other like emperor penguins as if to ward off the cold and now closer to my left a tangle of trees wrap themselves around each other and surround a small dam. It’s hard to imagine what all these trees would look like with leaves.
As we pull into our first stop at Genlis, Dani takes a look around and exclaims; “It’s just like Bloemfontein” though I think that even Bloem locals would be irked by this unfavorable comparison. The sun is bright today and there is a glow in our carriage that heats us up quite considerably. Its nice and toasty in here and looks almost summery out there. Although there are clues which unveil the lie to that fantasy – little semi-frozen pools here and there, the ever present bare trees, an old couple out for a stroll so heavily wrapped up in layer upon layer of warm woolies that they look quite comic in their mid Michelin man waddle.
There is a young kid on board (11-12) traveling alone who, having forlornly waved goodbye to his mom at the station, has now taken to this solo-adventure with a terrible fervor. He has set up camp on one of the fold up seats in the small portal between carriages where we have stored our quite considerable cache of luggage. He abandoned this boring, polite adult world to create his own universe, having promptly set about re-arranging our stuff. He has industriously (if somewhat messily) moved parts of our set (three boxes packed to brimming with props and lights and a long rectangular mess of screens and poles all wrapped and taped up in cardboard boxes) to clear a space to sit. Now he listens to kak French rap music (loudly) and joins in the choruses enthusiastically apparently blissfully unaware of how tuneless his accompaniment actually is. If it weren’t so funny it would be annoying, but the ride is only an hour long before we change trains and head to Strasbourg. Much to the delight of my macabre aesthetic sensibilities we keep passing gangs of crows flapping menacingly above the frostbitten fields or standing ghoulish sentry like bouncers to the spirit world amidst the branches of gnarled trees contorted in frozen spasm. All in all they amount to more than a murder. A massacre of crows. If most birds alight on a branch, do crows adark? Intermittently our train even glides straight trough a forest filling my windows on the world with a surround view of these fantastic gnarlybone trees I cant stop talking about. Forgive me, for a fantasy reader such as myself, they are a wonderful canvas and my mind cannot help but splatter narratives across it.
Dijon was great. The older central part of town, only a five minute walk from the hotel is a collection of picturesque cobbled streets, quaint villagey houses, grand centuries old buildings and beautiful churches and cathedrals. We enjoyed a lazy walk through these beautiful narrow streets - we visited the palace of the dukes and even delighted in a taste test of a myriad of Mustard flavors in the self proclaimed Temple of Mustard. On our stroll we stumbled upon the Notre Dame Church (not to be confused with the cathedral in Paris). We were lured down a little back alley and whilst enjoying the view of the building from around the back we stopped off at an awesome little café for crepes (Dani has developed an alarming addiction for Pancakes with Nutella) and warm drinks and marveled at the odd collection of curios (strange puppets and very cool sculptures of fairy tale figures – dragons and gargoyles, drunk knights and slutty fairies). Our curiosity sated, our bellies warm and full, and the monkey on Dani’s back tamed for the time being, we set off again around the church. The front façade was fantastic – two tiers towering above us lined with three rows of gargoyles grinning down at us with a scary glee and torsos of men stretching out of the wall looking around at odd angles with strange manic expressions on their faces. The whole thing had a slightly crazy vibe about it. I loved it. Once inside we lit some candles and were awed by the beautiful stained glass windows and imposing organ. Steam escaped from our mouths as we walked around the icy stone interior and I think you would have to be truly devout to sit through an entire service here. The tendency to awe subjects into religious piety through the power of architecture, art and sculpture was a common weapon in the arsenal of the church for centuries and walking through these hallowed spaces centuries later it is still a truly humbling experience.
The theatre we played in here was great – a more traditional space (really big) compared to the ones we have played in so far and the auditorium rose in a steep inclined wall of scarlet seats. The show was a bit iffy. We were a little off timing wise and I had forgotten to set one of my props which led to a little creative improvisation. Still, the show is in much better shape than when we started and it was good to play in another French theatre. I have also really been enjoying the physical routine we do as a warm up before rehearsals and before the show. A nice mix of dancey type stretches, strengthening the core and increasing suppleness and balance in my hips. It has been good to have a new constant physical regime that we have been doing since December. It has been a welcome change to the stress and over-exertion of the Strictly days. Major muscle fatigue had kicked in by the end of that. I was cramping a lot and pretty much in constant pain. The routine that this show has employed has been the perfect antidote to the boot camp that was Strictly. My right hip is still in a little pain but the stretching seems to alleviate that. My flexibility has increased and I continue to work on my core strength and I feel like my rehabilitation since shattering my knee cap is almost complete. This makes me happy.
We change trains at Becancon with me carrying much of the 80kg set from platform to platform. Getting on the train was a frantic affair with a mild panic fluttering through the ranks as the whistle blew, with half of our stuff still on the platform. We managed to hustle on board though and embark on what is undoubtedly the highlight of our train expeditions thus far. We pull off and into the most robust countryside we have encountered. A broad river snakes its way alongside and beyond that the green river bank dotted with trees suggests summertime idyll. The bank then gives way to clusters of trees that in turn allow a bold white rockface to jut dramatically in to the sky. Atop, along it’s ridge a spiny back with a tree sprouting from each rocky vertebrae. Also all along the journey, cascading hills filled with trees that seem to retain a hint of their summertime lushness. Though they are bare now the quality is not the same as the trees that haunt the flatter regions – these ones somehow seem more alive. We are near the Swiss border now and all round the ground rises to meet the sky and the rivers are frozen. We pass by and through many pretty little villages each one with its own beautiful church as its centre piece. For a time I am cured of my homesickness and longing for African landscapes by these glorious sites. We are nearing Strasbourg now and off in the distance, high on the crest of the hill in the orange glow of the sunset I notice the outline of a castle. What an undertaking to build such a structure in a place so remote. But I guess back in those days it paid to see your enemy coming. This has been a truly great ride and I look forward to Strasbourg with eager anticipation.

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