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my new french teacher is a bitch


Professor Iota

Up until now, the only person I felt comfortable conversing entirely in French with was my cat.

I babble away endlessly and she never corrects me, never judges, always understands.   However, like me, her primary language is English, so it’s really not much of a challenge and I’m probably not learning much.


Romain, Iota, Vlad

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely, young French whippet.   Her name is Iota (pronounced e-yoh-ta, almost like “Yoda” with a “t” instead of “d”). She’s the daughter of my friends Romain and Vlad who are Belgian and French.   French is Iota’s mother tongue, so to speak, but being only seven months old, she’s still learning.

She impressed me immediately with her intelligence.   When Romain told her to assis, she sat.   And when he told her to debout, she stood up (and I learned a new word!).

Turns out, our French skills are very similar (okay, she’s a little better than I am).   We both know some words, but neither of us can conjugate or string together a sentence to save our lives.

While I’m still not good enough to confidently conduct an intelligent conversation in French with French humans, I think I’m ready to graduate from English speaking cat to French speaking dog.  The beauty of dogs is they totally live in the present, so I won’t have to deal with that pesky conjugation problem.

Today is our first session.  I’m taking her for a walk.

iota bisousI release her from her bedroom and she bursts out, happy to see me.   After the obligatory bisous are exchanged, I nervously speak.

“Bonjour Iota, Ca va?   Oui, tres bien!   Tres, tres bien!   Tres, tres, TRES bien!   Ou’est la…. Hmmm, quel est le mot pour “leash” en Francais?”

She’s too excited to answer, but she doesn’t roll her eyes or snigger at my accent. I consider that a minor victory.   I find her leash, attach it to her collar and she pulls me out the door.   This is going to be a piece of cake.

When we get to the sidewalk, I start to worry. Do I address Iota in the formal or familiar.? Do I tell her to viens, or venez? I don’t want to offend her right off the bat.   She’s pedigreed, so perhaps she demands formality.

As a rule, I always assume a certain level of familiarity with anyone who has already licked my face, so I opt for viens.  She seems okay with it.   On the other hand, she doesn’t viens, either. In fact, she kind of ignores me in favor of the much more interesting cigarette butt she finds on the grass. I chalk her reaction up to being French.

I speak to her sternly.


She looks at me and puts down the cigarette.   Ahhhhh, communication!

I pet her lavishly and shower her with compliments.

“C’est bien.   C’est tres, tres, tres bien.   Tu est une tres, tres bonne chien!”

She’s proud and very excited to be acknowledged.  I’m thrilled at the effortless exchange and meeting of the minds.

We walk along the beach, Iota occasionally pulling me towards bushes, picnics, cigarette butts and where ever the possibility of treasure lies.   When she does, I’m no longer afraid to speak my mind.

“Pas tirer!”

She slows down and walks with me.   Success!   I’m starting to feel like the dog whisperer…The FRENCH dog whisperer!

I’m not saying there isn’t the occasional language barrier. At one point, no amount of “NONs” and “pas tirers” can stop her from dragging me off towards a family picnic, forcing me to converse with actual French humans. But even this turns out to be a positive–it gives me the opportunity to try out a whole new French phrase: “Monsieur, je suis tres desole que ma chien a mange votre repas.”

After we say our au revoirs, I walk home alone along the ramparts. I’m feeling pretty good about my afternoon with Iota.   It was a lovely walk and I think it was tres beneficial.  Unlike my last French teacher, she doesn’t make me feel stupid.  I’m not living in dread of the next time I see her.   I’m looking forward to it.

I light a cigarette and look out over the bay at Nice and Cap Ferrat.   A child shrieks and shouts “NON” in the distance.   I reflexively drop my cigarette.

See?   I already learned something!

french laundry

Everyone in France seems to have a washing machine.   I’ve seen them in people’s homes.   I even have one with a scary Hannibal Lecter looking latch contraption.  But from what I can tell, nobody has a dryer.   Nobody.

In every village I’ve ever been, laundry is hanging out to dry outside their windows.   Bras, underwear, socks, sheets, you name it.   It’s kind of picturesque.  They remind me of colorful flags fluttering against a 
backdrop of shutters and houses.   They can add a touch of pizazz to a dull wall or facade.  I particularly like the households with babies, because the multitude of tiny socks hanging out to dry resemble the mobiles that are often placed over cribs (without the tinkling music, just an occasional chirping bird).

I’m told that it’s okay to hang out clothes in plain sight if you live in a maison de ville (“downtown”), but if you live in a detached home away from the town center where it wouldn’t be noticeable, it’s actually illegal.   Like so many laws, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  I suppose it varies from town to town.

I often worry that the pigeons who live under the eaves of these homes leave deposits on the clothes and sheets, but apparently nobody else seems to be concerned about it.   Do they have dryers in Paris?   I rarely see clothes hanging out in the street there.   What if it rains for weeks on end?   What do you do if a slug or snail leaves a trail on your clothes?

Rumor has it, clothes that are line dried smell fresher and cleaner than those that are put through the drying cycle.  I suppose they take on the smells in the air, which at this time of year is scented with wisteria, lilacs lavender and jasmine.  One of these days I’ll have to do some laundry and find out for myself.

you say la tomate, I say le tomate

If I’m to believe Carole and the guy I buy fruit and vegetables from at the market, my French is improving. I definitely understand more. And I’ve been able to have deep discussions with the owner of the grocery store about which cookies ont meilleux et pourquoi.

I’m learning that if you put something French sounding at the end of every English word you don’t know the French word for, 75% of the time, you’ll be right. Examples: publicity=publicite (publeeceetay); geriatric=geriatrique (geriatreek); totally=totalement (totalmon). Every now and then there’s an exception to that rule, and instead you put something French sounding in front of it. Examples: weekend=le weekend; internet=le internet.

I’ve also become better at looking like I understand. People can go on for paragraphs before realizing I don’t understand what they’re saying. And by then, I can usually pick out a few words and piece it together. Of course, when I can’t piece it together and am forced,  after someone has rambled on for two paragraphs to say “je ne comprends pas”, they look at me like I’m crazy for not stopping them sooner. Some of them walk away grumbling under their breath, but fortunately, I usually can’t understand them.

I’ve also learned the French stall word. In the US, we have “like” or “uh”. Here, it’s “errrr”, which sounds much smarter than the US versions. Especially if you do it with that subtle roll at the back of your throat and let the rrrrrs roll into your next real word.

The conjugation thing is still a problem. I can only manage the simplest tenses (okay, my repertoire is still pretty much present tense, but that’s  true for me in English too). I’m sure I sound like some stupider version of I Dream of Jeannie to the French. Is it possible to sound stupider than I Dream of Jeannie?

But here’s the thing that really trips me up: every time I think I’ve got all the nouns and adjectives right and the verbs conjugated correctly, I un when I should une or le when I should la. What is with this focus on whether a noun is masculine or feminine? Yes, I’m suffering from acute gender confusion.

Back in the good old U S of A, nouns are just nouns. We don’t care if a pastry, domesticated animal, potato, or an illegal war based on lies is a boy or a girl, to us, it’s just pastry, domesticated animal, potato, or an illegal war based on lies. I firmly believe nouns should not be discriminated against. Well, that’s what I tell Carole when I screw up (“le…la…c’est sexiste!”)

But there’s something really dodgy about labeling all nouns either masculine or feminine.

When I ask how they know whether every word is masculine of feminine, they answer cryptically that they know it en couer (by heart). The implication is that it’s some sort of innate thing. Maybe masculinizing and feminizing things is in the human DNA, a part of the common consciousness.. Maybe the French are just more in touch with it. If I just tap into the part of me that’s plugged into the pulse of mankind maybe the right words will instinctively blurt from my mouth. The problem is I’m not sure if I can still speak when I’m that drunk.

There’s no rhyme or reason to what’s designated masculine or feminine. Baguette and saucisson are both feminine, but I think the French must be mistaken. Look at them—they’re totally masculine. And tampon is masculine. Go figure. I guess I could make a case for that one if I really thought about it, but I’d rather not.

I’m starting suspect that in real life, the French don’t really gender discriminate their words. They only do it when we’re around. It’s just a passive aggressive trick they established to retain a small sense of superiority after we saved their derrieres in WW2. When we say “le baguette”, they correct us and tell us it’s “la”. When we say la baguette, they tell us it’s le. We wind up confused, frustrated and totally helpless. Just the way they want us.

When Carole informs me that chat is masculine, unless le chat est une chatte comme Desdemona, I float my theory past her (in French, of course). She seems impressed that I am able to communicate a fairly complex thought in French. She thinks about it for a moment, smiles and corrects me.

It’s LA deuxieme guerre de LE monde.

Zut! Je ce rende!


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bridging cultural chasms

The other day when I was watering the yard, the neighbors were coming home. We smiled said bonjour and I returned to my watering. I nearly jumped out of my skin when the husband said “I have a question.” I think this is the first complete sentence I’ve ever heard in Auvers, except for Henri and Alan when they were here. He invited me for drinks. I accepted and I have both looked forward to and dreaded this day arriving.

I don’t know why I’m so fearful of the language barrier thing. I’ve spent time with Japanese people who don’t speak English, dined with Italians who don’t speak English, had drinks with Dutch people who don’t speak English, Americans who don’t speak English, and always had a perfectly good time. Nonetheless, I’m nervous as I walk up there with a lovely, hand-picked, hand- arranged bouquet of flowers.

Okay, flowers and weeds. But in the weeds’ defense, they would have cost at least $6.00 in the US. Maybe they’ll think it refreshingly humble for an American to bring something personally crafted. Or that I’m a cheap bitch. It’s a huge responsibility going next door for drinks. I represent America. The Lubattis don’t count because they’re American, but also French. They speak French, they have roots here (not the kind of roots I have). They know how to behave.

So much to worry about. Will there be cheek kissing? If so, how many times does one kiss each cheek? And are you actually supposed to kiss the cheek or do an air kiss thing? Chhhhhhh. Merchk –ci. Je pouvais. Je pouvons. How long am I supposed to stay? I suppose I’ll have to drink something. What should I drink? Should I have brought wine? Will there be food? What the hell are their names?

Within minutes, Carole and I are planning to meet on Wednesdays so she can help me learn French and I can help her learn English. If this doesn’t improve my French, I’m afraid my one remaining hope is enrolling in French kindergarten and learning it the way children do.

There are important things I learn at this meeting that need to be shared in order to help bring about an understanding between our two cultures. For example, I learn that the women in the bakery don’t hate ME, they’re like that to everyone. The French don’t curse like we do. When we say “merde” as a curse, we don’t sound French. We sound like Americans trying to sound French. The French equivalent is of our “C” word is probably “putain” which sounds like it’s got a lot more syllables when pronounced correctly (kind of like (pchkwuuuueeeeetaeeeen. When Carole says it, it sounds really vile…like the worst thing in the world you can say. If someone called your mother that, you’d have to punch their lights out (or at least give them a good head butt in the solar plexis). When I say it it sounds like Porky Pig. The French often feel uncomfortable in America because there are signs everywhere telling people not to do things. I’m sure 75% of that is the no-smoking signs everywhere.

Jerome and Carole also float a theory as to why so many Americans are perceived as arrogant and narrow. Europeans are constantly exposed to different cultures because there are so many different little countries so close together. Americans, not so much. Americans is huge and homogenous for the most part. the limits of what we’re exposed to as a result of our size is what makes us come off how you say, xenophobic. I never really thought about it, but that makes sense. I also give them credit for giving more thought to justify our being assholes than we do. And nothing creates a warmer bond than a mutual hatred for German tourists. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

On a practical level, I learn that a Kir is quite refreshing and makes me feel much happier than a diet coke does.

After about two hours of pleasant conversation, I feel we have made vast inroads mending the French/American relationship. I also feel like I’m making friends with the neighbors. I thank them very much for having me. They thank me for coming and for the flowers, c’est tres jolie. And I say je vois vois en mercredi. She says haltingly “at six o clock.” I leave feeling really good about the whole thing. Like maybe I will learn French. And make French friends. And feel like I really live here (if only when I have to leave/shoot myself in a field.)

This is a critical step in breaking down walls and stereotypes and re-establishing that deep friendship between France and America that seems all but lost these day of ruthless political expediency. Maybe we can live side by side again as brothers and sisters. Maybe I’ll even have someone to feed my kitties when I go to Croatia! This is promising. But wait, I hear Carole say something to Jerome that’s too fast for me to make out and they laugh….Did that French snob just call me a “pchkwuuuueeeeetaeeeen?”


international political summit (in which Carole and I discuss global politics in the others’ language).  A comedy.

impressionist and other works of art

Since my hair is now as colorful as a Van Gogh (especially the roots), I decide it’s a good time to go into Paris and re-visit the Musee D’Orsay with new perspective.

I catch my favorite train from Auvers transferring in Valmondois which travels through the beautiful countryside into what I imagine is the riot ravaged section of North Paris into Gare du Nord. I bravely decide to take the metro to the Musee D’Orsay despite the fact that I know all metros are under terrorist threat. Somehow, the Paris metro is so much more civilized than the New York subway I let down my guard and forget to be afraid. My fellow passengers and I survive.

I get off at St. Germain and prompty walk in the wrong direction. When I reach the Odeon, I realize my mistake and backtrack, passing a gazillion gorgeous food stores. At least I know if I get lost I can follow the trail of my drool back the way I came. I resist the urge to enter and continue past the fashion boutiques (also drool inducing) and down the Rue Jacob past the small galleries until I reach the Musee. The line is virtually non-existant and I’m inside in a flash.

It’s a beautiful museum, a converted railway station, with art instead of bums. I head straight for the impressionists, trying not to notice the art lovers critiquing my hair.

The first room alone is more impressive than MOMA and the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam by a long shot. And it keeps going. Rooms of impressionist paintings, many of which are scenes that looks strikingly familiar, maybe because so many were painted in the Val d’Oise. Pissarro, Corot, Sisley, Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne and Van Gogh are well represented. There are numeous paintings done in Auvers, I notice with pride (as if I had something to do with it). Views of Pontoise, Argentueil, Sannois, the Oise, Chaponval are as plentiful as if I were at the Chateau Auvers looking down on the valley. And not all that different.

I like Renoir more than I remember and Monet less (although I’m still fascinated by his series of the views of the cathedral in changing light). I still think Pisarro is underrated and feel my rage rising at the injustice of it.

But I’m immediately soothed by the room of Van Goghs. He may have been a douche and a drama queen, but man, I love his paintings. They’re brighter and more striking than I remember. I can’t keep my eyes off the picture of that quack Dr. Gachet and can almost understand why that Japanese industrialist who bought one of the two portraits Van Gogh painted of him wanted to be buried with it. Dr. Gachet looks depressed. His hair is very red. I wonder he went to the same hair salon in town that I did.

I can’t help noticing the scarcity of English speaking people here in the Museum. Where are they? Are they boycotting France because of our refusal to take part in the Iraq war? Whatever it is, I’m grateful, as the museum is uncrowded and pleasant.

Until I go to the ladies room and realize, this must be where the Americans have been hiding. The line here is longer than the line into the museum and virtually everyone in line is an American. Maybe we have smaller bladders than the French?

Only one of the two stalls has toilet paper and rather than take toilet paper from another stall when it’s empty, the women in line choose to wait for the stall with toilet paper to become available, which doubles their wait time. When a woman leaves that stall, I cut ahead to take some toilet paper and go into the free one. The women act as though I’ve just invented the paper clip or something. I begin to understand why the US is no longer a center of innovation any more.

Once I’ve finished my business I take a look at a pre-impressionist work of art—Paris itself. The view from the D’Orsay balcony is spectacular, even when it’s overcast.

By now it’s almost 3:00 and time to wander over to the Place de Madeline and Opera, which I haven’t seen since I floated by in the 80’s high on painkillers from a tooth infection (I have searched vainly for whatever that painkiller was ever since). I walk through the Tuilleries and up the Rue de Fauborg Honore to the Opera. It’s as impressive to me now without narcotics as it was while under the influence.

Then, I don’t know what possesses me, maybe a narcotic flashback, I walk to the Boulevard Haussman to Galleries Lafayette. I recommend this neighborhood to anyone homesick for New York. Here English is more prevalent than French. And I experience the pushing and shoving I’ve so missed. I hate it and rush out. Until I remember that the food hall is supposed to be an epicurian oasis.

I’m not disappointed. It’s the Musee D’Orsay of food. And it’s not nearly as crowded as the rest of the store…in fact it’s downright pleasant.

This place makes Eli’s in New York (the best and most overpriced food emporium in NYC) look like Safeway, except the prices of course, which are high, but still comparatively reasonable. The options are infinitely more mindboggling than Eli’s (which only boggled my mind with the prices). There are all sorts of prepared foods to take out, or eat at little counters set up at each section. There’s the Italian deli section, the Petrossean section, the tapas section, the dim sum section, the meze section (the take out meze platters are so beautiful, I consider them to be art on par with a Van Gogh), the Indian section, the oyster section. There’s also fresh produce, meat, seafood, bakery, candy and grocery sections that includes everything I’ve ever craved and some things I’ve never imagined to crave but will start immediately.

My budget allows me a smoked salmon on blini sandwich for 4 Euros which is tasty, but leaves me longing for more. I take one last slow, tortured lap and decide I better leave before I find my credit card buried in my bag and create a deficit at the dim sum counter that’s bigger than the US debt to China.

The train ride back to Auvers is uneventful. I watch the countryside go by now with the eyes of an artist—the slashes of green, gold, and red of the passing fields as vibrant as the tabouli salad at galleries Lafayette.

Once again, I feel a kinship with Van Gogh, despite my desire not to. I stop at the grocery store on the way home and linger over the wine section since absinthe is no longer legal. I decide against buying a bottle, since like Van Gogh, I’m short on cash. What would Van Gogh do? It seems I have two choices. One involves cutting, the other painting.

I head back home to paint my hair.

the rock stars of auvers

vWhere I come from, people stand in line for celebrities and iPhones.

Here in Auvers, it appears the most wanted men are the butchers.   On Sunday mornings before they close for their weekend, the line stretches down the main drag.

J.Y. Gicquel Boucherie  comes highly recommended by the Ladoux family.   I’ve been a little hesitant to venture in there because it will require speaking French and I shudder to think what adorable forest creature I might wind up taking home for dinner.   I’m also not sure whether those numbers before the decimal point in their prices, are ones or sevens and whether we’re talking francs or euros and I’m afraid I can’t afford it if I have to ask.

I’m feeling a little lazy tonight and have decided that my lack of energy is due to a protein deficiency and I need a good piece of red meat.   Preferably something someone who’s lived on takeout for the past 20 years can cook.

butcher window

I’m a little nervous entering, the vibe here is a lot friendlier than the boulanger down the street, where I feel I must apologize when I enter, again when I order and one more time when I pay.   Sometimes I apologize when I leave for good measure.

It’s not like I’m a total stranger here.  I wave to them every time I walk by and they wave back.  There are usually two butchers; a younger one with a roundish face and receeding hairline and an older guy with salt and pepper hair and a nice northern european face.  They may be wearing bloody aprons, but here, they’re captains of industry.   A woman mans the prepared foods counter (quiche, Frenchy salads, things en croute and terrines with hardboiled eggs in them) and cash register.

A couple of people are ahead of me which gives me time to get my bearings and look at all the meats behind the counter and try to figure out what they are so I can point knowledgably.   There are about 7 different kinds of chicken shaped items in various sizes.  Lots of fillets of chicken colored objects of various sizes,  slabs of red unrecognizable red meats.   Lots of unrecognizable parts.   Sausage galore.   Chops.   Ribs.   Rabbits.   Geese.   I’m getting a little sad and consider fleeing or at least turning to the deli counter, but it’s my turn.Meat Question

Here are the french words for meats I know I’ll eat:   poulet (chicken), agneau (lamb), boeuf (beef), dinde (turkey), porc.   But then we get into cuts and I’m lost.   Is an onglet a steak or some organ I don’t want to know about?   And is it an onglet de boeuf, ou cheval?   And what the heck is french for goat?   Je ne voudrais pas goat.   Or lapin (rabbit).   I’m now in a cold sweat and probably look guilty.

The younger guy greets me in French.    I try to say something in French, but all I can do is look behind the the glass and point desperately at a kebab and ask ‘qu’est ce que c’est.’   He doesn’t understand me.   Shit (merde).   He’s one of those French people who doesn’t understand English OR really bad French.   This could be a problem.

I point again at the kebab and ask “c’est l’agneau?”

He looks at me blankly.   I repeat myself slowly.   Nothing.   By now everyone in the store has stopped and watches curiously.   I really want to flee now, but I might want to come back here sometime, so I blunder on.

I point at the kebab and “baaaaah” loudly like a lamb.   His face brightens and he nods vigorously.   I point to my leg.   He nods again.

I shout excitedly, ca!   Un de ca s’il vous plait.  He doesn’t understand what I’m saying, but we’re on the same wavelength.

He wraps it up and I hold my hand out to take it.   He gives me a slip of paper and points to the cash register while babbling something in French.  And I totally get it.   They give me the meat after I pay.   I say merci beaucoup, he says something and the transaction is completed.    We’re both very pleased with ourselves.

Next stop, cash register.   Grand total about E4.92 which is about 9 dollars, so, pretty pricey.   It also presents the problem of whether I pay with the pocketful of coins in my pocket or just hand her the E10 bill I have and get even more coins.   If I pay in coins it could take hours for me to figure out the right amount.   But if I get my change in coins, I’ll just have to face the problem down the road.   I do the only logical thing and dump the contents of my pocket on the counter and let the very nice cashier pick out the coins she needs.

rock stars of AuversI leave the store with my package, calling out “merci, bon soir!” feeling very French.

I broil the kebab, which is all seasoned lamb cubes with a chunk of some sort of sausage at each end and make a salad.

All I can say is that kebab brought me more pleasure than Springstein, Jagger or an iPhone ever could.   Hours later, I’m still fantasizing the subtle seasoning and the tender juicy lamb cubes.   And the sausage!   OMG!  A veritable medley of spices in perfect pork harmony that I can’t get out of my head.

Tomorrow is Sunday, so I’m going to get in line first thing in the morning.   Maybe I should camp out front over night.   I’ll just die if they’re sold out when I get there.

Consult this meat translation guide before venturing into a boucherie.

how are the kitties adjusting?

denzel undercoverIf I had known that Denzel was going to spend a week under the bed huddled in an area that can’t be more than one square foot, I wouldn’t have worried so much about getting him a spacious carrier. Hell, I could’ve put him in a shoebox with holes. Okay, a boot box—he’s a big cat.

The first two days or so, neither Denzel or Desdemona left the small bedroom they were first let out of their carriers in. They spent most of their time either under the bed or under the covers.

Desdemona was out and about after a day and a half. She made herself right at home and after three days, she’d checked out every single corner of the house—parts I doubt even the Ledouxs have seen.

But it seems Denzel has taken permanent residence under the bedcovers.

After about four days, I become a bit concerned. Is he eating? Maybe he leaves the spot and eats when I’m asleep. Sure, someone has been drinking the water and eating the kibble, but that could be Desdemona, who is adjusting better than any of us. I think she’s already been to Paris several times. Or at least Pontoise.desdemona explores

I tried all sort of tricks to get Denzel to come out from under the bed (I feel he must do it willingly or he will be further traumatized). It was easier evacuating the settlers from Gaza. The trick that seems to work the best is lying down in a semi-fetal position near the foot of the bed. If I stay still long enough (and I can’t be looking at him), I can hear the jangle of his new jewelry (rabbies vaccine tag and microchip number) as he crouches his way over to investigate.

If I move or acknowledge him, he’ll probably crawl back under the bed, so I play dead as he sniffs around with what I imagine is concern. I wait until he seems comfortable and then tell him what a good boy he is and I slowly sit up. He allows me to pet him, which he seems to enjoy immensely

Now I slowly coax him downstairs. He is distrustful, but he follows haltingly. I continue to tell him what a good boy he is as Desdemona watches, probably a little perplexed (I just hope she’s not jealous—it’s always the difficult child who gets all the attention).

We finally reach the kitchen (this takes approximately 45 minutes) and I point out the waterbowl and the kibble bowl while opening a fresh can of the finest French catfood to tempt him. He is clearly jittery, but interested. I put the bowl down and he takes a few bites. I feel triumphant. Until he stops after two bites, looks up at me accusingly like I’m trying to poison him, and skulks off again, already hunched to the ground in his under the bed position.

kitties in living roomIn the past couple of days, I’ve seen a little more of him. The last couple of nights he’s come all friendly and demanding attention. Then after an hour or so of heavy petting, he skulks back under the bed as though he has been mortally wounded. I figure sooner or later, he’ll have to come out amongst the living.

As long as I don’t vacuum for the next six months.

Find out everything you need to know about traveling with pets.

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