I like a lot of things about the French besides their cuisine. Take their love of dogs, who love them back with a force that only dogs can muster.
Here, I couldn't take Brandi into a restaurant with me unless I were blind and he were my guide dog. Even then, in a lot of places I'd have a hassle before I got served.
But in France? I remember a fabulous lunch in a nice restaurant overlooking a pretty lake somewhere on the Massif Central. At the table to our left, two 40-ish ladies nibbled at salad while slipping an occasional morsel to the fluffburger dogs, impeccably well behaved, lounging under their chairs. I remember seeing en chien huddled in the corner of a courtyard outside a cathedral in Avignon. Thinking it a stray I sought to befriend it and look for collar ID. With coy dignity it kept itself just beyond my reach, and when I finally abandoned my adoptive instincts, it came to attention even before its master appeared around the corner. Master and animal understood that it was perfectly safe to leave the dog unattended while the human lit votive candles, or whatever he was doing inside the church.
Once in Paris we stayed at a hotel directly across a cobble-stoned street from a little cinema that specialized in old American films like "Casablanca." I jogged every morning back then but on our first morning in Paris I chose instead to make nice with two spaniels being walked by their mistress. She had excellent English. We talked dogs.
"You know," she said, with a nod toward the cinema, "I saw the most amazing thing there the other night. They were showing 'War and Peace,' and a man and his dog took seats near me. The dog watched the screen intently; when the movie was sad, the dog seemed to weep; when the movie was gay, the dog seemed to smile. All through the film he watched, rapt. When the movie ended, I couldn't help but enthuse to the man about how interested his dog was in the motion picture. 'Yes,' the man replied, 'it was quite extraordinary, since he absolutely hated the book.'"
Every dog person knows another dog person who has to spell certain w-o-r-d-s because their dog recognizes names of favorite foods, people or playmates and becomes difficult to control when he hears those words. I don't for a moment entertain the idea that a dog can make judgements about an entire book, but I swear that my friend Gregg's dog, Rusty, has a catalog of attributes that make another dog Friend (Saxon, Brandi, Chaco) or Foe (Boo,Cindy, Rascal).
Not far from my house in Pennsylvania a few years back was a tract of woodsy land set aside as a bird sanctuary and a place where dogs and their people could walk sans leashes. One of its oldest and most dedicated users was a Scotty named Digby. When Digby died, his mistress invited all dogs and people who loved to walk there to come to a ceremony where his ashes would be scattered in the stream that ran through it. A bagpiper played. There must have been 60 dogs and nearly as many people. All the dogs behaved beautifully, as if they understood this was a solemn occasion that called for best manners.
Some days, when the news is bad and the wars are raging and the politicians are lying and the skies seem especially gray, I like to fetch Brandi and go out deep in the desert, find a rock to sit on, and think about the happy chiens of France.
"Brandi," I'll ask. "Do you think you'd like 'War and Peace?""