[travelling with a dog – a Dalmatian – in France]
Being Parisian required things like knowing when and when not to laugh (rarely), how and how not to shop (one-small-piece-of-cheese-at-a-time), where and where not to eat (not at the famous places). Being French meant doing all that with a dog.
JP [the dog] became my golden key to practically every bar, café, and restaurant in Paris …and eventually my passport to all of France. Genuine Parisians, those born and raised in the City of Lights, are often not as accepted in the provinces as JP and I were….. I soon discovered that the whole of the French nation is dog loving. The bond between France and me and my dog was instantaneous and profound.
Through JP, I learned that the French pride themselves on their ability to live in harmony with nature: her cycles, her seasons, and her animals (even the ones they eat); it is a fundamental part of their culture. And that what can be seen as arrogance is often nothing more than shyness. The French are threatened by the power of man, especially the non-French man; perhaps after centuries of war and bloodshed, it’s bred into them. It is true that while some French consider themselves superior, culturally at least, to other nations, they are humbled by and respectful of nature. Man they buck, nature they don’t – they revere and are grateful to her. It sometime seems fair that the most fertile land on the European continent should belong to France, and that it should extend to some of the most exquisite shores of the Mediterranean.
The beauty of the land was apparent from the day I set foot in the country; to discover the true nature of the people, it took an intelligent, handsome, well-mannered dog ……
“I’d like to map out a scenic route to the south of France,” I replied
“How far south?” she asked.
“All the way,” I said. “By scooter.”
She gave me a quick once-over, determined that I was serious, and then in typical French fashion displayed no further reaction to the oddity of such a road trip.
….the man walked behind the scooter, looked at my Paris-coded license plates ending in 75 – the first thing most French do when vehicles enter their villages, to determine the provenance, and then scowl or not, depending.
….even the most modest of French inns wont deprive guests of morning coffee served in the room.
I explained that I’d run out of gas. He nodded and asked where I was headed, in the informal tu-toi that the French employ when addressing contemporaries with whom they presume to share a certain bond, or someone for whom they have no respect.
…..the French are very fatalistic: They want to believe that what most Americans would call chance encounters are actually part of some greater plan, sometimes to the point that they stretch reality. Yet they can also be hair splitters.
A few miles later….. a controle was being conducted by several gendarmes. I had already noticed that these random inspections usually occur in the most unlikely and remote places where there were the fewest motorists.
She responded in an affectionate, but French way – by briefly tolerating the hug and quickly replacing it by air-kissing my cheeks twice each, double the Parisian standard. …. “…Just look at you!” she repeated to JP. JP smiled and wagged politely, warmly, but, like her, shied slightly away from the squeeze she tried to give him. She seemed very pleased with this behavior.
Cheese in France can be a meal in itself …..
The French, especially the southern French, do not shy away from grief. When loss befalls them, they face it head-on – living and breathing it, sometimes until it consumes them, almost to the point of morbidity. But perhaps that is an effective tool in the healing process. They always seem to snap out of it, often in time for a repast.
I had never worked the land before, despite the fact that it is such a part of the French way of life. No matter what their profession, the French take the time to be part of the land they borrow, not only because they feel they are one with nature, but also to nurture and protect it, so that it is rich and healthy for the next generation.
Hugging is something the French rarely do among themselves, but they will tolerate it coming from foreigners, as long as they’ve reached an appropriate level of familiarity with them.