Sunday, 7 December 2008
A French Tragi-Comedy
We are in a recession. Everyone agrees on that. They do not all agree on the best way out of it but most people are trying their best. Having said that there are, it seems, some people in what is known as the 'service industry' who do not seem to have noticed that times are tight and call for an extra effort or do not seem to mind or care if they go out of business or - and believe me I hesitate to write this - almost deserve to. These are people who seem to be courting disaster, bringing it on with a 'come-and-get-me-if-you-think-yer-big-enough' fingered gesture by not making any discernible effort whatsoever.
This afternoon, we set off for the Guignols on the Champs Elysées. It is the second time we have attempted this - the last time it was raining so much we gave up half way. This time it was cold, but no rain. The Guignols, or puppets, of the Champs Elysées claim to be the oldest in Paris dating back to 1818. They sell themselves as the "Vrai Guignols" the one and only true puppet show in Paris. This may well be true but it is not enough to attract 21st century crowds I can tell you. We, however, really wanted to go. We really wanted to see this show. Don't ask me why, but we did.
We arrived, hopping with enthusiasm and frozen feet, by way of the Christmas Market that was surprisingly good given the bad write up it has received. En route, we bought La Fille a Peruvian knitted hat - to add to her collection of Peruvian knitted hats - and under great protest a fluffy dog - to add to her collection of fluffy dogs - as well as a pair of cheap but warm gloves for the Frenchman and a pair for me - to add to my collection of gloves all of which had been left at home. We went on the traditional merry-go-round (twice - La Fille voluntarily, me press-ganged) and La Fille took a turn on the trampolines and ate a crepe before we set off for the nearby Guignol Theatre well in time for the 3pm show. At 2.55pm we were outside the shut gate when a man with a mop of white hair and a creased face signaled to us. The Frenchman and I disagree on exactly what it was he signaled; the Frenchman is convinced he signaled that we should wait a further three minutes, I say the signal was the inquiry that we were just three people. In any case five minutes later we were still standing, stamping our feet and rubbing our hands from the numbing, slicing cold. And we were still just three people, which may explain why we were still waiting, standing, stamping and rubbing.
I said to the Frenchman: "If it's just us, let's not go in." Like Punch and Judy shows, their British equivalent, the Guignols are a spectator sport (think, "it's behind you-ooooo!"). They lose much of their fun and purpose if you are the only child present screaming warnings about a monster in one hand to the puppet on the other. Yet less than 100 metres away from the theatre were dozens of children of all nationalities strolling the Christmas market with their parents who were hungry for 'The real French experience'. Clearly most of them had no idea the Real Original Historic Paris Guignols were just behind them.
"Why on earth hasn't the guy leafleted the whole street. It's a captive market?" I asked the Frenchman who shrugged his shoulders. We waited until 3.05pm willing more people to arrive. We were still the only ones waiting.
We sneaked away feeling guilty. Mr Guignol was not behind us. With apologies to Mr Punch... "That's not the way to do it."