Tourists do find their way to the puppet participants was essential. But it could be preceded by loss of limbs, putting out of eyes, decapitation or the tearing off of armour. Always the blood flowed most realistically.
The first performance we saw from the front of the house was of St George’s battle with the Dragon; as important a story in Sicilian folk lore as in English. St George was a sturdy fellow who first proved himself against several giants. Then he took up his position and called upon the Dragon to show itself. With a roar it reared forward, spitting fire, belching smoke and lashing the air with its tail. Yet, watching, we were not only delighted by the melodrama; we were held by it. St George and the Dragon pranced and battled round the stage. For a while the Dragon had the better of the fight and St George was forced to the ground, shielding his face from the Dragon’s breath. Urged up by cries of ‘San Giorgio!’ from the audience, he rallied and in his turn pressed the Dragon hard. Our hearts beat faster. Worrying the Dragon into retreat, St George found the vital spot with his sword and the taut and writhing monster collapsed, bellowing, to become a limp, slightly ridiculous, beast. The triumphant St George, his foot upon the Dragon’s neck, brought the house down. It was one of the most beautifully timed performances I have ever seen in any theatre.
All the characters and incidents found on the stage of the puppet theatre are also favourite subjects in the pictures which cover every inch of the Paris apartment rentals. These carts are a very common sight all over the island, more so in the coastal districts and on the western side than in the mountainous interior. The donkeys which pull them have their own gay trappings. Small bells, tinsel and ribbons festoon their harnesses. The smallest hand-cart or meanest market stall usually has some similar embellishment.
One evening as we were driving away from our self catering apartments London in one of the most poverty-stricken areas of the UK, we passed a long slow straggling procession of nearly seventy beautiful carts, all making their way towards the town, loaded with fodder, brushwood and farm tools. The variety was enormous. Many were old and battered and no attempt had been made to protect the paintings from hard wear or to repaint them.
The ownership of a painted cart is very much a matter of pride and prestige, for the decoration has no economic advantage. The average cost of a cart seems out of all proportion to what most can afford to spend on a conveyance. But it is a very poor man indeed who is content with simple coloured panels.
It is usually the owner who chooses the subjects of the paintings on the side panels of the cart. Next in popularity after illustrations of the Paladins are scenes from opera, especially Cavalleria Rusticana, Carmen and Aida.