I cried for Leo for three months. There was no summer holiday for me. There was no summer. I retreated into a heart-broken depression that anyone who has lost a beloved pet can understand. The vet told me that Leo had died of an intestinal haemorrhage provoked by the toxicity of the cortisone treatment over the years. It was one of the known risks. I had been so optimistic. I believed that Leo had many more happy years ahead. But in the end the drug that kept him alive killed him. I felt defeated. I hated myself for not taking more precautions with Leo’s medication. The vet reassured me that I’d done everything possible, especially as I’d always kept Leo’s dosages low. “You did the right thing,” said the vet. “Leo lived a longer and happier life thanks to
There’s a saying in French that un malheur n’arrive jamais seul. It means bad news is always followed by more bad news. When you are down, expect another cruel blow. My own instinct, perhaps due to my Scottish upbringing, is to regard good fortune as suspect. I’m not sure that my personal philosophy helped much as the weeks turned into months, as a new calendar year was upon us, as the Easter holidays were approaching. True, there was no reason to feel miserable. In fact, life in Paris was splendid. My favourite month, April, was arriving soon. I like to say that April may be the cruellest month – except in Paris. Still, there was no reason to feel reassured either. I was still a convicted criminal in France with a tarnished casier judiciaire. After my judicial setbacks I couldn’t
The day began like most mornings in Fontainebleau. Leo was licking my knuckles. I was at the wheel of my battered silver Peugeot driving down the boulevard lined with plane trees at the edge of town, the municipal hospital on one side and local cemetery on the other. In small French towns the two are often morbidly convenient neighbours. I reached back and dangled my free right hand on the back seat, gently squeezing Leo’s little white paw. He returned my affection by licking my dry knuckles with his soft pink tongue. Oscar was directly behind me on his hind legs, peering out the window as we turned up the narrow road leading into the woods. I was glad to be back in Fontainebleau for the weekend. After the move into Paris, I’d decided to keep my apartment here for
My court date was a long way off, but I couldn’t escape a nauseous cocktail of guilt and self-loathing. I felt like a condemned man living under house arrest at my Poodleland flat. When I ventured outside to walk Oscar and Leo, the familiar sound of droning two-tone Parisian police sirens made me panic – I wondered if they were coming for me. When I spotted a police car, I feared they would stop and handcuff me for some undisclosed crime. When standing in front of my students in lecture halls, I suspected they all knew I was up on criminal charges and facing serious porridge. When I came across the French homeless man with his aged black poodle Boulie, I almost envied his uncomplicated existence. I couldn’t shake the shame. Oscar and Leo were the main beneficiaries of
The dinner invitation from Adam announced the turning of seasons as the hot sun-blanched boredom of August gave way to the moist, cool air of the back-to-school rentrée season. It was September in Paris. “I’m having a few people over,” said Adam on the phone. “Nothing too formal. You can bring Oscar and Leo.” I’d spent most of the summer outside the city, away from the minor irritation of tourists asking for directions to the Eiffel Tower. Paris doesn’t belong to Parisians in the summer. Most decent restaurants in the city close for the entire month, posting the familiar sign, “Fermeture pour congés annuels”. Even the boulangeries and pressing cleaners are shuttered for most of August. For the denizens of Poodleland, early August is when they discreetly escape to their résidence secondaire in Brittany, in Provence, or on the Riviera.
I have decided to write about Camille. After I published Home Again in Paris, I sincerely believed it would be best if her true identity remained unknown, mainly for reasons of discretion. I have changed my mind. I want to reveal Camille’s real name. She was too important in my life to remain anonymous. Readers have asked me about Camille. I have received several notes and emails inquiring about her. Some wished to know if we were now happily together, even married. The other day I received a note on Twitter from someone who had just finished Home Again in Paris and asked for an update on Camille. Everything in my book is true, it all happened, nothing was invented. The book is a memoir. I decided before I began writing it that my narrative must be an
You know you have arrived in Provence when you reach Montélimar, a town famous for its nougat but better known as the gateway to the south. Passing through Montélimar in summer is like crossing into a territory whose climate and colours are strangely different. Suddenly the world is bathed in warm honeyed sunlight. When you reach the town of Orange, the fragrant scent of lavender sweetens the air and the heat throbs with the familiar sound of cigales pulsing in the trees. You are in Provence. “We’re in the south now David,” I said. “The land of the Romans.” David looked sideways at me and made a vague grunting sound to acknowledge my comment. He was gazing, as if hypnotised, at his iPod. Oscar and Leo were sleeping in the back seat. We’d been on the motorway for more
Saturday, on my way home from a walk in the Tuileries, the Eiffel Tower is vanishing into the mist at dusk.
- Published in Paris