Funny, you can't hide your lion eyes: When Detectives Beyond Borders met Haile Selassie
I found Kapuściński's The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat instead. While I can't yet comment on the various controversies surrounding Kapuściński's alleged collaboration with Poland's Communist government or his crossing lines between fiction and non-fiction, I smiled when I read this account of the book's subject, Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, passing among petitioners in one of his twenty-seven cars:
“You see, it was known that His Majesty, not using his powers of reading and writing, had a phenomenally developed visual memory. On this gift of nature the owner of the face over which the Imperial gaze had passed could build his hopes. Because he could already count on some passing trace, even an indistinct trace, having imprinted itself in His Highness's memory. Now, you had to maneuver in the crowd with such perseverance and determination, so squeeze yourself and worm through, so push, so jostle, so position your face, dispose and manipulate it in such a way, that the Emperor’s glance, unwillingly and unknowingly, would notice, notice, notice. Then you waited for the moment to come when the Emperor would think, `Just a minute. I know that face, but I don’t know the name.'”I smiled because I was part of the crowd that surrounded Haile Selassie upon his visit to Montreal's Expo 67 world's fair. My memory tells me that he was a little guy, that his car was white, that the emperor wasn't smiling, that he sat in the left rear passenger seat, and that I was close enough to the car that I could look right down on him. (Those were different times.)
If Kapuscinski's interlocutor in The Emperor was right, I could have hit His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings (Emperor) of Ethiopia, Elect of God up for a few favors before he was deposed in 1974. But would he really have remembered my youthful face? Haile unlikely, I say.
“a traditional Polish anecdotal narrative exercised throughout the literary history of the 17th to the 19th centuries by segments of lower nobility and sometimes referred to by the irreverent as the art of elegant mendacity.”I must pursue this attractive genre further, maybe even write some gawęda szlachecka beyond borders of my own.
© Peter Rozovsky 2012