By Vita Forest
I is for …Ibis
After visiting ArtExpress (fabulous) at the Art Gallery of NSW, we stopped to peruse the gift shop. I always like to look at the shops at art galleries and museums. They are usually full of strange and unusual items. This one had dachshund book-ends and fibreglass rhinos, pizza slicers disguised as bikes and colour-in maps of three major cities… And also a picture book called Alphabetical Sydney, which is kind of apt at the moment with the A to Z challenge and all. I flicked through to “i” to see what Hilary Bell and Antonia Pesenti represented for that letter. I is for Ibis, they thought.
I is for ibis… I thought, and a mind-map exploded in my head with arrows pointing down the road to the Royal Botanical Gardens, to bins in school yards, to my son Max, to Ancient Egypt and a dog called Merlin.
Let’s follow the path.
Leaving the Art Gallery of New South Wales and turning right, you can stroll down into the Royal Botanical Gardens, a most delightful spot for a picnic, or a walk, or anything at all really. (Except if you are a thirteen-year old boy – Max grumbled along saying how boring it all was, walks were just dirt tracks and trees in the bush, or grass and trees in the Gardens…) You can walk through the ferns and the palms and the camellias and the garden beds, down to Farm Cove and look out across the harbour. Or sit under a shady tree near the ponds and mark the swish of an eel’s tail just beneath the surface of the water. There are other forms of wildlife in the Gardens too, there used to be a whole colony of flying foxes, but these have been dispersed elsewhere (Centennial Park Betty tells me). We saw cormorants nesting in the safety of a tiny island, sulphur-crested cockatoos squawking through the trees, and of course, a couple of ibises. These birds seem to be a fixture in our city and have adapted to city living quite happily. They walk jauntily along the ground, creeping closer to picnickers, hoping to swipe a scrap or two in their hooked beaks. They are also very successful in school playgrounds, where they grip the sides of bins with their claws and rifle through rubbish, looking for some tasty leftovers. They don’t attack people, but neither are they put off by a spot of chasing by irritated children.
As we ate our lunch in the Gardens, after ArtExpress, after the gift shop, after seeing Alphabetical Sydney, an ibis wandered close to us and got chased away by a roaring, barefoot Max.
“Which god is the ibis?” I asked. He couldn’t remember. But when he was about six, he knew the Egyptian Gods backwards. He read countless books, he wrote in hieroglyphics, and he built pyramids out of Lego. He still has a couple of brass statues he bought with birthday and pocket and busking money. There was a local new-age shop he used to haunt, which stocked Egyptian artefacts as well as crystals. Max would study the statues in order to plan his next purchase.
“How much is Anubis?” he’d ask. “What about Seth?”
He had serious and complicated discussions with the store-owner about the merits of the various gods. A small white husky sat on the counter listening. His name was Merlin.
So, due to the passing of time and interests, I have had to look up the name of the ibis god. It’s Thoth, the god of knowledge. And there ends our path for the letter “i”.