Real life

Real life

21 July 2016

1:00 PM

21 July 2016

1:00 PM

Market day in Bergerac and the streets are paved with chicken bones. As a spaniel, I am bound to say this is as near to paradise as one can get. From the doorway of every shop there wafts the aroma of happiness. I pull to go inside each doorway as we pass. She pulls me back out.

But at the open-air market there is endless opportunity. While she looks at one wicker basket after another, I lick the ground for whatever may be there, which is always something utterly delicious. Tiny morsels of goat’s cheese, bits of salami, globs of duck pâté, and the gizzards — oh the gizzards! The very essence of utopia. I wonder if anyone has thought of this as an advertising campaign. Duck guts — the taste of paradise! I might write to the duck companies.

At a café, I sit with him while she goes into a clothes shop and tries on linen dresses, all the same, and wearing each one she comes to the door and calls, ‘Do you like this?’ and he and I look at her and smile and she goes back inside. And he turns to me and says, ‘Women.’ Then we sit in peace listening to the old man playing his saxophone and the waiter brings more coffee and truffles. Everyone stops to pat me.

Two little dogs pass by wearing sun vizors. She comes out of the shop and asks the humans where they bought them, and they tell her where to go, so evidently I am getting a hat. Eh alors, when in France…

The French are very civilised. It is wonderful to be welcomed to every café, to sit with humans as an equal. At each table, there are members of my kind, sat by their people, taking in the sights, enjoying tidbits passed down from the table.

Back at the cottage we relax by the pool or go for magnificent walks along tracks that seem to stretch on for ever. One evening, as we are walking back down the track to the house with the light fading and the smells becoming more and more intense, I pick up the scent of something truly awesome in the woods to the side of us and start straining at the leash. And then we hear it. A low snort. She screams, ‘Boar!’ And he laughs at her. Then he picks up an enormous stick. This is no time to play fetch, I think. Then I realise he is sharpening the end. ‘What are you doing?’ she says, nearly in tears. ‘Just in case,’ he says.

She starts panicking in that way she does, which can signify anything. It can mean we’re in big trouble, or it can mean she’s having an off day and doesn’t like the colour of her handbag. It’s impossible to tell with her. He is much more reliable. I look up at him and am alarmed to see he is nervous.

They are walking quicker too. Then we hear the grunt again. Right at the side of us. It’s not so much a grunt, really, as a cross between a grunt and a roar. ‘Keep going,’ he says. ‘That’s it, they’re more frightened of us than we are of them.’

‘That’s not true,’ she says. ‘I’m terrified. And it can probably smell the fear. What if it’s a giant mutant boar? Like in a horror film? Argh! A big boar monster, which has no fear of humans and rules the woods. Oh no! Imagine the headlines — English couple savaged by pig in the Dordogne!’

But we get back safely and there is pork for dinner, not one we’ve caught but good all the same.

When we set off for home, we drive through fields of wheat being harvested, the giant tractors rolling everywhere. The smells come in waves: first a yeasty smell, then sharp sweetness and she cries ‘melons!’ Then flowers, then wheat, then wine — wave after wave of smell drifting through the car windows. I sit with my nose in the air drinking it in. France is beautiful. ‘I remember when I first came here as a teenager,’ she says, as she drives. ‘My first glimpse of France was all sunflowers and wheat stretching to the horizon…’ ‘It’s like going back in time,’ he says.

We stop for a picnic in a field of maize and he and I share a whole smoked chicken. I eat so much I fall asleep in the car afterwards. When I wake up there is something sad on the radio. As we drive on the motorways she reads out big signs that are lit up. I don’t know what it means or if it’s a place but it sounds very pretty: ‘Liberté égalité fraternité.’

In memory of those killed in Nice.

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