Tuesday, 26 December 2006

Skipping Christmas

No, not skip it completely because we had a wonderful day. My mother-in-law knitted me the perfect sweater in bamboo (this is not a joke), people remembered to give me books, there were lots of DVDs, a great Christmas dinner and too much to drink. What more could I ask? Considering that I'm not even Christian?

But here's the best present of all. Since 2002 and maybe before (memory is dimming), the government, the regional governement, France Telecom, satellite services, Wi-Fi services and the world have been promising us broadband here in the (officially) deprived rural areas. Last week it arrived. Sort of.

Today, the France Telecom engineers arrived, took away our digital modem and set the line for ADSL. Unfortunately, the new modem, which should have arrived in the post two weeks ago, has not, and a call to the "service" (as we fondly call it) line at FT confirmed that it has not been sent and, in any case, is the one that we expressly said -- three times -- that we did not want. Fully realising that it would be a fruitless journey, we drove to Nyons to try to get a modem from the local office. Fruitless because they probably wouldn't have one in stock and because the Nyons office appears to have a policy of hiring the technologically other-enabled. Almost any conversation with the staff there can reduce a customer to tears within minutes.

In order to maintain the advantage of surprise, we decided not to telephone first. The French in shops or offices ( government or private), will tell you anything -- the most bold-faced, outrageous, unbelievable lies (they don't expect you to believe them) -- to put you off, get rid of you, transfer your problem to someone else, or whatever it takes so as not to be inconvenienced during their working hours. It is best not to give them extra time to prepare.

As it turned out, the twin miracles (a customer view) of deregulation and competition have recently come to France and Nyons have abandonned their "hire the incompetent" policy. There was someone, nay! three employees, capable of checking our line and selling us the correct modem.

In any normal country, we would now have broadband. In France, we are waiting for someone, somewhere, to push a computer button to activate the damned thing. In any other country, they would have pushed the button -- if a button were necessary -- before they got here. So, not only do we not have broadband, we have lost our higher-speed dial-up and are back on a sl-o-o-o-w modem for three days, a week, 10 days, months, years, eons. . .

I don't sound crabby, do I?

Saturday, 23 December 2006

'Tis the Season. . .

. . . to try to work in at least 10 minutes a day of training. You'd think that people who do their Christmas shopping throughout the year -- and, therefore, do not do Christmas shopping -- and who had their presents distributed and mailed in early November, would have more time on their hands. Somehow, no. But Coach has been heard to mutter that one of us is not trying hard enough and I don't think she means Van-Ly. So, Thursday, in the hospital grounds in Avignon, we took a little time out for training.

Who is sick? No one. Time for the yearly mammogram, which, as a member the high-risk group, I generally get at the cancer institute in Avignon. When I went for my appointment last Friday, the doctor hadn't shown up. There used to be 3. Then there were 2. Evidently, there was only to be one that day -- and then there were none. Since we have to leave the house early for the 100 kilometer journey, I didn't get notified. I didn't get notified when I got there, either. The secretary told me to sit down, then she went to lunch and it took me 50 minutes to realise that there was no activity in the vicinity. France, unlike England, has excellent medical care. It is catching up fast, however, in the lack of availability.

So they rescheduled me for Thursday at 2P.M. This is good, I thought; first appointment after lunch. When I got there, the waiting room was so full, there wasn't room for everyone and they were spilling out into the foyer. Evidently, the mammogram unit is only working half days now, too. "Why do you schedule everyone for the same time?" I asked. "Well, first we give you the mammogram, then we develop the pictures, then you see the doctor." "I know all that. Why do you schedule everyone for the same time?" I asked. She stared. "How long will I have to wait to get started?" An hour and a half? No way! "I'm sorry," said the tech, "we were supposed to have 2 doctors today and we only have one." Pause. I'm thinking: I've done 400 km this week; I don't want to hear it." "And (this is so French, I can't begin to tell you) -- and the other one won't be back." Pause. "Ever." Pause. "He died yesterday." Pause. "34 years old."

I felt las if ike she were reading me a story. Have I mentioned that in the French version of the tortoise and the hare, the hare doesn't just lose; he dies? And I vividly remember the first lesson in my second year course at the French Institute in London. Two university students are hitchhiking (making the autostop) to go see a friend who is in the hospital with a broken leg. Car accident. But, of course! Easy to see how film noir developped.

Where was I? Oh, yes. So I said the hell with the mammogram; I'll go the reasonably local facility. Then I went outside into the grounds where I retrieved Van-Ly from Nick, who was walking both dogs. And we did a bit of training.

Yesterday we did another bit on the place, a noisy little dog providing distraction.

Today we did another bit along our normal route. And Van-Ly did a whole happy dance, not just half.

From the 20th of November until now, we've progressed to Day 4 in the book. Almost.

Deciding that she still needed exercise, I gave her the tennis-ball sized rubber hedgehog we bought her to replace the lost tennis balls. No use in saving it for Christmas. Nala isn't getting anything and the wind-up mouse we bought for the cats doesn't work. Anyway, Van-Ly is no better at retrieving the hedgehog than the tennis balls, but it did provoke the zoomies and we have a happy, tired dog.

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Unhappy Dance

Training has not been going well. More like, it hasn't been going. What with exhibitions, illness, bad backs, doctor's appointments, and a hundred other things, Van-Ly hasn't been getting out much. Yesterday, she got a short walk around a field while I drove looking for Nala.

Today, we went to the village to train on the place and it was like starting over. Then, after five minutes Nick and Nala reappeared because Nala was, unsurprisingly, tired after her two-hour walkabout yesterday. Then a neighbour arrived to ask if we know anyone in England who might take his son in for a week to practice his English. Then the white Lab, who runs loose to play and poop as he will arrived. (Why those people have a dog is beyond me. He was a cute puppy, true, but he's still cute.) So we gave it up and came home. Two days with no walk for Van-Ly.

Feeling guilty, I left Nick with the dishes and the sink to repair, got my coat and gloves (winter comes to Provence) and went outside to dig Van-Ly's collar and lead out of the car. She was sitting in the sun, just looking. Didn't move when she saw me. But then I shut the car door and she saw that I had the (non-training) collar and (normal) lead in my hands.

And she got up and did half a happy dance.

So sad. When Nala arrived here, she had been living in a van for I don't know how long. I believe she was let out once or twice a day to eliminate and then put back. It couldn't have been much fun to walk her; by the time we got her fifteen months ago, she was mostly blind from entropion and eye infections and could barely walk. But from the first time she realised we were going to take her for a walk, she did the happy dance. (Kinda wore her out for the walk.) And to this day she does the happy dance.

Van-Ly does not dance. So, today, when she did, she almost broke my heart. Lately, it must seem to her that she always has to go training or nothing and Nala gets all the walks. It isn't quite true, but close enough for her line of thinking. I guess she thought if she did the happy dance, she'd get a walk, too.

Maybe she'd like steak and lobster for dinner.

Nala Gains Confidence

19 December 2006.

We went to lunch with friends today. They have a fair amount of land, a tiny house and many cats. The dogs go in and out, mostly in search of the cats, and the cats hide. We don't bother to lock the gates because the property is open at the other end, anyway, and the dogs come back after a few minutes.

Speaking of which, I remember how proud I was the first time we went for a walk and Nala wouldn't come at the end of it. "Oh, goody!" I thought. "Her spirit is returning." But, having realised that walks are forever, she comes now.

I mean, wouldn't you be happy?

On one wander yesterday, Nala disappeared for half an hour , but then she then came back. On her next promenade, we noticed it had been an awfully long time since we'd seen her. The agony I underwent and the promises I made to God or Whoever Would Listen are easily imagined without my pouring it on. And it was my own stupidity. Shutting the gates would have worked for her, who wouldn't have climbed the hill or the steps in the other direction. Nala goes with the flow (downhill). Anyway, I did find her two hours later -- on the main road, returning from the next hamlet. And, yes, she is grounded: inside or leashed or tied. Whew!

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Around the Place

Today we went to the village and trained on the place ("plass"). I was hoping that there would be some dogs around to act as distractions, but no one, including a dog, goes out when it gets winter cold -- except mad dogs and Englishmen. (If you speak English, you're English. QED)

It turned out, however, to be a great place to train. There just weren't enough flower pots and lamp posts for Van-Ly to tangle herself in. It was like before Day 1. After 15 minutes we were interrupted by Nick and Nala and had to take a break. It was then that I discovered I had the line attached to the wrong ring. Sigh.

Sent Nick and Nala off in another direction, fixed the line, and we did two clean rounds. Then Nick and Nala came back. DQ.

Great training ground, though. We'll do it, again.

But not tomorrow. Back to the exhibition in Avignon to look like an artist -- or, at least, an artist's wife.

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

The Boar Poop Distraction

Finally out for a training session. What with my husband appearing to have a heart attack on Sunday, dog training has not been Top of the Pops. As it turned out, he didn't have a heart attack, but it took a full day to find that out and then some GP visits to get him sorted. Anyhoo. . .

Our last two outings were on a straight line (Van-Ly's and mine; not Nick's and mine). It took two for me to realise why you work in a diamond or a square pattern, so today we went to the field, where I picked a smaller diamond to work than previously. At the start, the wild boar poop proved too much of an attraction, so we moved to another part of the field. After 15 minutes, Van-Ly appeared to be doing well (I'm still not sure how perfect she has to be),so we went back to the boar poop areas. Several turns weren't great, but then she seemed to get it. I did have to stop and untangle the line one time. It was not only tangled; she had managed to get it in a square knot around her leg. Misplaced talent.

We'll try, again, tomorrow. Unfortunately, we have to miss Friday and Sunday due to the exhibition. And Monday because of the accountant.

We'll get there.

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Nala, Nala

(l) 21 September 2005
(r) 21 December 2005

She just lov-v-v-es to go walkies! She does her happy dance. (And I cannot begin to tell you how happy it made me when she was able to do that.) My dogs have to sit and stay at the gates before they are opened to go for a walk. After 15 months, Nala has got the sit part, only she thinks it means touch bum to ground and rise. Once the gates are open, she tears out. Bad precedent; I started letting her run after the first time she did it. I was so happy that my crippled dog could actually run, not just trot, I was almost in tears. I think the leg weakness came from neglect and lack of exercise. She'd been living in a van.

The nitty gritty: she'll walk for an hour, but if she wants to go to the river, she pulls to go to the river. I she wants to stop and sniff, she stops and sniffs. When we turn around to come home, I have to walk behind her pushing my shins against her butt to get her to keep moving because she doesn't want to go home. It's best to take her in the car somewhere and walk her so she doesn't know she's on her way home. When she *really* doesn't want to go, she just lies down. Which is also what she does when she gets tired, so I know it, but I can also tell the two states apart. If we go into town she wants to stop and sniff every brick, rock and blade of grass and wanders from side to side on the sidewalk. I could handle her, but it's tiresome and it's almost impossible with two of them.

I think that because she couldn't see before we got her (we've had her operated on for entropion and are managing the infections and the dry eye), her previous owners just took her out of the van once a day, let her snuffle around a bit,pee, poop, and then put her back. So, when we got her she was in a state that might be called wild if she wasn't so gentle.

Someone has recommended "Second Hand Dog" so I ordered it today.

Summer 2006

Saturday, 9 December 2006

Teaching An Old Dog. . . anything

1) The question. Does anyone know of a book devoted to training old dogs that they could recommend? I can't seem to find anything between Koehler and reward-based methods.

2) My plan. To have Nala walk reasonably well where I want her to go.

3) Why I am concerned about my plan. You know where Koehler says don't worry if your dog sits on her haunches in imitation of a cartoon donkey -- just drag her along? It's really hard to do this to an old dog who has never had any training at all, has weak legs (but strong enough for this behaviour), bad eyes and a lot of vet bills.

4) Vitals of the animal. (Age, breed, sex, fixed, etc) She started out as 13 a year or so ago, backed up to 10 and may now even be the 8 the rescue claimed she was, purebred (badly) Chow, female, not spayed -- I'm not spaying a bitch whose (advanced) age and full medical history I don't know.

5) As much temperament information as I have. . . including whether this
information is giving to me from the client or information I have through my
interactions with the dog. She's a Chow; that says it all. Independent, stubborn, marches to her own drummer. Her idea of a reward is to do what she likes. When you're at least eight, and probably older, and no one has ever given you a treat, even after 15 months you don't know how to take food from a hand. Top that with bad sight and not much of a sense of smell and treats aren't in it.

6) Anything else I can think of. I don't want much out of this one: just to be able to walk in town reasonably well and not bark at passersby. (It's O.K. if I bark.) I'm going to give Koehler one more shot, but I don't hold out much hope.

8/11/2006 Van-Ly failed her "don't chase the cat" test on Friday. Granted, she wasn't on her line, she was with Nick and not me, and I'm not fast enough to head her off at the pass, anyway. But I do know what her Koehler test will be.

Monday, 4 December 2006

How Am I Doing, Coach?

We reverted to our normal walk today: a short stretch down the road and a sidestep to the right to gain the path along the river. And we went with Nick and Nala.

First, we sat at the gate. We sat for the usual ever, trying to get Nala to understand that sit does not mean touch your bum to the ground and pop right back up. Nick opened the gate, said "Voila!" to Nala and off they went. Van-Ly did not move. Is this a wonderful Chow or what? She didn't move until I said, "Voila."

We walked down the road and -- this is a true miracle -- as a car came up behind us, Van-Ly moved to my right (the inside) and stayed next to me. I didn't even have to ask.

She's still not with me all the time, though. I had to step on the line twice because she was getting too far ahead of me, maybe to catch Nala, maybe just because I don't walk all that fast. That was on the road.

On the path, she got several running jerks. On the last one, I looked back, which I normally don't do, and saw that I had jerked her off her front feet. No doubt I've been doing this without realising it. At least I won't feel so bad about the heeling routine, should we ever get that far.

In the middle of the walk, I took her to the entrance of the field where she normally runs and sniffs, took her collar off, and said, "Voila"! The poor thing never gets to run and sniff, so I thought if I took her training collar off, she'd be able to distinguish play from work. Seemed to work.

At this point, I'm becoming confused. Was letting her play O.K.? Is the fact that we can't train every day a big problem? Should she be more advanced? Should I be grateful she's this far advanced, being a Chow and all?

She's infinitely better behaved since we started all this. If I just wanted loose lead walking and stopping when I stop, we'd be there. Somehow, I suspect this isn't good enough.

My inclination is to continue this walk and the walk we did yesterday until she is always looking at me. I think she needs to be absolutely perfect before trying the big test: town.

Sunday, 3 December 2006

Oogah Chukka

During a conversation about training and showing, a friend, who uses reward-based training methods, asked me why I have reverted to the Neanderthal methods of the past. At least she only asked; others have been more aggressive. So, for benefit of all my friends -- former and otherwise -- here's why:

I'll probably never compete, but I'd like walking my dogs to be more togetherness than tug of war. I'd like to be able to call them and have them come because I said so, not because they're tired, anyway, and have run out of things to do. I'd like to be able to walk in town without the general population having to make way for my dogs's "quickest point from A to B" trajectory and their sudden lunges sideways to follow up on a good scent.

I've got Chows: the original hard-to-train dogs. Almost any breeder will tell you they are untrainable. I mean how many Chows do you see competing in shows? To quote Betty Fisher (So Your Dog Isn't Lassie): their mental well-being is not dependent on my happiness. Unfortunately, the conclusion she draws from this (treats as payment) doesn't work for a dog that isn't interested in food. Their interest in treats, when it exists at all, exists only as far as the nose will reach; we do not move for food. (And, even if we accept the food, we spit it on the ground, examine it for several minutes, sniff, push it with our nose, pick it up, lick, spit. . . We have to check carefully for poison, all of which is a considerable interruption of the training process.)

Now, after 13 years of Chow ownership, voices at the edge of the training universe have begun to suggest to me that my main problem in achieving even a modicum of obedience from my dogs is that I've been going about it the wrong way. Chows are motivated by self-preservation and physical comfort more than anything currently popular in the training world. In other words, the clicker isn't doing it. In a sally around the internet, I happened upon the respected trainer and competitor, Margot Woods. She started out with Chows. She gave them up for Dobermans when she decided on horses for courses, so to speak.

Well, I love my Chows more than I love obedience, so I'm going to try it the old-fashioned way. Since my dogs are so difficult, I'm going to do it according to Koehler (with one or two minor exceptions: It wasn't Van-Ly's fault she got tangled around the tree; it was mine and I untangled her) and I'm doing it according to the book. So I read the chapters over and over until I've got them straight in my head and then we do them as specified. I figure it's like music: you don't go off into flights of fancy composing 32 Variations for Piano in C Minor, until you understand what C-minor is, can play the piano, understand musical forms, and can work yourself back to the harmonic denouement. Of course, it helps to be Beethoven.

In Games Your Mother Never Taught You: Corporate Gamesmanship For Women, Betty Lehan Harragan said that if you weren't aiming to be Chairman of the Board, you'd never know what next move should be. You may never make Chairman of the Board, but you'll get a lot further than with a lesser goal. When Van-Ly knows how to heel properly, she won't always have to do it, but I hope she'll do it if I want her to. If I can't teach her to heel, how will I ever teach her weave poles?

Weave polls? These dog lists have been the ruination of me.

Saturday, 2 December 2006


We didn't take the dogs to Avignon yesterday. Nick had to buy wood, so there was no room. Just as well; having Nala snoring in the second floor 17th century drawing room during the press conference might have been a tad more attention than we wanted.

Van-Ly and I started on distractions today. I couldn't use the open gate routine as, contrary to W. Koehler's expectations, I am not a complete idiot, and one of the few things our dogs learn is not to dash onto the road. Either they sit and wait for my "voila!" or there is no walkies.

So, we went on our village walk, through the trees. Van-Ly was very good. She did not try to go sideways to the river or stop for anything except, one time, to smell the wild boar poop. We didn't go as far as the field where she plays or the part of the river where she wades. Enough is enough for one time. At the end of our walk, we saw Nick and Nala and Van-Ly trotted too far ahead of me. I stepped on her line. She tried once more and then walked nicely with me.

Next we will try the field and the river. The last test will be a real dog, not Nala. Chows don't count.

Thursday, 30 November 2006

On the Basketball Court

We didn't train yesterday. It was miserable out and, besides, I had a doctor's appointment, and, besides, I hadn't slept well, and, besides, I opted for a sieste. That's a siesta in French.

Today we changed our training ground as I wanted to see how Van-Ly would react to the village. Also, I had to go to the post office. We went to a car park the size of a basketball court. I guess it's the size of a basketball court: there are baskets at either end. The car park/basketball court used to be the children's gardens for the school, but our mayor likes to tidy up. He used to be a high muckety muck in the international division of Credit Lyonnais. When they were still solvent. Moving all the cars into one place was more important to him than the children having their gardens. This is France – worse, this is Provence: no one parks in the car park.

So, Van-Ly and I trudged back and forth across the cement with our usual hit record. I don't care what Koehler says, I did stop and untangle her once. Someone came to dump their rubbish in the bins and she was distracted (hey, distractions!). And then an ambulance drove by. No problem; we have an ambulance service in the village. They mostly act like taxis, taking the sick and elderly to their outpatient appointments. Another distraction. A couple of times she went roving and I turned and ran. She caught on as quickly as if we'd been walking. And a couple of times, I didn't catch her out. I still think we need to up the hit rate.

Once she cried and once she rolled in a puddle. I wanted to cry, too, if for no other reason than for the boredom of it all. I'm pretty sure that's why she was crying. Fields are better.

When Nick came back with Nala, she wanted to run to them. I turned and ran and she followed me. All right, she's not great. But for a Chow: she's great.

No training tomorrow. Press conference in Avignon for the artisan/artists exhibiting in a Salon, including my husband, the artist/artisan furniture maker. That and 1.30 euro will buy you a cup of coffee.

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

The Curse of the MP3 Player

Back to the field with Van-Ly and Dickens. The batteries gave out after two minutes, but – aha! -- I had brought spares. Which were already dead. Sigh. I had to put up with training without distractions. And did very well, you'll be pleased to know. Van-Ly wasn't bad, either, but about half the time I feel a brief tug before moving off, so she obviously isn't paying enough attention, yet. And sometimes she walks in front of me, but not too far: only about four or five feet. I only managed to catch her out once with a reverse, so maybe she has eyes in the back of her head? I think we'll do one more day of this before trying distractions. Hope it doesn't rain tomorrow. Is my poor baby ever going to get to play, again?

Training Day

What with two short session in the rain last week, I suppose today could be re-considered as Van-Ly's first day of training. It was really exciting! Oh, not the longe line. The longe line is bor-or-ring. The only thing that gets me through thirty to forty minutes of walking in circles, squares and trangles is my MP3 player. (Two shorter sessions would not be better because there'd be two sessions.) I'm listening to Little Dorrit and it's approaching the climax. Dickens is impossible to read, but wonderful to listen to with a good narrator. If it weren't for Audible.com, I'd never do any housework. I'd certainly not do dog training.

Anyway, we went into the field and battled the thistles. There are no trees except around the edges; I just walk what I judge to be about 50 feet at a time. Van-Ly is not always right up to the mark, but she puts up no resistance. She's a good girl. As for me, I haven't yet had to use the tape I bought for my mouth (KMODT, page 30).

Monday, 27 November 2006

Nightmare Dog Owner Takes a Vacation

*Training Notes (easily skipped)

15/11/2006 Rémuzat to St.Jean de Losne on the Burgundy canal near Dijon. Six hour drive, what with dropping Parroty off to his other mum and pit stops and lunch. Meet Fluffy, the Rottie-ish, who turns out to be the Pittie-ish.

She and Wendy, who looks like a rag, but is a pedigreed German hunting dog, have the run of the place.

16/11/2006 Fluffy and Wendy are tied up during the day; Wendy because she tends to jump in the canal and Fluffy because she want to eat the postman. Wendy is on a long rope on the terrace. Fluffy has a wire-and-ring arrangement that lets her run around to a limited degree. Years of running leaps at the postman and swinging by her neck have done nothing to decrease her desire to make lunch of him. Come afternoon and no more visitors expected, both are let off their ropes and they take their places in the house, Fluffy on the sofa.

17/11/2006 Six hours to Montigny en Arrouaise near St. Quentin in Picardie to see Mme. Idé, Van-Ly's breeder. She agrees that Van-Ly is beautiful, much prettier than her mother: more robust and with a wonderful coat. Evidently Mummy's coat is coarse and difficult like Nala's. I told her I didn't want to breed Van-Ly without her opinion. Her opinion is “Why not? She's beauiful and she's got her confirmation.” She didn't offer a “mating” (don't know what you call it in English), but said that if we breed her, she wants pictures. We met Mummy. Van-Ly, The Charming, growled at her. I thought the dog in the next pen might be Daddy, grown up and out, but it turned out to be a bitch, the mother of the cutest cutest 7-week-old puppies on earth! O.K., Linda's Akita babies are up there, too. Mme. Idé let them out of their room and all five promptly peed in the dining room. Bwahahaha! I want one! DH, usually known as Nick, thinks they're cuter where they are.

An hour back to Reims to find a hotel whose clerk didn't bat an eye when I said “two” dogs, just charged us 2€ each for them. They were so well-behaved as they walked through the lobby, you wouldn't have known they were mine. I was so proud!

18/11/2006 Find a Speedy and get the front wheel re-balanced – they did it for free; wow! -- and another five and a half hours to Plancher-Bas and our chalet. Turns out it is not a lonely chalet in the Regional Park, but part of a small village, with neighbours, on the edge of the Park. But it's quiet, well fitted out and there must be an acre of land in back, all fenced. :-) Now I know how people feel when the find the perfect holiday location for the children.

19/11/2006 First day of dog training. Van-Ly did well, amazingly enough, since I've always been certain that she never looks at me. Nala. Oh, Nala! She looks at me, but I think it's to make sure I'm following her. I thought I was going to have to give up immediately because I'm not strong enough to pull her when she really digs in, but the book is right: she won't go to the lengths of strangling herself. A few hoarse croaks and she gives in – for the moment. After 15 or 20 minutes, we were doing better, most likely because her shoulder was getting sore and she couldn't fight as hard. Now she isn't speaking to me. This was supposed to be the home where she could have her own way for ever after, to make up for the rest of her life. The rest of us have lives, too, Nala.

Why aren't we doing something, you ask? We are. We have a crate of books and are taking advantage of the rain to read them. We'll go check out the local restaurant later.

  • Lessons may be shorter than recommended this week. I tend to get up late and it seems only fair to leave some time for Nick – even if he does think the puppies are cuter where they are.

    As to Days 3 and onward, the only distractions I can count on are:

    • Van-Ly: dogs to smooch and critters to chase;
      Nala: the beginning of the walk (after passing throught the gate – we know we are not allowed to charge out of the gate) and the sight of the river.

      • These things are at home.

20/11/2006 The local restaurant was pretty with pleasant staff, seriously mediocre food and incredibly overpriced wine. Today, we went to Belfort and saw the Lion. It is a tribute to the defenders of the city when the Prussians laid siege in 1870-1871. Not to take anything away from the gallant soldiers of Belfort, but holding the citadel had to be a piece of cake. Being hungry probably wasn't. The Lion is local sandstone and 22 meters long by 11 high. That's about 70 feet by 35. Big enough to get a great view from below without Nala having to climb the stairs – or us having to pay. It was sculpted by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, he of the Statue of Liberty.

Ate an agreeable lunch in a pleasant little hotel. Then a nice little museum of cubism and such. Secondary works by Picasso, Braque, Leger, Masson et al. Secondary was an improvement over the many years we've spent without seeing a museum.

We got lost coming back. Just thought I'd mention that.

21/11/2006 Pouring with rain, again, so I decided to get to grips with my new graphics and web design programs. This involves a lot of yelling at Nick as I'm not good with frustration. It lightened up enough this afternoon to have a walk through the woods. Even bad weather doesn't detract from the beauty and peace of the forest.

22/11/2006 Need I say it's raining? Not to mention freezing. Today's outing was to Ronchamp and Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut, the real reason we're here. It's a beautiful church and we – Nick – picked well. Bizarrely, they get no money either from the Church or the town, so they live on 2€ entry fees and donations. We gave the dogs a turn on the grass before we went in. Is there something wrong with the grass where we're staying, I ask myself. What makes the road better? (Fenced, but no gates.) We took pictures of Van-Ly. I can't get over how beautiful she's turned out to be. I'm going to check with the SCC to see if we can get her re-confirmed – by a judge who knows what a Chow is. (You get extra points for being outstanding.) Anyway. . .

A visit to the church gets you discounts at two more museums, so we tackled the Mining Museum. Hardware and tools for Nick. I entertained myself with the Rules for Housing (among the eligibility requirements: “behaviour which leaves nothing to be desired”) and newspaper accounts of the usual mining distasters. My favourite was the guy who lit his Davy Lamp (thank you, Sir Humphrey Davy) to get rid of the gas: 28 dead; 5 wounded. On the first (second) floor, however, there was an excellent collection of art, crafts and miscellany to do with mining. The tapestries, watercolours and photographs of black lung autopsies are unrivalled.

Daily stop at the bakery and supermarket. I cannot believe – I cannot believe! -- how cheap things are up here. You can actually afford to eat fish. Tonight it's tuna steaks. You can fill up your car on diesel for 99.5 cents a litre. That's about $5.00 a gallon – dirt cheap, for all of you who are snivelling in the States. Gasoline is about $6.00 a gallon up here. Up each at least a dollar where we live.

23/11/2006 In 1789, King Louis XVI ordered every city, town, village and hamlet to list their grievances in the “Dolorous Notebook.” Too late considering he was about to be beheaded, but that's bye the bye. In Champagney, a village of 2,000 souls near here, they had just learned about slavery in the colonies. Life without CNN. Anyway, the villagers were mightily confused bcause the only Black they had ever seen was in a painting in the church: Balthazaar, the Magus. Since he was all dressed up and worshipping the baby Jesus, they figured Blacks must be the same as Whites – only black. The villagers met after mass one day to discuss the problem and they decided to use the Cahier de Dolours to petition the king. Nothing happened at the time, for many reasons, not the least being the King was busy losing his head.

Thirty-five years ago, someone was digging in the village archives and found the hand-written petition. The result is the Museum of The World of the Negro and the Rights of Man, for which our third discount ticket applied.

There was a large, glass-covered, scale model of a slave ship set into the floor, giving you a view into the hold with figures of slaves chained to their planks. Not as effective as the description in Roots, but interesting nonetheless. I can't say I learned a lot because, except for the Petition, I knew it all (what else is new, Margot?), so I spent the time thinking about why that is. My conclusion (that I foisted on Nick) is that the U.S. had slavery longer than anyone else (except Africa), had it in a worse form (slaves in South America, for instance, could buy or work out their freedom, sort of like indentured servants) and is still causing us massive problems to this day, so we're all aware of the history. Besides, when your family are Southerners, you're still waiting to see if the South will rise, again For the slave trading countries -- “Old Europe” -- it was just a business and they forgot about it when the business ended. Slavery was far away and didn't affect your average British (English, in those days) subject. For the African colonies, there had always been slavery one way or another and and it still goes on to some degree; they haven't suffered the same social rupture that America did (although what the rupture they got from colonisation is no gift, either.) So there's my thought for the day.

Did I mention it's raining?

24/11/2006 I am progressing with the new graphics and web development software. Nick now gets a few minutes of peace at a time.

*It's only miserable, not raining, so we try another training session.

Margot and Van-Ly: 1 Martha and Nala: 1

*Van-Ly is doing well, although I did have to stop and untangle her from the Figure 8 she made around two trees. Note to self: Aim for single tree, not pairs. Nala, Nala, Nala. . . With her gagging, dragging, drooling and eyes popping, I'm just afraid I'm going to really hurt her. She's too old, too stubborn and too feeble. Feeble! She's stronger than I am (another reason for caution; do I want to get hurt?) But just you wait, Martha, until I have Van-Ly doing agility! (That exclamation point hurt, didn't it?)

After the exercise, you're supposed to let your dog wander for ten minutes, dragging the training line. After 5 minutes of watching Van-Ly stand still, we came in. Nala, when I took her collar and line off, went to the far end of the field, lay down and pouted at me through the long grass. It's evening now and she's still sleeping, trying to recover. We'll skip this step.

25/11/2006 Back to St. Jean de Losne. Haven't the heart to tackle the whole journey home in one day. Anyway, it's pretty on the canals. And, hey! It didn't start raining until 10 o'clock.

26/11/2006 Home at last! Back to the sunshine and the warm. We stopped to see Pam and David and decided that Parroty would be better off with them. Sob! And crap! But he's happy. He's now called Spiked. Sigh. :-(