There comes a moment in every dog’s life, disagreeable as it may be, when she is due for her periodic toilettage. We humans consider an afternoon at the salon a moment of refreshment, of relaxation even. For a dog, it’s like going to the gastroenterologist. You walk through the front door with your nails dug in.
Alas, Yoko’s perky teddy-bear cut from Toronto was beginning to wilt, and in the dog days of a Côte d’Azur summer, the temperatures only made the situation worse for our miniature poodle. Cute as her tangled locks can look, the situation was becoming increasingly untenable.
In past summers we have taken our caniche into Antibes’ old town for her grooming. The outcome was always fine, but our pooch endured hours breathing air thick with cigarette smoke. What’s more, there was always the worry that Yoko (and therefore her owners) would be chastened for the dog’s tiny amount of (ever-present) Canadian winter weight.
“Elle a le cœur qui baigne dans la graisse!” her past groomer once said to us. The visual of our dog’s heart bathing in a vat of fat was horrifying enough for us to follow the groomer’s advice and offer a diet of steamed courgettes and haricots verts.
Yoko is seven now – What’s that in human years, nearly 50? – so I thought she deserved something gentler these days. With a bit of research, we found Lady’s Dog. (Oui, we are still in France.) Philippe liked the name, thinking for once we might end up with a French cut for our French poodle, but teenage Lolo and I shuddered at the thought of Yoko with nailpolish and pompons. The salon de toilettage earned heaps of stars on the web for its haute coiffure: La mode de la tête aux pattes! Fashion from head to toe! The place even offered a service called “relooking,” a beautiful example of French-and-English franglais that apparently means a makeover. When I stopped by Lady’s Dog to ask about their poodle cuts (and set our intentions straight), the air inside the shop was blissfully pure. Instead of smoke, I found rose-coloured walls and the whimsy of a child’s tea party. I made a rendez-vous.
On the fated afternoon, Yoko and I set out in the car. My lucky charm of a poodle finds us an above-ground parking space, and for a mere €2.15, it is oddly ours for a day and a half. As we wind through Antibes’ narrow streets, Yoko prances and sniffs, and I celebrate how French I have become. Even though my family and I have stayed here regularly over the past 16 years, it always takes time to readapt to local ways. With the summer heat, for example, I shift the timing of my errands; the Antibois head out in the early mornings and later afternoons, not in the midday heat, as is my routine in Toronto. I am weaving among residents doing their own errands this afternoon. And I have a dog. A Canadian-American-British friend once told me to borrow a dog for a few hours; it was a sure-fire way to look like a local. My dog is gloriously for-real.
As soon as Yoko and I step into the cheery salon de toilettage, my poodle’s world changes. She pulls on her leash and digs her claws appropriately into the wooden floor. Along the far wall a tiny dog yaps in a large crate, and in the corner an Afghan lifts its lazy head. Each discovery is more terrifying than the next.
Sophie greets us from the grooming table, where she is just finishing work on a medium-sized dog. She greets us in the reception area and nods her short crop of white-blonde hair over Yoko’s details in her desk calendar. My pooch stands on her back legs and desperately grips one of my calves. She stares up at me with big, unbelieving, poodle eyes.
“Une coupe comme un nounours,“ I say. A teddy-bear cut. No pompons, s’il vous plaît. Just shave a little at her feet.
“Bien sûr,” Sophie says with a nod. Her voice is sweet, almost child-like. I only rase a little at les pattes, she confirms, but otherwise like a nounours.
I smile to myself. She understands. At this stage in the conversation with Yoko’s prior groomer, she had asked, “On va garder le pantalon?” Should she keep Yoko’s pants on? Back then, I struggled to understand – wasn’t it always good advice for a young lady to keep her pants on? – and then an image took shape. Oui, for sure, keep Yoko’s pants on! Do not shave her legs! Fortunately I did not have to enter this territory with the new groomer.
“Vous pouvez revenir in two-and-a-half hours,” Sophie says brightly. “About 18:30.” She tips her head toward the pretty, pink-walled reception. “Or you can come back earlier and wait here in the air-conditioning if you like.”
Having deposited my caniche at Lady’s Dog, I go on my way like a real French woman to do my late-afternoon errands. Sundress, check. Sunglasses, check. Brimmed hat, check. Tote bag on my shoulder for shopping, check.
My biggest hitch is not visual. Shortly an elderly woman stops me to ask directions. As soon as I begin to reply, her face drops. My words do not matter. It is my accent.
“Je suis désolée,” she interrupts me. She is sorry – to bother me or to have asked me in the first place, I am not sure which – but I soldier on and eventually help her on her way. When you start learning the language of Molière at 35, there are certain things that will never become local.
Undeterred, I continue my errands. I chat with my favourite coffee roaster, the woman at the spectacle shop, and the guy at a boutique selling his father-in-law’s artwork printed on shirts and dresses. Eventually I wander into the leafy Place de Gaulle and sit for an orange pressée. As I wait for the end of Yoko’s appointment, I catch myself in the café window. Oui, certainement, I do look a little French.
I return to Lady’s Dog at 18:30. Yoko trembles from the grooming table as she spots me – the past hours have been quelle horreur!, she seems to say. She is beautiful. Fluffy, teddy-bear-like and doe-eyed, with just the tips of her paws shaved.
“Elle est toute gentille,” Sophie says, her voice shimmering as she compliments Yoko’s sweet character. A real pleasure to have in the shop. She lowers Yoko to the floor, and my poodle promptly jumps up to hug my leg. (“Get me ooouuuttt of here!”)
“I gave her a special masque for her coat, and un brushing (which involves a blow-dryer and endless brushing), and then a cut,” Sophie says. “And I trimmed her nails as well.” She looks down at Yoko. “Would you like un cadeau?” A little gift? “But first water. You must be thirsty!”
The groomer fills a bowl, Yoko laps it up in a huge gulp, and throws the water back up on the floor. Twice. I apologise.
“C’est normal!” Sophie says, still glittering, and wipes up the translucent puddles. “She drank too fast! But here, maybe a little treat?” She reaches into the jar on the counter. The groomer turns to address me. “Would you like me to add a little parfum?”
I decline the dog perfume – I’m not a fan, nor can I imagine Yoko is either – but I am overjoyed by the shop, Sophie, and her sweet service. To crown the day, I choose a new collar from the salon’s boutique d’accessories chics et originaux. A collar is on my list anyway because goodness knows my dog needs one. Hers is shredding, and last week she encrusted it with some disgusting, stinky glop she found at the seashore.
“It’s made in France,” Sophie says, handing me a sturdy ribbon of bleu, blanc, and rouge stripes. “Excellent quality. And the price isn’t bad because it will last a long time.”
The classic French stripes sell me, and I buy a leash to match. Sophie even offers me a discount.
Strolling down Antibes’ high street back to the car, I can feel the fairy dust. I am positively chic. I now have a beautifully coiffed, French poodle – a Lady’s Dog, no less – sporting a new, quintessentially French collar and leash. I imagine passersby quietly admiring my dog, the way the sunlight plays in her natural highlights and how the gentle breeze makes her fluffy coat shimmy.
I feel a tug on the leash. I stop. Yoko is assuming a crouch position. Right here, in the middle of Antibes’ busy promenade. I turn to face her, trying to use my body to somehow blot out the disgrace. My bubble deflates further as I struggle to open a plastic poo bag.
Having executed her maneuver like a little French pro, Yoko pops up from her crouch and distances herself from the pile. I stoop with my bag, and after a neat scoop, twist, and tie, we are back on our way. As my perfect little poodle and I parade down the promenade once again, I think: Honestly, now that my pooch has mastered that last move, what could possibly be more French?
So, Yoko – why not? – it’s your turn for my rapid-fire, Stephen Colbert-style questions:
Peaches or figs? I’d prefer liver.
Cats or dogs? Neither actually. They are all terrifying. Except maybe that dog Rocky, who rescued me when I got loose last summer.
Jet ski or paddleboard? What, like actually in the water?
Croissant or pain au chocolat? Both.
Haute couture or haute cuisine? Is there a question?
Favourite smell? That stuff at the seashore that you blasted off me with the freezing hose.
Worst smell? The perfume after a toilettage.
Sunshine or thunderstorm? Sunshine, for sure. Lolo calls me “Apollo” after the sun god.
Morning or nighttime? Both. Neither. It depends when my people are awake.
Johnny Halliday or Céline Dion? I’m pretty open about music – except for the time that boy tried to play an oboe in my living room.
Baguette or saucisson (a dried French sausage)? Both. And I’d eat the whole thing if no one was looking.
Sandy beach or pebbly beach? I still dream about that pebbly beach with the delicious smell.
Red wine or rosé piscine? My humans never offer me either of them.
Favourite French word? The only one I know is “viens” (come), but I don’t like it very much.
Favourite English word? Treat! No question.
Favourite place you’ve visited? That restaurant where you wore your clean shoes. Your friend couldn’t finish her beef, so she gave me all the extra under the table.
Place you want to visit? I dunno. Somewhere where toilettage is illegal.
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