May 23, 2001
- Pete and Manny
Mon pauvre verre, tu es vide. Je te plein.
Mon pauvre verre, tu es plein. Je te vide.
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.