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The move from Spain to France with Rio, Part 10.

Our big, fluffy Basque sheepdog:
We arrived with Rio at the nocturnal market at nearby Tournon d’Agenais, a pretty medieval village set upon a hill and surrounded by beautiful views over wonderful green forestland. The orderly little streets lead out from an arched central square, with the clock tower and its moon clock, the ancient house of the Agen Bishops and a restful public garden with views over the valley below. Window boxes filled with flowers of every conceivable colour and description tumble down the ancient stone walls. The market is held in the square and tonight is filled with the chatter of people dining at outdoor tables so we look around to decide on where to sit or to wander round first.

As soon as we walked into the square, Rio started to quiver and his behaviour began to be hyper. We could sense him starting to fill with excitement as he pulled on his lead and cocked his leg for two territorial seconds at each and every post, shrub or tree. He uncharacteristically took an instant dislike to a wandering stray dog; we had no idea why, but he growled at him, wouldn’t let him near us and I only just kept him attached to his lead without being pulled over. I’m not a big, strong lass but of slim build, so have had to try to instil control into the by now large and heavy Rio by means other than pulling. The stay command is one I use to keep him from rushing off and the wait command on other occasions e.g. a passing car while we stand on a grass verge. This consistency is paying off, as Rio was lunging at cars on our walks, but now looks to us as we tell him to wait... We strolled around the market to look at the goods for sale - smiling and friendly stallholders were selling beautifully crafted jewellery, handbags, clothes, locally made soaps fragranced with all sorts of herbs and perfumes. I could detect the delicious aroma of garlic in the air and discovered juicy snails being pan fried on an open fire. My mouth watered so I stopped to buy a box and as it overflowed onto the flagstones Rio rushed to scoop up the snails greedily into his salivating mouth and spat out the unwanted shells. I bought myself a little hessian sack of piquant red chillies from a vendor with a table laden with spices and miniature hand-made wooden caskets. Local wine makers from nearby vineyards called out to offer you a taste from their stock. A wave of the hand was the signal to pour out for yourself some unidentified liquor into a small glass. The mouth-watering aroma of meat grilling wafted across the square under our noses, like the old Bisto ad, so we chose a table in the open air to sit at, looking for somewhere to tie Rio. The stray dog came up to us looking for food and Rio curled his lip at him. We then noticed that everyone seated was watching us: we felt like new parents again, under scrutiny by people who do things better than we can. Then a lady came over and asked us “what breed is he, how old is he, where did you get him, and isn’t he lovely“…phew, good, a Rio fan. Then the holidaying children at the next table all wanted to stroke him so I showed them how to touch him on his back, not his head. The head and shoulders part of a dog is his most private area and only people who know the dog should really stroke there, people he considers to be his superiors. Most dogs may be fine if you touch this particular place, but there will always be the exception that hates it and nips you for invading his privacy. Indeed, Rio loves to be petted, scratched and stroked as much as possible all over, but it’s always good for children to learn otherwise and ask the owners first. We ordered some brochettes - meat skewers - with crispy sautéed potatoes washed down with a carafe of excellent red wine with a blackberry bouquet. Rio lay down immediately hoping for a scrap of meat to accidentally fall off my plate and drop onto the floor. He began to drool. The waiter pushed the stray dog away with his leg as he walked past and we realised that Rio had guessed this was an unwanted visitor to the square and had been doing exactly the same. Perhaps we’ll find him a job as a nightclub bouncer wearing a black T-shirt marked ‘security‘complete with a dickie bow tie. Another dog came by and sat behind my chair although there really was no point, not with Rio watching our every move so he’d be first in line for any appetizing leftovers. The meal was accompanied by a man playing an accordion extremely badly and his wife who sang not a single note in tune. After indulging in a delightful dessert and tiny cup of coffee we decided to aid the digestion and walk it all off by going to an open-air acting performance in the next village.

We arrived late. No one was around to take any money from us as the show had already begun. We noticed hanging baskets and tubs of geraniums filled little narrow pathways leading to secret gated gardens. Vines laden with not yet ripe grapes tumbled over porches. Deeply scented climbing roses framed doorways. The warm inviting fragrance of Jasmine hung headily in the air. Then Rio crouched to do a big poop. No, not really, he didn‘t!! Just checking to see if you’re still reading! Costumed actors walked up, down and around the miniscule streets as part of their drama with the audience following closely behind hanging on their every word. Shame we couldn’t understand it as the French was spoken too quickly for us but it looked very good. Rio jumped up to dance to the accompanying music as the actors walked by - he seemed very amused. The artists weren’t, not with Rio plundering the show - everyone was looking and smiling at him instead of the performance. I should buy a cap and hold it out in public places; I might make a few bob. We followed the actors up hill and down dale for a while until my legs began to ache. I remembered that my stomach was full, and the wine beginning to take it’s toll, so we chose to continue with a slow meander round the tiny streets by ourselves instead. We stood and looked up at the moon shining across the surrounding countryside, thinking how it appeared so bright it was almost like sunshine. Suddenly Rio lunged towards what looked in the contrasting darkness of a corner like a huge moving leaf. My instinct told me it was something else so I held him tight by his lead, keeping his paws to himself while I had a better look. It was an enormous green frog with bright, bulbous eyes. It sat for a while in front of an ancient wine barrel just peering up at us, not at all afraid. Then he hopped under a bench and into the undergrowth at the edge of a nearby courtyard and away into the warm night air…

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© Sue Dayman Mauroux, Lot.


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