lundi 16 août 2010

Love springs eternal

Rapide and Baccarat
April 11, 2008

Rapide was a mother. I don't know what exactly she thought about that, but Baccarat never let her forget it, except when she turned the table on her mother and mothered her. I am not used to seeing Rapide's body without some part of Baccarat's draped over her, but she won't have the littler cat, oh no. Rapide is not looking for any replacements, but I have started looking for a puppy.

How much time do you have?

I thought I'd just go see the breeder. I had emailed her to let her know how the surgery had gone, and then I didn't hear from her. I figured it was her Internet service. She is not of the generation that does not know how to live without it, and her cell phone number is on her website. If you are interested in a puppy she has available, or wish to reserve one if there has been a "saillie", well, you can call her. I am allergic to the phone.

That's why I have time to write.

She emailed me back to express her sadness at Baccarat's death, and she told me to call her; we could talk. I wrote back and said that I was thinking more of coming to see her, if that would be alright, as early as the next day, if it wouldn't be an imposition, and my husband could be convinced.

"Je ne comprends pas vraiment cette manip," he commented as I climbed up on the back of his huge motorcycle behind him. I didn't answer, and he started off toward Pont l'Evêque, which is not far from the breeder's little farm where she breeds Black and Chocolate Labrador Retrievers and thoroughbreds for the track and jumping in her own small operation. She has been there for 27 years, having left Rambouillet, and her husband, too, I believe, that long ago.

He did understand the "manip". He simply didn't want me to think that he was of the same mind and heart.

We rode through the rain in our matching rain gear and on to the village near her for lunch at a little restaurant and inn, Les Deux Tonneaux. The sky began to clear over the rolling green hills that had until recently been more evocative of Southern California than of the Pays d'Auge until the rain began in August as we ate a Norman lunch involving cheese, pork and apples in their brut cider form. It was delicious. It was nourishing. I was happy.

I was going to see puppies.

We got lost. We thought we remembered the way from the church across from the restaurant the last 2 or 3 kilometers, and we started out from the church twice before we finally tried one lane we had overlooked, passed a local family in their little car and heard directions we recognized right away. We were on the right road.

So much for phones that fail when you need them. Locals in a small agricultural community can be relied on every time, unless they happen to be nurturing a grudge, like they kind of do against the breeder for having come amongst them from Paris nearly three decades ago.

"Déjà ils ne s'entendent entre eux," said the breeder, shaking her head, "mais quand il s'agit de quelqu'un de l'extérieure qui vient parmi eux, ils mettent leurs disputes de côté pour se réunir contre vous." She chuckled. Already, she said, they don't get along between themselves. But, when it comes to a stranger coming amongst them, they put their disputes aside to unite against you, but they hadn't succeeded in making her go away in 30 years, and at 76, she wasn't contemplating picking up her house and farm and going anywhere else.

She showed us two litters of Jack Russells she had available, 5 and 7 weeks of age. She had intended to have one, but, oops. That's how it goes sometimes. She's a little less particular about her Jacks. And then, we fell to talking about Baccarat. She looked off toward a stable door, saying, "Bon, qu'est-ce que je peux faire pour ça?", and walked off to open it. A small black lab, just about as high as my knee (I am not very tall), cantered out and over to sniff the grass before trotting on over to greet us.

My heart clutched. I bent down as she looked up to me and took her snout in my hand just like I used to do to Baccarat. She let me. I leaned toward her and she met me with a little kiss, the lightest touch of snouts. Had she been briefed, I wondered? She was soft. I remembered how much softer their little bodies are, and how much cuter 5 months, for that was how old I heard her telling me she was, than 8 weeks. You can see the dog they will be and they puppy they are. I rubbed my hand up and down her back and then stood to participate in the conversation. She scampered over to explore the tall grass along the fence and hedge, trotting like a Royal Lippenstein, those gigantic, beautiful paws coming impossibly high up out of that country grass.

The breeder was explaining that she was the only one left from a litter this spring. She was keeping her to breed. A beauty. She'd come back over among us, and I looked again at those prized huge paws, her sleek legs, beautiful head and that stature. She was, I thought, more beautiful than Baccarat. More standard perfect. If you care about that sort of thing. Well, I do, but Baccarat had taught me a thing or two. But, I was confused. I thought she was going to offer her to us to buy, but she was saying that she was going to keep her to breed.

"C'est quoi son prénom?" I asked.

"Elle n'en a pas encore," the breeder replied. I thought she looked at me somewhat significantly, and I felt even more confused. Did I have to want her so much that she would bring herself to part from her? I thought that was it. She had talked about a fall while caring for her horses last winter, surgery for a blood clot, and her younger son, a doctor himself, wanting her to get out of the business "at her age". This not being quite her way of thinking. She was saying that this is her life. It gives purpose and structure to her days; she loves the horses and the dogs. My husband was nodding in agreement.

Better to die working and happy than bored and lonely in your arm chair, said myself. I was thinking quite the same thing.

Past her, the little Black Lab's attention had been caught by a dandelion flower. It brushed her cheek on another sally along the fence across the narrow strip of lawn between the stable and her yard. She raised her large forepaw and batted at it. I laughed.

She thinks it's a butterfly, said myself. We laughed quietly together, watching her swap it to the ground and eat it. I shared her escapade with my husband and Madame. They chuckled.

"J'ai pensé lui prénommer 'Full of Fun' et l'appeler 'Fun', ou quelque chose," she said.

"Ca serait un bon prénom pour elle," I replied, surprising myself. I don't love names like that, but it fit her to a t.

We went over to see the yearlings in the paddock that slopes down to a woods. Over the top of the pasture grass and the trees, you can see a couple of houses nestled into the little woods among the pastures on the farther hill. The little Black Lab came along, pushing her paws under the bottom fence wire to the deep mud from the rain that had turned Madame Legrand's lawn, fields and view green again. She removed them, wet up to her chest and trotted along to where the fence met the hedge and then on along the hedge, while Madame called to her yearlings.

"Ils doivent être là-bas en train de se protéger des mouches," she explained, gesturing toward a group of trees and their shade across the paddock and calling out to them.

"Ah, les mouches," I repeated, stupidly. I was trying to pay attention, but my eyes were following the little dog. In a moment, four one-year-olds appeared from around the little Tudor style building behind us.

"C'est fou qu'ils viennent comme ça, quand vous les appelez," commented my husband, visibly awestruck by the horses appearing at the call of her voice.

We talked about her work breeding them, the low-down things some people had done, like taking her race horses off to the tracks in England, where she cannot touch a royalty on their earnings like she does by law in France. She's not in the same league, she explained with a laugh, with the big Arab stables that can put down 30,000 to 50,000 euros for an insemination. No, she's in the 5,000 euros league, but her horses sell for a decent price, and they earn pocketbooks upwards of a quarter million for their owners at places like Deauville, and a little something in royalties for her, as well, to help her keep going. The little dog had come back, and I reached down to pet her again.

She's good at amusing herself, noted myself. I had noted that, too. She was free to explore the stables and play with the horses through the fence, when she wasn't in her stable. It was a rather idyllic life for a young Lab. About the same one I could give her here, like Baccarat had had, although she'd never been as big as this little girl in her time on that farm to be able to appreciate it the same way.

Then, we went to see the three almost 2-week-old Chocolate Labs that were still with their mother in the house. Don't come in, cautioned the breeder; the mother is very protective of her little ones. She went inside and came back out with a little wrinkly puppy with a face as flat as a Persian cat. We were careful to keep our hands to ourselves so as not to upset the mother, who appeared a moment once her puppy was safely back in the low box they share for a couple more weeks.

From there, we got back on the bike and followed her back to the road and down another rough lane to where she kept other pastures and where she was building a house according to the old carpentry methods for her younger son from a mill they had taken down to move there. The pastures swept down a slope toward a fold between the hills before us. Up behind was the other set of stables she had built. Her mares were over here, grazing on their acres. The son didn't think he wanted the house anymore, and she thinks it's a bit much for her. She's used to her place. We stood on the concrete slab filled with water, looking out between the ancient framing members and the newer ones, done in the old way, and we talked awhile about family, our kids, their lives, and then we made to say good-bye. My husband apologized for taking so much of her time, but he had already done that, and I knew she hadn't minded in the least. She had offered her time. As we walked back to the motorcycle, parked near her old black Mercedes four-wheel drive, we returned to the dogs available and she reminded us of our options.

My husband had, by now, fully understood the "manip", and he was preparing himself to give in. Not, as he pointed out, that we could bring a puppy back with us, gesturing to the bike.

There was a female among the Chocolate puppies that could leave in a few weeks, and there was a 7-year-old she was looking to place, as well as the 5-month-old Black Lab. I cut her off. Did she mean the one we had seen? The one she said she was keeping? She nodded. But, hadn't she said she intended to keep that one? Yes, she had intended to keep her, she said, but -- and now it was she who looked as confused as I did earlier and probably again -- she had to be reasonable. She had to consider selling her. Poised, as she was, I thought, between wanting to continue, and needing to stop.

My heart jumped. I could have her! So, she wasn't tiny puppy butt. She wasn't just able to leave the breeder. She had a few meters on her paws, but she was the sweetest thing and full of fun. I tried to wink to tell her that I'd get my husband in line soon enough and she'd be hearing from me. I didn't say it so that he couldn't hear. He knew the "manip" by now.

That was Saturday. Today is Tuesday, and I am in a lather. I have been on the Internet, reading sites about Labrador Retrievers all over again, looking up breeders, reading sires' and dames' names. I have contacted two other breeders, just to feel less impulsive.

But I love her! wails myself, receiving a sympathetic audience from me.

She won't be a present, that much I can say, and it isn't easy to impose the cost on my husband, who lovingly did everything for Baccarat. There's the purchase price, and back to vet, food and flea and tick protection bills for two dogs. Of course, I'll also have to find place for another dog bed (and my husband is already mécontent about the new one for Rapide... ahem).

And, am I ready to leave the dumps, the dreariness of no Baccarat to be cheered by a dandelion swatting little girl?

Oh, oui.

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