Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tidy Dogs

Dogs in France lead a charmed life. They travel freely with their people--when driving, I routinely pass cars where the front passenger seat is occupied by a dog--and wander the streets of villages with impunity, napping in sunny spots, cruising the floors of the café for dropped morcels. The farmer from whom I buy vegetables on Friday morning at the Valbonne market brings his Jack Russell terrier. The farmer is costaud, burly, sturdy, somewhere in his 40s or 50s, with a thatch of greying dark hair and twinkly eyes. He presides over a long table holding his blettes, carrots, pommes de terre, radishes, lettuces and poireaux, and his dog sleeps on a cushion in an old vegetable box under the far end of the table. They drive over from their farm in the Var, an hour or so away. I imagine that the Jack Russell rides in the truck with his paws up on the dashboard.

Almost every village has, in addition to its boulangerie, epicerie, boucherie, presse, pharmacie, tourist shops and swimming pool maintenance company, a dog groomer. In French, it's called toilettage de chiens. Faire la toilette, to make one's toilette, used to mean to get dressed and combed and powdered, contact lenses in, hair dried, ready for the day. There was hiccup in the language, though, and toilette went from being an elegant, Frenchy way of talking in English about getting dressed to being a giggly seventh-grade boy word. But in France it retains its original meaning, and not just for people but for their canine friends.

The universal human predilection for cute names that produces American beauty parlors called Curl Up and Dye results, in France, in toilettage de chiens parlors with names that make you call up a friend and tell her what you just saw. One near C's office is called Tout Doux (pronounced Too Doo), All Sweet. Up the hill is one called Quatre Pattes (Cat Pat), Four Paws. The one where we've taken Wendy and Alice is called Mon Bel Ami, (My Handsome Friend), and Madame's business cards states that she is passionnée pour les Schnauzers. Her own very handsome and well-groomed schnauzer presides over the shop, which is papered with photos cut from magazines of prize-winning schnauzers.

Someone has started a business locally, it seems, doing travelling toilettage. She'll come to your house by appointment for dog grooming. There were several businesses like this in our American city: dog groomers, yes, but also pick up and drop off dry cleaning, groceries, and that old favorite restaurant delivery. Here, not so much. You drop off and pick up your own dry cleaning, do your own grocery shopping with your own grocery bags, and restaurants--well, aside from the pizza trucks that show up in parking lots at dusk, the notion of take-out dinner, much less delivered dinner, is pretty alien. So toilettage at home is an exception to the rule.

The enterprising toilettrice has tacked signs up on notice boards and in bakeries advertising her services. The signs are fairly small--a little more than half a sheet of typing paper--and feature, in the center, a photograph of a well-groomed Shih-Tzu, turning up its snub nose at the camera, proud of the pink bow on its head. Under the photo, phone numbers and so forth. Over the photo, in loopy pink letters (to match the bow), the name of the toilettage company. Here, another hiccup: toilette went over to English and turned into toilet, which, in French, is a w.c. But if you really want to sound clever, in any language, isn't the surest thing to use foreign words? Alors, madame la toilettrice has given her business the cleverest name she could think of, a name that evokes both Hollywood glamour and hip familiarity. It's Star Toilet. Guaranteed to catch the eye.

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