DEFINITELY NOT A PARTY DOG

As I walk out the front door to go for coffee the same as every morning since eighteen months ago, Salomé pulls to the left decidedly. That is not the way and she knows it; she also knows that when we arrive at the Café des Thermes we will meet Kiwi-san and she will get her daily morsels of croissant that he so generously shares with her. Why in the world would she insist on going in the opposite direction? Because Salies is à fête. Downtown (how formal that sounds for the cozy Place du Bayáa) is filled with makeshift stages that will soon house clangorous musical bands and small-town singers; and even nearer, the Place du Temple is so tightly fitted with a Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, two booths for shooting ducks or throwing hoops, and a large platform for bumper-cars that it has become a colorful obstacle course. Salomé wants none of it. She knows what the screeching of metal, the thumping of drums, the sharp, enthusiastic clapping and the squeals of over-excited children sound like and her ears tremble with the memory. Even the excess of summer tourists in the Thursday market upsets her enough for her to jerk continuously at her leash as a way of insisting we get out of there. So I should have been fore-warned when I was invited to Ferán’s 3rd birthday party and decided to take her along.

Ferán is the only child of Will and Joann who usually come over from England to spend the summer months here, but who this time have decided to stay the whole year and do the French thing. They have a house around the corner behind the apartment building where I live and I met Will last summer when I was in the process of stealing figs from the branches of their fig tree that stretch out into the street. Obviously, I am not a good thief and as I pulled the filched fruit, the leaves rustled and Will popped out to see what was going on.

“Oh, help yourself,” he said smiling broadly at having caught the fig thief red-handed. I was relieved that at least I didn’t have to explain (one can explain theft?) or apologize in French.

“Caught!” I exclaimed, opening my fist so he could see the two figs. “I’m sorry. I should have asked.”

“Perfectly all right. You’re welcome to as many as you can pick. The tree is loaded and we are quite sick of them.”

The following day there was a cardboard box on their gatepost filled with figs and sporting a sign inviting anyone who wished to help themselves. Grateful as I was at having been saved the temptation to snitch a few on passing, I have to admit the offered figs didn’t taste half as good as the stolen ones.

Anyway, this year after their arrival, I have stopped to chat several times, been introduced to Will’s wife Joann, his young son Ferán, and his father Martin who has come to help with some repairs on the house. The other day, Joann invited me to Ferán’s birthday party (perhaps she presumed a grandmother-in-need-of-practicing look on my face when I joyfully said hello to her son) and I figured that as I had skipped all my own grandchildren’s birthday parties, I should make an effort to be at Ferán’s. It was to be last Friday.

The day before the party, I went to the market and chose a plastic two-part transport vehicle carrying eight brightly colored cars. To my eyes it was the perfect toy for a three-year-old and I imagined Ferán dropping everything and doing nothing but playing with the truck from the moment he unwrapped it. That just goes to show how long it has been since I have gone to a children’s birthday party. I should have remembered after partying my own two children through their first ten years of life (afterwards movies and a meal out took the place of parties), that the thrill of presents is in the opening and not in the viewing itself. Birthday presents should be neatly wrapped in several layers of colorful paper to heighten the expectation and stall off the disillusionment. No toy has the hoped for effect (that of being the utmost in excitement and glee) once it is viewed in the naked. But while the layers of wrapping are coming off and anything is possible, oh what joy!

Friday, at three-thirty, I picked up my nicely wrapped present, leashed Salomé and headed around the corner for some cake and ice-cream. Salomé was delighted to be taken for a walk at that hour and relieved that we were going away from town where the music was soon to start. As we rounded the corner and neared the house, however, she spotted the balloons, three of them, tied to the gate. Apparently, for Salomé, balloons hold the same menacing promise of blowing up as hand grenades do for humans. Without missing a step, she flipped around and ran to the end of her leash in the opposite direction. I vaguely recalled that once she had playfully bitten into a balloon with terrifying results, but was surprised she remembered. There was no doubt about it: she had no more intention of going into a house with balloons hanging on the front gate than I had of bungee jumping off Niagara Falls, so I picked her up and carried her past the pink, blue and white doggie-grenades, mounted the steps to the garden and set her down on the lawn which unfortunately was also strewn with balloons.

“Spent all morning blowing the darn things up,” said Will kissing me on both cheeks in true French style, “and then the wind came and blew them into the rose bushes; had to start all over again.” I glanced at Salomé hoping she knew how lucky she had been not to have arrived when the rose bushes had done their dirty work. The downward and backwards position of her ears told me exactly what she thought of me, the host, the balloons and the garden, but I ignored them[1].

I began to wonder why I had brought her and was reminded that my mind had projected images of Salomé cavorting around the garden with all the delightful little children playing with her. The part about the “delightful children playing with her” was –of course- a euphemism. The children –all five of them of which none would be termed “delightful” except by their myopic parents- ranged in ages from one-and-a-half to about five and none of them were at all interested in a dog. They were not even interested in one another. I have the sneaking suspicion that they were mostly interested in the same thing as Salomé: to get the out of there as soon as possible. I suspect that children, upon arriving at a birthday party, have the feeling of a soldier entering a war zone where the battle is already lost, to the birthday child, of course.

After making the rounds and pecking everyone on both cheeks, I bee-lined for a small wicker sofa next to the refreshment table. Salomé ducked immediately under the seat and behind my legs, safely out of sight in case any of the party people belatedly decided to become interested in her. Then someone stepped on a balloon and she went into a frenzy of tremblings from the tip of her almost non-existent tail to the outermost fringe of her ears. For a moment, I considered taking her home, but I knew that if I left I wouldn’t be coming back either, so I selfishly kept her with me as an excuse to depart as soon as possible.

For a while, I entertained myself watching the adults trying to get the children to have a good time and failing. Ferán had opened his presents with the same lack of interest that one would show peering into yesterday’s box of left over pizza. The transport I had so delighted over came out of its wrapping in two pieces and the little cars promptly spilled onto the grass. If Ferán even looked at it before reaching for the next unwrapped present, it was so briefly as to be the envy of a magician’s sleight of hand, and before I could say “ouch” the older boy had crushed the front half with his foot as he raced towards the piñata that Will had just hung from the lowest tree branch.

Mind you, I had been forewarned. Will had told me about the piñata “filled with Mexican delights we have ordered from an internet site, including” he detailed, “that special mixture of sugar, chili powder and salt that all Mexican children love.”

   “Miguelitos” I smiled, remembering my daughter’s passion for them. I don’t think they existed when I was a child growing up in Mexico. Then we ate a kind of jawbreaker called “trompudos” and made from a hardened form of ‘cajeta’; my teeth survived those just as my children’s stomachs survived Miguelitos.

As for piñatas, I never liked them. Memories of being blindfolded spun in circles while holding a stick and then told to swing and hit the damn thing while the other children laughed and squealed at the blind blows I was meting out to thin air filled me with shame. There was something about feeling a fool, not doing it ever right and then absolutely refusing to throw oneself into the monkey pile grappling for sweets that made the whole idea of piñatas extremely distasteful to me, and yet, when Will said the word “piñata”, a rush of nostalgia masked the unpleasant memories and made me look forward to the breaking of it. However, even in Mexico, piñatas are not what they used to be so the English version of that Mexican tradition should have been no surprise.

Piñatas, originally, were made of a round earthenware jug, dressed in colorful crepe paper and decorated with cones and tassels. The fragile nature of the jug and the thin coating of paper ascertained that a true blow, given with sufficient force, would cause the pregnant, candy-filled matrix to splay out in all directions emptying its contents for all to scavenge. Today, however, most piñatas are made with multiple layers of newspaper, sometimes held together in the manner of papier-mâché. A sufficiently thick layer of newspaper won’t “splay” even if hit by a two-ton truck. It might eventually rip or, if one is lucky, the cord may break and the fallen piñata can then be torn to pieces and gutted by the raging pack of over-fed children, but it will never break.

The piñata that Will had ordered looked like the above after being run over by a Nazi tank. It was round… and flat. One glance and I knew it was never going to ‘break’. To make a long story bearable, I will abbreviate. Will did his best; the big boy wanted to get at it right away, certain that his age would award him the feat of breaking it. The little ones went first and their “taps” barely set the thing swinging; the big boy stepped in, took a mighty swing, hit it full on with a blow that sounded like a gun shot and … nothing happened other than it swinging even more wildly. This went on for three or four rounds; Ferán was crying: he wanted to break it; it was his right as the birthday boy to do so. The eldest boy was furious: he couldn’t believe that his efforts were as fruitless as the youngest amongst them. Finally, Will despaired and took the stick himself. He swung with all his might: once, twice, three, four, five times. The blows rang out like gunshot and Salomé was shaking so violently and pulling so desperately at her leash that I had to hold her in my arms and cover her ears with both hands. It was war. Ferán was screaming, the older boy was tugging at Will’s shirt trying to get his hands on the stick and Will was going at the brightly colored enemy with a viciousness beyond measure. Finally a small hole appeared in the armored piñata and Will, fed up with the whole thing, grabbed it with all his might and pulled ripping it open and spilling its sweet entrails on the ground. As the smaller children had fled the battle field, it was only the older one that gathered his armful of sweets and absconded off to a corner to gloat before his mother could order him to share the spoils.

As I sat cuddling my poor shaking dog in my arms, I finally remembered how much I hated piñatas -even earthenware ones that break- and I decided it was because of the elements of violence and greed that are invited upon the little ones. I stood up, still cuddling a trembling Salomé and with her giving me the perfect and very obvious excuse, I rapidly said my goodbyes and left.

Salomé might not be a party animal, but then, neither am I.


[1] Salomé has very expressive ears and I can almost always judge her mood by their position; that exact position has a verbal interpretation which probably would not be pronounced out loud in polite society.

4 thoughts on “DEFINITELY NOT A PARTY DOG

  1. Loved this so! It reminded me of my precious Babette! I tried to log-in and even register – as it was not accepting me – but I couldn’t do either!Such anice story! Thank you! Tara L. Davis

  2. I shared my Life with my Darling Babette – just as you do with Salome! We have both been privileged and honoured by them! ((*_*)

  3. Como me hiciste reir! Cierto es que todo se parece a su dueña!! Describes todo con tal maestria que haces que uno no solo se imagine sino casi te vea en la fiesta! Una delicia que vuelvas a escribir.

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