From Global Mom: A Memoir
(Continued from last post, “Wednesdays With The Louvre”):
. . .I saw to it that a woman in a Louvre children’s bookstore hung my boys’ two best completed works on the official corkboard. We laughed in the van that their artwork now hangs in the Louvre. . .
We were loaded in that same van in late December. “Just a few minutes more and we’ll be there, guys.” The ruse was that we were on our way to pick up an English exchange student stranded in a village. She was, I told the family, homesick over Christmas. I’d gotten the call just yesterday. We had room. We could invite her to our place and make her at home. Not exactly what the boys had had in mind for the holidays, but they were used to having houseguests and were actually curious since Claire was especially excited.
“She’s sharing your room, right Claire?” Dalton asked, since he and Luc already shared and sharing with Parker wasn’t an option.
“Yeah, that’s the plan.” Claire threw me a glance in my rear view mirror.
“She’s adorable, I think, from what Claire and I could tell in the pictures I got on line.”
Parker perked up from the half-doze his earphones were lulling him into. “Cute?”
“Really petite. Curly reddish hair. Her name is. . .What was her name again, Claire?”
“Josephine. I’m sure you’ll love having her for the holidays.”
The skies were that typical grisailles gray of Parisian winters when we pulled up to a farm, its old stone wall crumbling in large chunks, its pastures muddy. Claire and I said we’d run inside to get Josephine, no problem, you guys just wait here and we’ll be right back out.
“Wait! Where’s she even going to sit?” Luc was worried.
“Don’t worry!” Claire called back over her shoulder, hopping from dry spot to dry spot on the stone walkway leading her way to the front door of the old dog breeder’s home. “I’ll have her sit on my lap!”
That was the way we introduced Josephine the English Cocker Spaniel to our family. She was the size and color of powdered cinnamon when Claire, cupping the ball of fur in her two hands, brought her promised puppy out to where she held her up to show her brothers through the van window. Only a few weeks old, we could have wrapped her in a crêpe.
And that was the way we were introduced to le monde du chien à Paris, a world that rivals the world of Parisian fashion, politics or gastronomy. Josephine was Joey to the kids. On the paper to register her for the French authorities, however, she was Velvet Josephine Dalton Bradford, “Velvet” because this was dog year “V” in France, (the last year was “U”, the next would be “W”, and so on), so any dog born, named and implanted with a state-prescribed chip in that year had to be given, by law, a name beginning with “V”.
(There was a moment when I wondered if Norway’s Name List office had alerted France to the arrival of a certain Bradford family, a bunch of name renegades, who might try to slip in an unacceptable first letter. A holdover vowel from last year, or worse, a preemptive consonant from the next year.)
Puppy Josephine waddling the sidewalks on her leash incited more conversations than had Luc William Bradford as an infant in his mammoth Norwegian perambulator cruising the ancient Marché in the heart of Versailles.
“But Madame,” the lady at the produce line in Rue Cler leaned over her artichokes, “Has she had her second round of vaccines yet?”
“Madame, you must dress your dog properly for this cold weather.” I listened patiently to the woman I’d crossed as she walked her well-dressed Shitzu around the Esplanade des Invalides. “Here, the business card for my own designer. All natural fabrics, no polyester, colors to flatter your little one’s eye coloring.”
The lady at the bus stop with a nervous Yorkshire Terrier on her lap had been watching me with Joey for a few minutes. “I must give you the name,” she whispered, “of our therapist who treats our Goliath with massage, lymphatic drainage and reflexology.”
And to think: no one had proposed cranial manipulation to help newborn Luc potty train.
“Oh-la-la-la-la, Madame Bradford,” my veterinarian said, his bushy brows twitching. I had brought Joey to this practice in the Avenue de la Bourdonnais adjacent to an entrance to the Champs de Mars, which spreads its 60 lovely acres from the Eiffel Tower to the École Militaire. “This,” the doctor said, “is a hunting dog.” He struck both his hands on his boney knees for emphasis. “And this,” he stretched his arms in a wide arc above and behind his head, “is a city. A hunting dog and a city are not an easy combination. But you are in the seventh arrondissement. This is your village en ville. So run her, Madame,” he said, pointing toward the window that looked out onto the Champs du Mars. “Run her here as often as you possibly can.”
Every other morning, Claire and I ran (or stumbled all over the leash) with Joey through our village in the city, just like the doc said. This meant jogging from our apartment, up Cognac Jay, across the top of Avenues Rapp and Bourdonnais, down Rue de l’Univérsité behind the Musée du Quai Branly and around the circumference of the Champs.
This Monsieur le Docteur R. was someone straight out of a movie. I wanted to visit him not only for my dog, but to take notes on his hand gestures, his swift gait, his flamboyant bedside manner. Take the eyes, hair and enthusiasm of Christopher Lloyd from “Back to the Future”, mix that with the height, lankiness and intensity of Jeff Goldblum from “Jurassic Park,” and swirl in Einstein. You have our dog’s doc.
“Alors, ma p’tite,” le Docteur spoke to our hound in a disciplined French, bending low to look her straight in the eyes, “I do not know what you are eating, but you must now keep a close eye on your ligne.” I had to check right and left to make sure he wasn’t talking to me, since there was this certain history of French doctors patrolling my waistline. But no, he was off-siding to me only because I was my pet’s food-dispenser, and Joey was going to be spayed, which operation would change her metabolism. A chubby Cocker, I was advised, is (gulp) an ugly Cocker. “If she puts on weight,” he whispered so as to not upset Joey, “her mental health will suffer more than her physical health does.” A week later he performed the operation, and as if to make sure she wouldn’t suffer post-op spread, he put Joey in a turn-of-the-century canine corset for a month.
After her bandages were removed, we tried our best to run her and keep her out of the cookie jar. But Joey was domestic. She spread. And she became, as domesticated dogs can, quasi-human, sleeping right where Claire felt any pure bred hunting dog would be most useful, most at home in Claire’s arms where both got used to their three hundred thread count element.
It’s no exaggeration to say that we were all in our element. Our mini solar system’s orbit was aligned; everyone was whirring in his or her deep groove, with life unfolding in a peaceful, predictable pace although the universe itself showed intermittent signs of mounting devastation. There were louder and louder anti-American and anti-French sentiments being lobbed back and forth, acts of terrorism, and escalating tensions between races and religions in Paris herself, which led to acts of arson and threats of a worse kind in the periphery of the city. We were reminded every day in the papers that life, as the planet itself, is a fragile and tenuous place. But in the immediate cycle of our family’s life, in its rhythms and patterns, things were briskly routinized, colorfully calm. Camelot.
(To be continued. . .)