Last night I was at a friend's house and she had a recent issue of National Geographic sitting on her coffee table which sparked all sorts of enthusiastic conversation about shared memories and effective brand marketing. The current issue was about China, with a fantastic photo essay featured inside. About five minutes looking at the magazine and I felt like I was ten years old again, in the old house I was born and raised in, standing in our living room and having to get past a freaky Victorian monkey with cymbals and beady eyes to get to our impressive National Geographic archive. Yes, I did write that correctly--a freaky Victorian monkey, and it looked exactly like this:
Let me give a little background...
On the first floor of my house growing up, we had a formal living room and dining room that we used for dinner parties, special occasions and holidays. Occasionally I would wander into these cold, austere rooms and look at all the books in the bookshelves and the pictures on the walls, and pause for a moment to sit on one of the two outrageously loud yellow sofas around the fireplace. Along one of the walls was a built-in that was shelving from about the waist up, and below were cupboards the mostly stored my parents' extensive record collection. In the middle of these cupboards was one section that for some reason always held a few Christmas decorations and stacks upon stacks of saved National Geographic magazines. Every issue of the magazine was like a rich textbook of some fascinating foreign country, full of maps, photos, and enough information to adequately support any school project. The yellow binding of the National Geographics caused the entire stack to appear even more encyclopedic, with volumes upon volumes of yellow treasure troves of ideas and information.
Now, as I mentioned, next to the stacks of the National Geographics were a few random Christmas decorations. These included some snow globes, a few small toy carolers, and I think a little Nordic Santa Claus in a sled. And the monkey. For some reason, that freaky evil monkey with it's menacing eyes, and perfectly functioning symbols was sitting right there in the Christmas decorations, next to the National Geographics. It was as though he was the guard, and every time I wanted to look at the Great Coral Reef or acres of beautiful untouched fjords in Scandinavia, I would have to get past that creepy simian.
To this day, we still have the monkey, and he is still with the Christmas decorations, even though we've moved twice since the house I grew up in. I've gotten over the eerie stare and grown out of my childish fear, but my brother hasn't. It's the best prank ever to put the evil monkey in random places in the house and watch the freak-out ensue. I am sure that the picture alone will give him enough of a start.
In sum, I associate National Geographic with that creepy monkey, but what it really reminds me of is a certain melancholy nostalgia and a specific memory of a time, a place, and a sentiment that I associate as a youthful innocence and curiosity. It's only with fondness that I think of National Geographic--of my parents, of Christmas, of cold rooms with yellow sofas, of antiquity, snow globes, and monkeys.