Finding biography

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

I need a backpack whenever I go out into the street in Jerusalem where I live, because there is hardly a time when I do not pick up something I find in the street. Abandoned, lost objects, pieces of broken furniture or anything that catches my eye. They are not just any objects, but those that in a glimpse of the eye trigger my imagination making me see things the objects are not.

This habit was formed in childhood. To the great distress of my mother, my father would often come home and show us what he had found in the street. He chose objects that were still functional, most probably abandoned or lost by the owner. One evening he came home with a red plastic comb. My mother went into hysterics: "John! you don't know whose comb that was!. It can be full of fleas!". To appease the storm and leave both content, I took the comb to the bathroom and disinfected it with a popular household item, a disinfectant called "Espadol" (from the Spanish word for sword: espada), Espadol could kill any germ.

Writing this in times of corona, I reevaluate my mother's exaggerated (so I thought for years) obsession with cleanliness. Reading about the 1918 influenza pandemic, I calculated she was 10 years old when it hit Vienna where she grew up. I am sure my grandmother went nuts cleaning and disinfecting the house. And my mother continued being nuts about hygiene. Fortunately my father was the total opposite. An Irish mathematician and chess player, who loved poetry, medicine and psychoanalysis, he urged me "Not to soap the body everyday. It is bad for your health". You can imagine my mother...she would get terribly upset. I struck the balance. I like cleanliness to a certain point but surely collect junk from the streets without thinking of all the germs that come with them.

Food for thought:

My father also taught me to observe my surroundings. On Sundays, when he was home and I was a little girl growing up in Buenos Aires, and it was ''siesta time" ( the sacred afternoon 2 pm to 4 pm naptime), he'd take me out for a walk to let my mother rest undisturbed. Our favorite place was some 8 blocks away from home, a narrow alley under a bridge. A trickle of sewage water ran along the sides of this narrow alley and it smelled so terribly we called the place " Stinkiluli street". But that sewage water was so rich in organic matter that a jungle of plants and insects thrived there.

I think we were the only humans who ever dared enter that smelly place. My father would make me discover the tiny animals that lived among the leaves. He told me to walk slowly and carefully not to disturb the little creatures. Suddenly he'd point out to something: "Look at the wings of this tiny insect Patricia!"

Now and then a passing train shook the bridge over our heads and made an enormous rattling noise. It was all very exciting and dramatic for me.

All throughout my career as a puppeteer, people have asked me if the mother in the show ( Head in the Clouds/אבא תרף נמר), who was a rather castrating figure ( a show inspired in stories by Eugene Ionesco), was based on my real life mother. They asked me if I had blind people in the family because I did a show about a blind boy (A Touch of Light/נקודת אור) based on the biography of Louis Braille. The answer was always in the negative: no, the characters in my shows have never been inspired by people in my life. My mother avoided germs but she was open and emotionally expressive and loving.

The opposite is true, my shows make my biography!

However, back in 2006, I did an autobiographical show for children.

It was inspired by the wish to share my thrill of walking/collecting/creating to children.

Not so much about the acts of looking and finding but the emotional and mental ( I should say mindbody) openness we need to touch, hold, pick up, turn things upside down and turn the act of looking into an act of looking/transforming/imagining.

To walk the streets not as passive "flaneurs" ( passive in the sense of experiencing the environment without interacting with it) but as active image predators.

To multiply what we see in an instant as we walk by, into 2 or 3 images. One is the image of what we just saw in reality and the others are the product of an instantaneous mental juggling that transforms what we saw by changing the context, imagining it seen from a different angle etc. If this happens often enough we develop also a feeling of happiness, a surge of dopamine like when somebody listens to a good story. An abandoned, lost or broken object becomes in a flash of a few seconds the story of its own self. What it was, its purpose in life, its hardships, where it came from and where it will go.

I did not find a title for the show, it was proposed by the Train Theater and stayed that way, "How to cook a show" ( איך מבשלים הצגה). The idea was to meet up with the public in a nearby park and take them on a walking/collecting tour in the alleys of Nachlaot, the Jerusalem neighborhood where I live. As I picked up something I asked the public to look at it and tell me what came to their minds. Back home I invited them to sit outside in my patio, I spread out the found objects and sat in my specially built storyteller's chair. Assembled parts of old broken chairs, both arm rests were the "Stinkiluli Street" full of plastic bushes and plants, worms, spiders and flies. I added a tiger and a zebra as metaphors for the excitement I felt on those childhood siesta time Sunday trips; for me they fell nothing short of safaris to the jungle.

And then I began the show. I told them pretty much what I told you above about my parents and played out parts of a show I performed for years, Head in the Clouds (אבא טרף נמר) in which many puppets were created by assembling objects. I showed them how any object can be seen from a different angle, it can be turned upside down, it can remind us of different things because of their shape, or texture, or colors. A stripped black and white sock becomes a zebra, a pink scarf and a yellow hair pin become a bird, a beret and hair pin become a leopard.

I then showed them why broken chair parts remind me of human and animal bodies and how I created my horses.

Now more than ever, when children are glued to their screens, looking at untouchable objects, this active "flaneuring" would be a great way of practicing the skill needed to develop a personal visual language and a creative mind.

(A flâneur is a person who walks the city in order to experience it. Because of the term's usage and theorization by Charles Baudelaire and numerous thinkers in economic, cultural, literary and historical fields, the idea of the flâneur has accumulated significant meaning as a referent for understanding urban phenomena and modernity. From cyborganthropology)