As Halloween draws near, some of us are considering what costume to wear and there are lots of choices. You can be a witch, ghoul, fairy princess or prince charming. This practice began in Europe in the middle ages and was called “guising.”
Yet, somewhere this tradition of masquerade seems more of a charm towards glamour. For one day a year, you can embrace the sinister traits of human nature or step into the realm of a chivalrous court to conquer evil in its many disguises.
“Axolotl” was written by Julio Cortázar in 1963, an experimental Argentine writer who defected to France during the Perón era.
The story starts off with the narrator introducing himself as an axolotl. He reminisced about his visits to a botanical garden in Paris known as the Jardin des Plantes. He wandered through the gardens, menagerie and finally to the aquarium where he found the axolotls housed inside a tank.
He was so fascinated with them that he studied their species and visited them on a daily basis. He stared constantly at their little rosy bodies, analyzed their details and scrutinized their behavior especially toward him.
He noticed they were studying him, too. One axolotl was especially curious of him as intensely as he was of it. While they were staring at each other in some meditative state, a phenomenal shift took place between man and salamander. The man’s consciousness went into the body of the axolotl and the axolotl’s awareness moved into the man’s body.
The narrator, now inside the tank with the other axolotls watched his body walk out of the aquarium. He watched himself visit several times but seemed to keep a respectful distance and left “briskly.” He saw his human form less and less, as if the axolotl inside didn’t want to give up his new shell.
Cortázar presented incredible detail about these creatures, their appearance and biological features. Then, he started to speculate regarding their intellect. He reasoned in ways the reader would find strange and acceptable based on visual analysis and imagination.
This brings up an interesting question. Could a salamander have a psyche? Did they like their domestic lifestyle? Are they studying us?
I visited a large and very well known aquarium with my family. This aquarium had hundreds of tanks with thousands of fish. It was a very fascinating and beautiful place. While I was staring at the giant manta rays doing summersaults and razor tooth sand sharks floating by like zombies, a small yellow fish swam up to me. It boldly entered my vision with a curious expression in its cold eye, staring at me like I was on exhibit. And I mean, it treaded water to remain stationary to stare at me. It was a little disturbing so I gave it a ghetto-look and walked away.
Five minutes later, I found myself pondering the possibilities.
This is a good story for those masqueraders on the spookiest night of the year. Be very careful of the temporary disguise for your evening, you may find yourself in it permanently. Trick or treat.