Sunday, August 26, 2007

What is remembered: an encounter with an elephant

About thirty-five years ago, on a summer's day, I was out walking in a Helsinki park with my mother. I was small and still full of light and consequently skippy, skipping away on the gravel path, a few steps ahead of my mum.

Children live in a world of magical realism (and admittedly, I still do, painted over as I am rather thickly with a rational world-view, but scratch the surface and out comes seeing signs and meanings, and compulsive rituals, and so on), but magical realism or not, nothing in my previous experience had prepared me for what I saw as I rounded a corner, past som lilac bushes: an elephant, out for a walk. Big, grey, untethered, an elephant in a Helsinki park, accompanied by a man with a little twig, with which he tapped the elephant's leg now and then.

Not that we stayed to look for long, my mother and I. We stopped, we gasped, we turned, we ran. And here, dear Reader, is the juiciest bit of my memory: once we'd legged it back past the lilac bushes, we came across a gentleman, walking in the direction we'd just come from. I think he was smoking a pipe. Imagine me, gentle Reader - four years old or thereabouts, plaited hair and summer dress, trying to warn the gentleman with a pipe: "Don't go there, mister, there's an elephant there." Imagine too, if you will, first his ill-advised disbelief and disinterest in the make-believes and magical realisms of little girls, closely followed by his encounter with the said elephant - which encounter I, of course, never saw, as we were rather intent on not being trampled by the elephant, but which I very much like to imagine now, as an adult.

Our lives are linked to the lives of multitudes of others. It tickles me pink to think that somewhere in this city, there might still be alive an aging gentleman who has the other half of this memory - that of a little girl running to him, warning him of an elephant in a Helsinki park.

(PS There is a rational-world-view explanation to the encounter, in the form of the circus being in town. In those days, there were animals in circuses. And in parks.)

10 comments:

There.Be.Monsters said...

http://www.wroclaw.pl/p/1307/

I was walking towards the town centre in Wroclaw and I happened across a herd of elephants in front of the Solpol store (see link for this surreal monstrosity of a building).
Couldn't believe my eyes.
Not sure if the drink had finally got to me.
Went to work later and spoke with the class.
They set me right.
Seems it was an advert for the forthcoming circus, and they had sent the troops(!) to rummle up the populace.
Of course, maybe the class was teasing and the drink really had got to me.
Will we ever know?.

ProudAnnie, loved the story of your first encounter with 'what's grey and comes in pints?'
First time for me was at Glasgow zoo when my father bought some buns (I know, bad) for me to feed them as 4 year old ,too.

Later, I heard the joke about the two old maidens who go to the zoo.
They are disgusted, completely.

'You know that elephant picked up a bun with its tail and you'll never guess what it did next.....'


Aaaaaah, Saturday, mischief afoot.

Kahless said...

Hei Anna,

I really like that too - thinking of how lives interlink. Funny as well how one persons experience isn't necessarily the same as anothers of the same incident.

I remember once bumping into someone I went to school with in a bar in Bangkok. I also wonder when we meet people today, have our lives ever crossed at a previous point that we aren't aware of.

And sometimes when I am in a busy place, I wonder if any of the strangers around me might actually be a blog-friend.

Reading the Signs said...

apropos of "scratch the surface and " etc. I'd clocked you as a sign-reader a good while back. It takes one to know one.
x mwah!

NMJ said...

Anna, I love the image of you & your mum legging it back past the lilac bushes, warning a man with a pipe to watch out for an elephant. The elephant is the big detail, but I so love the wee details of lilac and pipe. And the twig. I'm sure this man entertained his friends with stories of the wee girl warning him about the elephant.

You have a short story right here, honey.

x

trousers said...

Wonderful stuff, and beautifully told as usual. It serves to evoke many memories, of which this is one:

I had been looking forward to a promised visit to the zoo for absolutely ages. I too must have been age 4 or 5. I was particularly excited because they had a feature called "Land of the Dinosaurs" - as a child I was obsessed with dinosaurs.

In my imagination I pictured me in a prehistoric landscape, with all these huge, real-life creatures stamping about and me bravely resisting them - it was so exciting.

When we got to the Land of the Dinosaurs, they were certainly huge, but of course they were static, life-sized models. I wasn't disappointed: I was terrified! I promptly burst into tears and my dad had to pick me up and comfort me so that I wouldn't run off.

I spent the rest of our time with the dinosaurs being carried around with my head buried, so scared was I. Oddly enough I was fine with the real zoo animals.

I still carry the same discrepancy between the goings-on of my imagination and that of the world outside - these days I'm a little more aware of it though. xx

Anna MR said...

Hello all - I am nowadays a shite hostess and can only hang my head in shame whilst admitting to it. Sorry about the lateness of my replies to your lovely messages, for which I thank you all v. much indeed...

Monsters - trust you to see not one but a herd. Later on in life (at, say, eight years old) I went to the circus and queued up with a bunch of other wee'uns to sit on the elephant's back (photo opportunity was also provided, if memory serves). I got to the front of the queue and ran out of nerve (hello, trousers - I sympathise with your dinosaur plight). I just couldn't go and sit astride the beastie. I have always thought this was because the neurotic anxiety and irrational fears of death and disaster I suffer terribly from had already grabbed me by that tender age. It is only as I started, here in my reply, to recount this my second close-up encounter with elephants that I realised maybe it (lack of courage to ride one) wasn't due to my fucked-up mind after all, but caused perhaps by the early childhood traumatic park exposure to them.

Kahless - like the connections between people, the idea of "maybe we've met somewhere before" is an intriguing one. I am reminded of a Wislawa Szymborska poem Love at First Sight (I really love Szymborska), it's obviously bothered her mind too. If you're not familiar with the poem, I have put it under my signature on this comment (and hello darling Signs - also a nod towards us sign readers there) (incidentally, I have had the oddest typos whilst writing this - at first, I wrote Love at First Fight and then called us sigh readers. I don't care to read the signs on those, I'll tell you know. But mwah all the same).

Sweet NMJ - only you would ever think to call an elephant the big detail. This is the stuff that makes you the star author you are. Too cool and funny and quirky.

And thank yous again all round for nipping in and seeming to like my stuff.

*Anna MR sinks into one of her stage curtseys to compensate for her crappy reply services*

Kahless said...

Noswaith dda Anna,

and the book of events
is always open halfway through.


I like that line, thank-you for sharing the poem; I haven't come across Wislawa Szymborska before.

Anna MR said...

Shwmae Kahless - glad you liked the Szymborska. Her literary output, her life's work, consists of only about 139 poems or thereabouts (Signs, back me up on this, please?), but they are good enough to have earned her the Nobel. Szymborska rules, there's no two ways about it.

trousers said...

I'm really not used to you calling me trousers, anna!

Anna MR said...

housut - no snub intended. It seemed to work in connection with Monsters, that's all...

x