Sunday, April 23, 2006

Partying with the Pachyderms

My how time flies in the realm of the unreal: Babar the Elephant is turning 75! Personally, I thought he was an octogenarian back when I was 6, but apparently not. Perhaps he just hasn’t aged well. And then there’s Queen Celeste. She’s been looking a little long in the tusk for quite some time now. But perhaps I should just refrain from applying my own warped standards of beauty and aging to these (fictional) elephants and accept their grey, creased & creviced hide as a thing of beauty. Although I bet Celeste would have benefited from using sunscreen.

Many many moons ago, the King was born to Jean De Brunhoff, but after his death (like many geniuses he died before he was 40), the elephant became the ward of son Laurent - which makes me green-as-Babar's-signature-suit with envy when I consider the some 8 million books which have sold over the years, not to mention the countless stuffed Babars, worldwide syndicated television shows and movies. Personally, I'd love to make a fortune off of my parents' bedtime ramblings because it saves me, as a writer, a lot of time & energy being clever & creative and, chances are, your parents won't sue you for copyright infringement or theft of intellectual property because they'll just be so thrilled that you're not a streetcleaner or working in a fish plant or teaching English in a sawed-off country. Not that there's anything wrong with those. But my bedtime legacy is populated with characters named Stinkball Coleman, and Art Reid & his Dog (boy and dog were always linked together and I don't want to know why) - probably not the sort of thing to make me fabulously rich.

But I digress. Horoscopically-speaking, Babar was born under the Chinese sign of the Metal Sheep (or Goat, depending on your source - hardly the same thing if you have ever spent time with either bovines or ovines). People & pachyderms born under this sign, "have good taste and are quite charming and elegant … and rich ... the center of attention at a stylish dinner party, ravishing all with incomparable wit and bon mots... Sometimes they prefer the quiet life at home with a good book, a roaring fire, and the joys of the palate... They are quite often deeply religious or spiritual and quite passionate about their work and their belief." Doesn't that sound like Babar? - remember that, orphaned, he leaves the jungle & finds his way to France where he is brought up by the Old Lady in Paris. Eventually Babar returns to the Elephant realm where he introduces a rather French form of western civilization (de Brunhoff's brother was the editor of French Vogue) to the elephants, and forces them to dress in Christian Dior suits.

Babar (the series, not the elephant) has received its share of criticism over the years. Babar (the elephant, not the series) has been accused of being a racist, a sexist & an elitist. Too my knowledge, he has not been accused of any sexual transgressions against a child (human or elephant) nor held responsible for global warming. His reign of Celesteville (lovingly named after his cousin-bride) appears to be somewhat autocratic and totally independent of any elected democratic body. It has been suggested that this kingdom works on many levels as a paradigm - and justification - for colonialism, i.e., French colonialism.
LIke it's a bad thing. Currently living in a country which shook off the yoke of said-French colonialism a few decades ago, I'd personally like to thank the French for teaching Moroccans how to make excellent coffee and pastries.

So delightful childhood phantasies or morally offensive propaganda, kindly father-figure or autocratic despot - you choose. I admit that I was besotted with him as a child and I am still rather envious of the King now. (And yes, I know that he's fictional - I can tell the difference.) He's globetrotted to such hotspots as
Rome, Paris, Barcelona and even Machu Picchu - places that, with the exception of Paris and a brief layover in the Leonardo da Vinci airport, I have yet to visit. Damn you Babar! He also practises yoga (which I do as well - a feeble point for me) because it "helps us all to relax and draw strength from our inner elephant", is a vegetarian (second point for me) - okay, he's actually a herbivore - and has built a museum (which I have yet to do - although I did set up an albeit short-lived & unsuccessful fundraising drive when I was 10 to pay for rhinoplasty surgery).


But I especially love the aesthetics of the books: the Ganesha-like rendering of Babar, the cursive font with its tight juvenile anally-perfect curly cues - it reminds me of the menus posted on chalkboards in front of Parisien bistros where I have yet to while away enough hours of my life. J'adore the oh-so-Frenchness of Babar (the series and the elephant) which makes me feel sophisticated and urbane but saves me the anxiety of actually dealing with anyone French. And if Babar (the series not the elephant) is politically incorrect, so be it. I'm actually happy now that I didn't get my nose clipped way back when. In his honour, I too shall embrace my inner elephant.

Happy Birthday!


8 Comments:

Blogger ByronB said...

"fundraising drive when I was 10 to pay for rhinoplasty surgery..."

Now I have this vision of you with a large Babar trunk attached...

9:08 AM  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

It looked that way to me!

5:48 PM  
Blogger knarf said...

Babar also drove the Citroen DS. First sold in 1955, it was twenty to thirty years ahead of it's time. Front wheel drive, huge passenger cabin for it's exterior dimensions, body designed for aerodynamics, not mere style or fashion.

It had adjustable hydraulic suspension which could be adjusted to road conditions and driving style.

One of the pairs of headlights swivelled with the front wheels, so the driver could "see around the corner" at night.

It had an ergonomic dashboard, and roof-level brake-lights in the back (in addition to it's regular ones).

He drove one of those. And I never did.

Cool.

BTW, C in R, I've never had problems with benevolent dictators (which he surely was one of). My only problem would be succession. I would hope that the fucking little monkey (who was only a hanger-on waiting for the chance to usurp power) doesn't organize a junta...

6:57 PM  
Blogger knarf said...

BTW, C in R, as I re-read your post, I was thinking that it was indeed too bad that Dad sang more to us (at least he did to me)than he told bedtime stories.

"Ding-ding, ding,

Fox went out on a stormy night,

Prayed to the moon for to give him light..."

8:27 PM  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Very cool about the Citroen - I did not know that. And yes the monkey (Zephyr I think) was a monkey after all & therefore evil by nature. I shudder at that.

As for Dad's singing - I wouldn't trade one second of those bedtime lullabies. I tear up every time (which is admittedly rather seldom ) I hear the Missouri Waltz or All the Pretty Little Horses.

9:15 PM  
Blogger knarf said...

I agree with the bedtime songs. It didn't hurt that he had a voice like Pavarotti.

"Oh Shanendoah, I long to hear you,

Oh away, you rolling river..."

9:23 PM  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Now you've made me cry. Happy now?

9:25 PM  
Blogger knarf said...

just doing my job...

9:46 PM  

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