When Io Jima died, it was like what they say about a good marriage. I loved her and she was irreplaceable, but I couldn't live without the relationship. Within days, I was searching for another Chow. But not black, I decided. I wanted to be comparing the two as little as possible.
We found Mme. Idé, who had a new litter. Mme. Idé had just started her own kennel, but her parents have been breeding Chows for over 30 years. When she mentioned the father of her bitch, I recognised the Champion from her parents's kennel. We had seen another litter first, but the woman wanted a deposit, sight unseen. Unrefundable. "Is that how it works?" I asked Mme. Idé over the telephone. "Certainly not," she said, "We want to see you first. If you don't like the puppy, we give your deposit back. If you don't like us, we give your deposit back. If we don't like you, we give your deposit back. Ooooh, a test. We went to look.
She sent pictures. I didn't know that Chows are born mink coloured. "Will they stay that way," I asked. "No," said Mme. Idé. Oh, well. Picking a Chow is not like picking another puppy. It goes without saying that they all look alike, but the old chestnut about picking the one that's interested in you does not come into play here. Chows are not interested in you. It's not that they actively object to you; it's more that you're a fall-back when there isn't anything else of interest. Of course, most other things aren't of interest, either. (Hence, the problem with training them.) This is our kind of dog. We all have our own lives.
Well, we wanted a girl. We'd had a girl and Mme. Idé suggested we'd be happier with another one. That eliminated two of the four pups. Of the remaining two, one did seem a bit more adventurous than the other -- she didn't sleep during the entire viewing -- but we wanted one with as open a face as we could get. The judge who'd passed Io Jima for her confirmation had remarked with pleasure on her unwrinkled face, so we figured we'd go along with him. The adventurous puppy had what Mme. Idé referred to as a more "classical" face, so we chose the fourth one.
In France, all pedigreed animals have names starting with the letter decreed for the year. And Chows are generally given Chinese names. Io Jima, supposedly named after a small village or river in northern China that her breeder found on the map, was born in "I." (We've since concluded, since the breeder's memory was pretty sketchy, that she was probably named for the Chinese version of Iwo Jima.) Van-Ly didn't have a name, yet, and the breeder said we could name her, ourselves. Oh, joy! I came home and started poring over books and the internet, only to find that there is no V in Chinese. Sneaky, Mme. Idé, sneaky.
I tried Manchurian. Then I tried Thai. I can't remember what all I tried until -- my memory isn't what it was, you know -- it occurred to me that there must be a V in Vietnamese. So, Van-Ly is Vietnamese for a little morsel of cloud. Which is what she was.