Book: Zarafa: A Giraffe’s True Story from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris by Michael Allin
Publisher: Walker and Company
Publication date: 1998
Summary: Zarafa tells the story of the first giraffe in France, arriving in Paris in 1827 after a journey from the southern reaches of the Nile by boat and on foot. As much about northern Africa as about France, this tale involves colorful characters in history that are little studied in the US — the leaders, scientists, and merchants who ushered in the field of natural history and the biological sciences.
Thoughts: I wanted to read Zarafa after our visit to the Rotunda, the oldest building in the zoo of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Our group enjoyed a buffet lunch there while mingling with some of the leadership and staff — kind of a diplomatic event between the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Jardin des Plantes. We also witnessed the other modern usage of the building — groups of children are taken into the alcoves where the animals once lived. They have been converted to classroom spaces for the sort of educational programming that zoos around the world provide.
Here’s what Michael Allin says about the Rotunda early in Zarafa:
Long before I ever saw it, I knew that the oldest tree in Paris has grown in le Jardin since it was founded in 1635; and that la Rotonde is the menagerie’s oldest and most beautiful building, designed to replicate the cross of the Napoleonic Legion of Honor; and that the menagerie, which is the world’s oldest municipal zoo, was started with animals rescued from the mobs of the French Revolution. p. 2.
Here’s a photo of the dramatic domed skylight in the center of the Rotunda.
The alcoves are arranged around the center dome. Here’s the door of one.
And here’s a look through a side window that shows the alcove jutting out.
With those photos, now imagine this scene from Zarafa about Atir, one of the north Africans who cared for the giraffe as she traveled to France.
Atir remained in Paris with Zarafa, becoming renowned as the Arab who lived with the giraffe in her enclosure at le Jardin des Plantes. Two ladders took him up to a mezzanine, where he slept within scratching reach of her head. Grooming her was his daily performance. By night, he was also famous as a neighborhood ladies’ man. p. 9
This was a charming book and I learned a great deal about that time in history, about the care and keeping of a giraffe, and about the places that Zarafa passed through during her journey.
Appeal: Zarafa is a book for animal lovers and history lovers.
Challenges: This is my 9th book for the Books on France 2013 Challenge . I’m also linking this book to the weekly Dreaming of France meme and to Paris in July. Lots of French-themed posts at all three of those links!
There are more photos on my Flickr page of some of our group in the Rotunda: Joy’s Photostream.
If you will be reading books to learn about France (or anything else) in the next couple of months, please join the Back to School Reading Challenge.
Have you read this book? What did you think?