Anantara Blogs Elephant Tails

A Tale of One City

By John Roberts
11 December 2017 01:11:00

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… well, actually, no, it wasn’t the worst of times (or was it?) in the city of Verona in the deep Centre of a country we’ll call Erewhon.

Despite being central geographically Verona had always been off the beaten track, marketed as the daffodil of centre, known for it’s mists and mellow fruitfulness, but less visited than the Northern beaches where the sun shone and Erewhonese whisky flowed.

For as long as anyone could remember the gentlemen of Verona, when in need of an elephant to transport things into the hills, to move a VIP or even, in the best of the worst of times, to wage war or family feuds where the dignity of each house demanded one or more of the pachyderms; they’d approach a village some way out of town, populated by renowned hereditary elephant keepers and discuss terms of business.

Time passed, diesel engines came and Erewhonese engineers (yes, this is a different Erewhon) built roads, feuds became illegal and could no longer be fought on elephants in the streets, the village turned their elephants, for awhile, to helping remove timber from the surrounding forests, then forests further away, then the timber was gone so they came home to quiet village by the river with its green hills of bamboo, some miles from the centre of Verona.

Improved roads bought tourists from wider Erewhon and the Lillipution Isles.  Tourists were keen to see elephants, sit on them and ride, so the village set up a cooperative and guests paid a fee to ride the elephants through the bamboo forest that still surrounded the village.  The elephants came in to provide rides for a short morning, a short time after lunch, and then went back out into the bamboo at night.

Since the feuding had stopped the Gentlemen of the Houses of Verona bought land and built villas, alike in dignity, in the countryside and the forest shrunk, the elephants had to be put on long chains at night to stop them munching on the Veronese hedges or the crops that other villages grew to feed the growing city. 

The elephants still had the forest time they craved, the company of other elephants and some exercise, giving rides, during the day; their owners still had their tradition, the tourists paid them to ride the elephants so they had houses, lives, their kids went to school and their elephants could be provided for.

The vets and welfare people came and agreed: it wasn’t the best of camps but it wasn’t the worst of camps because it had forest rest, it had limited working hours and it was run by people that understood elephants need these things as a bare minimum and understood to give a lot more.  It was better than moving to a camp in the mountains around Milan where there was rest but not forest at night, certainly better than, heaven forfend, a trip to Genoa on the coast where they said the elephants worked 10 - 12 hours a day and there was still no forest rest, just a 1m chain and a shelter if you were lucky.

An equilibrium fell on the rural valley, on Verona itself, and for 10 years or more the pastoral status quo left people time to focus on one another’s wives and live comfortable lives for elephant and person, largely under the radar of the world.

But then some Lilliputions got it into their heads that riding an elephant somehow harmed it, the Erewhonese looked into this and asked the vets, the mahouts, the elders, anyone “Have you ever heard of an elephant harmed by riding it?”, to which everyone replied: “With the right sort of seat?”, “Yes”, “Only a few hours a day, not in the high heat”, “Yes”, “Then no, not in the 3,500 years we’ve been doing this.”.  

So they laughed, but the Lilliputions who’d got ‘the idea’ did not stop, after awhile the Lilliputions that had made lives in Erewhon began to say “You don’t know Lilliputions like these, they won’t ever stop”, but still the Erewhonese laughed and said, “You tell us that putting a puny human on a gigantic elephant is going to hurt it, despite all the evidence we have seen in our lives and our ancestors' lives - no-one will believe that.”

But they did and the Lilliputions who had ‘the idea’ told other Lilliputions, and those Lilliputions who said “You tell me that putting a puny human on a gigantic elephant is going to hurt it, despite all the evidence in the history books, I don’t believe it, I’m going to ride it anyway” were attacked when they posted photographs of themselves and elephants on Speakwrite and either got into long, often poorly spelled, arguments or deleted the pictures.

At the same time transportation routes and communications with the Blefuscu had improved, along with the economy of that continent, for the first time in several generations and the Blefuscians began to become interested in the outside world, Blefuscian tourists were keen to see elephants and sit on them.

The problem was that, though they were more numerous than the Lilliputions the Erewhonese didn’t speak Blefuscian, so Blefuscian entrepreneurs who had been running elephant camps in Genoa came to Verona and set up an elephant camp that upset the equilibrium.

The Blesfucians didn't speak Lillipution and they used Writespeak instead of Speakwrite (which was banned in Blefuscu to stop more useful ideas than 'the idea' catching on).  Because the Blefuscians were more numerous and because they didn’t have the gold pieces of the Lilliputions, or even if they did, because the Blefuscians who ran the camps were not elephant people, they told their elephants to work 10 - 12 hours a day, they kept their elephants on short chains in the camp at night because they had no forest and it had worked in Genoa, so why not in Verona?

They came to the un-named elephant village, our pastoral valley of elephant people, and said “work for us, you’ll get rich”, but the elephant people said “no, you don’t care for our elephants, we’ll not!  The Lilliputions still come here, we can live.”  The Blefuscian entrepreneurs  said “Fine, we know the elephant people of Aosta too, they’ll work for us, they’ve been living in the cities with their elephants, they see that we’re better.”

So an equilibrium settled again, the Blefuscians went to the Blefuscian camp, the Lilliputions went to the Erewhonese village.  

But this equilibrium only lasted a year or two, soon more and more Lilliputians started saying, “I’ve heard an idea, I don’t want to ride your elephant - even if it doesn’t hurt I won’t be able to post it on Speakwrite or I’ll be attacked but” for Lilliputians believed that if it couldn’t be posted on Speakwrite it wasn’t worth doing “let me give it a banana instead - NO I won’t pay for that, what a majestic beast.”

So, one by one, the elephant people of the elephant village began to run out of money to feed their elephants and to feed themselves, they said “We are proud elephant people, but what can we do?” and they did not release their elephants back to the forest as the Lilliputions with ‘the idea’ had hoped.  Instead they went quietly, painfully, reluctantly to Blefuscian camp.  

Some agreed to work there for any wage, saying “We know it is as bad as Genoa for our elephants, but at least I get to see our old forest even if our elephant can’t live in it” and some said “We are proud elephant people, we cannot live like this” and sold their elephant to the Blefuscian camp to be ridden by inexperienced, expendable migrants from Brobdingnag who may not know about elephants but at least they can’t complain.

Some, however, had heard of an elephant camp in the Gardens of Lórien run by a great wizard and travelled to ask his advice, unfortunately he wasn't in so they had to talk to me - which is how I heard this tale.

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