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David Winet

"Of elephants in love in gay paree.
Le Bois de Vincennes"

Dave Winet

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Of elephants in love in gay paree.
Le Bois de Vincennes
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You may think this story is about rogue elephants who’ve escaped the Paris circus and are mating furiously in the center of the Champs-Elysées, but such is not the case. It’s a tamer tale than that, and one with a moral.  On to it, then.

It is widely believed that the French are wise in all things romantic, and this tale amply bears that out.

It was 1972, and I was attending one of the University of Paris’ campuses located in the Bois de Vincennes. The Bois ( “wood”) is a peaceful nature park on the eastern edge of the city, to which overworked Parisians flock to seek out the beauty and tranquillity of the natural setting there.  The park also features a famous zoo, and the zoo, a popular elephant area. 

I was visiting after a long day of classes and noticed a growing crowd of people gathered around the elephant habitat. Curious, I approached to see what all the hubbub was about.  I stopped as near to the fence as I could get, and found a spot to stand, as it happened, near that type of sophisticated, impeccably dressed-and-perfumed Frenchwoman one finds only in Paris, the “ville lumiere” the city of light, as it is known.  

The object of the crowd’s fascination soon became apparent.  A very large bull elephant was intent on mounting a female a third his size.  The female, however, wasn’t having any of it.  Each time the eager bull approached, she swiftly ran away, trumpeting and blaring loudly in a way that could no doubt be heard all the way across the park.  Not to be put off, he tried again and again, but she stridently rebuffed each attempt. 

Needless to say, the crowd was following every move with rapt attention.  Finally, after many failed attempts,  the defeated giant moved off to a different corner of the pen and sulked.

Now, for those of you who aren’t terrible familiar with Gallic customs, I should note here that the French, unlike us Ango-Saxons of Britain, America, or Australia, rarely engage in casual conversation with inconnus, i.e., strangers. On that day, however, the elegant Frenchwoman turned to me with a look of supreme triumph on her face and said “Vous voyez, monsieur, “c’est toujours la femme qui decide!” -- “You see, sir, it’s always the woman who decides!”

Vive la France! Et vive la difference!


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