The Parisian Giraffe
A giraffe, named Hugh, lives in a small zoo, he loves to chase butterflies, linger in the perfume of wild jasmine and eat the sweetest peaches growing on the tallest trees in the zoo. One spring day, he sees a group of students walk by and stop to look at him. One little girl, in a pink striped dress, says to everybody, “Look, giraffes! They were recently introduced into the endangered species list.” The little boys and girls continue to look eagerly at the creature with the long neck, and shy eyes. Hugh, doesn’t know what “endangered” means, but he’s curious, because it might mean he’s wonderful. The children were definitely looking at him as if he were indeed, special.
Hugh has many friends. He decides to visit a few other creatures, to ask them if they knew the meaning of the word. His first stop, is to Scherezade the elephant, who, upon inquiry, answers, that she remembers everything she has learnt, but hasn’t heard that word before. Hugh, unfazed, proceeds along with Scherezade the elephant, to approach Elizabeth the swan, who is known to be flighty. Elizabeth says, “I don’t know either, but why care about what little humans say, anyway?” But, she comes along with Hugh the giraffe and Scherezade the elephant as they venture to ask Alexander the peacock. They find Alex chasing his shadow around in circles. But, he also pleads ignorance to the meaning of the word. Soon, exhausted from chasing his shadow, Alex the peacock, also follows Hugh the giraffe, Scherezade the elephant and Elizabeth the swan, as they pay a visit to Leon the panda. Leon is absorbed in a book of French poems, but he looks up to say he doesn’t know, but he has heard that he is also “endangered” and that he may also become “extinct”. None of the animals know what “extinct” means either. So they proceed to the wisest and most ferocious animal, Aurangzeb, the Bengal tiger. Aurangzeb watches as they all march into his lair. He is thankful that he had just eaten and can now focus on his favorite activities of reading and writing. He asks them to wait, while he finds a booklet listing endangered animals. Soon other animals stop by to peruse the book, and find themselves in it, next to words such as “vulnerable”, “critically endangered” and “least concern”. Amelie, a dolphin and Cassandra the star fish, in the aquarium, become excited to see their likenesses. Aster, the mouse, drops in just as Aurangzeb the tiger, is ready for an afternoon snack. Aster says, “I’ve heard humans wish that mice were endangered! I long to be a member of this exclusive club.”
Slowly, looking all around, Hugh the giraffe notices, that all of the endangered animals, from the macaws to the belugas were beautiful. He remembers, that his mother had always told him that all the beautiful things are in Paris. So Hugh addresses the group, “Friends, I will go to Paris. It is the city of light, once there, I will find the answer for us all.”
Thus, Hugh waits until a pair of horses, Magdalene and Alistair, are being transferred to the Paris zoo. He hides under large bales of hay. All the creatures come to wish him, “bonne chance” and “bonne voyage” as the horses leave with Hugh concealed under the hay. Once in the port in Marseille, Hugh remains hiding until they unload the shipment. When the sailors aren’t looking, he slips away. He quickly discovers an antiquarian bookstore, where he shares his quest with the old book shop keeper, Pascal, who scratches his head, then tells Hugh, he can stay in the bookstore, as long as he doesn’t topple the books, and later, catch a ride on a delivery van full of books to Paris. Hugh tries very hard not to disturb the piles of books all around him, and even helps Pascal, dust the highest shelves, or fetch readers the books from the tallest stacks. Soon, he is on the van to Paris with ancient books and bundles of dried Provençal lavender.
Once in Paris, he stops at the emerald and white striped Cafe de Flore, where the waiter offers him a pistachio tart, but is too busy to answer his question. Hugh then goes to the Notre Dame Cathedral, where there are hundreds of shimmering candles, as well as a wide hole in the ceiling, he sees the robins egg blue and white swirling clouds, but wonders what happened to the tower. Later, he goes to the Versailles garden, laden with roses, lilacs, wisteria, peonies and honeysuckle, he sees statues of winged cherubs and horses. Hugh also sees beautiful, well dressed and charismatic people, strolling the paths.
After wondering around he becomes tired, he pauses to rest under a large Cedar of Lebanon tree, where he meets an artist.
Hugh asks, “Excuse me sir, do you know what it means to be endangered?”
The artist says, “I don’t know, but will you let me paint you?”
Hugh asks, “Why?”
The artist responds, “I don’t know what it means to be endangered, but I do know that paintings may ease the dangers of being alive.”
Hugh the giraffe nods, and poses for the artist in the May light. 🦒