If you take a walk around out of doors and are attentive in Paris, you will see that lots of people seem to have dogs. Perhaps you might even have noticed myself au chien, tee-shirt, hoodie and skintight jeans, huddling against the elements. But probably not.
On the other hand, you would have noticed Karine.If you take a walk around out of doors and are attentive in Paris, you will see that lots of people seem to have dogs. Perhaps you might even have noticed myself au chien, tee-shirt, hoodie and skintight jeans, huddling against the elements. But probably not.
The reason for the distinction is simple. ‘Though thoroughly respectable, I do not look so. On the other hand, not so respectable as I feel myself, I fear, Karine looks good, even in skintight jeans.
In the superficial World we have been thrust into, mere physical attractiveness counts for more than solid moralism.
I’ve lodged many a complaint about this, but it hasn’t so far done any good.
So. Under the influence certain cartoons, you may imagine that these Parisian canines belonging mostly to good-looking women are also mostly a sort of poodle, caniches.
But, superficiality notwithstanding, the World, not yet being a cartoon (though, by Jesus, we can sometimes wonder) is also one still happily at a bit of a short remove from the popular Imagination. Keats and Coleridge, along with Warner-Disney-Spielberg Imaginatronismo, also notwithstanding, Imagination is a backwoodsman’s broom closet compared to the great sparkling constellation of World out there on the sidewalk, also notwithstanding Dogpoopismo, Trumpismo, Terrorismo & grouchy neighbors.
In the World these days, a caniche is usually either a canine companion of any race or a homo sapiens arse licker, both in the sense of “lapdog”.
As you can see in Maïtena Barret’s portrait of a Parisienne, your lapdog doesn’t even have to fit snugly in the lap.
And, if you are not faking your attentiveness, you might be able to see from Barret’s portrait of a Parisien that men can also have caniches, or, at least, if asked nicely, can take care of their lady friends’ canines.
Finally, as Madeleine Lemaire’s 19th-century portrait of Collette Dumas shows (above), poodles have never had an especially privileged place among the French capital’s Beau monde, at least in the Republican period.
Barrett paints her contemporaries with and without crocodiles, monkeys, and lapdogs. I sometimes think it all might come down to the same thing – my beloved peers being at the same time crocodiles, monkeys & lapdogs, I mean. However, I am sure that Barret’s clear, ocean-grey eyes see none of this dark cogitation. At least, her hands don’t paint it.
So that’s the World as it is; so much for cartoons and paltry Imagination.
As a fact, and quite apart from having had to walk one from time to time, the real-World caniche parisien has affected me, ‘though I did not acknowledge it as my personal savior. Nobody ever did notice me out there in the elements, either.
Karine’s caniche was not at all like the fat sort of schnauzer or mauser, whatever, clutched by Barret’s contemporary Parisienne. Au contraire, Karine’s animal de compagnie, let us call him “Woofie” was a little soft-furred, red-brown, pointy-nosed, pointy-eared yapper that would fit on my lap with room to spare, were it ever to stop trying to bite me.
Being in volume not more than a spongy, palpitating soccer ball, a Woofie yap is louder than a Mastiff’s bark. A Woofie yap is pitched so high that it reaches Yahweh’s ears. It may very well be for this reason that our Biblical Jove may seem more irascible of late.
Weighing not much more than a jar of foie gras, Woofie flung himself ferociously at all Karine’s male visitors, no matter the species. Except Karine’s husband. In this exception, Woofie committed an unforgivable error of appreciation.
Humping the leg of every female visitor, Woofie then compounded Karine’s consternation by frantically humping her leg anytime she isn’t actively defending it. Say, when she was walking someplace with a heavily-laden tray or in the middle of a most interesting conversation.
Finally and fatally, Woofie, like the father of her children, loved Karine beyond all reason & faith. Infinite was this female homo sapien’s disgust as her eyes so often crossed the loving, bright little eyes of the fragile and dependent Woofie, who, as Karine was trying to relax, stared long hours longingly up from the cold parquet.
Karine hated Woofie like poison.
Now, in the days of my youth, along old Chicahominy Crick, poisonous hatred like Karine’s would have early led to a fatal last hunting trip for Woofie. Between those times and this, however, Karine and I both discovered that we are animals too, like the rest, and that the rest deserve at least the consideration we give ourselves.
So, Karine could not murder or abandon Woofie à la Chicahominy Crick, or even give him away to whatever homo sapiens would vaguely promise an old rug in a damp garden. So it was that, at the sound of the rapid-shot patter of Woofie’s tiny claws skipping over the parquet, I had seen a champagne glass slip bonelessly from Karine’s otherwise firm grasp to shatter on the floor.
To navigate the World and problematics such as Woofie, Karine cultivates an air of Olympian calm that she calls “Zen.”
She tells me that Zen enables “a three-fold benefit”: 1) she can enjoy the strong feelings of a short-fused psychotic Elmira Gulch, Wicked Witch of the West, without flying too much out of control; 2) impress her friends and neighbors with her moral strength and 3) congratulate herself on the excellence of her understanding and virtue.
She also has an exquisitely stressful profession that requires a steady nerves and a beady eye. Zen must work for her since ‘though her mouth does tighten & whiten, I have never seen her hand tremble.
At the same time, she says, Zen is an exercise in a shout of “Sat Nam” – “Your essence is truth.”
There are limits to what even Zen can absorb. And her experience shows, Karine says, that in the space beyond the limit of ordinary tolerance the World becomes more than mere Imagination, productive of Miracle. Which is to say, that at one moment or another, the World always turns poop into flowers and flowers into garlands for Zen brows.
So, one early summer morning, some one of Karine’s brats – they dispute it still – leaves the garden gate open. Thus does a moment of irresponsible egoism cap off hours of blissful inconsequence, hurling us over the thresh hold of tolerance and opening the World’s door to the Miracle beyond Imagination.
As soon as he hears Karine stir, Woofie yaps a joyful yap, runs in joyous circles several times and leaps joyously through the open gate and into the street.
Sleep-haggard in her tatty dressing gown and used-up ballet slippers, her psychotic inner Elmira Gulch, Wicked Witch of the West, twisting, stabbing, crushing, hurting this hyperactive Toto, Karine stumbles off in pursuit, yet once again, of addled Woofie…
Turning a corner, Karine finds Woofie panting hilariously, wiggling in the arms of a bright-looking young woman. It turns out the young woman is a journalist, as well as a neighbor and hero of the early hour.
She follows Karine back to the house with a joyous, face-licking, yip-yapping Woofie in her arms.
Karine felt obliged to invite the new neighbor in. She served her a coffee, smiling the while.
She was praying, as she told me, that Woofie wouldn’t start humping the reporter’s leg, but was soon completely absorbed by the younger woman’s clever, friendly chatter.
Karine consented to a photo with Woofie. She also volunteered her grain of salt for an article this energetic, jolly new acquaintance has tentatively entitled “Neighborly doings” or some such guff.
A few days on, the front page of the local newspaper featured a huge above-the-crease color photo of a fat, frowsy, peroxide-blonde slut dossed out in a roomy, disorderly but richly-appointed salon.
Instantly the reader wonders, Was this fat, rumpled-up slut suffering from a case of coitus interruptus with a meaty, cardiac paramour also prone to heavy sweating? Even so, the reader reasons, with the means to wear a Kenzo housecoat, this decaying bourgeoise clearly is not even capable of staying decent. Elle déborde partout! The reader snarls.
And while the accompanying article does not outright so allege, it does strongly imply that the frowsy slut in question does not even love the expensive lapdog she keeps as a toy. The article admirably insinuates, in fact, that Woofie is possibly in danger. Seemingly holding the cute, lively caniche at arm’s length, the slut’s puffy, mottled, unsmiling face does indeed suggest casual murder.
“Neighborly doings,” indeed.
Zen settled over Karine’s brow like winter frost on Fuji’s lofty peak.
She said only, “Around here nobody reads the f---ing papers. The neighbors don’t have the wit for it.”
It is clear that the inner Elmira Gulch, Wicked Witch of the West, is pushing hard for a durable solution to the Woofie problematic.
But Karine will not be defeated.
She will not abandon the caniche, will not have him “put to sleep”, will not ask me to take him for a walk in the country, will not give him to the ASPCA, will not sell him up for a sleazy profit (Woofie’s a costly purebred as well as a pain in the ass).
‘Though Woofie’s sins were as inspissated even as her husband’s, Karine will assume her part of interspecies cooperation. Because it is Right.
Together, she and the World will make a Miracle.
Sat Nam! So There!
One way or the other, Karine and I walk together every day. To my delight, she starts holding my hand as we move along, something she hadn’t ever done. She talks less and looks around more than usual.
I ask her what’s going on? She explains she is focusing “on the essential”. “
“Well,” I say, squishy like a romantic boy, squeezing her hand, “That’s really good!” The “essential” for me is her holding my hot paw, of course. When she does, nobody can doubt that she belongs to me. Ha!
Some days later, as we walk from her work, she says she doesn’t see how anybody could be against it.
“Against what?” I ask, squeezing her hand.
“Against those nice old people I met in the park. Do you know, they are both retired? They don’t look it, that’s for sure. They look strong and fit.”
“The lady who just lost her caniche.”
I let go of her hand and take her arm. For some reason, my brain has fevered up, has noted that we are just beneath the great pillars of the Farmers General at Nation, dwarfed by events, swept along by passing time. Reason within seems to vibrate and hum, as if changing gears.
I croak, “What are you talking about?”
Her eyes roll up in her head and roll back down again, like the Sybil’s.
“An old couple just lost their little dog,” she says. “I met them in the park. Their caniche looked just like Woofie. They are so sad. Very sad and very nice.”
Karine pauses, looking wistful, then continues, “I was telling them that I had to leave Woofie alone next week and they were wondering if they could take Woofie for a day or two. And I told them, No.”
“What, you said, no? Why did you say no?” Clutching her arm harder, pulling her closer.
“Woofie reminds them of their old dog. Madame is really sad without their caniche. It’s true that Woofie seems to like them both.”
I stop her again. I look directly into her wide, blue eyes. She does not see me.
“Are you telling me about a scheme to rid yourself of Woofie?” I demand.
“Nothing like that,” Karine replies after a moment.
An inhabitual wind blows through the pillars of the Farmers General and flow cool over our backs, chills my neck. Invisibles rags of gossamer shred and pass into the wide wide World over the Bois de Vincennes.
Actually, Karine had said “Rien du tout,” Nothing at all. But I still don’t understand what she could otherwise have meant. Suddenly, she asks if I want to share a beer. We do.
Some weeks passed before I heard more of the Change reshaping our little World.
We are making dinner. Karine’s back is to me, hands in the sink, while I cut vegetables.
“Juliette,” she tells the wall, “Juliette’s telling me that she is worried that the old couple will grow too fond of Woofie. They’ll want to keep him because they are too lonely.”
Juliette is Karine’s girl.
I put down the knife. I listen hard because she has turned on the tap as she talks. The water is loud as it rushes into the sink.
“But I don’t think it’s anything like that,” she says in a voice just barely above the noise.
“Besides, Juliette can’t be bothered to even pat him, let alone stay with him. Hahaha. They called today and asked me if it would be okay to supplement his food with some cooked stuff. I told them of course they could! Hahaha!”
She ends our conversation abruptly. Her boy, Hassan, steps in the door. Without even a preliminary “Hiya,” Karine launches into obscure reproaches.
Hassan, an irresponsible, narcissistic pest, is a fine, hardworking young fellow who’s been at school all the livelong day. He is tired. I see he is exasperated by this verbal ambush. He is too confused to answer.
But before he can squeal with rage and fly up the stairs in a dudgeon, Karine chimes loudly, cheerily, “Dinner is ready”.
At which chime, Woofie appears from nowhere. He yaps senselessly at me before rushing over to hump Hassan’s left leg. He grumpily shakes Woofie off and stalks to the table. Woofie runs to the foot of the stairs to yap at Juliette as she descends.
Karine was not smiling as she abruptly announced her decision to let the old couple keep Woofie over her coming 10-day vacation.
“I’ve been worried from the beginning that they will become too attached to Woofie,” she tells us.
She turns to look directly at me, “That’s why I refused them at first.”
But now, she explains, she feels that it is cruel to deprive them - and Woofie - of company.
“How will it hurt us to share Woofie?” she challenged Hassan and Juliette, who, in reply, started eating in silence.
And that was that. I have never seen Woofie again.
Thus, through the medium of Sat Nam! the World trumped Imagination and produced a Miracle, where one and all came to their proper places. Like A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Woofie is now gone to that place where love for him reigns. For the rest of us, what should be now is, although Karine has stopped holding my hand.
I wonder whether shouting “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” would have the same effect for the rest of you as Karine’s Sat Nam!?
As soon as I get this damned ass’s head off … There!