A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

French or German?

Spotted at the Mattoon Street Arts Festival on Saturday: this beautiful black Standard Poodle, age one and a half years, name Babette.

I made the mistake of calling Babette a French poodle, and friend Donna immediately set me straight. German poodle, she said. Our word "poodle" is, in fact, from the German pudel. (The French word for poodle is caniche.) It's an old breed--Roman stelae feature dogs that looked very much like modern poodles--and its origins are shrouded in the mists of time. But experts tend to think the breed did originate in Germany.

Although Babette is beautiful and spirited, and possibly impeccably trained, she couldn't do the dog show circuit with her current hairdo. Only the Continental cut (with the familiar lion's mane), and the equally-pompomed English Saddle clip are recognized for adult dogs. Babette looks like she's sporting the informal, pet-grade kennel clip.

The Standard Poodle was originally a water retriever. The traditional clip was designed not to be frou-frou, but practical. The "lion's mane" kept the dog's vital organs warm when he swam in cold water. The "bracelets" kept the joints warm; the puff on the tail was a flag so he could be spotted while swimming. The rest of the coat was shaved to keep him from getting water-logged, and to prevent sticks and mud from accumulating.

Practical, but also elegant. And if anyone can appreciate elegance, it's the French. Small wonder they appropriated the poodle.


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