Magazine article The Spectator

If She Had Flown Last Night

Magazine article The Spectator

If She Had Flown Last Night

Article excerpt

`LOOK,' said my wife Gudula, waving our local newspaper, La Tribune de Geneve, at me. `Look, the elephants are going to parade this morning.' Each year, Switzerland's National Circus arrives in Geneva to mark the end of summer and each year the elephants go for a walk through the city centre, stopping to absorb their breakfasts and morning coffees on their way.

Gudula loves elephants, and we haven't been to the Cirque Knie since our son Olivier was tiny enough to be impressed by how much digestive waste elephants can evacuate at once, and daughter Stephanie was so little that she stayed at home with the baby-sitter.

Olivier is now 27 and living in Beijing. Stephanie will be 24 next month and is off on holiday in New York. Gudula and I went downtown to see her elephants. It was a brilliantly sunny morning, with a premature autumnal chill in the air. We decided to join the crowd expected at the `breakfast point'. The throng was thick when we arrived, but awfully good-natured. There were a few clowns doing their best to keep the children patient, and most adults had been good enough to let the kids get to the front or hoist them on their shoulders. One remarkably pretty little girl reviewed the scene from above her mother's head, her tiny replica profile framed by a shining short bob of silver-blonde hair.

`Ils arrivent!' she cried.

Gudula was at least as excited as the girl, even though she hadn't asked me to hoist her on my shoulder....

Into the improvised enclosure beside the tiny fountained square they came, trunk to tail, tail to trunk, great grey reminders of our pre-history with little brown eyes winking wisely in the sunshine. …

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