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The Velveteen Rabbit / Being Real
The thing about friendship is, if it’s real it is capable of withstanding the test of time. We had a visit at the weekend, friends who have a very special dog – Eole. When you look into Eole’s eyes you know you don’t have to say anything, complete understanding and trust. And when you come back into the room after being away for only a few minutes, he wags his tail so hard that it makes a pounding sound when it hits against the floor. Then he gets up and brings you the closest soft toy and you have to smile and pat him all over!
When our friends left and I was on my own again, I took down the story of The Velveteen Rabbit. In Turkey they say a good story should be able to be understood on seven different levels. The little boy in the story of The Velveteen Rabbit (first published in 1922) had been very ill and all his toys had been either burned or put up into the attic. This is where a friendship of sorts begins between the velveteen rabbit and the skin horse. I’d like to share the conversation between these two unlikely friends with you here on ‘the water’:
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‘THERE was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.
There were other things in the stocking, nuts and oranges and a toy engine, and chocolate almonds and a clockwork mouse, but the Rabbit was quite the best of all. For at least two hours the Boy loved him, and then Aunts and Uncles came to dinner, and there was a great rustling of tissue paper and unwrapping of parcels, and in the excitement of looking at all the new presents the Velveteen Rabbit was forgotten.
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For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon everyone else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real. The model boat, which had lived through two seasons and lost most of his paint, caught the tone from them and never missed an opportunity of referring to his rigging in technical terms. The Rabbit could not claim to be a model of anything, for he didn’t know that real rabbits existed; he thought they were all stuffed with sawdust like himself, and he understood that sawdust was quite out-of-date and should never be mentioned in modern circles. Even Timothy, the jointed wooden lion, who was made by the disabled soldiers, and should have had broader views, put on airs and pretended he was connected with Government. Between them all the poor little Rabbit was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse.
The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
“The Boy’s uncle made me Real,” he said.
“That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again.
It lasts for always.”
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From: The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams 1922
No. 13 - Lucky for some…
One such highlight was watching Aida from the comfort of the VIP lounge of the Bregenzer Seebühne. I’ll never forget that massive golden elephant sailing on-stage and the tiny boat, carrying the two lovers, floating across the Bregenzer sky-line during the final act. The boat, representing death and posthumous re-union, lifted effortlessly, dreamily and silently into the night by two giant cranes flanking the stage – a stage which was half submerged in water throughout the performance.
A proper water opera!
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Or witnessing Stevie Wonder open the Moon and Stars festival in Locarno on a hot summer evening, the surrounding houses of the Piazza in multicolour. How he walked on stage slowly but deliberately, playing a key-board strapped lengthways to the front of his body and when reaching the front of the stage lay on the floor in complete trust, still playing.
His words at the end of a spectacular show; If you have a heart, love somebody! If your heart is big enough, love everybody! Reminding me of my mother’s life philosophy (unspoken, of course)!
Entertaining people from all over the world and travelling around the half of Switzerland with some wonderful Australians – that was fun! The memorable dinner parties with friends in the garden and the quiet times too, come to mind. The evenings in front of the garden house and the warm nights sitting outside. The morning teas before it got too hot… and basically, the beauty of living in such a garden and in accordance with the rhythm of nature.
Hard to imagine! It’s now -12° and those days seem far away. I still look over to the garden house when I come back from a walk and watch how things change, every day. Today the hoary branches of the trees are cactus-like. White barbed wire or spiky beards hanging from every twig that used to sprout green… The days are bathed in a blue light and we’re clearly drawing close to mid-winter.
It’s a good time to take stock – remember friends. The simple message seems to be - stay warm, read… write… scribble… slow down… move closer… and also – look forward to new things yet to come.
I was prompted to read an article in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung last week by a friend who is a banker. It was written by John Banville, (The Sea, incidentally also a good read, beautifully fluid) – and is a sober assessment of Ireland’s present predicament. Strange that I now read articles that first appeared in the New York Times but have been translated from the original into German. ‘Der Schuldner der westlichen Welt’ was the title – probably meaning precious little to the average person from Zürich. Translated into German, I’m also sure no-one really got that he was using the title bravely, echoing J. M. Singe’s ‘Playboy of the Western World’. Associations of A-level or was it O-level Irish literature classes…? And seeing the production in the Abbey theater in Dublin… Feeling really grown-up!
Banville rounded up his essay by using two very old-fashioned words: grace and integrity. Words worth remembering… and I realized those are the words I connect with the people who mean most to me. My family and my closest friends… And I feel very lucky indeed!
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*Painting: Erato, Muse of Poetry by Sir Edward John Poynter, 1870