chien perdu

Our beloved dog, Braise. Photo taken one month ago...


    : LOST DOG

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A Day in a French Life...

by Kristin Espinasse

A terrible thing happened at the breeder's in Marseilles: the dogs escaped.

Jean-Marc and I arrived at the boarder's (who, I now admit, were not really brothel owners at all--but a sympathetic couple who run a charming bed and breakfast near the Gare St. Charles). We had met them--and their dashing golden retriever, Sam--last year, when we rented a room, chez eux,* for the night. When they graciously agreed to welcome Braise for the weekend--at the height of her chaleur*--we couldn't believe our luck.

And now, somehow, that luck has gone terribly amuck. Sabine, the B&B owner, met us at the door of the historic building in the heart of Marseilles. That is when we heard the bad news: "Ils se sont échappés."* The dogs had disappeared.

Sabine was white with worry, having just returned from an initial street search. "Je ne comprends pas!"* she said. How could the dogs have possibly gotten loose? Sabine & Jean-Noël's B&B, an ancient bonneterie,* is located off the busy street, beyond a towering row of sky-high buildings which flank La Rue de la Libération. To enter their home, one has to pass through three doors, one entry hall and a courtyard. How the dogs made it through all of these barriers, to the street, beyond, is one great mystère.*

There was no time to figure it out. Jean-Marc and I turned on our heels and headed back out the door. We had this naive notion that we might find our golden retriever--as one might find a needle in a golden haystack--by sheer chance.

*     *     *

The "haystack" that is Marseilles is nearly two million inhabitants strong. Stepping back out onto the Rue de la Libération, I watch, horrified, as the cars lurch, screech, and speed by. Our Braise, who was reared in the countryside, is accustomed to dirt roads. The most dangerous "wheels" in our area belong to tractors--which occasionally putt-putt past by our farm, a haven that she rarely ventures away from.

DSC_0093 My God, Marseilles. Of all places to be lost! Please God, please God...

I begin questioning the pedestrians. "Excusez-moi... vous n'avez pas--par hasard--vu des chiens?"* Incredibly, a man and his daughter have seen the dogs sans laisses*:

"Two long-haired dogs? Yes, we saw them around 3 o'clock. They were headed that way."

I thank the monsieur, allowing the bad news to register. 3 o'clock? That was 3 hours ago! Just how much distance could two dogs cover in 180 minutes? I look down the crowded street, innocently searching for the dogs -- before it dawns on me that they had been headed toward the crowded Canebière on this saturated Saturday afternoon. 

"Come on!" Jean-Marc says, "We had better take the car." As I begin to cross the street, I feel my torso jerk backward. Instinct. A car honks, angrily, sparing me. Beyond, more cars reel by, jumping lanes, erratically, ever eager to get ahead of the next guy.

*     *     *

As we make our way down the boulevard, I notice how hard--at times impossible--it is to see the sidewalk, where the dogs might still be wandering. The cars, which line the trottoir,* are packed so closely together that they block our view of what might lie beyond.

Lie beyond... Oh mon Dieu!* What if the dogs were lying somewhere in the middle of the street?

Our search on wheels begins. Jean-Marc pulls over the car again and again. "Run in and ask the barman... Hop out and ask the coiffeur*... Go and check with the greengrocer... There's a policeman!" Meantime he throws his head out the window to question pedestrians: have you seen two dogs--goldens? On a perdu deux chiens*... Headshake after headshake, they haven't.

As we drive up one narrow street and down the next, busy boulevard I see many dogs. Each and every one on a leash--lest it be crushed by a car or a tram! I look down to discover, for the first time, the chaotic tracks of man and machine. Looking up again I see a tram rushing forward. Even the homeless people, who almost fade into the background of the busy streets, have their scrawny dogs secured with leashes--and for good reason!

I have never seen so many people in one place in all my life. If the cubbyholes and pockets of this crowded city aren't hiding our dogs--the people are--via one great human patchwork curtain. The absurdity of our search settles in--and seizes us. I feel a lump growing in my throat as shock steals my voice, strangles the breath of hope. We continue our search in silence, here beneath the sun that soon will set.

*     *     *
Continue reading Part Two of this story.


~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~
chez eux
= at their place; les chaleurs = heat (dog's heat); Ils se sont échappés = they escaped; je ne comprends pas = I don't understand; la bonneterie (f) = hosier's / lingerie shop; le mystère (m) = mystery; Excusez-moi... vous n'avez pas--par hasard--vu deux chiens? = Excuse me... you haven't--by chance--seen two dogs?; sans laisses = without leashes; oh mon Dieu = oh my God; le coiffeur (m) = the hairdresser; on a perdu deux chiens = we have lost two dogs


My mom, Jules, and Braise playing together last Spring, in the Vauclusian countryside, not a car in sight.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety