Thursday, October 11, 2018

Zoe vs. Sicily. Part III: Opera dei Pupi, or, OMG, what an amazing but kind of racist and then suddenly inexplicably violent puppet show!

Buon giorno! If you've been following along, and if not, whatsamattayou?, you've already read Parts I and II of our family trip to Sicily. To catch you up, Zoe encountered rocks of various sizes---in summary, the small ones hurt her; the big ones bored her
The last stop on our trip was Palermo, one of the largest cities in all of Italy and Sicily's capital. Besides visiting the Cathedral and going shopping for jewelry and leather, we'd been told we must take Zoe to see a puppet show.

Opera dei Pupi

This was no ordinary puppet show, this was Sicilian puppetry, Opera dei Pupi, which was distinctive and was supposed to be can't-miss, especially if you had a child with you.
I wasn't sure what to expect but I assumed it would be "cute."
Cute did not come up.
Zoe sat up front, where the children sat, adults in back. There were painted tapestries of dueling knights, so we knew what to expect. Plus, we were handed a playbill explaining what we were about to see in four different languages. Our show was part of the Cycle of Charlemagne, the history of the French Paladins from the time after the Normans conquered Arab Sicily.
And then it began.
First, yes, the puppets were incredibly detailed, from their faces to their costumes to their armor and weaponry. It was in Italian, of course, but when the knights would duel there'd be yelling and stomping and crashing music, and, naturally, they'd be attacking each other, so it's not like a non-native speaker couldn't follow the plot.
The yelling was deafening. Somehow I wasn't surprised. I'd noticed throughout our trip locals having "friendly arguments." Yelling was like breathing there. Angry? Happy? Sad? Yell it!
This wasn't particular to Sicilians though. I was half Italian so I was familiar with this argumentative style of communication. As a child I'd sat around many a dinner table eating a normal amount of pasta, or so I'd think, until one of my aunts would suddenly yell, "Is that all you're eating?" in an accusatory tone, causing me to drop my fork into my cavatelli.
Or, if I'd decided to skip the brasciole: "At least try it! You don't like it!? Since when!?" (Since forever, which is the same amount of time we've been having this conversation.) But all the shouting came from a place of love.
In the puppet opera, the marionettes really were fighting. Over and over again, the Bad Knight was defeating the king's Paladins, and by defeating, I mean he'd knock them down, and then they'd shake it off and be escorted off the stage by an Arab servant.
Here's where the racism came in. The "Arab" puppet had a dark complexion and delivered asides in a snide and sniveling tone and seemed to be either treacherous or the butt of jokes. I didn't understand Italian but I understood "yuck." The husband and I exchanged looks of appalled horror.
Back to the play, where, defeated, the king sent his magician to the underworld---complete with flying demons (one little Italian boy younger than Zoe ran to his mother in the back but Zoe stayed in front, mesmerized and probably cursing the language barrier)---to chat with a demon to find out how to defeat the Bad Knight. 
In the next scene, the king came out to confront the Bad Knight and his minions in a  series of duels.
Understand that, up to this point, the violence had been mild, about a 2. Now we quickly progressed to 50, or, crazy violent.
Whereas before the duels ended with someone fainting then leaving the field, now it was a bloodbath. The king killed puppet after puppet, cutting them in half, flaying off faces, beheadings galore. It was carnage, and puppet bodies piled up till there was no more room on the stage. Until finally: The End.
Um, what? A bit shell-shocked we were late in clapping.
Then, before the children could process the violent spectacle they'd just witnessed, they were invited on stage to take pictures with the marionettes.

After all the killings, picture time!

Zoe got to touch their armor and swords and the plumage on their helmets, so what was a little blood lust and casual racism if you got to handle a novelty plaything for two minutes?
There's a history lesson in there somewhere but I had no time to think about that either since I had to elbow my way to the front to take a picture of her with a murderous marionette, and if I had to shout to make myself heard so she'd turn my way, that's okay, my yelling came from a place of love.

Zoe: 188; Universe: 0

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

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