memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘fables’ Category

Eels

ATLANTIC EEL

Here is a fable about eels. Imagine that all the eels in the western hemisphere are born in the same place – that still heart of the Atlantic currents known as the Bermuda Triangle, the floating seaweed islands of the dark Saragossa sea.

Nature is full of such curiosities. All north American bats, for example, every year answer the call and congregate in their tens of thousands above Manhattan, dark clouds of bats swooping above the plains, momentarily obscuring the Florida sun, all heading for the same giant caves in Montana, Texas or Ontario, there to cling precariously to the roofs in their millions and produce their young, who in turn cling desperately to their parents, trying to evade the various predators crawling far below them in their own white alkaline excrement. From time to time a baby bat loses its grip on its parent and plummets to the floor of the cave – splat!

Back to the eels – they spawn their young silently in the misty floating islands and then wait, brooding.

The holocaust of the eels is about to begin. It all hinges on which direction they take to launch out on their odyssey: to the left lies life – to the right lies ARBEIT MACHT FREI and ultimate death. Let’s follow the fortunes of the latter – the European eels.

They swim, wriggling and gliding on the friendly currents of the Atlantic gulf-stream until they arrive at the coasts of Europe and penetrate the rivers and lakes, marshes and fenlands of the western sea-board. From the marshes of Friesland to the lagoons of Portugal, they burrow into the mud, transforming from sea-water to fresh-water creatures.

Some of the eels succumb to the toxicity of the waters, others fall foul of fishermen’s nets, yet others form the fish-course in restaurants for aficionados. But most of the eels survive the summer and emerge from their muddy ponds to make their way down-stream and congregate at the mouths of rivers all along the Atlantic coast. They brace themselves for the great swim back to the ancestral breeding grounds in the Saragossa Sea.

None of eels will make it!

The Atlantic currents, so favourable for the outward migration, are too hostile for the return journey. There are few things in nature as poignant as the thought of those eels valiantly swimming homewards and one by one, overcome by exhaustion, dying silently in the cold dark waters of the ungenerous ocean.

DROWNING EELS

An all-seeing God (2)

The day of the confinement arrived.

It was a dark threatening evening; distant thunder muttered in the mountains and lightening flickered silently over the plain. In the village, people hurried in out of the streets to their cosy fire-lit homes and drew their curtains on the dark stormy night.

At the inn the poor woman’s labour began, while her husband was below in the tap-room quaffing beer with his cronies.

The birth was a long drawn-out agony and when, at dawn, the baby was eventually born he was sickly and not expected to survive the night.

The mother lay back in her bed sweating and exhausted – effete. She clutched the priest’s hand and asked about her baby.

–              The poor wee mite is a bit poorly my daughter but with the Lord’s help he will live; don’t forget that He is all-knowing and all-seeing. Do not worry, place your trust in the wisdom of Our Lord and everything will come out alright in the end, Frau Hitler.

AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU COMPLEX

 

Eels

Here is a fable about eels. Imagine that all the eels in the western hemisphere are born in the same place – that still heart of the Atlantic currents known as the Bermuda Triangle, the floating seaweed islands of the dark Saragossa sea.

Nature is full of such curiosities. All north American bats, for example, every year answer the call and congregate in their tens of thousands above Manhattan, dark clouds of bats swooping above the plains, momentarily obscuring the Florida sun, all heading for the same giant caves in Montana, Texas or Ontario, there to cling precariously to the roofs in their millions and produce their young, who in turn cling desperately to their parents, trying to evade the various predators crawling far below them in their own white alkaline excrement. From time to time a baby bat loses its grip on its parent and plummets to the floor of the cave – splat!

painting of eggs by Thomas Milner

Painting - Eggs - by Thomas Milner

Back to the eels – they spawn their young silently in the misty floating islands and then wait, brooding.

The holocaust of the eels is about to begin. It all hinges on which direction they take to launch out on their odyssey: to the left lies life – to the right lies ARBEIT MACHT FREI and ultimate death. Let’s follow the fortunes of the latter – the European eels.

They swim, wriggling and gliding on the friendly currents of the Atlantic gulf-stream until they arrive at the coasts of Europe and penetrate the rivers and lakes, marshes and fenlands of the western sea-board. From the marshes of Friesland to the lagoons of Portugal, they burrow into the mud, transforming from sea-water to fresh-water creatures.

Some of the eels succumb to the toxicity of the waters, others fall foul of fishermen’s nets, yet others form the fish-course in restaurants for aficionados. But most of the eels survive the summer and emerge from their muddy ponds to make their way down-stream and congregate at the mouths of rivers all along the Atlantic coast. They brace themselves for the great swim back to the ancestral breeding grounds in the Saragossa Sea.

None of eels will make it!

The Atlantic currents, so favourable for the outward migration, are too hostile for the return journey. There are few things in nature as poignant as the thought of those eels valiantly swimming homewards and one by one, overcome by exhaustion, dying silently in the cold dark waters of the ungenerous ocean.

The Angel of Death

… We got as far south as Ouargla that day, a white shimmering vision rising out of sand. The sky was an impossible blue but the south-east wind was oppressive, a precursor to a sirocco?

I wandered dreamily around the souk and watched a vendor laying out his fruit and vegetables on a mat under his striped awning. A cloud of flies transferred their attention from a pile of camel droppings to the luscious tomatoes and succulent grapes; that fruit must be really good, I thought automatically, so many flies can’t all be wrong. A shadow fell across me and I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and a chill descended on my heart.

The Grand Vizier was strolling in the green gardens of the Caliph’s magnificent palace in Cairo; he entered the famous maze and paced down the soft grassy alleys, lost in thought, his head full of Affairs of State. Suddenly he saw the Angel of Death at the end of a long alley, who frowned at him in a significant manner before disappearing down another corridor.

The agitated Vizier hurried back to the palace and requested an urgent audience with the Sultan. The young Sultan was grooming his favourite falcon but, having respect for the old man, he immediately granted him entry into his presence. The old man entered the room and spoke thus:

–              Your Highness, I have served the Fatimid family faithfully for over fifty years, advising your revered grandfather, your illustrious father and now yourself (Allah be praised) and until now I have never ever asked you for a favour. But just now, as I was walking in your Highness’ gardens, I saw The Angel of Death and he gave me a sinister knowing look.

The Sultan stroked his black oiled moustache thoughtfully, the great ruby in his turban glittered and the falcon’s fierce eyes regarded the venerable old man haughtily:

–              You have indeed served my family well Grand Vizier and because of the esteem in which we hold you, I will solve your problem. In my stables I have a magic carpet which can take you in an instance to a place on the far side of my empire and thus you will be able to escape the Angel of Death. I suggest the souk at Ouargla in the western desert.

OLD MAN

So the Grand Vizier hastened to the stables and climbed onto the magic carpet and wished himself to Ouargla in the Western Sahara and was there in an instant. In a daze he wandered around the souk and found himself vacantly watching a fruit seller laying out his wares on a mat under his awning. Suddenly a dark shadow fell across him; he turned and a chill descended on his heart. He found himself face to face with The Angel of Death who addressed him formally:

–              Your time has arrived and I have come to fetch you and gather you up into eternity.

–              But … but … but I saw you only an hour ago in the maze of the Sultan’s garden on the other side of the empire and you frowned at me significantly.

–              Yes I did indeed see you an hour ago in the Sultan’s garden, but the look I gave you was one of surprise and astonishment;

you see I knew that I had an appointment with you in an hour’s time here in the souk in Ouargla and I was wondering how on earth you were going to make it on time.

An all-seeing God

The idea behind the following little tale I shamelessly borrow from one of my heroes – Roald Dahl.

Once upon a time there lived in Austro-Hungary towards the end of the 19th century a family of five – father, mother and three children. They lived in a country village near the German frontier, where the father worked as a customs official. The family was staying at an inn, the Gasthof Zum Pommer, with its pretty orchard of apple trees at the back. While the father went to work every day at the frontier post, the three children attended the local village school and the mother, who was very pious, busied herself around the village with good works and worshipped daily at Mass in the church.

One day the mother found herself to be expecting another child.

In those days society and the Catholic Church in general, and her authoritarian husband in particular, all conspired against her to produce babies – a task to which she was neither physically nor temperamentally suited. She was a thin nervous woman and her previous two pregnancies had ended in miscarriages. She decided to visit her friend the priest at the church and confide her fears and doubts to him. She explained about her abusive husband and trembled lest the birth should be problematic.

–          Put your trust in God, my daughter and let us kneel down and pray for the safety of your unborn child.

So she and the priest knelt in the church and prayed fervently and she derived spiritual comfort there from. Before she left the priest blessed her and urged her to say a novena of her rosary each day.

The day of the confinement arrived. It was a dark threatening evening; distant thunder muttered in the mountains and lightening flickered silently over the plain. In the village, people hurried in out of the streets to their cozy fire-lit homes and drew their curtains against the dark stormy night.

At the inn the poor woman’s labour began, while her husband was below in the tap-room quaffing beer with his cronies. The birth was a long drawn-out agony and when the baby was eventually born he was sickly and not expected to survive the night. The mother lay back in her bed sweating and exhausted – effete. She clutched the priest’s hand and asked about her baby.

–          The poor wee mite is a bit poorly my daughter but with the Lord’s help he will live; don’t forget that He is all-knowing and all-seeing. Do not worry, place your trust in the wisdom of Our Lord and everything will come out alright in the end, Frau Hitler.

Aprés Nous Le Déluge

Eels

Here is a fable about eels. Imagine that all the eels in the western hemisphere are born in the same place – that still heart of the Atlantic currents known as the Bermuda Triangle, the floating seaweed islands of the dark Saragossa sea. Nature is full of such curiosities. All north American bats, for example, every year answer the call and congregate in their tens of thousands above Manhattan, dark clouds of bats swooping above the plains, momentarily obscuring the Florida sun, all heading for the same giant caves in Montana, Texas or Ontario, there to cling precariously to the roofs in their millions and produce their young, who in turn cling desperately to their parents, trying to evade the various predators crawling far below them in their own white alkaline excrement. From time to time a baby bat loses its grip on its parent and plummets to the floor of the cave – splat! (to be continued)

painting of eggs by Thomas Milner

Painting - Eggs - by Thomas Milner

Back to the eels – they spawn their young silently in the misty floating islands and then wait, brooding. The holocaust of the eels is about to begin. It all hinges on which direction they take to launch out on their odyssey: to the left lies life – to the right lies ARBEIT MACHT FREI and ultimate death. Let’s follow the fortunes of the latter – the European eels. They swim, wriggling and gliding on the friendly currents of the Atlantic gulf-stream until they arrive at the coasts of Europe and penetrate the rivers and lakes of the western sea-board. From the marshes of Friesland to the lagoons of Portugal, they burrow into the mud, transforming from sea-water to fresh-water creatures. Some of the eels succumb to the toxicity of the waters, others fall foul of fishermen’s nets, yet others form the fish-course in restaurants for aficionados. But most of the eels survive the summer and emerge from their muddy ponds to make their way down-stream and congregate at the mouths of rivers all along the Atlantic coast. They brace themselves for the great swim back to the ancestral breeding grounds in the Saragossa Sea. None of eels will make it. The Atlantic currents, so favourable for the outward migration, are too hostile for the return journey. There are few things in nature as poignant as the thought of those eels valiantly swimming homewards and one by one, overcome by exhaustion, dying silently in the cold dark waters of the ungenerous ocean.

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