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Memories and Stories: Charlie Chaplin in France

Early morning, Ribeauvillé, Alsace region, France. I had just arrived from San Francisco late the night before after a long flight and train trip, to be part of Festival Mime d’Or (Golden Mime) as Charlie Chaplin, one of my heroes whom I’ve impersonated for many years. My hostess was my friend Marie-Laure Lauth, a fellow mime I had met previously at another mime festival in Perigueux, France.

We were scheduled for a morning TV interview to promote the festival. We met the TV crew at the imposing tower entry gate to the medieval village of Ribeauvillé, and climbed the long, circular stone staircase to the top. There, against a luscious background of green hills, vineyards, and crumbling castle ruins, we conducted our interview - completely silently and through gesture: Marie-Laure as the classic French mime interviewing the star of American silent film. It was a blast!

The festival lasted four days, with venues and stages throughout the picturesque, cobblestoned town. There were performers from many countries, offering a wide spectrum of talents. The headliners were a troupe of Senegalese stilt walkers, dancers, and musicians who paraded daily through the streets. The stilt walkers were magnificent - they walked on bamboo stilts 10 feet tall, with only a simple leather strap to fasten them to their bare feet. When they wanted to un-stilt, they untied one stilt and let it fall, then gracefully launched forward, to land on that one free foot, with the still-stilted foot and stilt behind them.

As Charlie, I was scheduled for performances throughout each day on stages scattered about town. The most interesting part of the performing was actually moving from stage to stage. The French of all ages were totally enamoured of “Charlot” (the French equivalent of Charlie) and wanted pictures with “him,” to chat, to shake hands. It was a real movie star experience! I was almost late for a few performing times because of this adoring public. On one occasion, a motorcyclist offered me a ride to the next stage, which was a great “Charlie” moment.

As a friend of one of the event organizers, I got to meet the many local folks who made the festival happen. At the closing-day party, I was especially touched by conversations with older villagers who recounted their experiences in World War II, living in an area so close to the border that, as the boundaries of Germany fluctuated, they were French - then German - and back again, and forbidden to speak their own language, a local dialect forged of French and German.

That was the last year the festival took place. I am so grateful to have been a part of it, and so appreciative of the open, generous people; the fabulous Alsacian and French delicacies, the beautiful historic town and neighboring hamlets, and the chance to share international cultures, creativity, and community. Truly, all the world’s a stage!


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