Showing posts with label dogs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dogs. Show all posts

Friday, June 10, 2011

Dog business

Some time ago, when I took the train down to Marseille, accompanied by my dog Sophia, I had an opportunity of discovering, thanks to the wonderful hospitality of my Provençal friends Natacha and Alain, that the challenge of having a dog in an urban environment poses problems. There's a morning ritual of taking the animal downstairs, as soon as the master has woken up, for a pee. And an evening ritual of leading the dog to a convenient place to "do its business" (that's to say, for a turd session). The problem is that a master can't simply flick a switch causing his dear dog to "drop a darkie" (as we used to say in Aussie talk). I can remember Alain and I, in the backstreets of Marseille, trying desperately to imagine how we might persuade Sophia that we were starting to get fed up, and that it was time for her to arch her back and deliver. I even recall wondering whether Sophia, perfectly happy to discover the warm odors of the charming Mediterranean metropolis, realized that the only way of drawing out the delicious twilight promenade was to resist resolutely any urge to defecate. When she finally got around to depositing her turds alongside the footpath, it was because she was no longer capable of blocking them inside her intestines… but she knew perfectly well—poor dog—that this act of abandon meant that she would be led straight back to the apartment.

When I stumbled upon this delightful cartoon by the Flying McCoys, I thought immediately of Alain, Sophia and me at Marseille.

[Click the image to obtain a slight enlargement.]

The depiction of the serious but correctly-collared bespectacled dog doing its business on the suburban front lawn is marvelous, right down to the open laptop and the framed family photo on the desk. I love the dog's ears, which have a Martian-antenna look.

Talking about canine defecation (isn't that a noble expression), I can say that, up until recently, I had carted away tons of Fitzroy's turds from around the house. These days, he has apparently changed his turd territory, to an unknown location... and I don't see them anymore. So much the better. The most amazing thing is that I can truly say that I've never once actually seen Fitzroy in the act of defecating. (It's a fact that, since he lives outdoors, he has a lot of time to handle such affairs well before I'm up and about.) In the case of Sophia, on the contrary, she has always taken pleasure in dropping turds in the middle of throngs of tourists on the banks of the Bourne at Pont-en-Royans.

We're dealing, need I say, with different generations of dogs. Sophia was a pure libertarian baby-boomer (who didn't mind getting screwed by a roaming dog from the neighboring village of Presles), whereas Fitzroy is a product of canine parents who experienced the backlash of the economic shocks of the last decade. Sophia, like me, is an atheist. All I hope is that Fitzroy isn't going to tell me, one of these days, that he has certain moral principles that dissuade him from defecating in public, and that besides—horror of horrors!—he believes in God. Shit!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Constant rain at Gamone

When it's raining at Gamone, I don't usually step outside to take photos. But yesterday, I decided to do so. So, I took this photo of the Cournouze with my Nikon in one hand and an umbrella in the other.

The dogs followed me in the rain, no doubt wondering what the hell I was up to.

If I were a little more courageous, I would take my video camera out in the bad weather, because there's a fascinating sequence that I would love to shoot. I'm talking of the movement of low clouds as they drift rapidly into the Choranche circus (round valley), no more than a hundred meters above the house. The first time I observed this phenomenon, at St-Pierre-de-Chartreuse in 1993, I was amazed. Up until then, I had always imagined that moving clouds are necessarily high in the sky. Here at Gamone, this phenomenon is quite commonplace.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cherry season

The cherry tree alongside the house is loaded with fruit, but it's located on a steep embankment, which makes cherry-picking difficult.

During this activity, the dogs are alongside me constantly, either at the foot of the ladder, or scrounging in the vicinity of a bowl of fruit, waiting for an inevitable handout. Cherries go down their throats whole, of course, including the stones. Sophia would never steal a cherry from a bowl but, as soon as I place a single cherry alongside the bowl, she understands immediately that it's for her.

While they followed me around, I was able to take a few good portraits.

A few days ago, I was slightly alarmed to discover that Fitzroy had mistakenly identified the clay marbles in a flower pot (supposedly useful for keeping the soil loose) as cherries.

That's to say, I found him crunching away at one of these little red balls. I could clearly hear the sound of the clay being ground to powder by Fitzroy's powerful molars. After swallowing it, he looked up at me with a satisfied expression and wiped his lips with his tongue.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Madeleine and the dogs

Whenever my neighbor Madeleine drops in, it's always a joyous encounter, not only for me, but for our dogs.

My Fitzroy leads a barking Briska in mad pursuits back and forth in front of the house, until they're both totally exhausted. As for Sophia, watching from the sidelines, she has always reacted with joy to the presence of Madeleine. Maybe Sophia recalls the time when Madeleine would arrive at Gamone with edible goodies in plastic bags. In general, I've always felt that Sophia appreciates the gentle caresses of women, so different to my rough hands searching through her fur for ticks. I've tried to tell Sophia that it takes all kinds of people to make a world.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Portrait of dogs

I shot this video clip this morning, at the top of the stone staircase (which I built last year) leading down into my flower garden. Sophia, constantly impatient, is letting me know that she's not particularly keen on posing in front of a camera. So, she wants me to hurry up. Fitzroy, on the other hand, seems to like being treated as a video star.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Disillusioned dog

What I don't like about this video is the idea that a master might tease his dear dog in such a sensitive domain as food. What I do like is the dog's accent and slurred style of speaking. To my mind, that's exactly how dogs would talk.

This particular dog reminds me immediately of my Sophia, who really loves food. For Fitzroy, on the other hand, food is often a kind of afterthought. He eats when he feels that he's got nothing better to do.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Greenness and shadows

Although I continue to spend a huge part of my time in front of the computer screen—where I've been examining the interesting rapidly-evolving question of the inclusion of videos in HTML5 websites (which I will deal with shortly, briefly, in this blog)—I take advantage of the splendid weather to fiddle around out in the garden, where I'm planting a further assortment of perennials. The following photo shows my garden and rose pergola viewed from the northern end (as opposed to the view from the southern end, shown in my earlier article on the garden at Gamone).

The single word that best characterizes Gamone at this time of the year is greenness.

This abundant all-invading greenness came upon us quite suddenly, when we were almost not expecting it. The warmth, too, is surprising at this time of mid-spring. Figuring out that the forthcoming summer will no doubt be hot and dry, I decided to do a bit of preventive burning-off, a week or so ago, on rock-strewn slopes close to the house, between the roadway and the creek.

The dogs are happy to be able to romp around in the long grass.

Sophia is completing her second intensive session of antibiotics and cortisone, and I have the impression that she has been reacting positively. If it's a fact that she has some kind of a tumor in the upper region of the left-hand side of her snout, causing her to breathe audibly from time to time, then it's certainly not visible from the outside.

These days, I'm more concerned by news about Sophia's daughter Gamone, in Brittany. Christine tells me that her marvelous little dog appears to be prone to epileptic fits. Consequently, like her mother Sophia, she's now under constant medication.

As for Fitzroy, who has now been an inhabitant of the planet Earth for three-quarters of a year, the sun's rays have been initiating him into an awareness of a mysterious phenomenon of a new kind (for him): sharp shadows. An hour ago, I saw him dashing around furiously on a patch of bare earth alongside the house, trying vainly to capture the shadow of a butterfly that was hovering a meter above his head. Then we were all treated to a most disturbing big shadow, which flashed across the grassy slopes of Gamone, accompanied by a terrifying noise (enough to drive a dog crazy). It was the rapidly moving shadow of a Mirage 2000, maybe heading back up to the base at Dijon after a stint down in Gaddafi's combat zone. Fitzroy stood on the edge of our terrace, gazing in bewilderment at the point on the north-eastern horizon where the noisy aircraft had disappeared. I would have liked to be able to tell my dear little dog what it was all about, and maybe reassure him. But, before tackling the shadows of jet fighters, it would surely be better to start with butterflies.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dog news

Sophia, more beautiful than ever in her slim female elegance, appears to be coming along fine. OK, she's under medication, but it seems to be working positively.

As for Fitzroy, we must understand that this is his very first spring upon the green grass of the planet Earth, with its delicious aromas. So, he's surely favorably biased. And I share his enthusiasm.

This afternoon, we strolled up together, taking our time (as usual), along the slopes of Gamone. At the top of our path, as we were about to turn towards the neighborhood of Les Nugues, we were suddenly welcomed by the soft tones of cattle bells on the opposite slopes, in the vicinity of the farm of the Bourne family: our mayor Bernard and his athletic son Frédéric, who is rapidly becoming our admirable tribal chief of Choranche. It was a moment of magic.

People write blogs about the hundred or so most important things they should do before dying. And why not? Our time is limited, but our imagination is boundless. Let's not forget the simple idea of setting out with a couple of dogs and strolling lazily up the slopes to a magic spot where the lovely dull sounds of remote cow bells ring out across an ancient valley. That's where I live, with my darling dogs.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dog destiny

On a whim, at the local supermarket, I bought a dog toy: a brightly-colored ball manufactured in one of those hard-to-define former-Communist countries that might appear, on the surface, to be quite qualified for the production of dog balls. Serious Sophia (seen here in a tense posture, because she was barking at an unidentified aroma that had floated up to her from the creek) has never been fond of toys.

But I was right in supposing that Fitzroy would appreciate this colorful soft ball.

His appreciation didn't last for long, though, because of the blatant manufacturing weaknesses (at least in the dog ball domain) of emerging former-Communist nations. Within five minutes, Fitzroy's teeth had punctured the object, and he had started to remove bits of the fluffy colored coating. Maybe I should go out and snatch the remnants from him, otherwise he'll surely devour them before the day is done. [Since writing that last sentence, I've taken the rubbish away from Fitzroy and packaged it up in its pristine wrappings, to be returned to the supermarket, accompanied by an angry letter.]

At a more serious level, I'm perfectly aware that it's going to be terribly heart-breaking for me to to accept the ineluctable decline of my dear dog Sophia. In general, I avoid making a big thing of this issue. In the purely human arena, I've just observed—from afar—the deaths of certain dear individuals, and I'm aware that it would be wrong of me, and unkind to others, to mix together—even within the narrow and inconsequential scope of my blog—the fate of humans with that of other animals. But circumstances have made me become ill-at-ease with that logic, after having lived here at Gamone for years in the unique presence of non-human friends. In fact, I wonder at times if my self-imposed hermitic existence—well outside the realm of everyday friends, and totally removed from the least presence (except through the Internet) of individuals on the same wavelength as me—might be making me, little by little, insensitive to the very idea of human companionship.

Today, Sophia looks great, particularly since I've forced her (through a restricted diet) to lose weight. But this splendid appearance cannot hide what is going on inevitably inside her body. The problem is that we can't really know the exact nature of what is taking place, except through disturbing signs such as her noisy breathing and, these days, a running nostril. The local veterinarian (who's a friend in whom I have the utmost confidence) has told me bluntly that there would be no point in trying to analyze the situation more deeply, since X-rays (necessitating general anesthesia) might not reveal anything of a significant nature. Even if we knew exactly the cause of Sophia's problems (which became apparent last September, at about the same time that we acquired Fitzroy), it would be out of the question to imagine any kind of surgery. For the moment, I'm relieved to learn (from the vet) that Sophia's health problems are not related to a dental infection. So, she's probably not in great pain, even though she might be discomforted from the presence of something, in her upper nasal region, that might be designated (in spite of our total lack of knowledge on its nature) as a tumor. For the moment, in spite of the recent flow of jelly-like mucus from one of her nostrils, there are no indications whatsoever that it might be a malignant tumor. That's to say, it could well be junk tissue that is simply building up and occupying space in her head. In any case, she is now under a shock treatment of antibiotics and cortisone. That will enable me to judge her reactions. But I'm perfectly aware that this treatment must be designated, in all lucidity, by an ugly adjective (which appeared, a week or so ago, in the context of my dear departed neighbor Françoise): palliative.

Meanwhile, as I said a moment ago, Sophia's inevitable decline is something that will be terribly hard to accept. She has become, for me, the spirit of Gamone, and a kind of wise canine alter-ego. Besides, in all of English linguistics, there are few greater marvels (with due respects to William Shakespeare) than the case of those three magic letters DOG which, when spelled backwards, give GOD.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Goodies for a special dog

In view of today's date, readers might imagine that I'm about to tell them a tall tale. This is not the case. The trivial anecdote I'm about to relate is perfectly authentic.

Normally, I make an effort to enhance each of my blog articles with images of one kind or another (which—as I pointed out in my earlier article this morning—is great for the new view features). I have the impression that my bare words, unaccompanied by any kind of pictorial stuff, would be as boring as a Sunday sermon. Today, however, there will be no photographic evidence to support the main theme of my story, since I decided that such an image would be distasteful. But I've nevertheless inserted a slightly relevant photo later on. Here's the tale.

A few days ago, while walking around alongside the house with the intention of using a trowel to scoop up any of Fitzroy's overnight droppings, I was alarmed to come upon a little pile of spectacular turds. They were speckled with small bright orange blobs about the size of grains of rice. I was alarmed. My first impression was that Fitzroy had found a box of scarlet-colored rice laced with arsenic, designed to kill rats… that's to say, particularly dumb rodents that aren't smart enough to realize—like most self-respecting rats—that this stuff is deadly. I noticed that Fitzroy was just behind me, looking fine, not at all what you would expect for a dog that might have consumed rat poison. In fact, Fitzroy seemed to be intrigued that his master appeared to be so interested in this quite ordinary pile of dog shit. Don't forget that "ordinary" for a dog means "of ordinary odors", not "of ordinary hues". In other words, rainbow-colored turds wouldn't normally impress Fitzroy in one way or another, whereas turds that smelled like freshly-baked meat pie (which was certainly not the case here) would no doubt impress him greatly. Anyway, I soon realized that the considerable quantity of orange grains in the turds were simply fragments of plastic. In an instant, I understood what had happened. Fitzroy had merely made a meal of some of my hose fittings, of the famous Gardenia brand. And no harm was done, as far as I could gather (except, of course, to my hoses), because this stuff seemed to have passed through Fitzroy's digestive organs like lead shot, fired from a hunter's gun, passing through the soft belly of a duck. [I really had to work hard to find that last comparison… which is probably not as good as I thought.]

I carried out a rapid inspection and found that Fitzroy had indeed consumed most of my orange plastic hose connectors. Instead of analyzing this accident any further, I merely went along to a hardware store and purchased replacement articles.

To take the above photo, I brought the stuff out into the sunlight, where Fitzroy was able to gaze upon this basket of enticing goodies. I had the impression that my dear dog was already smacking his lips.

In the human domain, I've always felt that hungry individuals fall into two quite different categories. On the one hand, there are those who savor the taste of what they're offered. (I believe they're referred to as foodies in Australia.) On the other hand, there are those whose primary desire is to get their teeth stuck into something substantial, no matter how dull it tastes: maybe a thick tough steak or a king-sized hamburger drowned in ketchup. Here at Gamone, my dog Sophia belongs clearly to the first category. She would be capable of watching Master Chef on TV, and salivating. As for Fitzroy, he's strictly a fast-food guy. He's perfectly happy to sink his teeth into a whopping big Plastic Mac, gulped down with muddy water.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

La plume de Fitzroy

Everybody who has studied a little bit of French has heard of "la plume de ma tante" (my aunt's pen) which has been lying for countless generations of students "sur la table" (on the table). In fact, the word "plume" designates a feather. So, we must imagine that the aunt is an old-timer who still writes with a goose quill dipped in ink. And that trivial anecdote suggests that the teaching of French in the English-speaking world might be a little antiquated. Maybe it's time that French teachers got around to an example such as "l'ordinateur de ma copine est sur le bureau" (my girlfriend's computer is on the desk).

The word "plumes" designates (among countless other things) ostrich feathers adorning the backsides of female dancers at places such as the Lido and Folies Bergère.

In the second half of the 19th century, the French had the impression that "plumes" of the peacock adorned the backsides of strutting Prussian military commanders.

These days, I'm often under the illusion that my dog Fitzroy has a thick "plume" sprouting from his backside.

When you compare the tails of the two dogs, that of Fitzroy is indeed feathery, to say the least, and he often moves around with his curved tail held high in the air. (This is a behavior also adopted by Christine's dog Gamone, the daughter of Sophia, who is in certain ways a similar kind of friendly animal to Fitzroy). When Fitzroy drops his tail, it looks quite normal, because he's woolly all over in this cold season.

Contrary to what Christine and I might have imagined when we first met up with little Fitzroy as a pup, up in his Alpine abode, he is turning into quite a big animal.

In his head, though, Fitzroy remains a playful young dog, who rarely winds down. For me, it's a fascinating pleasure to have two canine companions of such totally different mentalities and behaviors. In fact, the two dogs seem to complement one another.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Almost like spring

The sun was shining, yesterday, at Gamone. It was almost like a warm spring day. So, I went out walking with the dogs.

As usual, Fitzroy takes advantage of every opportunity to joust with his senior companion. As for Sophia, she remains alert and slim as a result of all this unsolicited exercise.

Fitzroy was visibly impressed by the cascades in Gamone Creek.

I had some work to do there. Just below my house, the creek runs through a big pipe under the road. A fortnight ago, when a thick blanket of snow covered every detail of the landscape at Gamone, the municipal snow plow appears to have bumped into a few big blocks of stone that formed an irregular wall around the upper extremity of this pipe. Broken fragments rolled over into the hole in the creek bed where the underground pipe starts, blocking it. I first noticed this problem a few days ago, when creek water started running over the road instead of through the pipe. Yesterday afternoon, I decided that the best solution would be to solve the problem myself, instead of waiting for the municipality (made aware of the situation) to get into action. It's amazing how a few chains, a block-and-tackle and a conveniently-located tree can be used to dislodge huge blocks of stone. (I believe the Ancient Egyptians made a discovery of that kind, long before I did.)

The water is now cascading perfectly, once again, down Gamone Creek.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

First snow for Gamone newcomers

I've had an outage of the Internet and my house telephone for the last couple of days. Funnily, I don't think this breakdown had anything to do with the violent winter weather that hit us at the same time. It's more likely due to a mishap brought about by the armada of earth-moving engines that are working nonstop, down on the road below Gamone, installing a new sewage system for the entire district. These huge renovations (which will prevent us from driving through the main street of Pont-en-Royans for another month) don't concern me personally, because my house was renovated according to the new sanitation legislation in vigor in 1993, and I have an excellent ecological system of sewage disposal—inspected annually by the competent authorities— installed underground on the slopes below my house.

Meanwhile, Fitzroy has had his first in-depth contact with snow… and he loves it.

That's to say, he sees it as a marvelous soft support for his never-ending jousts with Sophia.

The little donkey Fanette has also experienced, for the first time, the slight discomfort brought about by the disappearance of the greenery (grass and weeds) under a 25cm-thick blanket of snow.

I prefer to speak of "slight discomfort" rather than of hunger, because the two donkeys are obscenely fat, after dining regularly on apples and walnuts over the last month or so.

As for the mésanges (wild birds, known in English as tits, which spend the winter months at Gamone), they've been happy to discover a big stock of sunflower seeds in the bird-house, and they swarm around it as a throng of a couple of dozen tiny black-and-gold creatures.

As of this morning, the sun is shining, the snow is melting, the road has been cleared by Frédéric Bourne in his tractor equipped with a giant steel blade… and my Internet is up and running. All is well at Gamone.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Dog worlds

When I look down on Fitzroy from my bathroom window of a morning, here's a typical vision of the dog and his context:

As you can see, he has gathered around him, on the lawn, a little world of random objects: a length of garden hose, half a doormat, rags (in fact, fragments of the geotextile fabric, dug up by Fitzroy, on which I had laid marble chips beneath my rose pergola), an assortment of interesting sticks, etc. There's no point in my removing this mess, because Fitzroy would simply reconstitute it within a short lapse of time. Besides, they're not exactly random objects, and they're not really a mess, because they've been selected by Fitzroy for reasons that only he appreciates. Here's another photo of the same scene, ten minutes later:

Here, we can start to understand the subtle symbolism of the situation. Don't tell me that loops in hoses merely come about by chance, and that a spiritual dog is going to lie down in any old random position. Clearly, Fitzroy is reinvigorating himself with the flux of energy in the vortex of the loop, in much the same way that a New Age adept might seek resources inside a pyramid, or meditate while moving through a labyrinth. [Click here to visit my website in the latter domain.]

Yesterday afternoon, I left Fitzroy at home and I took Sophia to her annual vaccination visit in St-Jean-en-Royans. French veterinarians are well organized, and they mail you a reminder for such an appointment. In the waiting room, I discovered that it seemed to be cat day, since Sophia and I were soon surrounded by plastic crates emitting meows. This didn't worry Sophia, who seemed to like the idea of being the only dog in the room. At one stage, a flustered plump young lady sat down opposite us. I had learned from her conversation with the receptionist that she had come along here to pick up her sister's cat, which had apparently undergone a minor surgical intervention. One thing was certain: the young lady wanted it to be known that this wasn't her correct environment. She was strictly a dog person, and she was only here on cat business because her sister had asked her to help out. So, it was normal that the young lady, visibly upset by the feline majority, should turn towards Sophia and me, to get her point across.

LADY: "I've got a magnificent dog waiting for me at home. I'm not at all fond of cats, but my sister was busy this afternoon, and she asked me to collect her cat."

I rapidly sensed that the only way of calming down the young lady was to ask her to talk to me about her dog.

LADY: "He's the most beautiful dog you can possibly imagine. An Australian Shepherd. I'm a school teacher, and my husband and I have a rural house with land down near Crest. So the dog spends all his time outdoors."

At that stage, I made an enormous blunder, through a mixture of inadvertence and ignorance. You see, there were no sheep whatsoever in the coastal region of Australia where I grew up, only dairy and beef cattle. So, I knew nothing at all about Australian Shepherd dogs. Worse still, when I heard the word "Australian", I imagined immediately that her adorable animal was surely some kind of rough-and-ready Aussie cattle dog. But I was rapidly corrected.

LADY: "His features are similar to those of a Border Collie. On his face, he's got red streaks here, then blacks streaks alongside. And, further down, it's white and gray, then it turns to brownish yellow and fawn." I imagined some kind of Technicolor dog.

ME: "I suppose he combines a little bit of several varieties." That was my polite way of suggesting that she probably had a mongrel dog.

The lady was horrified, but in a friendly way. She had no reason to imagine that I was Australian, and she no doubt found it normal that a guy such as me in a veterinarian's waiting room in France, accompanied by a Labrador, would be totally ignorant in the domain of Australian Shepherd dogs. And she was right. Later, back home, I looked up this subject on Google, where I found this splendid photo. Meanwhile, in the waiting room, I listened attentively to the school teacher.

LADY: "He's a pure pedigree animal, with a distinguished genealogy. My husband and all our friends got together with my teacher colleagues to find this dog for me. It's the most magnificent Australian Shepherd dog that you can possibly imagine."

ME: "Does he have any opportunities of working with animals?"

LADY: "Not really… and that's a big problem for the moment, because he's crazy about herding up all the animals he sees. My husband brought him along to school one day. The children had often heard me describing my dog, and they wanted to meet up with him. Everything was going along fine, out in the playground. Then my dog suddenly decided that it was time to round up all these kids. He soon got around to herding them all into a group in a corner of the playground."

Now, there's an unexpected theme of collaboration between our two nations. Australia could supply France with smart cattle and sheep dogs to handle unruly kids in some of the suburban problem schools.

The herding instinct in dogs is wonderful and spectacular. My Fitzroy obviously has it in his genes. Like all the dogs of this kind, he has the habit of suddenly flattening himself on the ground, and waiting for the others to do something. This was how he reacted, for example, when I returned with Sophia from the visit to the veterinarian. Fitzroy was there to meet us, flat on his belly, waiting for us to get out of the car. He seemed to be wondering how he should handle Sophia and me, as soon as we started to move towards the house.

In one of his books, Richard Dawkins explains that this canine herding instinct was acquired by their ancestral wolves back at the time they worked as packs, stalking large prey. The obvious purpose of this stalking was to isolate an ideal victim for the kill. Maybe this is not a good story for the school teacher's kids. Cats, of course, are no more peace-and-love than dogs, even though they neither herd nor allow themselves to be herded. Have you never contemplated the sinister stare of a cute little pussy, and wondered where this regard might have come from? The problem with all these delightful pets is that they've seen through us humans, ages ago. They know we're basically meat.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Gamone evolution

My article of October 27, 2019 entitled Donkey expedition day [display] described the long walk of Sylvie Rozand and me, leading three donkeys, from Presles to Gamone. Yesterday afternoon, Sylvie returned here, with a friend from Presles, to retrieve her two adult donkeys Nina and Margot. The operation went off with no problems whatsoever. We had nevertheless had certain apprehensions: How would Fanette react to the sight of her mother Nina being led away? How would Nina feel about leaving her 6-months-old daughter behind? Would Sylvie run into problems in trying to coax her two donkeys through the road tunnel up towards the plateau at Presles? Back here at Gamone, how would my Moshé and his new friend Fanette get along together on their own?

As of yesterday evening, I was delighted to realize that not a single one of those problems had arisen. In other words, everything went off like a charm. Fanette didn't appear to be concerned by the departure of her mother and the other adult donkey. When she returned to Gamone late in the afternoon to pick up her car, Sylvie told me that Nina and Margot had strolled eagerly back up to Presles, and that they didn't seem to be bothered by the idea that little Fanette had remained with Moshé at Gamone. This morning, I took this photo of the donkeys and Fitzroy:

As usual, my two dogs get on marvelously well together. Their relationship remains asymmetrical. As I've pointed out already, Sophia spends most of her time lounging in her big wicker basket on the kitchen floor, whereas Fitzroy is a strictly outside dog, now completely accustomed to the idea of getting into his kennel from time to time.

Preventing Fitzroy from moving inside the house is not even a personal choice of mine. It's rather a survival issue, in the sense that many objects inside the house (furniture, books, clothes, tools, etc) probably wouldn't survive for long if Fitzroy were to get in physical contact with them. Fitzroy's genes are such that he likes to be bossy with recalcitrant beasts such as cattle, sheep and donkeys. So, why would he be unduly worried about tackling a lounge chair, say? Out on the lawn, Fitzroy is fascinated by a permanently running hose from the Gamone spring. He drags it all over the lawn, meaning that puddles spring up every now and again in unexpected corners. He has trouble understanding why he can't simply pick up the water jet in his mouth, as if it were a stick, and dash around with it clenched between his teeth. In attempting to fathom this philosophical mystery, Fitzroy often gets soaked… and he then moves onto the straw in his kennel to dry himself out.

The other evening, on French TV, I watched a fascinating US program on the subject of our prehistoric ancestors. Directed by Graham Townsley, its English title is Becoming Human, and it was made last year. The fact that such a show can be seen in prime time on a Saturday evening (dubbed in French) is yet another tribute to the excellence of French TV. Here's the opening episode:

Well, one of the recurrent themes in this series of documentaries was well expressed in the latest book by Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth. Here are his words:

We've been land animals for about 400 million years, and we've walked on our hind legs for only the last 1 per cent of that time. For 99 per cent of our time on land, we've had a more-or-less horizontal backbone and walked on four legs. We don't know for certain what selective advantages accrued to the individuals who first rose up and walked on their hind legs…

Not so long ago, people used to explain that bipedalism came about because we needed to get up on our hind legs so that we could use our hands for carrying things… but that's surely a case of putting the cart before the horse. We still don't know the complete answer to that question, although both Dawkins (in The Ancestor's Tale) and the Townsley documentaries propose various speculations on this subject. Getting back to my dog Fitzroy, I often have the impression that he might already be working hard, with the help of his mentor Sophia, at evolving into bipedalism.

In this tandem position, when Sophia decides to move forward, Fitzroy is perfectly capable of following her on his hind legs, like a ballet artist. I'm convinced that, soon, he won't need to lean on Sophia's back any longer. He'll simply raise his front paws in the air, as if he were praising the Almighty for the gift of bipedalism, and he'll wander off in an easy upright gait. Maybe I should get in contact with Dawkins and Townsley, to see if they're interested in writing a book or making a movie about Fitzroy. In fact, I suspected, right from the start, that Fitzroy (who'll be 4 months old next Wednesday) was a wonder dog. Maybe I should look into the idea of teaching him to read...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fitzroyal happenings

The other day, when Sylvie and I arrived at Gamone with the three donkeys, I noticed the carcass of a pheasant alongside the road, just twenty meters from my house. Most of its feathers had been plucked, and its flesh had been ripped apart a little, but apparently not yet eaten. I said to Sylvie that it looked like the work of a roaming fox. Later on in the day, I was puzzled to find that my dog Fitzroy had not touched the food I had served him. Besides, from time to time, he would disappear from the yard for ten minutes or so. By the end of the day, it had dawned on me that the "fox" behind the dead pheasant was almost certainly Fitzroy. After all, these birds are raised on farms for the hunting season, and they're probably accustomed to docile farmyard dogs. So, Fitzroy could have easily pounced on the poor bird. When I checked the spot the next morning, only feathers remained… but Fitzroy was still searching around among the feathers for any remaining scraps of pheasant flesh. Sophia, too, joined in this frantic hunt for tidbits (molecules) that might still be hanging around in the mass of feathers.

On Monday, during our long walk down from Presles to Gamone with the donkeys, Sylvie had given me an interesting item of news. Back on September 3, before Christine and I "dognapped" Fitzroy from his birthplace up in the Alpine commune of Risoul 1850, I had taken several photos in which we see his twin brother. In the following photo, our Fitzroy is staring at the photographer (me), while his brother seems to be poking his tongue out:

Here's a nice portrait of the brother:

The following photo evokes the end of an amusing incident:

The two brothers had decided to stalk this hen. For five minutes, the little dogs had been simply strolling along just behind the hen, at the same pace, following her wherever she went, in whichever direction she turned. The hen got quite upset, because she probably imagined that the pups were about to pounce on her. Finally, the dogs' mother intervened and made it clear to her pups (in canine language) that they should cease their stalking... and the frightened hen fled to safety. Meanwhile, that was surely great training for later encounters with, say, pheasants...

Well, Sylvie informed me that Fitzroy's brother now lives with a young family not far from her flat in Presles. The dog's name is Eole (a French variation on Aeolos, the Greco-Roman wind god). So, Sylvie took Fitzroy on her knees and we drove back up to Presles for a surprise call on Eole and his new family. Now, at this point in my story, I'm obliged to admit that all my preconceived anthropomorphic visions of canine behavior simply fell apart. I had imagined vaguely that the two brothers would look at each other in stunned amazement, as if to say: "What the hell are you doing here? What's happened in your life since we were last together up in the Alps?" Not at all. They attacked each other (or so it seemed), as if they had just been brought face-to-face with a mortal enemy! It was all I could do to grab Fitzroy in my arms to prevent him from getting into a terrible brawl with his brother. Meanwhile, the young lady of the house came out onto her snow-covered front yard, intrigued by all the noise, and she prevented Eole from trying to jump up at Fitzroy. I think it was Sylvie who finally decided that, since the two males were of equivalent physical capacities, they couldn't really harm each other. So, we decided to let them confront each other on the ground. And the friendly miracle took place instantly. The two little animals raced around crazily like a pair of long-lost brothers. At times, their contacts were highly excited and physical, with lots of barking and snarling and rolling around in clinches on the ground... just short of a fight. So, five minutes later, we all decided that the encounter had lasted long enough. In the heat of this get-together, I was constantly trying to avoid slipping on the icy road in front of the house, and I didn't have an opportunity of taking photos. But there'll surely be other opportunities of us all getting together again in the future. Meanwhile, I like this idea of the two brothers living within a stone's throw of each other.

This morning, I removed the roof of Fitzroy's kennel, in order to modify slightly its form (making it more sloped). This operation enabled me to look down into Fitzroy's cozy little straw cocoon, with the bowl shape left by his curled-up body in the upper left-hand corner.

I took advantage of the fact that the roof was removed to add another thick layer of straw. Jean Magnat and his son then came along in a truck with the firewood I had ordered last week from my neighbor Gérard Magnat. In this photo, Fitzroy seems to be inspecting the quality of the yellowish acacia wood:

Later on in the day, I introduced Fitzroy to the pleasure of cleaning up my pressure cooker, while Sophia, confined to my kitchen (as is often the case since the arrival of Fitzroy), no doubt sensed with envy what was happening.

Having made that remark, I hasten to point out that Sophia is treated by me—from both a food and a tenderness viewpoint—like the grand old queen of Gamone that she is. I'm happy to find that her diet, over the last couple of months, has resulted in a significant weight loss.

In the evening, Sylvie phoned—in the style of a mother who had left her kids with a neighbor—to ask if the donkeys were OK. I was happy to reassure her that everything was calm at Gamone.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Nobody will be surprised to hear me say that, in my eyes, Sophia and Fitzroy are a beautiful pair of dogs.

Ever since Christine and I brought him down from his Alpine birthplace, on September 3, Fitzroy has been a very cuddly animal, both because of his soft fur and, above all, because he seems to be happy when he's seated on my knees, in the sun. So, a lot of time, I have a back view of Fitzroy's head.

Seen from this angle, Fitzroy reminds me of the dolls called Golliwogs, which were popular when I was a child. The French composer Claude Debussy wrote a piano piece named Golliwogg's Cake-Walk, performed here by the guitarists Julian Bream (left, British) and John Williams (Australian):

We are now widely aware that this woolly-headed depiction of an African cake-walker has racist connotations, alas, linked to the horrifying phenomenon of slavery. Besides, the "wog" syllable (derived innocently from the verb "to wiggle") evokes the ugly term employed by Australia's "chick chick boom girl", seen here doing her act:

For all these reasons, and inspired by the rear view of Fitzroy's head, I suggest that "Golliwog" be replaced from now on by a new word, Wollidog, derived from "woolly dog". It goes without saying that, if toy manufacturers were to start producing fuzzy Wollidogs, the facial features of these new-style dolls should cease to look anything like our black genetic cousins from Africa. They would remind us rather of Fitzroy.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I'm told that Françoise drops in on my blog from time to time. So, I'm sure she'll be happy to see this fine photo of her mother and their dog Vriska, taken this afternoon.

For the moment, the relationship between Fitzroy and Vriska is—let's say—undefined. In his usual cattle-dog style, Fitzroy attempts to challenge the visitor (held firmly on a chain by Madeleine) by circling her and snipping at Vriska's rear legs from time to time.

Fitzroy behaves like that with Moshé. In fact, he's not nearly as courageous as he makes himself out to be. The donkey only has to move towards Fitzroy in a threatening manner, and the dog darts for protection on the other side of the electric fence. I'm reminded of a story concerning a splendid Border Collie named Looky (no longer alive today) who once came down here from Presles to meet up with Sophia and father her pups (including Christine's lovely dog Gamone). Well, Looky was a professional sheep dog, and he couldn't resist the urge to round up every group of living creatures in his vicinity, including the family's hens. Now the hens weren't necessarily happy with the idea of being rounded up by a dog. The owner's wife told me that, if ever a hen looked as if it might peck the annoying dog, Looky would scramble to safety like a terrified child. Fitzroy, too, is a speedy runner.

Fitzroyalty update

Sophia had grown accustomed to a pair of pillows in her wicker basket. It had been an idea of my daughter Emmanuelle. But Fitzroy believes that pillows are not for sleeping on; they're for tearing apart.

Here's a photo of Fitzroy playing with a doormat, taken from a first-floor window:

Did I say "playing"? Here's what the doormat looked like this afternoon:

Fortunately, Fitzroy lives outside, day and night. By now, he has destroyed almost everything that was offering. So, I'm hoping that things will improve from now on. The relationship between the two dogs is excellent.

Fitzroy is constantly challenging Sophia to jousting competitions, but Sophia's weight and size advantage mean that she's always in control of the situation. Meanwhile, Fitzroy tries out every combat strategy he can imagine, and only stops his jousting when he's exhausted.