What would you think a giraffe was if you’d never seen one before? A camel? A horse? A leopard with those spots? Based on a true story, A Giraffe Goes to Paris by Mary Tavener Holmes and John Harris, the Pasha of Egypt sends a gift to King Charles X of France in 1826. No one in France had ever seen a giraffe before and no one knew what she was.
The story is narrated by Atir, Belle’s attendant and he tells the story of Belle’s trip on the Nile with her entourage of three cows (for milk) and two antelopes (for company). Fitting a giraffe on a wooden boat is a bit tricky. It was too dangerous to keep her above on the deck and she was too tall to go below, so they cut a hole in the deck for her head to stick out and and provided her with an umbrella to keep the sun and rain off of her.
When they arrived in Marseilles, people didn’t know what to think. They had never seen such a creature before. Lavish parties were thrown in Belle’s honor, new fashions were started, but they still had to get Belle to Paris so she could be given to the king and Paris was 500 miles further away. Today you can fly or take the high speed train between Marseilles or even drive, but how would you get a giraffe there? There were no carts big enough to get her there so they decided to walk the entire five hundred miles. She of course needed the right clothes to protect her from the different climate. The temperatures and climates in France are not the same as in Egypt!
They set off for the walk to Paris with quite the entourage and crowds lining the roads to get a glimpse of the fabulous giraffe. Inns hung out special signs welcoming Belle and they wound their way through Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Orange, Valence, and Lyons on their way to Paris. After eight weeks, they finally arrived in Paris and were introduced to the King where Belle charmingly munched rose petals from his hand. Belle was installed in Le jardain des plantes where she lived for the next eighteen years. In the first six months, more than six hundred thousand Parisians came to see her. It certainly made us think about the way we take zoos for granted!
A Giraffe Goes to Paris is based on a true story and is a great combination of history and geography with Belle sailing up the Nile and then walking the 500 miles from Marseilles to Paris. My youngest has asked to read it every night this week and really enjoyed the pictures of Belle and tracing the map of her journey. Le jardain des plantes where Belle lived is the main botanical garden in France. It also includes the Museum of Palentology, and the Grand Gallery of Evolution along with an entomology and mineralogy museum.