Tuesday 1 April 2008

Thick skinned beauty

So the topic of this post is the delicate rendering of this nuanced, sensitive portrait. I wonder if he was trained to do that? Even if he was though, I think it's the humans that come over like the ridiculous creatures we can be sometimes, with our cheap clapping and our tiny insights into the possibilities of internal life in another living being. I bet he's thinking, yeah, but just you wait until I write a novel about how I feel about The Way Life Is for we who are not human, living in a human dominated world.

Elephants are intelligent, feeling creatures, as far as I can tell. I saw a documentary a couple of years ago, some Richard Attenborough thing I think, and the film makers had made fake elephant dung shapes with cameras hidden inside them, and scattered the cameras all along a major African elephant trail. Of course the elephants got hip to the fake dung aspect pretty sharpish, and took to playing football with them.. but enough cameras remained to document their response upon finding a small elephant graveyard along their walk (some might call it a pilgrimage, much in the same way that you could call the salmon's journey to the source of its birth, in order to spawn, and die, also a pilgrimage). When they came upon the elephant bones, they stopped, and smelled and paid attention, and lingered, and gathered, and were quiet and paid attention to the bones for a while, much as we humans behave at graveyards (though of course we usually tidy up our dead, with lawned graves and headstones and flowers and candles. Of course, the presence of actual dead human bones found along the morning jog to the bakery would most likely not produce quite such a measured response in the normal human being...)

I have only met one elephant in the flesh, so to speak. This impromptu meeting happened outside a nightclub on a freezing cold Danish night at one in the morning a couple of years ago. I was cycling back to Island's Brygge in Copenhagen after a late night at the shop where I sold my vintage clothes, and I glanced across the bridge to my left. An elephant was standing outside a really tacky nightclub, posing for mobile phone camera portraits with danish hiphop wannabees in the street.. I stared, then cycled past, through two sets of traffic lights, hungry and tired, but I realised with a sober heart that I was going to have to turn around and go back, and meet the elephant, stand there like all the gals and guys pretending to be Eminem, no better I, and touch elephant skin, look in elephant eyes, say hello, meet the circus attraction.

He was in it for the bananas, clearly. He was docile, stood there, knew not to stamp all over these clueless humans, knew what his job was, but wanted payback. People came with fruit. That fruit disappeared fast. You should have seen that trunk WORK. There was a ruthless look in his eye. The same look I've seen in the eyes of hookers in the Oak Bar of the Plaza Hotel. They ain't Eloise, sugar. I did take photographs, balancing my camera on the unexpectedly steady biceps of the ex-Levi's model cowboy who brought me there, until I was ordered to stop (by the bartender, not the cowboy).

I'm reading a novel by JM Coetzee right now, called Elizabeth Costello. It's quite a gorgeous novel, actually, his writing has a kind of low level blowtorch effect, I find. It's very gently warming until suddenly you're just scorched, eviscerated. The interesting thing about his work, for me, is that there's so much space in it, space of a kind that is rare in writing. The first Coetzee novel I read was Disgrace, a couple of months ago. It was an invitation into a mind, a quiet invitation to listen really really closely, but not dictating what you needed to listen out for.

It's my birthday today. It's my birthday today. It's my birthday today.

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