Friday, June 29, 2007


I think that I can safely say that most French people are not enamoured of cats. Oh, they might have a cat or two around the place, but the cats are mostly left to themselves to get on with it. No sleeping with a purring kitty in this country, in fact, the cat is lucky be let inside the house and fed with regularity.

Cats are forgotten or ignored creatures, here. If it dies, it's simple to find another one. If it gets sick, wait and see what way will the average Pierre, Paulus, or Harold take a cat and spend money on it at the vet. And when it's time for going on a vacance with the family, which is usually an extended visit to someplace far away, often to the beach or up skiing in the mountains, the family cat is not even considered, and often left to get by as best as it can on it's own. They sometimes do the same with their Grannies, who don't starve to death as the cats do, but end up dying in heatwaves.

Spaying and castrating are an affront not only to the French pocketbook, but what macho Frenchman, or woman, for that matter, would even dream of cutting off and mutilating something that represents sex! Sacré bleu! Even my own wonderful and usually understanding vet felt that he had to comment, when, after what must've been the last straw for him, once the dog and the pony had been done and I asked him to do the cat, "Well, it's easy to see that you are a divorced woman". Forget civic responsibility in this place.

We have no Humane Society for cats in this town, either...the very idea would be laughable. There is a dog one, however, for lost and abandoned dogs. Or rather, there is a man, Mr. Bobois, who takes care of what are mostly lost hunting dogs, until their owners come along and claim them. The dogs stay at a small kennel behind what used to be the local slaughterhouse and is now the hunters' clubhouse. The property belongs to the town, and the Mayor's office is the one that pays for the dogfood.

But it's very difficult to get a dog accepted into this place. I suppose that's because any dog but a hunting dog is difficult to place, and some dogs have stayed there for months befor Mr. Bobois, who has a good heart but a difficult character, has been able to place them into an acceptable family. Of course, he'd probably have more luck with placements if he'd just give them the dog and go...but he tends to come around and check up on things, once a dog has been adopted. Often. Even more often than the local social worker does with problem families, foster care, or human adoptions. So, unless you fall in love with a particular dog in the kennel, it's best to simply ask around for one, as they're easy enough to find, without having to be 'vetted' by Mr. Bobois.

And, if you should happen to find a poor lost little stray dog, don't say anything, just go and dump the thing into the kennel, walk away, and don't look back. Not to worry, the pup be well looked after, once in there. But if you were to call and report finding a dog, well, you'd be given what I seem to remember is called, 'the third degree'. Something akin to being tied to a chair in a dark room, with a bright light shining into your eyes during the inevitable interrogtion. "Are you positive that this isn't your dog? I don't believe that you just 'found' him. Why do you no longer want this dog?"

There's no chance if you find, or want to dump, a cat. And if your cat is silly enough to have had kittens... The French are very close to their money. Oh, they'll spend more than they should on the important things in life, such as good clothes, or excellent food, or wine. But not on pets, and certainly not on cats. If Minou the kitty has kittens, she won't be raising them to the age where they can be given away to good homes, not often at least. Sometimes they'll get to stay two or three weeks, just until they can walk on shaky new legs to the bowl and feed themselves, but mostly they're gotten rid of at birth. Remember the old fairy tales, where kitties were tied up into a bag with a rock and dumped into a river? The french wouldn't even bother with a bag, or take the time to look for a rock. We've been out fishing under a bridge by the side of a lovely river, enjoying our day and catching enough trout to barbecue in the evening, when the day was spoiled by a car stopping on the bridge and a man dumping kitties out of a bag and into the water. He crumpled the bag up and put it into his pocket as he left, no point in wasting what is not given free any longer at the supermarket. To give it it's due, maybe the trout we caught had their suffering, too.

And this killing of kitties is nothing that the people seem to be ashamed of. It comes as a natural and accepted part of the conversation. Our lunch at a fine restaurant was spoiled by the woman at the next table discussing how she simply puts the kitties into a canning jar, fills it with water, and shakes until the deed is done. She went back to eating her garbure soup, full of local richness, with cabbage, beans, vegetables and confited duck heads...but my appetite was gone.

I never went back to that restaurant after the kitties-in-a-canning-jar incident. It was just too sad. It used to be one of our favorite places to go, the food well done and beautifully presented, the prices reasonable. In the summer, they'd bring out the tables to the terrace and lunch would be served outside, under a canopy of plane trees, their branches trained to reach out and hold hands. The meal would always begin with a help-yourself tureen of garbure soup and a platter of assorted marinated vegetable salads and coldcuts. After that would come the main dish of the day, sometimes roast duck or chicken, sometimes delicious hogjowls braised in orange, or a boiled beef and vegetable platter and rocksalt and grainy mustard for dipping, served with even more vegetables and maybe fries or steamed potatoes, too. Then a plain salad of lettuce and vinaigrette...why is it that other people's vinaigrette always tastes better than what you make at home? I've thought to begin a vinaigrette club, where members trade vinaigrettes among each other, in order to have a change of taste, rather than the standard, same-old-thing that we each make at home.

After the salad, the choice is yours for dessert, all homemade by Francis, in their own kitchen. Open-faced apple tart, real fruit sorbets with the thinest and crispiest of spiced wafers, warm strawberries and cream on a pastry disc, creme brulée with a burnt caramel top and chilled raspberries and cream underneath, a fresh fruit salad presented like a fancy ladies' hat, with spun sugar wrapped around it, tiny choux buns filled with pastry cream and laced with chocolate sauce...and then tiny cups of hot, black, very strong coffee. I tried for years to get served my coffee with dessert, but Annabel, the English-speaking waitress who'd been to California, always told me firmly, "You are in France, now, and you'll do it our way!"

. She could be quite firm, could Annabel...I remember one time, when the restaurant was packed solid, with the daily special being roast duck. We always had too much to eat to begin with, after the soup and the crudites, and there was usually enough left over to ask for a doggy bag for the meat (not generally done in France, but as I said, Annabel had spent some time in California, so I was 'allowed' this, if not coffee with dessert). This time, Annabel said to me, as she was taking the plates away, "Sorry, but I'll do you a doggy bag next time, as we are a bit short in the kitchen, and need more roast duck.". As I said, the French are very tight with their money.

1 comment:

Kikue said...

Testing this... Oh, ok... looks like I'll be able to comment here. Whooopeee! I'm just now starting to read your stuff.