“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

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Day 45: An American Dog in the City of Light, Part I

One day in early spring, Zoe took the train to Paris from Rouen.

The dog's person, Natalia, was a little nervous about taking Zoe on the train.  She had been forced by law to buy Zoe her own seat and a muzzle.  Zoe had never worn a muzzle before and she didn't like it, so Zoe's person removed it while they were waiting on the platform.

When they got on the train, Zoe's person realized, to her dismay, that the muzzle was gone.  She was afraid she and Zoe would be asked by the conductor to leave, or be made to pay a fine.  Zoe had just settled onto the seat next to her and looked comfortable, so Natalia said "stay."  Then she looked in the aisle, at the open door, and across to the platform where they had just been.  She hopped off the train briefly to retrieve the missing item.  She thought it would take one second.

But then the doors closed, leaving Natalia on the platform and sending Zoe on a train heading for Paris without a human companion.

Luckily, after the terrible minute had passed, one of the longest minutes of Zoe's human companion's life, a conductor saw what had happened and the doors opened again.

Although the Norman countryside is beautiful, Zoe did not enjoy her first train ride.  It was loud.  It rumbled.  She wanted to hide under the seat, and then she wanted to run down the aisle, and then she wanted to get off the train.  Zoe's person thought perhaps it felt, to a dog, like an earthquake.

Zoe and her person were very happy when the 70 minutes had passed and they were in the Gare St. Lazare, where they headed off on the metro to the neighborhood where much of Natalia's novel is set.  The rue Mouffetard.  In the novel-in-progress, two young women rent an apartment that overlooks a bustling market scene and this church, pictured below, inside of which is a painting of St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, whom one of these two women resembles.
the Church St. Médard, on the market square of rue Mouffetard
In Paris that day, Zoe made a new friend, the photo-journalist, memoirist, and singer-songwriter, Sandra Reinflet.  Sandra is also known to music-lovers as Marine Goodmorning.

Zoe was more interested in the smells than the sights; photo by Francois Bernier
The two ate crepes at a café on the rue Mouffetard, and got acquainted. Their mutual acquaintance from Quebec documented the day as it unfolded.
photos of Sandra and Natalia and Zoe all by Francois Bernier
The two female humans had a lot to talk about: art, travel, life, relationships, family, books, and life in Paris, circa 2010. 

What neither of them knew was that the two would have many chances to see each other in the coming year. 

They were fated to have more lunches in Paris, and to meet sometimes for a cup of tea or a drink.  Every time they met, they chose a different part of Paris.

Sandra would even come to the States the following September and visit Natalia and her students at St. Lawrence University, where she would read from her book, Same, Same, but Different, about 81 remarkable women she met on a tour around the world with her best friend. The students would learn one of her songs in Professor Roy Caldwell's class, and they would all have a party in her honor in the home Zoe shares with Natalia and her husband, Kerry. 

Zoe was very accustomed by now to sitting under the tables in French Restaurants

window-shopping on rue mouffetard with a friend of Sandra's

photo by Francois Bernier

photo by Francois Bernier
After lunch, Zoe and the humans walked for hours. 

Zoe met two fine Parisian dogs who were curious to learn (by smell) of her travels.

During the visit, Natalia got an idea that ended up not being Zoe's favorite in the long list of ideas her person hatched while traveling.

Zoe's person thought, Wow, wouldn't it be nice to have a better camera and to take even MORE pictures of my dog?

Maybe, eventually, there will be a blog!

And perhaps a book.

Zoe thought there were already enough pictures of her on her person's computer.  

As afternoon faded into early evening, Zoe saw a lot of the Seine, which smelled wonderful to her with all those fish and the dregs of people's picnics.

The beautiful, fragrant Seine
She liked Sandra's neighborhood near Montmartre with its hills and snacking tourists.
Zoe waiting patiently to go home

A wind-blown Natalia and Zoe on the footsteps of Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre
But she really didn't care for the Metro, despite the fact that it is one of the most efficient public transportation systems in the world.

photo by Francois Bernier
Later, when Zoe's person was figuring out how she would get them home, she realized, to her great dismay, that she had left her reading glasses at the kitchen table in Rouen.

Zoe's person, squinting at the train schedule unaided, did not realize that the evening train they were supposed to go on did not operate on this day of the week.

It got later, and later.  Zoe had missed her afternoon walk with her male companion, Natalia's husband, and she missed the forest of Normandy where spring for her was a peaceful, bucolic place.  It's quieter in the Norman countryside than in Paris, and you can run off the lead, without worrying too much.

Zoe and Kerry in La Foret Verte

shop windows in Paris were fun to look at, though
As night fell over the city, Zoe took the metro one last time to the train station.

They had originally planned to be home in time for a late dinner, but now it was nearly midnight.

And then something unexpected happened: their train broke down somewhere on the way home, in the Norman countryside.

Zoe and her person now had to make the rest of their way home by bus.

By the time they returned to Rouen, it was 3 in the morning and Natalia had to teach the next morning at 9.  Natalia's patient husband, who'd been home that evening, sleeping off a bad cold, picked them up in the car.  The three were overjoyed to be reunited.

Later, Zoe would return to Paris for an entire week in July with both her human companions.  The trio would spend Bastille Day there, and they would ride the bateaux mouche, see museums, eat picnics, and relax.

For the sequel to this story, in American Dog in Paris, Part II, please return tomorrow.

bookstalls along the Seine
Natalia and Sandra, 11 months later, in Paris.  This picture was taken by a waitress at the café where Edith Piaf used to sing
Zoe's person loves Paris.  She was--and always will be--thrilled to return to this beautiful, vibrant city.

As for Zoe, the city of light was a delight, a marvel, a place to make new friends, and a museum of powerful smells.  But maybe not the best place for a dog raised in a village of 6,000.  This American dog decided that Paris was an interesting place to visit, but not after midnight, especially if public transportation was involved.

And for months afterward, even when they were back in the States, Natalia's student, Scott Robinson, would ask her, "How's Zoe?  Did you leave her on the train?
photo of the view from the top of the Arab Institute, by Francois Bernier, as fierce storm clouds rolled in.  The group would get caught briefly in a rain shower.
Zoe learning the joys of public transportation in Paris after a life of riding around in station wagons.  She rode for free, on the canine four-paw discount.
At the Rouen train station, photo taken the following spring by Mira Bartok


  1. I'm with Scott. Check Twice. And...
    Hyacinthoides non-scripta Or Campanula rotundifolia- or some kind of related blue or hare bell. You are so lucky to have seen such beauty!! What a fun story.

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