Dromedaries don’t make the news much in the west, but this one did last week in France, when somebody ate French President Francois Hollande’s camel. What?! All I can think is that you’ve got to be pretty hungry to eat a camel, but to eat a president’s camel, you’ve got to be rather ravenous.
I don’t know exactly how it happened, but apparently the government of Mali gave the camel to President Hollande as a gesture of gratitude for French intervention against Islamist rebels earlier this year. The camel was put in the care of a family in Timbuktu, but there must have been a majordomo breakdown in the translation because the host family broke out the ancestral knives and forks and feasted on that poor camel.
This depressing news caused me to drift back to a time in 1867 when Mark Twain had a personal encounter with a camel that he subsequently chronicled in his travel novel of 1872, “Roughing It.” I cite that singular experience here …
“In Syria, once, at the head-waters of the Jordan, a camel took charge of my overcoat while the tents were being pitched, and examined it with a critical eye, all over, with as much interest as if he had an idea of getting one made like it; and then, after he was done figuring on it as an article of apparel, he began to contemplate it as an article of diet. He put his foot on it, and lifted one of the sleeves out with his teeth, and chewed and chewed at it, gradually taking it in, and all the while opening and closing his eyes in a kind of religious ecstasy, as if he had never tasted anything as good as an overcoat before, in his life. Next he tried the velvet collar, and smiled a smile of such contentment that it was plain to see that he regarded that as the daintiest thing about an overcoat. The tails went next, along with some percussion caps and cough candy, and some fig-paste from Constantinople. And then my newspaper correspondence dropped out, and he took a chance on that. But he was treading on dangerous ground, now. He began to come across solid wisdom in those documents that was rather weighty on his stomach; but he held his grip and good courage, till at last he began to stumble on statements that not even a camel could swallow with impunity. He began to gag and gasp, and his eyes to stand out, and his forelegs to spread, and in about a quarter of a minute he fell over as stiff as a carpenter’s work-bench. I went and pulled my manuscript out of his mouth, and found that the sensitive creature had choked to death on one of the mildest and gentlest statements of fact that I ever laid before a trusting public.”
— McAvoy is a 30-year Tahoe resident. Learn more at ghostoftwain.org.