Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Julius and the stone giraffe
Well now, this time I am on a precarious ledge on a barren mountainside, and I haven’t a clue how I got here, but it’s wide enough not to feel unduly alarmed by having been transported mysteriously to this lonely spot.
Yet I am not alone. I can see, right in front of me, the head and neck of huge giraffe. That’s what I said, a giraffe – and not just any old giraffe. It’s stone, much larger than life size, and its eyes are at my level. Somewhat disturbingly, the eyes are as real and black and beautiful as a live giraffe’s are. It looks at me with little interest or curiosity, but stone or otherwise, it knows I’m here.
The animal is tethered by a series of stone rings – a chain that has been created by carving the rings out of a single piece of rust-coloured stone, the craftsman taking away what needs to be removed to create each linked ring.
It’s like those little sculptures you could buy at any touristy spot in India that are made from a solid piece of marble or ivory – a lacy ball within a ball within a ball within a ball, painstakingly carved by some poor artisan in order to put food on the table. I marvel at their ingenuity, but am not fond of them because they seem such vast effort for so little reward for the craftsman or woman or child.
But back to my cliff perch on the ledge with the chained stone giraffe that I realise now is part of the chain itself. It and the chain of stone links were created as part of one whole sculpture. Heaven knows why or for whom. These are not questions you ask when looking into the liquid black eyes of a stone giraffe.
Then some disembodied voice declares that the stone rings will be replaced by timber ones. The eyes of the giraffe light up momentarily. This change to wooden links occurs in front of my eyes. (Hell's bells, what DID I have for dinner last night?) The giraffe turns into a living creature. I have always been shocked and delighted by just how incredibly tall and strong giraffes are when you see them in the flesh, and this transformation from stone pleases me.
Suddenly there is a thump, and the wooden rings tethering the animal collapse in pieces and it runs away towards thin woods in the distance, only it’s no longer a magnificent giraffe but a miserable little frightened creature with its tail between its legs like a small mangy hyena. It disappears into the woods.
I hear another thump and waken. My right arm is in tremor but not seizure. I wonder how often or how much during the night it moves like this when I am asleep, under no control except for the anarchic forces that take it over when I can’t focus on it consciously. But that’s not the immediate concern. I try to think about that heavy bump, and how useless I would actually be if there were a stranger in the house, even a twelve-year-old boy. But that thought is shaken by yet another thump, and I am relieved to realise it is nothing but the garbage trucks outside lifting the bins up to empty them.
We’ve been watching a TV series on DVD called Rome loaned to us by our dear friends Jackie and Austin. It’s as engrossing and addictive as Mad Men or Dexter, a brilliant mixture of a fairly authentic story line gleaned from real historical accounts of Rome round the time of Julius Caesar and a fanciful take on this through the eyes of two centurions that fate or the Roman gods have thrust together. Wonderful characters. It so happens that Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, and Bernard Shaw’s play Caesar and Cleopatra are three of my favourites, so the series ties in nicely with my memories of those from long ago.
In the one we were watching last night, Julius Caesar, back in Rome from Egypt after defeating Pompey and having had a year-long dalliance with Cleopatra, describes a giraffe to his disbelieving audience of society friends (and enemies!) and voices his frustration at not being able to bring a live giraffe home to Rome to show them, as the giraffes always die on the sea voyage back.
Maybe, just maybe, watching three gripping episodes of Rome just before bed is one or two too many....