20 November 2014
If your note bears a resemblance to your coat
A small tunnel of foliage led to the garden of the Blanco Renaissance museum. Under a tree, a young man dressed in typical Balinese attire was tending to tropical birds. It wasn’t clear if this was really part of the museum’s attractions. I stood there and patiently weaponised my camera with my usual big telephoto lens.
I have mixed feelings towards parrots and parakeets, I don’t exactly know why. Have I maybe seen too many of them in zoos, parks, or in cages in Chinese markets? Is it because I feel they’re too often used as puppets, being sometimes forced to pose or play tricks? Or is it the slight fear of being bitten by their hard beaks when getting too close to them? Still, I can’t help but try to capture their funny expressions, their vibrant colours, or their round eyes which seem to suddenly close when it’s really too much work to simply sit there and stay awake.
Look closer. Wouldn’t you want to gently pat the forehead of that green bird? Wouldn’t you want to feel the softness of those delicate feathers which look like hair, or the hardness of that red beak? And what about that dark blue bird: don’t you find its sharply-curved beak quite interesting, making me wonder whether it’s having fun plucking random things, maybe balloons or something? The grey bird does seem a little bit more cunning: its beak seems to be smiling while its starkly-yellow eye expresses some malicious intent.
As for the rainbow-coloured parrot, it does look rather proud sitting on its branch. It’s not without reminding me of the most well-known fable written by Jean de La Fontaine, The Crow and the Fox, which almost all French children in their first few years in primary school have to learn by heart (together with Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, check this previous post http://goo.gl/55b6v6 where I mentioned it together with Borneo’s proboscis monkeys). Leaning poetry by heart is something that I remember doing at school well up to the start of high school. I actually loved it – maybe because I excelled in reciting poems, teachers over the years always trying to encourage me to get the highest possible grade.
In that fable, the crow, flattered by the fox, drops what it was holding in its beak. La Fontaine’s fables – each ending with a moral lesson – are very clear to understand, all the more an achievement for a 17th century writer writing in rhymes. But let’s hear it straight from the fox’s mouth, in an English translation that is pretty good at preserving the richness of the rhymes (here’s the original version in French):
A master crow, perched on a tree one day,
Was holding in his beak a piece of cheese.
A master fox, by th’ odor drawn that way,
Spake unto him in words like these:
“Good-morning, my Lord Crow!
How well you look, how handsome you do grow!
Upon my honor, if your note
Bears a resemblance to your coat,
You are the phœnix of the dwellers in these woods.”
At these words does the crow exceedingly rejoice;
And, to display his beauteous voice,
He opens a wide beak, lets fall his stolen goods.
The fox seized on’t, and said, “My dear good sir,
Learn you that every flatterer
Lives at the expense of him who hears him out.
This lesson is well worth some cheese, no doubt.”
The crow, ashamed, and much in pain,
Swore, but a little late, they’d not catch him again.