Try saying that a few times fast, or even saying it once after you've had a cocktail!
My dear friend JoEllen gave me this vintage ceramic pink elephant for my birthday this week. Since my birthday falls close to Easter, she filled it with foil-wrapped chocolate bunnies and cellophane grass. I think it will look lovely with a small maidenhair fern or African violet sprouting out like a basket from his "saddle."
Photo ©2009 Jaya Savannah.
Immediately, I noticed that its trunk is raised up, which makes this piece a "lucky elephant." The history of elephants being considered an auspicious animal goes back to Ganesha, a Hindu deity associated with good beginnings (as seen in the above photo, next to the gift on my altar.) However, the elephant with raised trunk being used as a symbol of good luck seems to be more of an American mythology. Here is a link to an article from my favorite curio store, Lucky Mojo in neighboring Forestville all about The Lucky Elephant.
I also noticed that the planter is an African elephant. You can tell by his large ears!
Then the obvious dawned on me. OH! It's a pink elephant. That started to give me an idea of what vintage it might be (there's no company stamp on the planter.) It's probably from the 40's or 50's. That was during the pink elephant heyday!
So what's the meaning of pink elephants, anyway? They seem to be tied in with alcohol somehow.
One of the most famous examples is the pink elephant scene from Dumbo (1941) where Timothy and Dumbo accidentally get drunk on champagne and start hallucinating pink elephants on parade. That scene frightened me as a child, and it still seems creepy to me now. Here's the video clip:
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Yet I wondered if the phrase "seeing pink elephants" started because of Dumbo or from something else. Wikipedia to the rescue!
"Seeing pink elephants" is a euphemism for drunken hallucination, caused by alcoholic hallucinosis or delirium tremens. The first recorded use of the term is by Jack London in 1913, who describes one sort of alcoholic in the autobiographical John Barleycorn as "the man whom we all know, stupid, unimaginative, whose brain is bitten numbly by numb maggots; who walks generously with wide-spread, tentative legs, falls frequently in the gutter, and who sees, in the extremity of his ecstasy, blue mice and pink elephants. He is the type that gives rise to the jokes in the funny papers." London may have derived his metaphor from the 1890s saying "being followed by pink giraffes."
I had no idea that phrase came from Jack London. This soon to be released version of his "Alcoholic Memoirs" looks interesting. I don't know very much about his life, except that I've read Call of the Wild and have visited nearby Jack London State Park, where he wrote and drank until he died. He was integral to Sonoma County history (where I reside.) Perhaps I'll pick up a copy and take it with me for reading on a day hike at his park.
More information on pink elephants and vintage cocktail culture can be found on Shaken & Stirred, a blog about the "Wonderful World of Cocktail Shakers & Bar Ware Collecting, Cocktails, and Booze..." The blog's author, Jimbo (reminds me of Jumbo the elephant, or Jambo! which is hello in Swahili) did a nice historical overview in a post called The Pink Elephant. He's also got some great photos of 1940's pink elephant cocktail shakers and retro graphics! I also just learned that there is a cocktail called a Pink Elephant and he gives the recipe, too.
Which reminds me...
Photo ©2009 Jaya Savannah.
There's a bar called The Pink Elephant in Monte Rio, a speck of a town in the Russian River resort area of Northern California. I took that photo of the sign one day. It was around 1pm, and when I peered inside I could see quite a few hard-drinking types cloistered in the dark tavern. Frankly, it looks a bit rough, although I've heard that new owners have improved it since then and it's a pretty fun place to go (when you're in the mood for a dive bar kind of experience.) Hmmm... I wonder if they know how to make Pink Elephant cocktails there? This story might have to be continued later. Oh, the things I'll do for research!