MiMi and Monsieur Albert

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One summer in France we were adopted by two little Kittens. We treated them for fleas, wormed them, “de-mited” their ears, put collars on them and arranged for Monsieur Albert who lives across the street to feed them. We hoped they would be OK. They were both girls and we could not arrange for them to be neutered before we had to leave to go back home. So it would be a hard life for the poor little creatures. They were so cheeky and friendly we just fell in love with them. So did Monsieur Albert thank heavens. Our plan was to press to get them to the vets when we went back in 6 months time.

One of these little cats became MiMi and the other Prune. Prune adopted our neighbours from behind and MiMi decided to live with Monsieur Albert.

Hence we share responsibility for MiMi with Monsieur. When we arrived back in France a few months after first meeting MiMi as a kitten she was living in a big drum in Monsieur’s work shop. She had two kittens. When ever we went over to look at them she appeared from no-where.  The minute we went near those babies she was there watching us and trying to hide them. She is such a little mite herself and the way she glowered at Davis and his camera had to be seen to be believed. “Come any closer with that device and I’ll tear you limb from limb!” She looked very serious.

Monsieur Albert called me over to inspect the new cat box he had built for Mimi and her offspring. He was very proud of it. It looked like a rabbit hutch lying on its back with the wire netting uppermost. At first it appalled Mimi and she kept removing the “Chatons” (Kitties), but Monsieur managed to persuade her that she needed to be upwardly mobile in the real-estate world and she settled in grudgingly. MiMi had found the old drum extremely comfortable and secure.

Monsieur Albert had a lot of trouble with those kittens. Kitten trouble. They were “Here! There! and Everywhere!” He shook his head in an exhausted fashion and said “Oh La la!”  He couldn’t keep up with them. They were very pretty and had deserted his rabbit-hutch affair for an old fruit box he had placed by the door. He was mystified as to why they would give up the Ritz of Cat accommodation to sleep in a rough old fruit box. But I knew why. It is because the fruit box was up on a bench and the cat Ritz on the floor. Cats love a vantage point. It suits their sense of natural superiority.

We knew that Monsieur Albert would miss the kittens when they went to their new homes. I took over some kitten food for them which offended Monsieur. “Kitten Food!. But already they eat cat food!”  I talked him into keeping the cans for kitties, but he didn’t want to. He seemed to think that I was molly-coddling his cats and would do them no good at all.  Soon I hoped to take MiMi to the vet. At that stage MiMi was still very protective of the little ones, but they had started on solid food. So that was good.

I was reminded again of that book “We need to have a Talk about Kevin” when I saw how Monsieur favoured the female kitten. He brushed the little male aside and spent ages training the tiny female to try to climb up his arm. The small male sat there whingeing plaintively and Monsieur scolded him and telling him he is “Malin! Tu est malin toi!” – Naughty! you are naughty You!” Poor little cat. Predestined to naughtiness because Monsieur Albert knows that is the way of the world. Males are more likely to be troublesome.

We were out in the garden and Monsieur Albert came over to tell le Patron (as he calls Davis) that he could take a photo of the kittens if he wanted to. The kittens had ventured out through MiMi’s cat door and they looked so surprised as they emerged and tumbled onto the step with no control at all. Monsieur clearly thought that these babies were worthy of a photograph. I was a bit chagrined because it doesn’t take much to get the good Doctor to abandon his gardening fork and spade and pick up the camera. However, I agreed that the kitties looked  “very naughty” as Monsieur Albert said shaking his fist so fiercely you would swear he was talking about the Bolsheviks.

Monsieur Albert lives alone. We watched him feeding the kittens from his finger one morning. So patient. They were sitting side by side on the chair looking  adorable. And he put a morsel of food on his finger and gave it to them one at a time. Davis and I went into the vet to see about getting MiMi neutered. The vet said MiMi should have the operation immediately. Any longer and she might get pregnant again. Monsieur however, thought otherwise. We had to enlist the aid of our French agent to help persuade him.  We bought some more flea and worming medication for them all and it costs a fortune (same as at home). The operation is very expensive too. But it seemed the right thing to do if we could convince Monsieur.

The little moggy looked a bit less disheveled after we had wormed her and dressed her in a red collar. I gave Monsieur the drops to worm the kittens when they reached 6 weeks, but he was mystified as to why they would need them. “Worms? Worms? I do not think they have any worms!” So I didn’t like their chances of getting done. I put MiMi’s worming drops on her neck with my own hand. He still doted on the little female kitten and tried to ignore the male, but the little male was not having any of it. He ran and climbed up Monsieurs trousers and hung on fiercely. It made Monsieur laugh delightedly. We could hear him talking to them all day. They would be lovely tame cats for whomever adopted them. Mimi is not a really tame cat and for ages she only let me touch her in Monsieur’s presence.

Monsieur Albert came over this to inform us that the kittens had gone to their new home.  He seemed a bit down but MiMi seemed OK. Job well done mother. They have just moved up the road. We planned to take MiMi into the vet the next week. Or Friday perhaps. Monsieur was not at all keen. He has not a lot of faith in Vets. He kept saying “Oh don’t trouble yourselves!” Then he wanted us to wait another 4 weeks after the kittens had gone. MiMi would be in the family way again by then.

We had MiMi booked in for the following Monday, but I thought it would be too late. She was calling out to her swains around the place. Monsieur was finally persuaded that it was not too soon when I pointed out the 2 Tom cats waiting outside his door and suggested that they might have been the fathers of her earlier kittens. He looked very surprised and turned and surveyed MiMi and said “But she is a good cat! Elle est mignon ne c’est pas? She is cute is she not?” As if that would protect her. He was building yet another box for us to use to transport her.

When we went in to the Vet to discuss the MiMi situation. We went through the entire, long conversation in French – with the vet explaining things to us in great detail several times because, as she warmed to her subject, she would speed up and at times we had a bit of difficulty keeping up.  So we had to keep stopping her and asking her to slow down. But we understood her well enough in the end. As we were leaving she ran through it all in English for us. They are funny the French. She could have saved herself a lot of time, but then we would not have had such a good French lesson. It was useful because when we were trying to persuade Monsieur we had all the correct French jargon.  He was hammering and banging away at making his Darling a cat box for her transport. His way of contributing and feeling involved.

Monday was MiMis day and we took her in at 9 am. We were up at 7.30am and that was the earliest we had been out of bed in the miserable weather. I went over to collect her from Monsieur Albert and he had her in his arms. He whispered to me so that MiMi couldn’t hear him. “Get the box!” I didn’t catch it the first time and he leaned over and mimed elaborately “Get the cat-box!” So I got it and he deposited MiMi therein. Monsieur looked very forlorn as we packed her into the car and drove off. She hardly said a word. Once she heard us say her name in conversation and gave a little peep of a “Meow” in response. Not like Madam Pops at home who screams with indignation at the very sight of the cat-box. Queen of the house is suddenly being treated like a cat!

The vet phoned at 12md to tell us that the operation proceeded well “toute rouler bien!” (all went well) and that MiMi was “resting tranquilly”. We went back to fetch her at 5.30pm. I had been terribly anxious in case the operation might have killed her and we would have to face Monsieur. He only allowed it because we insisted.  So I hoped it all worked out for the best. He understood that it was for the best in theory, but he was afraid for her. She is such a tiny creature with the biggest round eyes you have ever seen on a cat.

When we collected MiMi at 5.30pm she was more than ready to come home even though her I.V. drip was still to be removed. The vet gave us strict instructions that she should be kept inside the house for 24 hours and not to eat anything. She could drink something, but no food. So we explained it all to Monsieur Albert and gave him the special food she is to eat when she was back on solids. He put on his glasses to attend us better and seemed to understand everything. So we left him raining endearments down upon his Darling’s head. She was still in the cat-box at that stage. A few minutes later we looked up and, who was over at our place eating a hearty meal put out for the other cats, but “herself”. Davis called out in surprise and we all went rushing out in time to see her vanishing up the road. Monsieur appeared waving his arms and calling out that as soon as he had opened the cat-box she had just “shot away”.

 

We all retreated quietly hoping she would come home – which she did immediately. Monsieur talked to her gently and tried to reason with her – indeed he thought himself successful.  He called out triumphantly :”I have her! Tout va Bien! (All goes well)” And peace descended on our little corner of the world. We retired to our belated happy-hour celebration.  About 15 minutes later I looked out and saw a tiny, brindled bottom parked determinedly beside the food bowl again. She had escaped despite Monsieur having talked it over with her and put her on her honour. She had decided that she was hungry and that was that.

 

It reminded me of Davis’ Intensive Care web discussion page that he checks every morning. One of the Doctors said that he used to take his cat into the Vet Science School to donate cat blood when they had emergencies. The Doctor owner said : “Tancredi (the cat) had told me he was not going to do it again – and he was right!”  Unless you are a cat person you might not realise how amusing that is, but every cat-lover will recognise it.  Cats are very determined creatures.
So, MiMi enjoyed a meal before I discovered her and then, and only then, she retired to accept Monsieur‘s ministrations – and NOT BEFORE. I was quite anxious about it, but David laughed and said “This is a tough, feral, little Moggy. She knows what is good for her.” I hoped he was right and I suspected he would be. The Vet said she was a healthy little cat with no fleas, ear mites or other parasites. Good teeth too.  So Monsieur (and her co-owners ) have done a good job on her.
5911738515_97cda5093f_oMiMi
We came back from taking MiMi in to the vet for her post-op check-up. She was fine. When we brought her home and handed her over to Monsieur Albert he presented us with a hand-made cement vase. White cement and studded with mussel shells. It  is an extraordinary looking specimen and he showed us how he made it with white cement etc. This is to thank us for our help with MiMi. He told us not to leave it outside of the house because it would be stolen “toute suite”  (immediately)”. The Good Soul.

 

MiMi seemed to be doing well. On the last day before we left to drive up to Paris the neighbour from behind us came over looking for the other small cat who is MiMi’s sister.  We had put a collar on her last November along with MMi. She is a very personable little cat (if one can call a cat personable). Extremely friendly and good-looking. Bigger than MiMi. The neighbours behind us had adopted her and named her “Prune”. Watching a French person grimace in order to give “Prune” its correct English pronunciation is a sight to behold.

 

I was upstairs packing and they were down below my window shouting up to me. They had no doubt heard all about our deep (and some times unwelcome) interest in MiMi and all the goings on with her because when I asked for a description of Prune they fixed me with stern, assessing gazes and said “She is just like MIMI!” As if to say that they were perfectly well aware that I was acquainted with Prune and that I am not to be trusted within a mile of anyone’s pet cat. I told them I would keep an eye out for her. I was glad when she turned up. They thought I had her in my bags I’m certain.

 

I watched an interesting documentary featuring cats. It was Sir Trevor Howard (BBC) inside death row in America. He went in and interviewed several of the 12 men on Death row. It was fascinating. The men all seem so child-like. Most have been there since they were children so they are a bit like the Carmelite nuns who don’t really get much of a chance to interact with the world and mature out of that child-like manner.  When they are finally allowed to speak they are amazingly girlish. One of these men had been there on Death Row for 25 years and he went in at  15 years of age. He murdered two people when he was 13 years old. He had educated himself and could discuss metaphysics sensibly. It is a paradox that he has spent all these years on Death Row getting a wonderful education where as if he had been outside he would almost certainly be dead. Like those Memphis teenagers wrongly imprisoned as children for murder. They went in to prison as extremely under-priveledged, under-educated waifs and when their sentence was finally over-turned they emerged as articulate, educated men. Some small compensation I suppose.

If the men on death row earn the privilege they are permitted to keep a cat. They apply and get them as tiny kittens and you have never seen such devoted cat-lovers. The men have not experienced anything like it in their lives before and it exhibits that they are not psychopathic. One man had been there 10 years or so with his much loved cat. The cat had a crucifix hanging from its collar and the man’s face softened and doted as he introduced her. When these men are interviewed over the years they are always asked about remorse and they have their answers off pat. It becomes extremely mechanical, but this man said sadly: “I love this cat, I adore her. I almost worship her, but if I could undo what I have done I would give her up even.” It convinced me. As a beaten child of a drunken, violent step-father his first experience of unconditional love was from the cat.
We saw a TV program on unlikely cross species friendships the other night and it showed some really funny pairings. The secret to all of their friendships was in the fact that they had all known each other as babies. A taboo in the animal kingdom against eating your brothers and sisters. They showed some really funny footage of a barn cat who gave birth to her kittens at the same time as a bunch of little golden ducklings hatched. The cat, who would normally have put on her bib and tucker to eat these small birds, adopted them with her kitties. She had such trouble with them too. They kept escaping the nest and she had to spend so much time catching them and bringing them back to the warm. They showed footage of them later and the cat was still being trailed by fully grown, big white ducks.

 

A year after her encounter with the vet  MiMi and I pruned the rest of the roses. She sat at the bottom of the ladder “peeping” at me. She wondered if all this ladderwork was really necessary when I could be sitting down playing with a small cat. In the evening as I was lying on the couch reading I heard a “peep” and saw a tiny stripey face peering around the edge of
the couch at me. She was longing to come over to me, but found
herself unable to muster the courage.
When we were out having lunch (again accompanied by MiMi) we were visited by a beautiful, young Tom cat-strong and lithe. He had a grey and white face with a wonderful spray of white whiskers.  We were sure that he was one of her MiMi’s kittens from last year. He has the same markings. He is twice as big as MiMi who is a petite little baggage. She is very territorial and guards our front yard as her very own. She sees off all the other cats, but she allowed this young chap to come up and bump noses with her – go over and inspect her food bowl. So she knows him.
I was watching MiMi walking toward me one day and it suddenly
occurred to me that the origin of the term “cat-walk” may not only be
referring to the narrow stage the models walk upon, but a description
of the way the girls actually walk on that narrow platform. She is
very dainty. She lifts each paw high in front of her and places it
down very precisely and neatly across the mid-line of her body. It
makes her sway in a pretty, prancing manner that is very reminiscent
of the models sauntering along the “cat-walk”. She seemed very healthy.

We called into the Vet to get some worming medication for her. We
put a new collar on her and I bought a knock ’em down toy for
her, but so far she has disdained it. She will dab at our hands playfully, but it is another conceptual leap to understand a toy made especially for her.

 Mothering is an important part of life I guess and we are glad that MiMi has had the experience, but now she will live longer to comfort all of us. She is such a help in the garden.

 When we were in Mirepoix for a visit we were befriended by the most beautiful, creamy, long haired, green eyed oriental kitten. She came to our door and yelled loudly to be let in – which, of course, we did. She reminded us so much of our Ozzie Pops. When we walked off up the street, she accompanied us down the entire length of the block with her cries getting louder and more strident as we went along. Finally she stopped at the corner but she continued to yell after us reproachfully. It nearly broke my heart. I remarked to Davis  “I think that is my cat.” “No it is not.” said he. “Yes I think it is” said I. “No one is caring for her. No collar and such a tiny and beautiful person should not be out wandering the streets. I am going to take her home to Monsieur Albert.” “No you are not!” and his brown eyes were fixed on me sternly as if he just would not put it past me to snaffle that moggy.

France: More on Dogs and Horses

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Henry Ward Beecher: (abolitionist) For fidelity devotion love, many a two-legged animal (man) is below the dog and the horse. Happy would it be for thousands of people if they could stand at last before the Judgement Seat and say “I have loved as truly and I have lived as decently as my dog”. And yet we call them “only animals!”

Dostoyevsky: “Love animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble their joy, don’t harass them, don’t deprive them of their happiness, don’t work against God’s intent. Man, do not pride yourself on superiority to animals; they are without sin, and you, with your greatness, defile the earth by your appearance on it, and leave traces of your foulness after you- alas, it is true of almost every one of us! “Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character; and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.”

One of the wonderful things about life in a French village is that there are animals everywhere: cattle, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys, hunting hounds, game birds, deer, rabbits, hares and hedgehogs for starters. The French are animal lovers – notwithstanding the fact that they are perfectly happy to eat their fellow creatures.

In a nearby town on the 27th of each month, regardless of which day of the week it falls upon, there is an agricultural fair. We try not to miss it when we are in France because it is a true, rustic idyll straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel (only French). Balzac or Flaubert would be the French approximates. Flaubert has Emma Bovary attend a local agricultural fair at Yonville. The farmers are there in great numbers to inspect the animals and perhaps to buy or sell some. Every sort of farm animal one can think of is there on display and for sale: Horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, cows, birds of all kinds, rabbits, dogs and so on.

There are scores of trestle tables laden with farm products and equipment.  The pepinieres are there with truckloads of plants and trees ready for planting; and all the equipment necessary for running the farms is available. Labourers with various skills for sale stand around dressed for the role hoping for employment. I was hard put not to gape and point my camera at the shepherds in their tunics and holding their crooks.

Once. when we were out on a country walk, we came across a farmyard: roosters, hens, geese, dogs, cats and lots of hutches housing an exotic variety of rabbits – lop-eared and otherwise. Madame spotted us peeking in and gestured for us to come over to admire her menagerie. She opened one of the cages and hauled out a wonderful, butter-fat, lop-eared bunny that she placed in my arms. Docile and dozy, it enchanted us and we were full of admiration. I asked Madame why she kept so many bunnies. “Pour manger!” (for eating)  she said with an air of surprise. Why else would one breed rabbits?

4903738178_70175bed99_zPatience on a monument

We have made the acquaintance of most of the local pets be they horses, cats or dogs. We are regular visitors to their paddocks and gardens. We equip ourselves with bread, corn, dandelions and whatever we can think of that might exhibit our good will. Sometimes they remain stubbornly aloof, but we never tire of trying to commune with them.  We stopped one day to admire some baby, black lambs. We walked down the field and Davis had his tele-photo lens at the ready because we thought the sheep might be a bit timid when they saw us. Not a bit of it. They turned, saw us and came at us en masse galloping like the Charge of the Light Brigade.  About 15-20 of them. We could hear them thundering along. They skidded to a stop beside us and looked up at us with profound and heart-breaking expectation. But we had nothing to give them except our admiration. They were as tame as pets. They let us stroke them and when they realized we didn’t have anything for them they sloped off baahing disgustedly. Talk about raising a person’s hopes to no avail! There ought to be a law against it.

Floating in the fields, their slender legs not apparent through the grass, there are picturesque sheep everywhere, fat and fluffy. Sometimes we stop to admire them and “baa baa” at them companionably. They lift their black faces and, still chewing, they regard us with alien eyes, but make little reply. We suspect that French sheep do not speak in “baa baas”.  French ducks after all, say, “coin-coin” instead of “quack-quack”. My misgivings concerning the correct way to address a French sheep were heightened because one summer, one of them, a magnificent and sociable fellow was in residence in a field adjoining our back garden. His field itself is next-door to a kennel in which abide pack of handsome and vocally gifted hunting hounds.

The field is home to different creatures from season to season: a horse, now geese, and on this occasion, I have no idea why, a wonderful talkative sheep. Spying me out in the garden weeding he would come to the nearest corner and “baa!” at me imperiously in an attempt to communicate something about the circumstances in which he found himself. When I grew tired of stooping I would take a walk over to parley with him, but with the best will in the world, we were unable to achieve much more than mutual admiration. Nevertheless, I am not so sure that the philosopher Wittgenstein is correct when he says that even if a lion (in this case a sheep), could speak, we would not understand him.  His experience of the world is so different to our own. The sheep looked at me and I looked at him. It seemed to be enough. Something was understood between us.

 

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Another such encounter occurred when, on a drive to a nearby village, we came around a bend to discover a big white boof-head standing as if waiting for the “walk” sign before crossing the road. He had a good long look at us. “What are you doing?” we asked. “What business is it of yours?” he stared us down. We tried to shoo him back into his paddock where all his companions seemed to be, but he gave us a huge and indignant “MOOooo” so we edged around him and  left him to it. He was out of sorts no doubt because they hate being separated from their companions. It causes them real anxiety because they are herd animals.

If we happen to be on the road near the local dairy when the farmer moves his herd from one paddock to another we have the happy experience of sitting there as the cows mooch past shouldering the car as they bump by at a a calm pace. Most of them find it necessary to have a really careful, long look at us through the windows and at very close proximity. It is another of those “Am I looking at you or are you looking at me?” situations.

Further along on the same day that we were dispatched about our business by the white calf we came across a wonderful big duck wandering nonchalantly along the foot path as if he were off to attend an important meeting. The feathers on his head were all standing up in a cantankerous quiff.  He clearly had in mind to go somewhere special. He gave us a very cursory glance as he waddled by – despite our attempts to engage him in conversation. Davis said “Perhaps he knows what we had for dinner the other night.”

We used to drive by a particular garden often to see a wonderful spotty pig and suddenly he disappeared. We convinced ourselves that he had become the dinner of his devoted owner. He had been gone for nearly 2 years and, miracle of miracles, there he was! Looking at us with his mild and inquisitive piggy gaze. “Are you looking at me? Or am I looking at you?” We were so happy to see him because we had grieved for him. His owner had seemed very fond of him. The pig played around his feet having his ears scratched occasionally as they worked in the garden. When his owner is there he frolics around his feet – friendly as a puppy. Sometimes he goes “skitter pig” and dances about the field in a corpulent rendition of joie de Porker.  We should have had more faith. Yet the French do tend to think nothing of eating their pets. It is the same pig there is no doubt because we have several photos of him and his spots are identical.

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We showed our lovely, freckly, pet pig to our visiting cousin who remained resolutely disinterested. The pig himself was lying curled up in a spotty heap having a nap against a warm stone wall. His enormous, dotty belly ballooning around him and his sweet, piggy face peaceful with slumber. It appalled us that our guest was impervious to his considerable charms. The man has no heart and no eye for extraordinary beauty. Like Basset hounds, this particular porker has the transcendent beauty of sublime ugliness (as Kant would describe it). We just love that huge lump of lard. As the saying goes: the way to a person’s heart is “to praise the beloved.” Our visitor missed a big opportunity there. We would have felt very warmly toward him if he had only admired our beloved spotty friend.
 

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We walk to the edge of the village to feed an old horse of our acquaintence. He is a crabby old Neddy that is for sure. He will eat the apples, carrots and bread out of our hands, but flatly refuses to allow us to pat him. No liberties of any kind. His carer came out one day and explained that the horse, whom we call Brunellus, is 34 years old. That means he is a nonagenarian in human terms. He became part of the family when the daughter of the house-hold was a child. The daughter is now married with children of her own and Brunellus remains.

5888729042_867dccd626_zTatin and his friend Tartine

One evening while we were sitting out in the garden at happy hour we were visited by the huge 4 year old draught horse and his life companion – a small donkey. The draught horse is a deep reddish gold with lighter gold mane, tail and frilly, golden feet. They were being taken on a promenade from one field to another. As they walked by our front gate the horse‘s proud owner heard our exclamations and they stopped in their tracks to receive our admiration. We took some photos of the enormous horse standing with his head through our gate-way and his bottom out onto the street. (I was feeding him bread.) Davis crept around behind to take a photo of the lovely round BTM, but the owner spied him and quickly turned “Tatin du Champs” around to face the camera so that Davis could get him from his best angle. The besotted owner kept saying “He is gentle. He is good. Look at his beautiful feet!” and other such doting remarks. He told us that, on the occasions when they harness the horse to plow their little vegetable field, the Donkey stays behind in their home paddock and cries. Sobs. (as you would of course).

5888159937_9a0b2716c2_zTatin pays an afternoon call

Dogs have participated in human social groups since we lived in caves. Studies done by reputable scientists demonstrate that even though humans are more closely related to chimps, dogs understand us much better than do those closest relatives. Dogs will follow the human gaze to discover what it is we are looking at, while a chimpanzee will not. The French respond to this sympathy and the long association between man and dog with deep devotion. Their dogs are more indulged than most children. They accompany their human companions to church, on public transport, to restaurants, shopping and everywhere humans go, dogs go too. They are better behaved than many Australian children. Alarmingly however, the French still think it permissible to dock their best friends’ ears while in Australia we have largely abandoned that cruel practice.

In the country villages many of the towns people keep hunting hounds. We have a beautiful pack living nearby and we can hear them baying for breakfast. When we succumb to the temptation to visit, they turn their faces skyward and through perfectly pursed lips they greet us with a full-throated concert. I lean into their kennel and the most intrepid leap to lick my fingers, grateful for any human attention even if it is not their beloved hunter.

Often people who are not even hunters will keep a pack of four or five large, handsome dogs. Dogs and their keepers go out running en famille. On many occasions when we are out walking through the hedgerows, a few well-cared for, well-mannered dogs join us, willing to give us a try as potential walking companions. They oblige us with their company for short time but since we stop to pick the berries and take photos, most often, they are forced to abandon us as too slow for them to tolerate and we part with no ill feelings. In nearly every car in the supermarket car park there is a trusty mutt on duty overseeing the family’s property. More often than not a lovingly constructed and elaborate bed has been provided for the car’s four-legged custodian.

Once at a fair we came across a woman selling Lancier puppies. They were like huge white fluffy balls as they slept calmly in their playpen. Beside the pen their mother sat with sweet dignity greeting and being greeted by all the passers by. She would smile and raise her white paw to shake hands politely and the recipients of her courtesy would all fall about in enchanted delight. Lanciers are the dogs that shepherds place in flocks of sheep in order to protect them against predators. The dog looks just like a big white sheep (only much more intelligent) and it becomes emotionally attached to its herd and guards them with its life. We had trouble tearing ourselves away from that beautiful creature.

While we were having brunch one day in the garden a beautiful Belgian Shepherd came bounding in under the mistaken impression that we were waiting for her to join us at table. She must have been just out of her puppydom because she was very friendly and skitter-brained. Her frustrated little owner came rushing in and tried to drag her out by the scruff of her neck, but she flopped and declined to be moved. She found our company so congenial. Eventually Davis and the owner had to carry this huge creature out through the front gate where, as soon as they deposited her on the ground, she took off as full throttle after MiMi. She finally understood what was required of her. To deal with this pesky, previous cat. Fortunately the small cat was more than a match for Her Galumphingness.

There are handsome dogs everywhere in the village. We were driving along a country road we spotted and a beautiful golden retriever who was trotting along the road sniffing at this and that and completely alone. Davis said “Lets say hello to him!” so we stopped and wound down the window of the car to greet him. He trotted up to the car and, looking troubled, he peered in at Davis. Then he leaned round Davis to get a better look at me. His face was a picture of curious consternation. “Do I know you?” then he decided that he didn’t know us and returned calmly to his sniffing. “Don’t know you at all! Don’t know why you’re wasting my time”.

 8210806306_3a24e3fa20_oSt. Bernard keeping the guard

Arriving in Tourners

When we arrived here at Tourners we were greeted in the street by a very excited Monsieur Albert.  He positively sashayed up to the car with a tremendous air of mystery and waved at me with his whittling stick.  “Wind down the window” he had a lot to tell us.  He had been back to hospital 3 times during our absence.  We must have looked suitably dismayed because he warmed to his subject immediately and he demonstrated with wide arms the vast quantities of “something or other” that the hospital staff had removed from his person on each occasion. Finally and ceremoniously, with the timing and flare of a real story-teller, he rolled up the leg of his French Blues (Overalls) to reveal a rather smart urinary catheter bag strapped to his leg.

He told us in graphic detail all that had befallen him and his bladder.  He may have been aiming for stoicism, but he couldn’t hide his delight at all the fuss and ado.  The trousers were rolled back several times to exhibit the finer features of the bag; with solemn and precise pointing and tapping at measurement indicators. He said that his friend up the road had a catheter in situ for 18 months but that he fully expected to make that record look paltry.  Same as in Oz, the public hospital system in France is always playing catch-up.

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Clematis at the Front door.

We have never seen the Clematis over the front door in full flower, but this year we have timed it perfectly. I will be sweeping fallen petals and fluff out of the hall way for months; a small price to pay.

The garden looks pretty good: particularly the roses. They have been coiffed in the English way which is very proper and formal, but they promise to give us a good show when they get underway.   The huge pile of prunings in front are from the Plane tree; pollarded to within an inch of its life. If OLR had been here it would never have been treated so radically. The horticulteur arrived today to deal with La Grand Mere  (Grand-mother) which is the enormous tree at the back of the house for a sum of E700.  Not cheap, but he does a good job.
8976576103_a7255f4d29_zLa Grand Mere Before
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 La Grand-Mere after her short back and sides.
I spent a couple of hours in the afternoon bundling some of the prunings into manageable parcels for the fireplace. We will use them in a year or so when they have dried out. MiMi helped me in a total body sort of way. She kept diving head first into my bundles of sticks and rolling over to wave  her paws at me enticingly. She was a pest, but tremendously pretty.
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MiMi
Pavarotti appeared with in moments of our arrival and he glared at us in his “chew-backer” way and deigned to eat our gourmet offerings.
10962243176_419550f466_zPavoritti aka Chew-backer

Thoughts on Animals

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Immanuel Kant: “He who is cruel in his dealings with animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”

Albert Schweitzer. “By ethical conduct toward all creatures, we enter into a spiritual relationship with the universe.”

Ghandi: The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

People often confess shamefacedly that they love their pets more than they love their fellow human beings. A good number of French would have to plead guilty to this as well. It is one of the reasons I like them. I remember being  scandalised when I was told as a child that there would be no animals in heaven because animals do not have souls. “Heaven” said I then – as I say now “is no place for me!”

Abraham Lincoln said “I care not much for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.”

Some suggest that a consuming love of animals is a sign of misanthropy. If that is the case then I am misanthropic. I do not understand fully why my emotions are so aroused by the terrible plight of most of the non-human animals on this planet. It may be that I was taught as a child to appreciate them, or it may be a psychological identification with them. Whatever the case, I am a passionate devotee of nonhuman creatures great and small.

When we consider the human discourses and skills, animals do not seem to know much that we know, but what they do know they know perfectly. The (in)famous French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan said that his dog was the only being who really knew him and did not confuse him for some mistaken, projected fantasy.

The question often discussed by philosophers and animal-lovers is whether or not their animals are “persons” i.e. do they have souls. Another way of posing the question is to ask does a nonhuman animal have a “personal identity”, a “me” and hence all the longings, desires, and even morals that seem to go with that structure. I cannot imagine why we would want to afflict them with souls what ever we may understand “having a soul” to mean. Having a soul is the source of a great deal of suffering. Nietzsche calls man “the suffering animal”. When someone says of a pet “He is a real character!” I am sure they are not speaking metaphorically. The animal concerned is a “person”.

When animals become involved in our lives (for purposes other than eating and servitude) we invest them with a cultural soul or a “personhood”. They get this in virtue of their association with the creatures who invented the phenomenon: ourselves. The soul is a narrative structure, a man-made explanation for our perplexing intuitions of subjectivity and spirituality. It combines historical circumstances and moral imperatives. If animals have similar souls then they get those souls from us.  You have only to type “guilty dogs” into You-tube and you will see the souls of dogs exhibited. Whether one believes in God or not, all we know about him/her/it, we have devised for ourselves. We have developed the notion of the soul to explain how we are connected to God, or as a philosopher like Plato would put it, to explain how we might participate in the substance of the divine.

In these terms we can ponder the question about animals having souls. We tame them, train them, and in the most arrogant, exploitative and disrespectful way we oppress them with our demands and then, if it suits us, we will eat them. If one of them tries to eat one of us it is executed immediately.

For the last forty years the French Philosopher Derrida has been one of the world’s most famous and controversial philosophers. He caused a scandal in the philosophical world by being the first philosopher to be rich and bold enough to drive a Rolls Royce with personalised number plates. It was a real paradox because philosophers like to think of themselves as being rather austere and not really interested in material things. Derrida died in 2004.  He devoted some thought to this problem of whether or not we can think of animals as “persons”.

He commences from the position that “personhood” is something we get from our society. He wonders if it might be useful to think of the prohibition regarding killing as a place to start delineating personhood. Perhaps “persons” are those we are not permitted to kill. If we will not kill an animal perhaps we consider it a person. When a criminal is executed he must have forfeited his personhood.

Derrida was forced to abandon that position because, of course, humans kill each other all the time regardless of whether or they think their victims might have “souls.”

Next, he draws an analogy between the rules and rituals that surround human eating practices and the notion of “personhood”. In many countries it is the routine for men to eat first and best, then the children, and last of all, if there is anything left, the women may eat. This is indicative of a certain hierarchy of persons. Here, the men might be considered the fully-fledged “persons” while the women are not. In these terms then, the societies that nurture their animals as carefully as they do their children would accord those creatures the status of “person” and it would be morally reprehensible to allow them to go hungry, to kill them or to eat them.

Personhood has several facets: psychological, juridical, political and ethical identity for example. According to Derrida a ready-reckoner as to the status and power of the person would be to regard those who eat “well” as having been granted the status of subject. “Well” is used here in a dual sense; e.g. to follow the society’s rules about eating is to eat well, and to eat good quality food is to eat well.

Another interesting remark Derrida makes is that once we have imposed personhood upon these creatures, i.e. given them a human-made soul, it is almost impossible to strip them of it without gross cruelty. We cannot simply turn tame tigers out into the jungle. If we abandon tame dolphins to the wild they will still beg for food from the fishing boats. It is the same with tamed wolves. Even though they are perfectly capable of fishing and hunting for themselves, breaking bread with humans has become more important to them than simple survival.

We humans can learn a great deal from animals both tame and in their natural state. For example: we would do well to emulate their stoicism, pragmatism, simplicity and their purity. If I see an animal living without interference, or even one well cared for and contented, I am imbued with some of their contentment. In the United States the prison authorities permitted a study in which homeless dogs were allocated one each to long term and recalcitrant prisoners. Men and women who were not motivated to try to improve their own situation by obeying the prison rules were happy to negotiate good behaviour for privileges for their animals. When a cat, normally wild and frightened, sits on my lap and trusts that I will not harm it I can catch a glimpse of good in our species.

If the English have a reputation for devotion to animals then the French cannot be far behind.  Yet, there is still the paradox of hunting. Many people in both countries continue to hunt. If I could believe that the hunting was only in order to provide food then perhaps it would not seem so repulsive. But the pleasure the hunters seem to derive from what they call a sport does little to ease my misgivings. It is hard to think of a creature that takes more pleasure in killing than humans do. Other creatures will kill but it is mainly for food or out of fear. The fox in the hen house springs to mind but the fox does not know any better. The fox cannot sit down with his peers and talk the matter over. The fox is still driven by instinct whereas we humans have the rare distinction of being able to rise above instinct.

Healthy and beautiful, nonhuman animals abound at every turn in La France Profond.  It is possible to draw all sorts of conclusions about a society from the way they treat animals and, hunting aside, the French must be among the most enlightened people on earth. They are a people who will not smile at one another with out a very good reason, but they will beam and melt at the sight of a dog.

10962174115_0145f83731_z(1)Meeting for a chat on Saturday morning.

 

In our area of France they have a multitude of horse and donkey shows.  In beautiful, spacious stable yards the animals are assembled for exhibition and judging. Their human admirers scatter about the periphery seated in the shade. The donkeys look exactly as if they have dressed themselves up in donkey costumes that are way too big for them. They are as friendly as can be and walk up to you (even the babies) and butt you gently with their heads to get a scratch. The various categories are judged at a wonderfully leisurely pace. Measured carefully, examined meticulously, observed in their walking and trotting gaits, their forelocks curled and whiskers trimmed they are perfectly aware that they are the essence of equine beauty.

Princess

On one occasion we were given a showing of “Princess“, a blue/black draught horse of huge, huge  proportions. Since that time we have gotten to know her very well and often stop to give her a piece of bread.  She has a fine head and long curly mane, tail and feathered feet. She is a really pretty giant and her handlers treated her so gently and respectfully – as if she really were a Princess.

As we drove past in the morning the stables were in the full swing of preparation for the afternoon show and we saw “Princess”  being groomed. One fellow brushing her feet and another dealing with her mane and tail – all of which had been crimped. No wonder she has a good opinion of herself and of her handlers. She is beautiful. We saw several other handsome and expectant faces peeping out over their stable doors.

I saw a YouTube  video of those lovely horses in El Caballo Blanco. They are mostly draught horses and stallions. The history of the thing goes that they used stallions because the Spanish army would not come in and confiscate them for war purposes. The stallions were too naughty and willful. (Isn’t that the way of the world). So they trained up the stallions to dance – confident that they would not be dragooned into the army. They showed footage of them doing “Piaf” which is prancing on the spot. It was a technique used to warm up the horses before battle. These great big dills looked so wonderfully silly. I marveled at their luxurious forelocks and manes that were all curled and fluffed up into ringlets.

I saw a little girl at the coffee shop and she too had her hair in curls and ringlets in just the same way. I puzzled about how we have decided that curls are the height of beauty in little girls and in those huge animals. What can we be thinking of? How do curls improve the look of a horse? They do though in a rather strange way. It shows how treasured and petted they are. Perhaps that is what links the two: little girls and gorgeous horses: they are treasured. When we cherish creatures we curl their hair.

It is a very serious business and the horses, donkeys and mules are all meticulously and painstakingly judged and certified so that they can continue breeding. The place was full of babies. All very naughty, trying to escape, propping and refusing to walk on halters. The mothers are serene and lovely.8983528411_d48381713d_z
A  12 month old draft-horse colt was being judged. He was a giant: as tall as I am at his shoulder and much taller than Davis at his head.  He kept whinnying and glaring urgently out through the gate. I asked what was stirring him up out there and one of the judges turned to me and said “Il appel sa Mere!” (He is calling his mother.) It was moving to see this enormous creature calling for Mother.  Mothers are so important. I had looked at him before and told Davis that I thought he was young because his gaze was so soft and silly, but he was just so big it seemed impossible.
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After the judging of each horse and donkey the judges read out over the microphone what was good and bad about the animal. They thought this young colt was “big for his age. Perhaps too big!” There was also a massive donkey stallion leaning out to observe proceedings. He was very annoyed about the whole business because he found himself severely neglected. He had his curly face out over a stable door. He called repeatedly and raucously till his minders went over to tickle him to assuage his sense of injustice.  Ignored for a while – he decided to kick the stable door down (as you would) and we could see it shaking and bending with each thump. Soon as someone was there talking to him he’d shut up.
They had a mother and child category and about a dozen mothers and their babes came out. It was a sight for sore eyes with the mothers all standing quietly as long as they could see their babes and the babies playing up. The long coats are to keep them from the weather: warm in winter and cool in summer. These coats are considered things of great beauty and are much admired in aesthetics of the world of donkeys.  When one Mother with an especially long coat of dreadlocks was lead out there was a collective gasp from the audience as if a super-model had walked on stage.
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It makes me happy to see that all these people are dedicating so much of their lives to preserving these animals that would otherwise be extinct. They used to be working animals in the fields and of course they fought in 2 world wars. They are incredibly strong. Now that we humans have no further use for them they would become extinct like all the other species we are robbing of habitat. But these people just adore them.  They are as proud of them as if they were children.
We met Princess again the next day in the fields and it was drizzling with rain. She had her nose pressed firmly against the gate about half way up the field to let her handlers know that she wanted to come into the stable out of the rain. Her companion in the field, a rather fine donkey, came up to us immediately when we called. Just for a chat, she declined the piece of bread we offered her, but let us stroke her nose. However, we called and called to Princess and other than turning her mild gaze upon us for a moment, she was letting nothing distract her from getting her way about the stable. When we drove by later, Princess was gone and the Donkey – all alone and palely loitering.

We Find a House in France

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Tournersol

“But I was so much older then I’m younger than that now.” Bob Dylan

If I could talk with the young person I was at twenty, that young woman would find me a bit bewildering. Of course she may not even see me. I can’t remember noticing many middle-aged women when I was that age. I certainly did not find them interesting. The twenty year old could never have imagined that one day it would be her delight to share the custody of several cats with an archetypical French gnome: expert in gardening, animal husbandry and just about everything else.

The twenty-year old me did not even like cats especially, yet now, to win the trust of scruffy, feral cats seems like a great achievement. But more than that, I have co-befriended several of these cats with the singular Monsieur Albert. Monsieur Albert is the French gnome who has appointed himself chef of our coin du village. He lives across the street from us deep in the heart of la France profond.

All these accounts of living in Europe and of France in particular seem to involve living beside a wonderfully bossy, inquisitive, and good-hearted neighbour. Ours is, I am happy to say, no exception. Our second stroke of luck in our French life was that we chose a house opposite Monsieur Albert.

4537502109_efb960f477_z Monsieur Albert and MiMi

Osama bin Cassowary (Sarmi in Jarmies to his friends)

 

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Re Osama bin Cassowary. He is still furious with us. We made the fatal mistake of putting out some fallen mangoes for him and the chick. Now he seems to think our role in life is to deliver to him the mangoes he richly deserves.  He ate the mangoes as they fell from the tree and he checks the sour sop and sapote trees every day. He is so grumpy and bossy. It has to be seen to be believed.

Yesterday we were driving in and we encountered them at the bottom of the 900 meter drive way. He and his chick were milling about the road – mooching calmly up the drive – stopping here and there to have a good peck at this and that. If ever we edged too close to them Osama turned, fluffed up his feathers and glared at us threateningly. He stalked towards us with tremendous attitude. His amber eyes, his long eyelashes.

We have had to hang towels over some of the windows here at the house because he picks a fight with his reflected image and whacks the windows so hard with his beak we can hear him way over the other side of the house. He rattles the rafters.

They made us follow them for almost the entire length of the drive. OLR says they were here before us so they are entitled. But we have stopped giving them fruit here at the house. I take it out and sprinkle it around the paths. They still come begging at the deck and it just breaks our hearts. Because we love them and should never have indulged ourselves by feeding them. But they had nothing to eat after the cyclone and we started then.