Thursday, July 14, 2011


The other day, being a bit down, I took a long walk to clear my head. There's a park fairly close to ocean, towards the west and north. It is a dog-friendly park, and as is standard for many public green areas of San Francisco, enjoyment of tobacco is forbidden, because the second-hand smoke might harm pets, puritans, small children, and addicts shooting up in the shrubbery.

So of course, once I was absolutely certain nobody was watching, I lit up, and sat down.

A short furry canine trotted past. He ignored my odoriferous pipe entirely, didn't even sniff at my legs, but headed straight for the bush next to the bench.
No, not that. It wasn't about territory.
That's what I thought too, but I was wrong.
Instead, what drew him was a large bloom that looked like a gardenia.
He sat down with his nose right up to the flower, and blissed out, wagging his tail.
I could've reached out and petted him, but he didn't need any help being happy.
For a while we just sat there, each of us in our own world.
A pipe-smoker and a small dog on a hillside, blanketed by the silvery-grey velvet of the fog.
Both of us smelling very well indeed.

I know I've met that dog before.

That is to say, I've met his previous incarnation.

I'm sure of it.

Years ago I was on vacation in England, visiting a friend and his wife who lived by the ocean. As you know, it is customary when visiting to bring a small gift to indicate that the warmth is appreciated.
Flowers, candy, liquor, or cigars - these are all appropriate. You tailor the gift to the household.
I gave him a box of cigars from Valkenswaard, her a casket of hand-made pralines from Antwerpen.
And a pack of English beef-sausages for the dog.

He and I smoked the cigars, she shared the pralines with her husband, and the canine hospitably split the sausages with both of them at breakfast.

The patio bordered the slope leading down to the sea, and because it was very far from the pier, this stretch of coast was almost a secret hide-away. Many days both of them and the dog were the only ones on the beach, and did what they wished entirely undisturbed.
My friend had moved an old leather armchair onto the sand above the water line - for a touch of comfort, he explained, and because outdoor furniture is so temporary and unsightly. Nothing beats a nice place to sit.
One afternoon I expelled the dog from the chair and sat there reading.
I had brought along the collected works of Saki and was revisiting my favourite short stories, and I didn't notice the passing of time. The dog came back once or twice to see if I was still in the chair, then wandered off to inspect a dead seagull or chivvy a crab.
When I finally looked up from my book the sky was silvery grey, the tide was rolling in and enfolding the beach, and the world seemed quieter than it had ever been that summer.
Someone had left some small sweet apples on the table next to the chair, along with a cup of tea. I guessed it must have been his wife, and that she had not wanted to disturb me while I was engrossed.
While twilight enveloped sand and water, I ate the fruits.
They smelled slightly briny - probably plucked from the trees in their garden.

Later we moved the chair back inside before it started raining. My friend and I wrestled it up the steps while his wife cheerfully told us she would have sat in it and had us carry her too, like a tribal queen, except that she didn't think we could manage to get it up the stairs without tipping her into the bushes. She speculated that one of us would fall back and go rolling down down down into the surf. She'd have to take off her scarf and use it as a life line, she said, and whichever person was in the water would nevertheless snuff it, because instead of using both hands to grasp the proffered silk, we'd be frantically trying to keep a pipe or a cigar out of the waves.

It started coming down in earnest after we had maneuvered the chair through the French doors into the sitting room. Moments later, their dog came bounding in, thoroughly and happily drenched. The pelt of a small furball accepts a surprising amount of water, and dogs are "aromatic" when wet. We dried the rambunctious beast off as best we could before he spattered too much. But he still had a robust air about him.
The four of us then sat under the patio-awning while it rained - a cigar smoker, a pipe smoker, a dampish canine person, and a woman cheerfully criticizing the men folk for being an exceptionally stinky bunch.
We didn't say anything, but I think all three of us noticed that she herself reeked nicely of orange blossom, sandalwood, jasmine.
The dog must have been particularly happy about it - he just sat right next to her, happy as a clam, energetically wagging his tail.
Grey and dark dark green, the colours of the rain and the sea at night, and of four shadows cast by the light behind us on the wet sand.

That's all anyone really wants - a comfortable place on a hill overlooking the water, and reverie-inducing smells.

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