The Bean is a well travelled dog. Her mileage by road and air (and a little by rail) is boggling for such a small canine. To facilitate her cross-border maraudings she has to abide by rules and she holds a European Pet Passport which logs her necessary vaccinations and rabies shots and, if she wants to visit the country of her birth, it registers the worming tablet demanded by the British to be administered not less than 24 hours and not more than 120 before travel by a certified veterinarian. To partake of this delight, we toddle chez le veterinaire in our nearest town and the vet jokes with her that it is just a little French sweetie (she is bored with the joke, has been since the first time when she discovered the depth of the lie) and with me that it is ironic that he, a Frenchman, takes money (35€) from me, an Englishwoman to allow my British dog to travel to our own country. I smile my beatific smile and nod and wonder why it is necessary at all and count my blessings that I don’t have to be wormed as well.
Yesterday, we pottered into the ‘Cabinet Veterinaire’ a little after 9 and were greeted warmly and asked to take a seat. The newly upgraded surgery is bright and cheerful with a row of radiant yellow alternating with dazzling orange plastic chairs and a vast and jubilant tub of plastic plants in the centre. I sat remembering the last time The Bean and I were in that spot in August. A frail old man, driven by his strapping hard muscled from hard work 30-something grandson struggled to carry his best friend, a sheepdog once bursting with energy now simply desiccated with age, into the surgery. They were expected and were ushered silently straight into the treatment rooms. I waited a while and then took The Beligerent Bean in for her vile pill which she spat out a few times to keep the vet on his toes, as is her custom, whilst he made his joke about the irony of it all and I attempted to be beatific but achieved instead a handsome grimace. Afterwards I stepped back into the reception to pay my bill and there was the old man his grandson standing sentinel next to him as he pulled his chequebook out to pay for the demise of his best friend. Cheque written, the lovely lady who presides cheerfully and appropriately over her domain began to explain what would happen to the dog and the old fellow shook his head and signalled his young protector to take the details. He simply couldn’t and wouldn’t take in any more. I caught his eye and said ‘I am sorry for your loss’. He crouched on his creaking haunches and caressed The Bean, told her she was beautiful and such a goooood girl in cracked gutteral Auvergnat French which takes years to tune into accurately even if you are a Parisien. He looked up, the depth of sorrow in his eyes so cavernous that I could not hope to reach the bottom and he thanked me. Thanked ME. The grace of ordinary humans never ceases to astound me. Never.
Just ahead of us yesterday was an old lady. Immaculately turned out in her best coat and shoes, shoes that have seen service for as many decades as I have taken breath, I would vouch, mended, remended, polished and serviceable, a scarf draped at the neck she was as pale as moonlight in midwinter. She had arrived in a taxi driven by a young woman of similar age to the grandson in summer. In the interests of lightening this sombre piece I will tell you that our local taxi firm is magnificently named ‘Taxi Willy’ which obviously makes a girl born in England quiver like an ill-set jelly as I stifle my inevitable sniggers. The driver was deferential and warm as she looked after her passenger who was as stiff as a board not in hostility but in the way of someone holding herself together because she must. I surmise that this young woman drives the lady often. Taxis (Willy’s taxis) are the only means of transport for a woman widowed who doesn’t drive and lives probably some miles from town. It’s the nature of rural life when bus services cease to operate because we all have at least one car. All of us that matter. It’s the nature of being left behind in the place that you have always lived as it sheds it’s young to the cities and quietly erodes around you. She was nestling her cat when they went in to see the vet. When they came out some 10 minutes later there was no cat. The vet, a lady explained to the woman the different options for cremation (the French word is ‘Incineration’ which to English speaking ears is jarring and rather unfeeling) …. she listened, she acknowledged, she fumbled in her handbag for her purse and the driver gently helped her find the money to pay. She walked to the taxi and she climbed stiffly into the backseat and as they drove away I was struck by the enormity of her holding herself together. I imagined the young woman seeing her into her silent home. Making sure she was comfortable, offering to drop in and see her later. And I imagined her, coatless and tiny walking to her chair as the taxi drove away, allowing herself to shed the tears that no man nor woman outside of her house must ever see. And I thought of us all preparing for the holidays, the hubub of excitement, the coiled spring of anticipation of the gluttonous festivities, the plethora of brilliant sparkling lights lifting our spirits high, the overspending and the overeating and the overdrinking and the overmerrying. And I thought how dreadfully sad it is to be on your own with your companion about to be incinerated and your life spent. And I thought of the dignity of the old man, the ramrod buttoned up stoicism of the old woman and the kindness paid back by the muscular vital grandson and the paid taxi driver. Nothing will make up for losing those best friends, I can hope that new best friends arrive to comfort them but life trickles away and it is so easy in this time of overindulgence to forget. So I care to remember.
And my picture, offered in response to the Photo Challenge titled ‘Anticipation’ is The Greedy Bean anticipating cheese when we were picnicing on a hike last winter. Pulling tongues, she assumes is cute and she always stands on her hind legs when anticipating these delectable morsels prompting me to almost title this piece ‘Stand Up, stand Up for Cheeses’ as a nod to the Sally Army and their wonderful work at this time of the year. Her anticipation, by the way, is always gratified just as the shadow of a sheepdog and the cherished cat were. She, like they, is a good best friend. You can indulge in all the other dandy entries to the gallery here.
PS: Two Brains remarked after yesterday’s poignant encounter that it is so easy to be a little scornful and supercillious of people’s relationship to their animals but that the sad vignette finely illustrates the enormous importance that our domestic pets have in the lives of others and of us. Later, wading through an enormous 5-course lunch including wine and coffee for the princely sum of 13€ each, the door of the Auberge burst open with the force of a hurricane but accompanied by no bitter wind and the light seemed to briefly dim as a leviathan with shaven head, sporting khaki t-shirt to expose his magnificent tatoo-adorned muscular arms and hunting trousers with a pair of positively combatitive laced boots and hefty leather and chrome belt to stash his beefing blades strode in and over to his fragrant, coiffed and chicly attired wife waiting decorously for him. In the arms of this middle-aged goliath snuggled the tiniest Yorkshire Terrier, born with such tenderness and passed to his spouse with a care normally reserved for a scrunched up new-born and the identical kiss to the teeny canine forehead bestowed before he let his precious bundle go. Comic and touching all in one we found it hard not to stare like a pair of uncouth Pinnochios.
And because it’s Christmas and the title has no relevance whatsoever, being, as it is, stolen from Frank N Furter in Richard O’Brien’s now legendary ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ as he makes his raucous entrance to the unfettered alarm of the stranded Brad and Janet, here is Tim Curry to play us out as I wish you the Happiest Holidays, le plus bon fête de Noël or the Merriest Christmas depending on where in the world you are. ‘I see you shiver with antici…..pation!’
The question is not what you look at, but what you see – Part Four: P thru T
To your undoubted relief, this is the penultimate instalment in the musings of an alpha-betic woman on the occasion of her leaving the United States. Papa to Tango here we go. My father was always Papa to his grandchildren and he was very light on his feet though I am fairly certain he never tangoed.
P. P is for Patriot’s Day which is celebrated each year in the States of Massachusetts, Maine and Wisconsin on April 19th to commemorate the battles of Lexington and Concord which formed the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775. Since we live very close to Concord (pronounced Concud) we decided to go and watch the re-enactment on the day. And a jolly event it was. We joined crowds walking down the street from the rosette, garland and banner festooned town square passing waiting carriages bearing presumably important dignitaries and gathered in the Minute Men National Historic Park just up from the Old North Bridge where the battle took place. We watched as British Troops in their foolish scarlet coats, fur and feather adorned hats and bright white breeches, not to mention glistening gold braid which was never going to see reputable service as camouflage, marched towards the bridge and the excitement mounted. All of a sudden a shot rang out and the commentator told us that this was ‘the shot that was heard around the world’ I have to confess I hadn’t heard of such a shot before but that is surely because I learned about this period in History from a British perspective because I was schooled in Britain – history is all in the retelling, don’t you find … the drama and tension crescendoed as the British took aim and fired and the rebels, warned by the relentlessly galloping Paul Revere (is that where the word ‘revere’ comes from because he is truly revered hereabouts) that the army was on the move, flooded down on them. All on the little wooden bridge you saw at the top of the last post. Then mayhem. All around me people screeched and bellowed ‘go home Lobsterbacks’ and I, mildly bewildered at the rising zeal mildly anxious at my Englishness in the face of this sudden hostility and probably lightheaded, enquired of a particularly vociferous woman why the Minute Men are called Minute? I was careful to utter the word as I thought it was pronounced – My Newt? Is it, I enquired because they were particularly small? She gaped at me in a way that told me exactly and precisely what a buffoon I am and explained very sloooooowly that its pronounced Minit but I was left no wiser as to what that minute was as she carried on hurling abuse at the British once more, her fervor presumably further piqued by her newfound surety that we are a tiny nation of ignorami.
P is further for Pie … I worship at the alter of all things pie and pastry and in this country pie is a venerable artform. When I wandered into the store the day before Thanksgiving, I was greeted by more pies than I have ever seen collected in one place, in so many varieties as to make my eyes water with glee. I won’t tell you what my favourite pie is … I am after all an international woman of mystery and it is important for me to keep my veneer intact. But suffice to say – you can tempt me with most but the sweet potatoe marshmallow affair proved a pie too far. And P has to be for Poets. This country has produced some of the finest and this corner a good slough of my favourites. We have Longfellow and Thoreau and Poe, we have Plath and Dickinson, we have Stanley Kunitz and at his death there was Robert Frost. It is hardly surprising to me that this place breeds poets of note. I should note the light …. it is quite unlike any other to me …. soft and subtly iridescent. Maybe that is true all over this continent. One day I will discover for myself. I really will. And finally P is for Pompositicut which is the Native American and original settlement name for the town we live in. Forgive me, good people for thinking it said Pompous Idiot when I first arrived ….
Q. Q is for Quantity. I am used to metric measures and I am used to imperial measures. Here in the kitchen I must use a cup and in the car I must remember that a gallon is smaller than I am used to. This is something that makes my childish husband smirk – a ten gallon hat is smaller here than in Briton. I rather think that the average Brit would look foolish in a Texan 10 Gallon let alone a magnified british one. The bet bit for me is that my US Dress Size is two numberals lower than my British one meaning that I can almost kid myself that all the pie has not made a jot of difference and indeed has mysteriously sylphed my figure …. Q is also for Quite. One thing I had to understand quickly was that this word is actually very complimentary. If something is ‘quite nice’ it means it is really good. If you quite like it you are genuinely enamoured – it is a word to express enthusiasm rather than the dullard, non-commital rather average way it is used in Britain. And Q is for Quaint. I was born and raised in a place that would certainly be thought of as ‘quaint’ by Americans …. thatched rooves, little brick or stone cottages, white-wash and half-timbering are plentiful though of course the myth-busters can compile a polar opposite list to pop the utopian bubble very easily. But, you see – I find it ‘quaint’ here … the houses clad in wood painted in a luscious variety of colours, the veranda’s and porches and the churches some brick some wood but always with a white spire reaching optimistically towards it’s heaven.
R. R if you know me at all was bound to be for River and in particular because it runs close to the house here and I have spent SO much time walking by it, the Assabet. And running. Our go-to running trail is along the river so I guess R must be for running trail too.
And if you know me a little better than at all there will be absolutely NO surprise that R is for Rowing. I’ve been to two big events this year. The Women’s Varsity Boatrace in Shrewsbury in May which is in effect like the Oxford and Cambridge University Boatrace in Britain but with many crews rather than the two blue boats doing herculean battle one on one. The top crews will decamp to Henley-on-Thames in June for the Women’s Regatta and I can report from personal experience a few years ago, scarily good they tend to be too. In October we headed for the Charles in Cambridge to watch the Head of the River race there. Head races, for the unitiated are time trials and taken from a rolling start. The river is broad and not a snip to navigate and some of the classes were clearly particularly hard fought. The carnival atmosphere was infectious and although Rowing can never be regarded as a spectator sport the crowds were clearly undeterred by that very minor detail. My daughters will all attest to the uninspiring vision of watching rowers battle it out on river or lake, having spent many many hours of their childhood watching mummy compete or more accurately getting distracted by something much more interesting, like a blade of grass and altogether missing mummy’s glorious triumphs. I am scarred by their collective disinterest.
S. S is for Sport. Sport is a mahusive part of the culture here. As it is in Britain and in France and probably in most places. But there are differences. The obvious is that what I call Football they call Soccer and it is a minor sport. Football is like armoured rugby and fanatically followed. Our local bigshots are The New England Patriots and everything stops for a Patriots Game. I watched the Superbowl Final (not featuring The Patriots last season) on TV in an attempt to feel American and understand the game. By the end of the match I can confidently say that I do. I think. And that I hope one day I will go to a real game. And take part in a Tailgate party in the stadium parking lot. This is where you mass cater a huge picnic amongst a group of spectators and basically have an al fresco banquet in the carpark served out of the boot (or trunk) of all your huge trucks and SUVs. I believe this, in itself can get a trifle passive-agressive competitive amongst the ladies but this may be an urban myth. Then there is Basketball (local side The Celtics) where it is an advantage to be at least 6′ 7″ tall and lean like a runner-bean with un-naturally long legs and arms. Ice Hockey also favours tall people (as does football where your shoulders need to be as wide as you are tall and the upside down V is further enhanced by enormous body armour) and is possibly the most violent game I have ever witnessed. I was therefore quite shocked to discover that a Mini Mite starts out at less than 7 years old straight into playing the full game thus batised and fired like little iron-men they progress through Mite, Atom, PeeWee, Bantom and Midget before fledging as Juniors at 18+. To be frank I wouldn’t tangle with a Mini-Mite let along a Midget. Our big side is the Boston Bruins but I have only been to a Harvard-Cornell college game which was quite tame in comparison to the professional game presumably because it is somewhat important not to flirt too zealously with concussion which is an ever present risk even with the compulsory and quite gladiatorial helmets. Finally there is of course Baseball (Boston Red Sox) …. this is played in summer and I found myself slowing down many times as I passed school teams playing – let me tell you THIS is the stereotype of America that a dull English girl like me imagines. It really is. Baseball players chew tobacco and spit and the pitchers seem to develop rather pronounced derrieres. I don’t know why. And S is for Salem. Famed for the Witch Trials of 1692, Salem was also one of America’s most influential ports. Brimful of history it is also an extremely laid back and slightly offbeat place. Very artsy and full of excellent restaurants I have a love of it and it has to be included.
T. T is for T. I haven’t lost the plot. The T is the public transport system for Boston and Greater Boston region. Run by The Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority no-one has yet been able to tell me why it is called The T. But if you want to get about Boston you’d better buy a Charlie Card and hop a subway or bus rather than try driving in a city which is only for the brave or foolhardy and probably both. I get the subway from Alewife (pronouced Al Wife) to Park Street on the Common and find it surprisingly restful particularly when it chugs across the wide expanse of The Charles. I like The T.
T is also for Trash. We have a huge bin for trash and a gigantic bin for recycling provided by our trash contractor, which is very green and pleasant. Our trash goes out on a Tuesday which makes for a satisfying American Alliteration. I try not to be prone to being over-interested in what others do which might sound odd given that my writing is all observational but I have no desire to be Pinnochio. However, having spent a year here I couldn’t fail to notice that one of our neighbours manages to fill to overflowing and beyond both bins every week. How do you produce so much waste in one household (apart from the fact that the pizza van is a nightly visitor) and what sort of an example is it to the two children who are part of the family. And why do you never shut your garage doors … do you encourage deer and racoon to reside there? And mostly why do you walk across my front lawn as though it is your right and let your two dogs poop on it. It is time for me to go, there is no doubt because these questions have begun to permeate my nights, riddle my dreams and have me rehearsing withering retorts in the bathroom mirror. When I return, which I hope to next year, I will endeavour to maintain my swan-like serenity but if you do read, in the Boston Globe that there has been a hideous trash-related incident in Metro West Massachusetts and a deportation has resulted, it’s been nice knowing you ….
PS: Because it’s another song that surely sums up America to an English girl, here is Don McLean with his monumental American Pie. Singalong, please do!
The top and bottom pictures were taken in Autumn, the fourth season I passed here.