9 February 2014
If I had such a nose, I'd amputate it!
It’s impossible not to recognise Borneo’s long-nosed reddish-brown monkeys once I caught sight of them up in the trees on the banks of the Kinabatangan river. They’re fairly good swimmers but they spend most of their time leaping in trees. That habitat is unfortunately being destroyed, their population numbers consequently severely decreasing, just like those of kingfishers and pygmy elephants. That’s for the sad part of the story.
Sexual dimorphism is particularly pronounced among those monkeys (hang on, I talked about dimorphism, don’t stop at the very first word of my sentence although we’ll get to that side too): males are a bit bigger in size, and it’s undoubtedly their large nose (also known as “proboscis” – that’s still an easier word than my surname) that distinguishes them from females (which by the way still have pretty large noses for primates).
Those monkeys turn out to be endemic to Borneo: that means they can’t be found anywhere else in the world, except in zoos obviously… or in the Netherlands, because proboscis monkeys are also known as monyet belanda or orang belanda in Bahasa which means the “Dutch monkey” and the “Dutchman” respectively, as Indonesians had observed that their Dutch colonisers had similar large bellies and noses (I won’t comment).
In case you didn’t get it, the title of my story is a quote extracted from a well-known soliloquy declaimed by Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac in response to his opponent’s mockery, simplistically describing Cyrano’s nose as “big”. You won’t regret it if you are a lover of words: take a minute to pay attention to, enjoy and laugh at the carefully crafted words and rhymes of that “nose” tirade – although the original text is in French, the English version is not bad at all and quite faithful to the French text:
You might have said at least a hundred things
By varying the tone. . .like this, suppose,. . .
Aggressive: 'Sir, if I had such a nose
I'd amputate it!' Friendly: 'When you sup
It must annoy you, dipping in your cup;
You need a drinking-bowl of special shape!'
Descriptive: ''Tis a rock!. . .a peak!. . .a cape!
-- A cape, forsooth! 'Tis a peninsular!'
Curious: 'How serves that oblong capsular?
For scissor-sheath? Or pot to hold your ink?'
Gracious: 'You love the little birds, I think?
I see you've managed with a fond research
To find their tiny claws a roomy perch!'
Truculent: 'When you smoke your pipe. . .suppose
That the tobacco-smoke spouts from your nose --
Do not the neighbors, as the fumes rise higher,
Cry terror-struck: "The chimney is afire"?'
Considerate: 'Take care,. . .your head bowed low
By such a weight. . .lest head o'er heels you go!'
Tender: 'Pray get a small umbrella made,
Lest its bright color in the sun should fade!'
Pedantic: 'That beast Aristophanes
Must have possessed just such a solid lump
Of flesh and bone, beneath his forehead's bump!'
Cavalier: 'The last fashion, friend, that hook?
To hang your hat on? 'Tis a useful crook!'
Emphatic: 'No wind, O majestic nose,
Can give thee cold! save when the mistral blows!'
Dramatic: 'When it bleeds, what a Red Sea!'
Admiring: 'Sign for a perfumery!'
Lyric: 'Is this a conch?. . .a Triton you?'
Simple: 'When is the monument on view?'
Rustic: 'That thing a nose? Marry-come-up!
'Tis a dwarf pumpkin, or a prize turnip!'
Military: 'Point against cavalry!'
Practical: 'Put it in a lottery!
Assuredly 't would be the biggest prize!'
Or. . .parodying Pyramus' sighs. . .
'Behold the nose that mars the harmony
Of its master's phiz! blushing its treachery!'
– Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Act I scene 4.
If you want to see how it goes in French, here’s Gérard Depardieu (whose nose is also recognisable – probably not a coincidence) at it, some twenty-four years ago (that is before he went a little bit bonkers):
Oh and there’s another distinctive “red” trait that makes male proboscis monkeys unmistakable, ahem: take a look at a couple of my pictures again… Let’s just say that proboscis monkeys are known to enjoy sex even with no reproductive purpose… which is obviously the case when mounting their same-sex counterparts which they apparently also do. And since the Olympic games are currently taking place at Sochi ;-).
Teaser: in my next post, we’ll head to a small island located southeast of Bali, home to a completely-manual aqua-cultural industry that started off 350 years ago in Japan. Can you guess which one I’m talking about?