“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Friday, January 20, 2012

Day 44: An American Dog in France, Chapter One

When Zoe arrived at the airport, she came in a large crate.  The French had required that her people fill out a lot of paperwork, but then no one bothered to look at it.  Once she landed, she was allowed to hop out of her crate and explore the airport freely with her people in tow.  She was just one of the many creatures in transit.

Her companions had leased a car large enough in the back to hold her and the crate and all their luggage.  She liked this vehicle well enough, but there was nothing special about it.  And it had that new car plastic smell.

On the first night in Rouen, their base for the next four months, her female human companion, Natalia, took her on a walk around the block.  Zoe needed food, and Natalia peeked inside a store.  D'accord? she asked through the open door, pointing also to the dog.  The man behind the counter nodded.

Natalia kept thinking, This must be a mistake.  We'll get in trouble.  Zoe led her around the store, snout-first, smelling everything on their path.  The items in the store seemed to be arranged strategically for a large dog's shopping convenience.  There were cheeses, fruits, bins of vegetables, and eventually, near the cash register, the last lap of the journey, a shelf of dog food.

Zoe sniffed each box and can and made her selection.

The man behind the counter smiled absently at the woman.  He did not seem to mind that her dog was sniffing and possibly drooling on his wares.  He seemed to be saying, in his bland but welcoming expression, "C'est normal," which was something they would hear often in the weeks to come.  This is normal.  Those words were reassuring.

When the woman introduced her students to Zoe, the students caught on quickly.  They learned that instead of courting their teacher's favor with apples, when they had class in the teacher's apartment, they could bribe the dog with pâté.

Scott Robinson loves dogs.
On travels with her human family, Zoe soon stopped tilting her head to indicate confusion whenever she heard new words in this foreign tongue.  After a while, she pretended she understood French so well that people believed her, and they would hold forth at length on topics as varied as where the recycling bins could be found on the street, President Sarkozy and Carla Bruni's relationship, and which bakery on the rue Beauvoisine had the best baguette traditionelle.

But all the the signs looked so foreign at first, it wasn't easy for a dog to feel at home.

The worst part of Zoe's life in Rouen: she had to learn to do her business in crowded places, on pavements and such.  The apartment had no lawn.  And she always stood out as a foreigner because her people were the only fools out there cleaning up after their dog.

The best part of traveling for Zoe: Everything smelled different, including the other dogs.  Until, after a while, Zoe had eaten enough French dog food (and been slipped enough pâté) and had rolled in the grass and clover in so many French parks that she began to smell like the other dogs.

Did they still know she was an American dog?

Did she still hang on to the canine version of an American accent?

The story continues tomorrow . . . 

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