=1 "Symphony of Life"

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Symphony of Life

by Yvonne Artaud


A child was carrying a chameleon on a stick. The poor animal must have received a blow that had bruised the left side of his face but had spared the eye. The child readily exchanged his magic wand for two rupees.

It was truly a magic wand, the length of which the frightened chameleon ceaselessly climbed with great strides. When he reached the tip and was in danger of falling off, it sufficed to turn the angle of the stick one hundred eighty degrees so that he made a half-turn and resumed his ascent.

He had traversed a number of times in both directions not only the stick but also my arm when we finally arrived at home.

I had no trouble indicating to him his perch: a metallic tripod supporting a Japanese lamp and flower pot. Having reached the top, he stood erect and dramatically beat the air with his forefeet in the hope of finding the means of pursuing his ascent. After several vain attempts, he resigned himself to remaining where he was.

He was a splendid and vigorous animal who seemed unperturbed by his mutilated face. He inspected the premises while turning his eyes in all directions like two independent telescopes, meanwhile dressing himself in yellow, the predominant colour of his new habitat. If I advanced towards him, he balanced himself laterally on his thin paws while opening his mouth immensely, thereby intimating to me that I should not advance any further.

Our life in common was rapidly normalized. In the mornings he took a sunbath on top of the birdcage, giving the birds the worst frights as he moved above their heads. In the evenings he retired to his perch where he trapped the insects attracted by the Japanese lamp. During the day he circulated a bit through the workroom. To the edges of cupboards and book almirahs I attached a thick cord made of coir fibre so that he could climb on it and profit by the platforms and numerous perches that they offered. After that, he discovered the electrical wiring that made its antiquated rounds about the room, then the wire-net tunnel suspended by a cable which the monkeys used in going from one cage to another.

He began to accept the supplementary food pellets I prepared for him, and to allow himself to be touched. He came onto the back of the chair next to the one in which I worked, and if the occasion was offered to him, he installed himself on my arm or on my shoulder. But his instinct to flee towards the heights was triggered at the slightest alarm, and more than one astounded visitor saw me appear bearing on my head an upright chameleon with its upraised forefeet.

If I made a remark which he found disagreeable, by way of protest he emitted a kind of ‘ro’ or ‘rua’, which he had, no doubt, used in the world to keep small mammals at bay, and which expression he had in common with the primates. This ‘ro’ would become the root of his name.

To our great wonderment a second chameleon made its appearance on the threshold of our second-story apartment! Coming in without hesitation, and as though it knew the premises perfectly, it took the shortest and most dangerous path leading to places inaccessible to the other chameleon: the borders of the large paintings hanging on the walls. I had time to compare their figures and to deduce that the second personage was a female and the first – of whom I had not been sure until now – was a male.

The two chameleons observed each other at a distance throughout the day. In the evening she calmly ate moths. The following day she made some attempts at approaching him, during which each tried to pass himself off as a terrible dragon in the eyes of the other. It was, without a doubt, a way of knowing each other better, because by the end of the afternoon, she set out with great strides to join him on his perch. While they touched each other, a splendid green colour like that of young rice plants shot forth from the volcano of their emotions and spread slowly over their bodies. It was their baptism of love-fire. I called them Rororo and Ririri. They made a strange and fascinating couple. They would remain together and follow each other everywhere, even unto death.

Rororo and Ririri recognized their names immediately. They came whenever I called them. One might say that they joy of having found each other had accelerated the process of their domestication. They liked being caressed all over their bodies, even on the inside of their feet and hands, which they extended for this purpose. They used their hands and feet also as very gentle and powerful tweezers. Rororo particularly loved for me to touch the inside of his delicate mouth, which did not heal. Ririri stretched forward her pretty pyramidal head, thus inviting me to kiss her. My contact set off outpourings of colours which streamed over their bodies like a rainbow captured by a current.

One hears often about the mimetism of chameleons, their ability to merge with their environment. What struck me further about Rororo and Ririri was their ability to communicate through colour. As they were quite protected in my studio and the presence of a number of paintings justified all their chromatic fantasies, the spectacle that they offered was the freest possible expression of the flux of life which traversed through them in the form of sensations and sentiments. One witnessed the frolic, the love-duets of the eternal he and she in the thrilled bodies in which life poured briskly, reflecting skies of another age or another world.

The colour language of chameleons is for them clearly interpretable at a distance. It is composed of a note of a very intense dominant colour, that kindles a florescence of green or deep green or maroon or pink, and lasts as long as the greeting, the desire, the aspiration or the marriage that has turned on the signal. It invites to the participation, the identification that is the keynote of mimetism as well as of the language of colours.

But their mode of intimate communications, observable only from nearby, is a language of the eyes. To this effect the chameleons utilize the powerful muscles that move their ocular globes, protruding and retracting the eye beneath the closed eyelid according to diverse rhythms that are analogous to morse code. This was their song of tenderness and love, of humour and joyous complicity. Generally one eye remained open to receive the message of the mate.

These three known modes of communication – sonorous, chromatic and ocular – do not explain how Ririri had perceived from far off the presence of Rororo in my home and succeeded in joining him. There are without doubt more subtle means of communication than those dependent on our five senses.

The chameleons always gave me the impression that they belonged to a very old race in possession of an ancient wisdom.

Compared to Rororo, full of calm and majesty, Ririri had an incredible adroitness and temerity. In the course of one of her innumerable perilous climbs, she fell from a height of several metres and fractured her tail. She could walk but not climb. Ants came in large numbers to attack her, so I kept her near me on my bed to protect her until the day of the grandiose spectacle in the course of which she left her body.

It began with a small black ripple traversing her from head to tail.

Another wave followed, then others more and more frequently.

Each one disappeared leaving in its wake something like a veil on Ririri's body.

Veil after veil spread over her, robing her, concealing her from sight.

She became nearly black.

The flow of incandescent lava that her life had been seemed now congealed at least on the surface.

I called her name once again: “Ririri!”

She had closed her eyes an hour before, never to reopen them, but the left ocular globe with which she generally expressed herself, vibrated in response beneath the verdigris eyelid. It was light and gay, a real star scintillation that said: “I am here, on the other side, very much alive!”

Rororo's health deteriorated rapidly. His old facial would which had never healed completely, became infected. He never again left the top of the birdcage, except for the last days that he spent on my bed.

When the moment came to leave his body too, I placed my hand on him and all his being turned towards me.

Voluntarily and energetically he began to pump his life and pour it into me in a movement of love, the reverse of that of a child suckling his mother. He sucked himself out, drew himself out with the enthusiasm of a butterfly that was in the shade and prepares itself to take flight towards the sunshine.

Beneath my hand remained the old skin empty of his presence.

His presence was elsewhere and otherwise, in a space-eternity where Rororo appears as a winged dragon and Ririri serves as a navigating star for the voyagers to the other world.