Saturday, November 29, 2008

French Dogs

As always, we encountered a number of truly handsome canines in France, all of whom made us miss our scruffy guys at home.

This little guy was running around marking his territory at the Basilica of St. Mary Magdalen in Vezelay. The woman walking him said he was a "teckel" (French for dachshund) and he came there every day to make the rounds. He had shorter legs, of course, but the resemblance to Kirby was remarkable.

This sweet black lab greeted us at the Chateau de Commarin. Well, actually, at first she didn't seem quite so sweet. Being November, a tad cool and and outside the visiting hours for the chateau interior, all that was open to us was the surrounding park. We each put our 2 Euros into the automatic turnstyle and entered the grounds. As we approached the gates in front of the chateau a black lab, who had been sitting patiently by the door of the chateau, stood up and began barking at us. She took a few steps forward, lowered her head and gave us a stern warning not to enter into the inner courtyard. Not being certain if she was friendly or not, we kept our distance outside the gate, separated by a moat and a bridge.

Sensing a curiosity in the dog, I said "hello" in French. Suddenly her ears loosened and her tail started wagging. I said "come here" in French and she started trotting toward us. Within minutes she was crossing the bridge and coming over to give us a cautious hello sniff. Once she had sniffed us and decided we were OK, she ran down the trail, jumped up on the wall next to the moat and waited for us to catch up to her. She then proceeded to lead us down the trail, around the chateau, through the sideyard and into the lovely gardens at the back. She checked back occasionally to wag and cheerfully took us around the entire castle grounds before she said her goodbyes and returned to her post in front of the chateau.

I can honestly say, that's the first time I've ever had a tour led by a canine. But she did an excellent job!

This adorable old French bulldog was sitting in the doorway of a little shop in Arles. That face...

Before I continue, I want to say that for years we have enjoyed traveling in France and have come to expect certain things. Sometimes cultural change is hard to take, especially when we want things to be just as we fondly remember them on previous vacations. But in at least a couple of ways, things in Paris are changing for the better. For example, the smoking ban in restaurants and other public buildings is GREAT. We could sit in restaurants and even bars in the evenings without choking on the blue haze. Of course, we had to pass through a cloud of blue smoke on the way in the door, but it was still an improvement not to have the "non-smoking" table a mere three inches from the "smoking" table next door.

People also seem a tad more casual in Paris than they used to be, and this is reflected in their dog behavior -- we noticed this time that the French dogs were, with few exceptions, far more friendly than they used to be. In past trips, particularly in Paris, we always remarked at how aloof the dogs matter which breed, they would walk alongside their owners without ever acknowledging passers-by. Apparently that was the way dogs were trained and expected to behave. Well, on this trip most of the Parisian dogs we passed cheerfully looked up at us, tails wagging. Some even came over to say hello. In our experience, that wouldn't have happened even five years ago...

Another positive thing we noticed was a significant reduction in the amount of dog poop on the sidewalk. Anyone who has spent any time walking around Paris has, at some point, spent some time scraping off the bottom of their shoes... I don't know whether they're just doing a better job of sweeping or if "le pooper scooper" has also made its way to France, but either way, it's an improvement.

Sitting in cafes with dogs curled up under the tables is a very French experience, and it always makes us miss our dogs. Perhaps someday an enlightened airline will allow dogs to be in the cabin with their owners -- not just the teeny under-the-seat variety. We would buy spaces for our dogs to come with us on longer trips if we had the chance, and I have to believe a lot of other folks would as well.

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