Category: Animal Fiction


Chapter 9 Je Parle Fran(ais

The clues are all there: colored fliers strewn around the table, folding chair by the door, two small suitcases packed and ready with the camera sitting on top, funny money in an envelope and the address book with both passports sticking out. It’s time for walk-a-bout.
It’s the vacation within a vacation. The car has been washed, I have been washed and Mamoo has washed her hair. I don’t know why she has to wash her hair before we start out on one of these treks, but it’s a sure give-away. There is a large sack of my food going in the trunk so we must be going for a while. No clues to where; I will let myself be surprised.
It’s always dark when we leave and the lights are on in the front of the car. My box of TimBits and hot black coffee for the driver are on the front seat. I bark the windows down and take a deep breath to try to get in all the farm smells. Those big purple flower bushes are magnificent; I can pick them out from a mile away.
Some of the farmers in Canada still farm the old way using horses or mules. The odor of a mule is very distinctive and hard to find anymore ñ it’s a wet, mineral earth smell without that gagging gasoline vapor. Watching those bearded men harrowing behind those big suckers is an awesome experience.
I sleep through the noise from the big, long, roaring trucks, which pollute the wide highways with their fumes. It’s nerve-racking to try to take a long leak in the face of the wind they generate. Even at the rest areas I see them, lined up one after the other. Monsters. This is one of the few times on the road I bark the windows up. Mamoo likes fresh air in the car and I like air conditioning, therefore, I have to bark longer and louder to make the windows work the way I want.
I can usually smell destinations long before I can see them, but this new place I could hear before I could smell it: a roaring like I have never heard before. Miles of it. Then I detected a wonderful watery feel in the atmosphere and the odor of chemicals and water, a river way below; high power lines crossing from massive buildings and huge wheels spinning creating heat and light. The roaring got louder but I could not smell any fear on Mamoo. She gave me a reassuring pat and said it would be OK.
The closer we got, the harder it was to see because a stone fence was tantalizingly close to my line of vision. We parked and walked to a break in the fence where water was pouring over a wall. Actually, it was two walls with all the water in the world spilling over with the sound of thunder. The splash of it filled the place beneath with mist that rose up to mix with the sun to make a colored sash across the abyss.
There was no Days Inn but Mamoo found a suitable motel anyway. After it was dark, we walked to the Falls. From the other side, beams of light turned the water blue, then green, and then white. I never saw that much water before in my life; it must be the main faucet for the whole world. It's turned RED. Everything turned RED.. OUTSTANDING!
The next morning I got in a few squirrel chases. There was no chance of my jumping in this water. On the ride out of town we could see the way the river ran wildly over the rocks until it reached the ledge and dropped off to make the spectacle of the flying water. Mamoo said that Niagara is a wonder of the world. Is it a wonder of my world? Now that I am a travelling dog, I wonder how big my world is? How far does the road go?
We sped through the biggest city I had ever seen. It was filled with honking taxis and buildings that hurt your neck to see the tops. Flashing billboards proclaiming Toronto to be the home of the Blue Jays appeared over a gigantic dome shaped building with a towering spire piercing the sky. Thousands of cars ran five lanes beside us thinning out as we sped through flat countryside until we stopped for lunch at a gigantic apple. There it was high in the air, a big, red one. Now apples are not on my list of best eating, but you had to respect the size of this one. The deer and llama that lived behind the fence there said it was made of some kind of plastic and was not to eat.
“They make apple pies in there,” said the llama. “I never thought I could get tired of it but there it is morning, noon and night; apple cake, apple pie and apple Danish. Just once I’d like an oatbran muffin.”
I can't understand them. Mamoo bought some goodies there and changed my mind about apples. I would love to have apple stuff all the time. We crossed the border into another country and this time they spoke differently. I had to hear with my mind instead of with my ears. Mamoo said it was a frog festival, which sounded like fun. I like frog legs. But it was another one of those Fourth of July celebrations they call something else - this time, Saint Jean Baptiste Day.
The Frenchies were having a wonderful time in the park across from the Journey’s End (that’s like a Days up here). Loud noises went off and bursting lights turned the sky bright with sparkling, then dying, stars. The noise was frightening but Mamoo was having a good time trying to gargle like a frog.
Everyone wanted to know us and gave us bottles of red, sour wine to drink. I passed on it but Mamoo didn’t. By the time we went to bed, she was feeling no pain. How we ever got up the elevator I'll never know. She wasn’t in such a good mood the next morning and we didn’t get an early start either. She said she was hung over. Over what?
I saw plenty of frogs in the Rose Lac (that stands for Pink Lake). Plenty of no swimming signs, also. I found out why when I fell in the water. It was a bottomless lake. The sides went straight down seemingly forever with nothing to push against. I was pretty glad when Mamoo reached down and gave me a pull. I spent the rest of the time there chasing butterflies and sniffing through the forest. We walked to the house where one of the prime ministers of Canada had lived. But we could only walk the grounds outside, because they don’t like dogs in this country. Mamoo said not to feel too hurt, since they didn’t seem to like outsiders of any kind. I left them a reminder in the bushes anyway.
Everywhere we stopped to feed the car or get a candy wrapper, these people gargled when they talked. I knew what they were thinking even though I couldn't understand what they said.
Mamoo is catching on though. She asked for “une chambre du lit” and we got a room in the Journey’s Inn. She asked for “Pommes Frites” and we got French-fried potatoes. Isn’t Mamoo smart?
But she can’t take directions too well. We got lost in Montre(al. The streets are called rues and all look alike. The grey, three-decker houses are very old and glued together - long avenues of them. The people on St. Catherine’s Street have golden skin and black, almond-shaped eyes. They are loaded with parcels and have cameras hanging from their necks.
The street to Mamoo’s old school, McGill University, goes up a steep hill, up to the park, winding around to the top. It was raining slightly and there were only a few people there. I got a good run-around, sniffing out the local stuff. The usual.
Then Mamoo had to go to the people-potty. Now that was a feat. She wouldn’t leave me alone outside in the park or tied up to a tree. I can tell you the two of us couldn’t fit into such a small space.
“Move your butt, Sam. Maybe I can squeeze around you.”
She finally gave it up and tied me to the stall door while she went inside. I could see her feet under the door. Then a lady dashed in, saw me and dashed right out again. Pretty soon the parc warden was there gargling at us.
“Wait a minute, I’ll be right out.” Mamoo was getting vexed. I know how she feels. There are some things you can’t hurry.
It was still raining the next day when we arrived at an enormous church, Ste. Anne de Beaupres that people go to pray for cures for ailments and broken legs. Mamoo said I didn’t need to go inside because all dogs go to heaven. She sat on a bench and looked up at the golden statue that sat on the top of the huge stone building. People walked by us to go inside and pray to Saint Anne who lives there. I didn’t see any dogs; I guessed we were not allowed. But I fooled them; I prayed in my own way.
The road we were travelling on went all along the Saint Lawrence River (the people of Quebec name a lot of places after saints). The houses are built to allow the windows to look out over this river. These people don't have gardens and only a few trees around their houses. The fog was so heavy you could barely see the river as we turned up into the mountains, (the top of the world, it seemed to me at the time).
The clouds were dark and ominous, ready to sweep their contents across the narrow strip of pavement we were driving on. We saw more places where water falls off cliffs but never quite like the big one. The noise from the clouds was worse than usual because it echoed through the mountain passes, and was coming from all directions. There weren’t even any broad vistas to be seen from high above, but there were lakes and streams surrounded by pine trees.
The Journey’s End Motel was a welcome sight, as was the sign of the golden arches where we made a pit stop. I helped Mamoo check into the motel and the lady at the front desk came and hugged me and gargled at me awhile. There were nice little sandwiches made of cheese and sausage on a tray, and I thanked her profusely for them. I knew she liked dogs by the way she carried on over me. Of course, who wouldn’t?
We stopped to look at a small farm close to the motel, overlooking the river with the most beautiful grass I have ever seen. The fields looked like they had been carpeted with astro turf (that fake grass used in indoor places to make them look like outdoor places). I’m not allowed to go on it, however, because the men who hit the little balls with sticks don’t like dogs. We watched them for a while. They weren’t very good at it. The balls kept falling in the small ponds and tiny holes here and there.
That night I went with Mamoo to a ëspectacle’ in La Baie, a small river town not too far from where we were staying. Of course, I wasn’t allowed inside, but we spent time behind the building where we saw the actors who play in this historical pageant. We also saw mammoth percherons with fancy saddles, western cutting horses, cows and even pigs. No dogs though. I think they must be afraid we would steal the scenes.
The soldier outfits and the Indian regalia used in the pageant were amazing.
“We come to this every year all the way from Calgary where the Stampede Rodeo happens,” the big roan horse explained. “That’s when all the horses, bucking bulls and cowboys get to show off. We don’t do that kind of show here, we simply get on a raised platform under hot bright lights and chase around like crazy.” It sounds like fun to me.
“Explain it again. I still don’t understand exactly what all of you are doing up on a platform,”
“We are actors in an historical pageant and the story is the history of Quebec told from the French side,” he responded. “Thousands of people are sitting in chairs in a huge barn watching us do our stuff. Us Western-cutting horses carry riders dressed in old style uniforms. Then they fight a make-believe war on horseback while wielding sabers and shooting off cannons. It is loud and nerve-racking which is why the organizers call for us to come from far away. We are the best.”
“Don't forget us,” said the cutest, little pink pig you ever saw. “We pigs, along with the cattle and sheep, make the barn scenes realistic. When we are on the stage there is a pretend fire and snowstorm that even has us wondering.”
Wow, I thought, that must be quite a sight. “What do you do it for?”
“Because everybody shouts and applauds us after it is over. It has to be the best feeling one can get,” they said.
Now I really wanted to see it. With this crazy crowd, surely they wouldn’t notice me. Mamoo said no, and that was that. She came out earlier than anyone else anyway. “Too much French for me. Gives me a headache,” she groaned.
On our way back home we went through the mountains, Montre(al, Hull, then crossed the river to get back into Canada. We saw it all. We didn’t stop until we arrived at a motel in North Bay located on the lake. I’ve been there before and I like to take long walks with Mamoo on the beach. The water is cold and very tasty.
The next stop on our trip is Nancy’s home on Manitoulin Island. This is the best. It is a farm with the most interesting spots. The house has an assortment of clutter that entertains Mamoo and a pond with a beaver that entertains me. Nancy wants me to do something about the beaver because it is building a dam in the wrong place and bothering her water supply. When a human says, “do something about...” she means kill it. I certainly wanted to oblige my hostess; it is only good manners.
When it got dark I sniffed down to the pond and there he was-diving down and climbing over the mass of branches and twigs he had gleaned from the forest brush. He was a big, brown sucker, with a slick, wet pelt and large, webbed feet- not quite like a duck’s-but you get the picture. The moon was out; there weren't any excuses for what happened next. After I chased him around the pond trying to reach him and missing him by a hair as he pulled back into the water, I lost my temper. Yessir! I did. In the fury of my feelings I jumped into the pond. Big mistake! Had I been a water dog, it probably would have worked. Not me. I don’t swim well. In fact, I don’t do it at all. The beaver could out-swim me for sure and in the water he got bigger as did his teeth. He swam around and around me, wearing me out. But more to the point, the pond was deep. The best I could do under the circumstances was to claw at the dam, digging at it with my paws and teeth until I could pull it apart and let the spring water flow free. Get the beaver I couldn’t because I couldn’t follow him to his home under the water.
I slunk home to Nancy, a defeated hunting dog. A loser. Depressing. On top of that, her sixteen-year-old cat, Love, attacked me on the way to my room. We had a good fight and, by God, she won. This has not been my week for water tricks. I slept like a rock in Mamoo’s bed that night.
The next day, we visited some Indian friends at the reservation. I stayed in the car while Mamoo went inside to look at pictures. That’s when I met an Indian dog. We really got into it. He called me a nigger and I called him a squaw. He was clawing at the car, trying to get to me and I was reaching my face out of the window, trying to get at the soft part of his neck. I would have shaken that ole yaller dog until his teeth rattled if I had been able to get to him.
Nancy and Mamoo got back to the car as we were really getting into our best insults. He taught me some words I had never heard before -- all involving my mother. He chased the car all the way to the end of the road, threatening dire consequences if I ever showed my face again. I thought about all the things I wish I had said.
Next a ferryboat carried us across Georgian Bay to the mainland. Yes ma’am, we drove Mamoo’s big car right into the boat’s huge belly along with hundreds of others. I can’t tell you much about the boat ride because I spent the time curled up in the back seat. Mamoo left me there because the stairs were too hard for animals to manage.
“I will be back with treats when it’s time to get off,” she reassured me. The boat rolled and groaned while I napped but it was a nice, easy sway. Not jerky or shaky. Then there was a grating, tearing sound, a big bump and we were there. We had landed.
After a pit stop we were out in the sunshine again and on our way home. We stopped for a picnic lunch and a visit to a camel farm as we drove down the Bruce peninsula. Those camels were a real trip; you ought to see the size of their feet. Three enormous toes they pick up and plop down, and they have big lips and eyes.
“And who are you, you loathsome, black, furry nothing?” one of them asked me.
I gave a really good growl. Nothing; no response at all. They wouldn’t talk to me. Very haughty and stuck up. I wondered if they would be as stuck up if they could smell themselves. Whew! I could pick them out in a crowd of skunks.
Mamoo sure loves to tear up the back roads. She lead-foots the pedal and we fly down those roads, leaving clouds of dust behind us. She has to stop at a railroad while the train swooshes through, and then refuels herself on nacho corn chips. Those are my favorites too. I must have a stomach of iron.
We roll into Mornington Street and make the right into our driveway. Nothing's changed except us. We’ve been there and back, seen and been seen. We learned what we set out to learn and I can even say Bon Soir. The truth is that now we are home I can say that beaver is not my favorite fur.

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