Tales from

the Loir

A Weekly Column

May 23, 2001 - Pete and Manny

Mon pauvre verre, tu es vide. Je te plein.
Mon pauvre verre, tu es plein. Je te vide.
               - Maryvonne Cassard

France has the largest number of dog owners per capita in the world. Americans love dogs too but the two cultures are completely different in there respective affections. Americans like large, mean dogs that eat babies and have to be executed. There are no pitbulls in France. French dogs tend to be small and elegant. They are the kings and queens of the household and generally not much bigger than a cat. These princely animals live a life of leisure but there are also a few less privileged outdoor dogs that monte la garde. Guard dogs bark continuously everywhere in France but the wagging tails belie their true nature. I have hiked all over France and never had a problem with dogs. In the States every neighborhood has a problem dog. Dogs tend to be like their masters and in this older, more mature culture, the dogs are less aggressive.

Dogs also tend to take on the personalities and appearances of there masters. It is hard to say that Pete and Manny look alike because Manny is a small pedigreed dachshund and Pete is a large man with a passion for life and adventure. If Pete reads an article about hiking in the Nepal, he doesn't dream about it. He goes and does it. He worked for IBM for thirty years and is now retired but he has not slowed down. He has traveled all over the world and is always working on unexplored places. Manny on the other hand is definitely a French lapdog and king of Pete's household. The similarity between Pete and Manny is in the eyes. They both have a searching look as if they are living in the immediate future just over the next hill or around the next curve. When I reached down to greet Manny for the first time, he took on that strange distant look and refused to respond. My friend Scott said, "No, no. Manny is a not a comer." He is a little too regal to be a comer. He is a true prince.

When Pete told us the story of his dog Manny, it reminded me of the story of the man behind the iron mask. "The man behind the iron mask" was a subplot in one of the novels of Alexandre Dumas that followed the Three Mousqueteers. Hollywood tried to make a movie of the stories several times but just never managed to get the story right. The real story involved a twin brother of Louis XIV who at birth was spirited away by the evil Cardinal Marazin for political reasons. A group who opposed Louis discovered the twin and plotted to place him on the throne. The plot was foiled and Louis had his twin bother secretly imprisoned and an unremoveable iron mask placed over his face. The crime of lese-majeste (a crime against a sovereign) is punishable by death but Louis did not want the publicity of the existence of his twin.

The story of Manny is quite similar. I met Manny and Pete for the first time when they climbed into my car outside the small provençal village of La Gaude. We were heading out from Cagnes on the coast with our mutual friend Scott to hike up a small provencal mountain called the Baou de la Gaude. Baou is what the natives call these pre-alp hills, but after looking up at the rocky peak from the village below, this Baou looked like a mountain. Manny has been moaning in anticipation of this hike all morning and stretches the limits of his leash when we start up the hill. The air is heavy with the smell of brume, a yellow flowering bush that is in abundance here. There is also the light scent of thyme, rosemary and sage in the late spring breeze. Most of the walk is on the open sunny hillside where you can see the hazy blue Mediterranean sea to the south and the snowy triangles of the Italian Alps to the east. To the north the violet-gray cliffs of the pre-alps jut out like great prows of stony ships in the deep blue of a provençal sky as we switched-back up the trail. Manny keeps us amused as he struts up the path like a dog four times his size. The trail is called La promenade du Grand Chêne (The Trail of the Great Oak) because it terminates in a kind of depression where an enormous oak tree is surrounded by stones that some ancient culture has stacked in a circle. The stones are stacked everywhere in circles, piles, lines and walls. These crude structures are so old that no one knows their origin. After the bright sun of the trail it is leafy, cool and a prefect place to hear a good story. (Pictures of the Grand Chene are available on the internet at http://perso.wanadoo.fr/saint.jeannet/Visiter/Loisirs/image_baou_LG.htm)
Images du Baou de La Gaude

While sitting under the oak tree taking a water break, Pete tells us the story of Manny a/k/a Merlin. Pete and his wife, Claude, ordered a thoroughbred dachshund from a breeder in Brittany. After paying the $800 dollar charge, a tiny pedigree puppy arrived in the mail with his papers. Thoroughbred kennels name their dogs when they are born and issue official certificates that give the name and other important details of their breeding pedigree. The dog's name was Emmanuel. Pete took a quick peek at his new dog and went to work. Pete, who was working for IBM in the south of France at the time, received a frantic afternoon call to come back home immediately. Claude told him that something had happened to Emanuel but wouldn't say anything else. When Pete arrived, he found the dog dead. Evidently, his mother-in-law had accidentally stepped on Manny and killed the puppy instantly. This was a traumatic event for the ladies and neither were able to accept the cold reality of the puppy's death. The previous dog had a family burial complete with flowers and a marked grave but it had started to rain and everyone was in denial. Pete decided to handle the burial quietly by himself without ceremony.

He phoned the kennel that same night and ordered another dog. There was one last puppy in the litter and he arrived the next day by special delivery. Because the new dog arrived in a rush the kennel forgot to send his papers, so Pete committed lese-majeste by calling the new dog Emmanuel or Manny for short and placed him on the real Emmanuel's throne. The throne was a personalized Land's End dog bed with Emmanuel stitched on one side. The whole family fell in love with Manny and the trauma of his elder brother's sad demise was forgotten.

No one thought much about Manny's official papers until Claude and Pete met a couple who breed dachshunds. Pete is justifiably proud of Manny and he started seriously considering breeding his fine prince. He called the kennel in Brittany and asked for Manny's papers. When the papers arrived, he discovered that Manny's real name is Merlin. Enough years and happy dog memories have passed for Manny's transfiguration to be forgotten. Manny's official papers say that his name is Merlin but only Pete knows where the papers are hidden. Except for the occasional eerie organ music coming from the attic, there is no evidence of a twin dachshund in La Gaude but there have been rumors of a dachshund wearing an iron mask in a dog pound in Nice.

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May 8, 2001 - Armistice Day
May 2, 2001 - May Day
April 25, 2001 - Les Manouches
April 18, 2001 - Trôo
April 11, 2001 - Le P'tit Jules
April 4, 2001 - Men and Their Caves 
March 28, 2001 - Pissenlit
March 21, 2001 - The Egg
March 14, 2001 - Reliquary
March 7, 2001 - The Source of the Loir
February 28, 2001 - La Marseillaise
February 21, 2001 - Still on Wheels
February 14, 2001 - Marcel Proust
February 7, 2001 - La Chandeleur
January 31, 2001 - Winter Comfort Food
January 24, 2001 - Festival of Saint Vincent
January 17, 2001 - Guest Columnist Aprille Glover
January 10, 2001 - Muscadet
January 3, 2001 - Ode to Protein
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2000
 

       

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