Sofia – Paris elephant truckers

Article published on Sept. 13, 2007
Article published on Sept. 13, 2007
For years, the convoys of lorries on European motorways have been becoming longer and longer. Stefan Kaegi and Jörg Karrenbauer relate their European-style road movie in Paris with theatre production 'Cargo Sofia-Paris'

'Today I am transporting you. Please fasten your seatbelts.' The two Bulgarian drivers, Ventzislav Borrisov ('Vento') and Nedyalko Nedyalkov, are sitting in the cabin of their lorry. It’s Monday morning at the International University Campus in Paris (Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris), right in the south of the city. Around fifty theatre-going spectators, on rows of seats inside a lorry, are looking for their seatbelts. Where they’re taking us, nobody knows. The lorry remains quiet: in front of us, a screen covers the side. 'We’ve finished loading. Welcome to Bulgaria.' After swigging another mouthful of vending machine coffee, the lorry starts to rumble. 'We’re on the road,' remarks Vento into his microphone.

'Theatre bores me when its only purpose is to show how well someone does something: dancing, singing or acting. The people I’ve chosen for my projects are not particularly good at what they do, but they are particularly interesting.' Since June 2006, Stefan Kaegi, a Swiss director aged 34, sends this lorry, transformed into a theatre auditorium, all over Europe with his project 'Cargo Sofia'. Riga, Frankfurt, Vienna, Madrid. Today is Paris; next stop Hamburg.

In Paris, Jörg Karrenbauer modifies the staging, adjusts the video sequences to the rhythm of the traffic light changes, and sets the road to music and live performances of the drivers, truckers and customs employees. The scene illustrates the history of a growing Europe from the point of view of two Bulgarian truckers, something christened by Kaegi as documentary theatre, 'a vibrant road movie from a mobile observatory. Bulgarian lorry drivers have a lot to tell.' Unending motorways, carriers, car washes, large commercial areas: Vento and Nedyalko are European-style 'motorway nomads', truckers by profession. 'We spend a lot of time connecting city inhabitants with the most remote places, where almost all supermarket merchandise comes from,' according to Kaegi. 'In the south of Paris (where logistic centres and supplies for the region of Paris are clustered), there are unimaginable no man’s lands where you unload, pick and load all night long. In them, Europe is much more immediate than in the tourist areas around the Place de la Bastille.'

Market poetry

Motorway exit at Rungis –a type of Paris market: flight path for all sorts of lettuce and all the fish that ends up on the tables of Parisian restaurants. A bus has caught fire: the exit is closed. 'The drivers have to find a new route; now they’re telling us what’s happened,' explains Karrenbauer. 'This is one of the big differences with the theatre; where any variation ruins the planned development, where one mistake is a catastrophe. For us, these mistakes don’t exist.' On arriving at the market toll booth (the video shows: 'Outpost Bulgaria-Serbia'), the spectator’s eye turns from the mobile observatory to Vento, who, guided by Teodora, the French interpreter, looks at the control cabin impatiently. We’re sitting opposite our windows as if we have stopped and nobody is coming to get us. We wait.

(Photo: CCS)

Once the 'border' is crossed, one spies a huge mosaic of containers, stationary lorries that seem to be resting from their journeys, and a fluorescent advert at the trucker bar Les Maraichers ('The Truckers'), in which the drivers are drinking beer after their exertions. 'What’s special in this case is that it doesn’t matter where we end up, the scenery is always prepared. We don’t need any technical installations, no lighting tests. We’ve got the most beautiful sunsets, the fullest full moons you can imagine, the greatest vegetable markets, the fastest motorways, the coolest lorries. And it’s all free!' explains Karrenbauer.

Suddenly, a delicate voice interrupts the afternoon peace of the market. In the middle of grey countryside, between the circulatory traffic and some greenery –the market roundabout - a woman appears, singing. That’s all. Valentina Traianova is Bulgarian. You can still hear her voice, even when the market is far behind us, penetrating the unknown shadows.

European nest

Several outposts, car washes and transport companies later, the lorry accelerates again. The journey is taking us through Croatia, Austria and Germany. In Austria Vento is free for the first time, he says, 'whilst in Bulgaria communism makes itself at home. At European borders there is no need to stop, or bribe anyone with a long string of cigarettes.' It’s enough to pass through electronic tolls at full speed. 'Basically we suggest that the idea of European community has not become reality in any other area in so consistent a way as in the transport of merchandise,' explains Karrenbau. 'Bulgarian drivers load Greek fish in Turkey, transport it all over Europe and unload it in Belgium, or vice versa. The logistics defy geographic logic; they only obey the game of supply and demand, with the lowest price principle. The greatest warehouse of European merchandise is the motorway.'

Vento and Nedyalko disembark, after 2,200 kilometres with their elephantine lorry, in Place de la Bastille, accompanied by a chorus of honking. End of the road. A place that the two Bulgarians do not see very often when they unload their lorry in the suburbs. They have each earned 220 euros for this journey. Bienvenue à Paris ('welcome to Paris'). Despite everything, the two want to carry on driving lorries when 'Cargo Sofía' finishes. 'Now then, your vision about your own reality is now sharper,' clarifies Kaegi. Europe? For the Swiss director, a 'bird’s nest that wants to become a comfortable home.'

Cargo Sofia-Paris

Until 21 September 2007

Time and Place: 19:00, Théâtre de la Cité Internationale

Prices: 20 and 12 euros

Within the context of 'The Europe of the Future' from the Swiss Cultural Centre in Paris

In-text photos: Vento und Nedyalko (CCS), Stefan Kaegi (Carmen Brucic), LKW-Zuschauerraum (CCS), Nedyalko (MAI.FOTO)