It’s one of the most alluring things about working in performance – a trip to an international festival. Meeting and working with locals in glamorous locations, bringing something cultural to a place instead of just downing the vino, buying tacky gifts and sitting on a lilo – it’s one of the reasons I do this job. There’s no better way to get under the skin of the place. I love the journey, the arrival, the disorientation, the random interactions, the language confusions, the idea that you could just keep on moving if you fancied it. So the task of driving the 7.5 ton truck that contains our installation The Black Maze across Europe to Thessaloniki in Greece was like a red rag to a slightly stupid bull.
It sounds pretty simple – take the maze to Brighton for a corporate gig, drive for four days with a couple of ferries thrown in, do the show for another four days, then bring it home again. And that’spretty much what happened I suppose. Except, fill in the gaps and it turns into one of the most intense journeys I’ve ever had.
Despite my environmental misgivings I love driving. Ever since I was a nipper and trucking with my uncle on nationwide HGV deliveries I’ve harboured fantasies fuelled by films like’Convoy’ and ‘Duel’. King o’ the road and all that. So rolling up on Brighton seafront andparking right inside its second biggest hotel felt pretty good. What followed, taking dozens of doctors and nurses through the maze while they cut loose on a massive staff party, was justthe bizarre opening episode of our Greek Labyrinth Road Movie.
My co-driver Andy and I head to France, losing one hour to BST and another to a time zone. We’re battered and I want some of them back. Joan of Arc looks serene in Reims Cathedral and we reach to Switzerland in good time; only it’s Closed. Switzerland is Closed! You can’t take a working vehicle through the country on a Sunday or a bank holiday. Suddenly getting to Anconafor the only ferry that will get us to the gig on time looks like a very tall order(they only go every three days). Five minutes of panic and map reading later we re-route.Overland via the Balkans is not an option so we turn back to Germany, Austria and into Italy via the Alps (200 Euros lighter thanks to an evil tolling system).
Bolzano is grand and crisp, we’re back on track for the ferry after two days solid driving -or are we? Heavy traffic and a messed up mileage calculation makes it seem a long chalk again.Still, who wouldn’t put their foot down on a road with a name like ‘Autostrada Adriatica’? We make it fine, the ferry is wonderful and, as pretend truckers, we’re treated like kings. Once we dock in Igoumenitsa on the west coast of mainland Greece the next morning, we’re confident it’ll be a pushover.
Greek roads! Forgot about them. Atlas mountains! Never new they were twice as high as anything we’ve got in Britain.There are snowdrifts, in Greece! Another 7.5 tonner has careered off the road and is flagging us down for help. We shrug shoulders and push on up into the gloom, able only to see a few metresahead as we snake upwards for hours, hearts in mouths. Neither of us has driven like this in a car letalone a bloody great truck. Just as I’m beginning to think we’ll never come down the white-out mountain cloud lifts and we are back on level ground, heading for the east coast. They’re like nothing else, Greekmotorways. Stray dogs and widows crossing on foot. An artic covers three lanes, reversing into a lay-by.We arrive wired, stinking and giggling helplessly.
Oh yeah, so it’s time for the art bit isn’t it? Why we’re here. The ‘Edinburgh in Thessaloniki’ festival.Like the circus coming to town we arrive in the main square next morning. This should be plain sailing now. Five minutes before local dignitaries and TV crews arrive I manage to blow all power! This and other misdemeanours make it the hardest maze gig ever. It seems Greek sensibilities don’t trust mazes, could be the Minotaur thing. The previously totally reliable, indestructible maze starts to come apart. Doors are ripped clean off, handles broken, lights fused. Phone calls back home for rewiring advice. One old guy has a panic attack, he’s only come through on his way to work and starts to think he’ll never get out! It’s tough work but wedraw a great crowd and even the old guy comes back to try again. He loves it, same as pretty much everyone else who goes through. It’s great to work on something that can be read well on an artistic level at the same time have mass appeal. The look of wonder and achievement in people’s eyes as they come out makes it all worthwhile.
It’s funny how things get easier when you come at them a second time. Like the old guy in the maze, retracingmy steps with Craig, my new driving companion, I feel like an old hand. Even a dodgy front tyre threatening to blow any moment can’t stop us. Tough looking border guards turn into puppy dogs when they see the festivalposter and realise they saw us on the TV. Even Switzerland lets us through. We make it home with a goldenfleece and tall tales to be told.
Jake Oldershaw 13.7.5
Editor’s Note: The Black Maze and its keepers fully recovered from their GreekOdyssey. The Black Maze continued to tour until it as finally retired in 2010. View related project