There is something alluring and improbable about a dromedary – the proud, lofty head, the sharp incline of the hump, the smooth curve of the back and the strong muscle of the neck, and in every aspect, the nobility. The height can be appreciated from below, but it is not merely a matter of relative stature. The gait and bearing that can only be fully understood when riding. Looking up, oddly enough, the effect is not so majestic, but once in the saddle, there is a sense of being raised up, as on a mighty mountain peak. Coming off, a jerky, ungainly business, one watches the animal fold into itself as it descends. The action fascinates like a magician’s trick. Every time I am up I want to dismount and experience the ascent all over again and, although sometimes it feels cumbersome it is worth the lurching movements if nothing else than to watch the large bulls from nearer their own level.
When a dromedary sits the body cannot be viewed at its best, since only the flanks and head are in sight. From the side the profile is sharp, sculptured in gold and cream, whatever direction the light happens to be playing. But the eyelashes can be seen studied more clearly in this position. Chewing the cud lasts hours after grazing, though in some animals it is longer, and I have seen, in the intense, still heat of summer, not only the hump but the whole back glint with a violet incandescence. Sunset occasionally makes the fur glow, but this may be seen only rarely.
From the ears, which are constantly alert and erect, I can always tell the intelligence. Moving around the heaving belly to the rear, one finds only a lump-mass, rounded and unshapely, with no dignity at all except bulk. This is the rump, all too often the butt of an unfair joke, at the other end, the flaring nostrils, the long, elegant nose, the yellow teeth. The side view, on the other hand, was a place of swift and soaring lines. From this angle, the large hump, that prized feature for which the dromedary is best known, stands a foot above the smooth back, which is broad and strong enough to carry a thousand pounds.
There is a dream-like beauty about my own dromedary, but there is something else about her. Height, movement, distance, angle, perspective: all these things matter in a picture, but emotion is the most important. Nowadays, whenever I feel low, it gives me such comfort to think of her and I do so with great fondness, because she has allowed me to glimpse into her soul.
I shall always remain grateful to her because, among many other things, she made me see I wanted to write and paint what the world feels like rather than what it looks like; and perhaps even to confuse those two things, and only when I found her did I begin to understand that in that place of vision and feeling, perception and emotion are connected.