But it is not to be. She lets go of my hand, swings down off the low wall and scampers up the branch of an overhanging frangipani tree from where she snarls down at me menacingly. I have failed to provide the chunks of corn-on-the-cob she has come to expect from tourists. And to think I could have bought a whole bag for a measly ten baht!
You see how deceiving eyes can be? How clichéd their supposed ability to convey the emotions and the character of their owner?
I am in Prachuap Khiri Khan, a hidden gem of a town situated at just about the thinnest bit of Thailand as it heads off down south, and on the westerly shore of the Gulf of Thailand. The setting is a pretty bay. From our hotel balcony (sea-view extra) the panorama is framed by two sets of sugar-loaf islands and dotted with a flotilla of small fishing boats which light up at night to make a bay of stars. Midway along, there’s a pier to which more boats cling.
At the north end of the bay is a pointy hillock surmounted by a temple to which we climb slowly in the afternoon heat (not quite 400 steps). The park at the bottom, the stairway and the temple buildings at the top are home to a large troupe of long-tailed macaques and it is into the eyes of one of these monkeys that I am staring, musing on our delusion that eyes are portals into the personality, that they give us access to other people’s innermost thoughts.
Monkeys, close-up or observed at play for a few moments, are shockingly similar to people. Their little hands are just like, well, hands—if a little hairier—and their facial expressions are so easy to interpret as human. Their eyes in particular are exactly like our eyes and in a moment I am in love, confident in interpreting the twinkling peepers of my simian companion that my feelings for her are passionately requited.
But really they’re not.
Of course they’re not. She’s a monkey and Mrs Pobaan is standing less than two metres away not looking jealous, and that’s a sure sign that my new relationship with the flighty female macaque is no threat to our marriage and therefore not real.
If the girl-monkey were human could I interpret those pleading eyes any differently? Well, I could, and possibly even would, but would these extrapolations have any value? I doubt it.
Eyes are not the windows to the soul, they’re optical instruments—very sophisticated ones certainly, but nevertheless they’re basically a couple of cameras which feed images to our brains for processing, a bit like we used to do at Boot’s, only more so.
The window part doesn’t go as deep as the soul, if soul you have, stopping at the opaque wall of the retina, so while the eyes may be the windows to the vitreous humour, they don’t provide a convenient through route to your inner being, wherever that may be located.
You often read about eyes in books—the cold, dead eyes of a serial killer; the dancing eyes of a flirtatious young lover; the steely, flinty eyes of a ruthless businessman; or the blank, deceiving eyes of a gambler. What a lot of rot! Come on, they’re just eyes. They may be blue, pretty or blood-shot perhaps but all the rest is fanciful elaboration, a projection of the qualities the lazy author thinks those characters ought to possess on to a couple of moist gob-stoppers swivelling juicily in sockets in their skulls.
Eyes of course are copiously accessorised. There are the eyebrows, the lids and lashes and, for us oldies, the associated wrinkles and bags. These add-ons are all useful in their own ways for conveying information. Just as a handbag tells us a lot about a woman, a nicely groomed eyebrow, skilfully handled, can convey much about its owner’s intentions. But tonight we’re not talking about eyebrows. Eyebrows are a red herring. We’re talking about eyes.
You can tell Adolf Hitler was evil—or Pol Pot or Jimmy Savile. You only have to look into their eyes; that’s what people say. I don’t think so. If I were to cut out a photo of Hitler’s eyes and paste it on to a shot of George Clooney’s face you’d tell me how soft and sensitive they were, how understanding and lovable they prove George to be.
And what about the ladies that loved these monsters? What about Eva Braun, less famous perhaps for inventing the electric shaver than for being Hitler’s lover. When she cuddled up to her ‘Herr Wolff’ by the log fire at the Berghof and gazed into his eyes she saw limpid pools of tenderness that made her knees go bandy. And these are the same eyes that others, with a different perspective on Hitler’s little hobbies, saw as the eyes of a genocidal maniac.
The same was surely true of Mrs Pot who couldn’t glance into Pol’s eyes without calling him her little Polly-Wolly and melting lustily (in a strictly revolutionary way) into his arms. After a day of torturing she probably thought his dead, killer’s eyes were just cute as pie.
Then there’s Jimmy Savile. I’m not sure if he actually had a girlfriend to gaze into his eyes, but his mum probably loved him. How’s about that then?
So, to sum up this evening’s lecture, you may think you can read someone’s feelings or intentions in their eyes, but you can’t; you do it in other ways, projecting your conclusions on the bit of them on which you focus the most—to whit, their eyes.
If you don’t agree, I could introduce you to a beguiling lady monkey who lives on a hill in Prachuap Khiri Khan and with whom you could oh so easily make a very unfortunate mistake.
PS. And what about those eyes at the top of this blog? Cuddly grand-dad or merciless killer? Tell me what you think and, for a bonus point, whose eyes they are.
True identity revealed by return. Email me here.
STOP PRESS: So far ONE blogfollower has correctly (and rather surprisingly, in my view) identified the owner of the eyes. Come on, you others!