Friday, 29 May
On our walk through the Perche countryside this morning, it occurred to me that Tasha the dog has some striking similarities to Voltaire’s Candide. For those of you who have not read the eponymous novel by the Enlightenment philosopher: it is the picaresque tale of bastard Candide, forced out of the baron's paradise and into a world of suffering and horror. After many travels and travails, he learns the importance of seeking fulfilment in his own backyard and settles down to life on a farm. “Il faut cultiver notre jardin,” he says.
Tasha, a rescue dog of unknown origins who looks and acts like a princess, obviously underwent some ordeals in her first two years of life; she was scared of everything and everyone. Like Candide, she too landed in El Dorado (aka the Fleming-Morrison Paris household), then had more adventures in Berlin and still more during her first year here in the Perche, where she departed on far-ranging hunting excursions of protracted duration.
But her quest for new thrills got out of hand and two months ago travel restrictions were imposed. Under the new regime walks are to be taken with, not away from, her human companions. To ensure she sticks to the path she wears a long orange lead.
There has been some deviation from the rules - a few mad chases after hares, another after a fox - but these animals quickly retreat into their holes and she loses interest, returns to the straight and narrow. Fortunately her preferred prey, deer, who just keep running, have been scarce recently. Perhaps they are sticking to the woods to care for their young or are deterred from venturing into the fields because the wheat, barley and rapeseed are high now and so tightly planted even the voles (those that have survived the pesticides) must be elbowing their way around.
With new paradigms come new responsibilities. Tasha has, for example, become my personal trainer. Trying to keep up with her and the long orange lead - instead of stopping frequently when she's run out of sight and calling frantically - means my brisk pace never slackens. Ditto when we go running together. If I do spot an animal of possible interest before she does and grab the line, holding her back provides a great upper body workout too.
Tasha has also become an avid lizard hunter though thankfully not a very good one. She pursues them tirelessly amidst the flower beds and up and down the walls but they are generally too small and quick for her. Only one tail has been spotted disappearing down her gullet. Undeterred by her low success rate, on she lunges and pounces. It's good entertainment for us too.
If the lizards have made Tasha lose interest in the larger prey beyond the confines of our garden, it must be said that she had mixed feelings about the hunting expeditions in the first place. She'd come home from every jag contritely whimpering, like a drug addict returning from a binge, begging to be saved from herself. Not to get Panglossian about it, I have every reason to hope that our detox strategy is working and that she is actually happier, more relaxed, in this newly domesticated life.
There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the effects of Covid-19 and two-month’s confinement on us human beings. Will we have learned in any long-term way to appreciate a slower pace and a more inward-focused existence? Or will we quickly revert to our hyper-active, planet-killing selves?
Voltaire wrote his satire Candide in the wake of the Seven Years War and the earthquake, tsunami and fires that ravaged Lisbon in 1755. These disasters, with catastrophic human cost, flew in the face of a leading philosophical principle of the time, Optimism, which purports that God ensures everything occurs for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Candide, after witnessing many horrors (including the War and the cataclysm in Lisbon), learns the delusions of Optimism and the merits of focusing his energy on his own small orbit, of cultivating his garden. A bit like Tasha.
It would be great if in our post-coronavirus world we could come to some of the same conclusions as Candide and Tasha but I'm not Optimistic.