It was a balmy May afternoon a few years ago and I was in a minicab heading from North London to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Anna Netrebko was doing Mimi, and although her Musetta’s Waltz is one of my favourites (her encore of the aria at the Waldbuhne a few years ago when she ditched the microphone, singing at the top of her voice to more than 30,000 people was an operatic highlight), it was not to be that summer. Still, one simply did not miss Ms Netrebko at the ROH if one were in London!
I am a fan of Puccini and thoroughly enjoyed that evening, with champagne cocktails at the Aldwych preceding, the ROH’s great cuisine during breaks, and, well, La Boheme is a masterpiece. However, when I got back home, I found myself reminiscing not about Mimi, Marcello, and Musetta but about Abraham’s foot. That’s right; Abraham of yonder.
Minicabs are a peculiar London detail. They predate Uber, compete with black cabs, and continue to rival both. And North London is full of mini cabs you’d wonder how people would get around without them. Little did I know, getting into my mini cab that afternoon, that a different kind of coup de theatre awaited me.
My minicab driver had that generic London look; he could have been Jewish, Arab, Spanish, Greek, Scottish, French, you name it. He turned out to be an Iranian Zoroastrian, having supplied that detail after he inquired of me “where do you come from?” Jordan, I said, and the minicab driver complemented King Abdullah II on his stewardship in a turbulent region.
He then asked if I knew what Zoroastrian is and I said yes, volunteering the details that came to mind. My driver then emphasised how old Zoroastrianism is, compared to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. To illustrate, he used the story of Noah’s flood, saying that the events are mentioned in Zoroastrianism’s holy book, which is at least 20,000 years old - so the flood could not have happened some 5000 years ago as “your books say.”
I was both glad and intrigued by what he said. Glad that a London minicab driver had enough common sense to realise that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do share the same foundations, and said as much. I mentioned to him that a famous mythologist, Joseph Campbell, thought that the three religions were basically one religion explained over time to different people through different metaphors and parables.
My minicab driver did not seem to quite grasp what Campbell was trying to say but he did start talking about Noah and his ark. He said that Noah lived till he was 900 years old and that he was a giant. How else could he have built an ark to house all those animals. In those days, my mini cab driver said, there were giants living on earth as well as normal people. I “hmmm-ed” and nodded briefly, turning my head to look outside the car window to my right and avoid his piercing eyes reflected in the rearview mirror.
Having sensed a certain doubt on my part, my minicab driver went on: When God created Adam and Eve, Eve laid with both Adam and the Devil, and she begat two races, the giants, who were the Devil’s descendants and were superior physically, mentally, and in every other way, and the normal humans who were Adam’s descendants and were, well, mediocre in every way.
Noah and his ilk were descendants of giants, my minicab driver informed; how else could they conceive of and build such a thing as the ark. He said that giants continue to live amongst us today. They control the world, politics, banks, big companies. Giants make all the discoveries in science. They took us to the moon. Giants are the ones who built this car.
My minicab driver then said: You are probably asking yourself why you do not see giants walking the streets these days. That’s because over so many years they intermarried with normal humans, so their physical shape became the same as ours but everything else is still giant quality, including how smart they are. Even this Abraham of yours, he was a giant. Really? I said. Yes, he said. Abraham would not fit in this here mini cab; you would need to get him a double decker red bus, like that one in front of us!
My minicab driver then asked me, in a low voice: Haven’t you seen Abraham’s foot? I said, no, and asked what was that? Aghast, my mini cab driver informed me that there is a slab of stone in Mecca with a print of Abraham’s foot on it, preserved till today, and that the footprint is more than half a meter in length.
If that was the size of Abraham’s foot, my minicab driver said, how big and tall do you think he was?