Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Naming the horse.

I just dropped E at the écurie for her weekly lesson. Since January, the girls have been riding at a small stable down the hill: close enough to walk to from home, if only the road they would have to cross didn't have two blind curves and no shoulder. They have leased a horse, which means that someone else owns the horse and they are paying--we are paying--for a weekly ride and private lesson. The girls alternate weeks and, on fine days, they both like to hang around at the stable helping out, grooming the horses, feeding them, moving bales of hay from one corner to another.

One of their favorite pastimes at the stable is taking the miniature ponies for a walk. The stable sits at the end of a dirt road in the valley, surrounded by fields and here and there houses. If you walk down the road a bit from the barns, you can look back and up into the mountains. It's what people mean when they talk about the country.

They'd been going to the stables for a few weeks when they mentioned at supper one night that they'd taken Nazi for a walk that afternoon.

Who? we perked up.

This sweet little pony called Nazi. There followed the kind of description of a miniature pony that only a horse lover can give. When I am confronted with a dozen horses, they all look brown to me. When E and G see the same horses, they see a dozen different shades. I imagine it is not unlike telling identical twins apart. Except since these horses aren't mine, I can't.

A few minutes later the description of Nazi the sweet little pony came to an end. I had spent the time not in listening to whether Nazi's sweet little mane was blond or chestnut but in reviewing what I knew about Sylvie and Gérard, the stables' owners. They hadn't seemed like war criminals, or proto-fascists.

The girls showed signs of moving on from sweet little Nazi to equally detailed descriptions of other horses. I put him in his stall right next to his friend Gold, said G. It was so sweet, they touched muzzles right away.

Gold? we said. Nazi's stall is right beside Gold's? Curiouser and curiouser. Proto-fascists with a sense of humor? What were the girls learning down the hill?

The girls rolled their eyes. It's not Nazi, it's Nazi, E said. Her second a was ever so slightly flatter.

They wouldn't call a horse Nazi, Mama, G chimed in.

We looked at each other, at a loss. Maybe you could spell it, C said.

Nazi. N-u-t-s-y, G said.

Nutsy! we said.

That's what we were saying, they said.

They'd learned the name of the proto-fascist pony from their friend Virginia, who had, in turn, learned it from (perfectly innocent) Sylvie and Gérard. Sylvie and Gérard had called the horse Nutsy, an English word even though they don't speak English, and then had pronounced as French people would. Nootzie. Virginia, in turn, had taken their French pronunciation and put it through her aristocratic English accent: Nautzie. And then along came our girls, who heard Nautzie and, because their forebears came across the waters, their au came out as a flat a. Et voilà: Nazi the pony, who hangs out with his good friend Gold.

We were relieved.

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