Johnny America


You Are There: (Bern, Switzer­land) Bärengraben


You are an Amer­i­can tourist or­bit­ing be­tween the large pits that com­prise the Bären­graben (Bear gar­den) in Bern, Switzer­land. Both of the pits are about twelve feet deep, though they are of dif­fer­ing area. You’re lean­ing against the steel rail of the large pit watch­ing a spar­row hop to­ward a brown fe­male. She is eat­ing an or­ange. You hear a grunt from be­hind and turn to see a be­spec­ta­cled tech set­ting up a tele­vi­sion cam­era. You at­tempt to act non­cha­lant while con­tin­u­ing your ob­ser­va­tions, aware your im­age is be­ing dig­i­tized. You won­der if you’re go­ing to be in a hu­man-in­ter­est news spot.

A group of school chil­dren who are stand­ing near the fir tree erupt in­to cho­rus of oohs and aahs. Their re­frain seems off kil­ter be­cause you still haven’t ad­just­ed to the French-Ger­man­ic ac­cent. They’re point­ing at a pair of sun­glass­es near the front left paw of a par­tic­u­lar­ly scrag­gly Pyre­nean brown. A child with a blue cap has a look of em­bar­rass­ment and con­cern. Those are his shades, you sur­mise. You say a lit­tle prayer. God, you say, I promise I’ll be­lieve for­ev­er and ever if on­ly make that bear put on those sun­glass­es. You look at her claws, hopeful.

You check the cor­ner of your vi­sion to see if you’re still in the cam­er­a’s eye. To your re­lief, you are not. The cam­era man has fo­cused on the scarred fir tree that the bears re­port­ed­ly climb when they want to peer over the lip of their sunken home and catch views of the Ny­degg chapel and Aare riv­er. You see the bears and the torn bark, but you don’t quite be­lieve they climb it. These beasts seem very lazy and it’s hard for you to imag­ine them brav­ing dar­ing feats of acrobatics.

You wan­der to the small­er en­clo­sure. Twigs are float­ing in the con­crete wad­ing pool. There are two plat­forms in the pool that a bear might sit on. These plat­forms are at dis­tinct heights, so a bear can choose the shal­low­ness of his bath ac­cord­ing to his mood. Like a Jacuzzi, you think. There is on­ly on bear in this pit — a male, and he’s set­tled down for a nap next to a ba­nana peel. You re­peat your prayer as you walk back to the larg­er en­clo­sure, but it goes unanswered.

Filed under Fiction on June 3rd, 2005

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Reader Comments

Faso Latido wrote:

I was re­al­ly con­fused the whole time I was read­ing this be­cause I mis­read “bear” in the first sen­tence and thought it said “beer.” I thought, “why are there bears at a beer gar­den? And chil­dren?” Fun­ny, huh? I thought so anyway.

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