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Language Lesson

Prairie Dog LLC Friday, March 08, 2013

Last week we were in Rome, using a fragile map to navigate its labyrinthine lanes. One evening we went into a bistro, drawn by the gaslight in the window. A beaming young waiter greeted us, introducing himself as Francesco. His English was only slightly better than our Italian, but fortunately, restaurant menus create excellent common ground, and we had no problem communicating.

Soon we were savoring shrimp fettuccine and spaghetti Carbonara. It was six p.m., early for dinner in Europe, so only a few other diners were in the place. Halfway through our meal, a blur of fur raced into the place, bounded over to our table, and tried to jump in my wife’s lap. It was not a small creature; rather, an ambitious dog weighing perhaps sixty pounds.

Our waiter, Francesco viewed this as a bad thing, due in part to the fact that the dog was his, and he probably feared his annoying pet would get him fired.  Francesco didn’t need to be concerned, however, since we appreciate the joyful exuberance of a poorly-trained dog, having raised a number of them. Relieved, Francesco formally introduced us to Thai, so named for the simple fact that Francesco likes Thai food.

In the accompanying photo, Thai sits on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, his attention flitting to everything that moves past: people, scooters, other dogs. As we watched, he seemed a bit confused, torn between his desire to play and his instinct to guard. He is that transition stage, when the innocence of puppy hood transitions to adult responsibilities.

Thai is ten-month old Tuscan Mountain Dog (also called a Maremma).  He’s related to a number of mountain breeds. Indeed, Thai closely resembles a slender Great Pyrenees.  Centuries ago, his breed was developed in Tuscany to protect sheep flocks from wolves. Thai, however, is destined to be purely a city dog. His experience in nature will largely be restricted to playing in the sprawling Borghese Park, near Francesco’s home. Judging from his interaction with Francesco, I think Thai will have a very pleasant life.

Cyndi and I abandoned our table to give Thai the attention he deserved. Soon, Francesco’s girlfriend arrived, and for a few minutes we all stumbled around the language barrier, starting with the familiar “where are you from” conversation that always seems to have Cyndi or me ending up saying we’re from “near Seattle” or failing that, “near California.”

Focusing on Thai, our conversation became more relaxed. Francesco loves Labs, so we showed him photos of our Labs. Seeing a picture of our Deerhound, he lit up, correctly exclaiming our dog’s genetic origin: “Scotland!”

It was a perfect conversation. Italian dogs and American dogs sound the same when they bark. And when the human companions of Italian and American dogs meet up, sometimes, for a while, everyone speaks the same language.

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