Friday, September 16, 2005

Gold, cognac diamonds and elephants


As we speak my home is being transformed into a very up-market jewellry display space. I almost said shop but that was not elegant enough.

I had known that we were having a reception this evening. I had been told that it was something Trade was going to organise and look after, and that it would be a reception to support an Australian group who wished to break into the jewellery market in Cairo. I hadn't actually realised that the jewellery would be here with them.

I had retreated, somewhat miffed that I had slept till ten and effectively wiped out a perfectly good 'Sunday' as it is our day off. We were trapped between furniture movers arriving at 1.30pm to shift furniture around for the reception and the fact that I had slept in and there wasn't really enough time to do anything much in the middle.

I guess I should have realised that if we needed furniture movers we probably should have expected other furniture to move in. In a way I had lots of clues.

Clue number one was the number of Ambassadors' wives at last night's function telling me that they were really looking forward to seeing the jewellery display next day. Luckily I had just made non-commital noises while intending to ask more questions later.

Clue number two was a phone call to Bob at the reception last night to say that the cases for the jewellery were to be delivered at 11.30. I thought that meant am - but it didn't, they brought them close to midnight. They were left out in ferocious Cairo sun, dust and humidity.

OK, by now I guess I had realised that there would be Jewellery. Capital letter intentional.

At 1.30 I was up on the roof in my studio happily sewing. I heard sounds in the front of the house and looked out the window of my eyrie. My front entrance looked like the opening of a movie, with suits converging on the curved stairs in the entrance. From above they looked imposing, especially the really enormous ones with shaved heads and huge shoulders. I have never met furniture movers who arrive in suits, so I turned off the machine, stopped on the first floor to run a brush through my hair, slipped my feet into shoes, and put on some over-large Bedouin jewellery.

Downstairs the hall seemed full of people and Bob was welcoming them. For a horrifying moment I thought that the reception actually started at 1.30 and someone had the time wrong - and we had no waiters, no food, and no drinks. And I was wearing cropped cotton pants and a short sleeved cotton shirt.

No - this was the designers - about ten of our top designers, already in their best clothing and ready to set up. Plus three very very very large security guards. Plus four furniture movers. Plus two from Austrade, including my good friend Joseph. That was before the carpenters arrived to help set up and wire the cabinets.

We put out water and ice and glasses. They opened all the outside doors to allow easy access of diamonds and jewellery cases, and guards, and dust and heat and wind and leaves. We turned air conditioning up and poured lots of water.

Furniture movers and guards muttered that they were hungry, someone came up with the idea of ordering in some food, and we foudn the book with all the magic phone numbers. food was ordered.

Then two trucks turned up with the caterers at the back door. Immediately those who had ordered food wanted to cancel the order as now the caterers could feed them. I pointed out that the caterers had been asked to supply food for an evening reception, not lunch for men who looked like sumo wrestlers.

I looked at some of the jewellery being laid out on my dining room table.


I never thought I was really interested in fine Jewllery. There was a collar of gold and diamonds including fourteen large cognac diamonds and champagne diamonds that would have covered my little fingernail that I would have given four large quilts to own. Unfortunately it cost more than a million dollars. A ring of a huge dome of pave diamonds, a ring with one huge champagne diamond emerald cut and framed in tiny diamonds. So much glitter, and so much money!!!!

At the moment there are about forty people moving around the ground floor. I have moved out of the way and I am hiding. Half our lounge room furniture is piled in this study so I have a chair teetering somewhat on a pile of large rolled rugs.

I asked, half joking (only half) which piece they wanted me to wear and was immediately offered my choice. I am not sure I want the responsibility of any of it.

I will let you know how it goes.


I am still moving slowly through Sri Lanka. We left Columbo early on our third morning and stopped mid morning for a look at the Elephant Nursery.

I had been warned that two young elephants were quite damaged and not to be distressed about them. One is a little baby with no ears - he was attacked by a leopard when really small. The other is an older female who trod on a land mine and is missing a large part of a leg. She struggled for three days to get to a place where they run an elephant medical clinic for mahouts to bring working elephants with injuries. I found this almost unbearably touching.

We arrived and headed up the hill. At the top large groups of elephants were moving huge lumps of foliage around and stripping off leaves. Trucks brought the branches in. It is very efficient. You sniff along the piece that takes your eye with your trunk until you decide if you really want to eat it. Then you put your foot on the thick end of the branch, curl the two finger like protrusions at the end of your trunk around the branch, and run them to the end, tightening as you go. This effectively leaves you with a trunk full of leaves, which you swirl to you mouth in a single movement and swallow. Then step to the next nearby branch and start again.

Whole families of elephants were arriving. Apparently elephants who come as orphans stay and marry and settle and have more babies.

They are just beautiful. They are so tender and caring with their babies. It was easy to see the difference between the Sri Lankans who grow up with elephants, and visitors who don't. Foreigners tended to stay put as large elephants lumbered towards them and only moved away somewhat indignantly when mahouts shouted at them. You can almost see them thinking "Silly bugger just wrecked a good photo!" The locals move away fast when elephants veer in their direction. It is actually quite funny as whole lines bend and curve like vertical Mexican waves.

The babies are bottle fed in another enclosure and there was a three day old - so tiny and wobbly and dear. I fed a baby - and it was just wonderful. Its little trunk curled around my arm to push the bottle in further.

Then the whole lot troop down to the river to be washed. I loved seeing mahouts who bond to their elephant for life - of whichever dies first. They crawl all over these great creatures. The elephants headed, single file, to the other side of the river where there were huge mud pits, and came back looking hennaed. Then rolled around being scrubbed with coconut fibre till they looked pink and polkadotted.

These are just a couple of the photos - click on any of them to view the whole set...
Elephant Orphanage Elephant Orphanage
Elephant Orphanage Elephant Orphanage


Blogger Kt said...

Wow - can't wait to hear how it went...

10:10 am  
Blogger Helen from Canberra said...

Hi Jenny,

All I can say is that the life of the wife of an ambassador is never dull!!!

Regards Helen

PS It's a beautiful spring day in Canberra today, I have just come in from working in the garden. Temps 3o to 15o.

11:05 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenny --

We want photos! Preferably one of you wearing one of those gorgeous pieces!

Love, Tena

6:02 pm  
Anonymous Penny said...

What a fantastic description of the elephant orhanage, now I definitely want to go and we must see you in some of that jewellery, Penny in Kuwait.

7:16 pm  
Anonymous Bar Price said...

Hi Jenny - it is wonderful to be reading your blog again and the photos are fabulous. Thank you for such enjoyment.

7:35 pm  
Anonymous Wendy P said...

We never know where your blog is going to take us, but it's always fascinating. I hope there will be a book one day.

In Canberra on a fine spring day

10:21 am  

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