Friday, October 24, 2008

the unicorn in captivity


We met at the bus stop and spent most of the morning at the museum, walking carefully through stone rooms of objects that glittered blue, red and gold, past innumerable heavy-lidded Madonnas, and out into the garden, where, when no one was looking, we picked a quince from a quince tree.

Later, we waited, side by side in front of the tapestry, the famous one that shows the end of the chase. Caged at last, the unicorn kneels, its head docilely lowered, chained to a tree and circled by a fence. The room was full of people and the docent cleared her throat and began to explain the symbolism of the dandelion and the thistle.

I turned away to look at the fireplace on the opposite wall. It was big enough and deep enough that I could have stood inside it. To one side was an ivory column that rose tapering and pale, ridged with spirals that twined like braids. It was only the elongated tooth of a narwhal,* that grey and finless Arctic whale. But it was easy to understand how someone might have mistaken it for a unicorn's horn.







*I realize it's totally going to ruin the tone of this post if I mention The Avenging Narwhal or his tireless quest to rid the world of cuteness once and for all. But, well, you know.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

C'est le Muséee de Cluny, non? I love the tapestry of La Dame et l'icorne. Why don't we have tapestries now? There really very cool. There is a novel by Tracy Chevalier about that tapestry, the author who who wrote "The Girl with the Pearl Earring."
allypally

niobe said...

Hey, allypally: email me your address, so I can send you your prize. Please? Pretty please?

h2o girl said...

Ah, The Cloisters. One of my favorite places on the planet.

Anonymous said...

Should read "they're"...sorry Niobe. I will try e-mailing my address again.
allypally

Magpie said...

You are a fan of Archie McPhee? I knew I liked you.

Antigone said...

I don't believe in unicorns anymore. Nor do I want to capture one.

flutter said...

this was just amazing, Niobe

zarqa said...

Ooo, the Cloisters. What a strange wonderful place that is. There was only one quince on the quince tree when I was there; I dare not pick it.

Zee said...

It sounds so romantic and lovely. However, if, in the gift shop, you'd found a pop-up book of the myth of Pandora's Box, and then heard someone (surprisingly, yet skillfully) playing Ode to Joy on a toy xylophone, it would have been perfect.