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This Dog is a Foreigner


Today, in France, we stole this dog.

It was an accident—we didn’t mean to steal her.  But we were out walking in the woods and she came loping up to us, hot and panting, her tongue flapping from her mouth like a pink windsock, and when no one came along to claim her, we gave her a little of our water and she followed us a mile-or-so back to town.  Menerbes is a small village, the kind of place where you’d think people might recognize each other’s dogs, and so we tried to explain, as she followed us along the cobblestone streets, that she didn’t belong to us.  But no one could help us—they only held up their hands and shook their heads (though this might have had something to do with the fact that I was not, as I later learned, asking people if they recognized the dog, but instead saying to them, “This dog is a foreigner”).   

Anyway, we took the dog home and gave her water to drink and a stale piece of baguette to eat, and then we all hung out with her in the garden until the police came to take her away, because that’s what happens here when you find a lost dog—you call the police and they take her away.  

When he arrived, the policeman was dressed in a pink polo shirt and khaki pants, and he seemed like a perfectly decent man, the kind who could be trusted to return our dog to her rightful owners.  But she nevertheless looked frightened and confused as she was led from our garden, and we stood in the street, waving at her through the van window until one of us started crying and we all came inside to drink wine.  

This is the kind of event that becomes large and emotionally charged when you spend your whole day writing in a garden.  Yesterday, for instance, I sat for several hours with a bumblebee while it was dying.  I noticed it on the ground being dive-bombed by wasps, and so I scooped it up with a leaf and set it next to my computer where I every so often leaned in to check on it.  Its little antennae shifted and its little head nodded up and down and every once in awhile its little arm lifted as though it was trying to reach out to me.  When, at last, it was gone, I thought how strange it was that watching a bee die could feel so much like watching a person die, and I wondered if the world registered the departure, if somewhere, some part of our cosmic system was affected by and aware of this particular bee, that it had come and it had been and it was now no more.  All day, I fought the urge to call people on the phone and tell them how my bee had died.  And then, this afternoon, I sat in the same garden and scarcely noticed as our stolen dog gobbled dying bees off the ground like they were tic-tacs.  

A few days ago a German woman scolded me (or maybe it just sounded like that because she’s German) for not going out and seeing more of the local attractions—there’s apparently some old church and some old ruins and some old corkscrew museum where they have pornographic corkscrews (your guess is as good as mine).  She told me that I could write “any time, anywhere,” and that my work would be better served by going out and seeing the things that people who come to this town typically go out and see.  ”Are you a writer?” I asked her, pointlessly, because I already knew the answer.

It’s not that I’m anti-church or anti-ruin or anti-pornographic corkscrew, but I think there’s something to be said for staying in one place long enough that your life begins to find its shape in the small, precise details—the morning mist and the evening light, the gecko on the kitchen ceiling and the snails  in the garden—and your time divides into The Afternoon We Picked Wild Rosemary  and The Morning We Saw the Rainbow and The Day We Found the Dog.  I speak no French and most of the people who live in this village speak no English, but I’m getting to know them all the same:  the man who owns the Epicerie used to live in Paris, and now he sits in the sun outside his shop and reads novels when customers are scarce;  there’s a rivalry between the Boulangerie that makes the best baguettes and the Boulangerie that makes the best tartes, and most of the locals are Team Tarte because the shop with the good baguettes is owned by a man of dubious character and the shop with the good tartes has been around the longest and the French, it may surprise you to know, value above their bread their loyalty.

Tonight before dinner we went for another walk in the woods, because it’s important for living things to sometimes use their legs, and we stopped along the way to look at a strange mushroom and again to look at a strange bug and again to take some pictures with our iPhones of sunlight falling through leaves, and we talked to a gray cat who regarded but would not come to us and we pointed out the spot our dog discovered us and we found a snail shell on the road that we picked up and carried home.  

Tonight I had a very long conversation with a thirteen-year-old French girl in which she told me all about the sex education class she had at school.  

I learned a lot.  

Excerpts from the Dinner Table

October 9, 2014, in which my two housemates attempt to translate lyrics from the song “Dominique" (of Singing Nun fame):

HM1:  So, Dominique goes all over the place and all he does is talk about God.  And then… he becomes the king of England?

HM2: I don’t think so.

HM1:  And he fights the Albigeois?

HM2:  They were heretics.   

HM1: And then… this can’t be right… he set a girls’ school on fire? 

HM2: All.

HM1:  He set all girls’ schools on fire?

HM2:  Ah, no, he set the girls themselves on fire.

HM1: Oh my god. 

HM2:  Like, with the spirit.