Two dogs

February 12, 2007

I’ve been giving the group of people who learn German from me a reading comprehension exercise. The story we’ve been reading is set “mitten in der Einsamkeit”, literally, in the midst of loneliness, which we deduced to mean: in the middle of nowhere. It went something like this.

Once upon a time, many long years ago, a stray dog came across an abandoned temple made of gold, that he hurried to explore, greedy to see what was inside. On its inner walls hung a thousand mirrors, but the dog, having no concept of what a mirror was, barked furiously at his reflections, thinking them to be rival explorers. Of course, the more he barked, the more aggressively the other thousand dogs barked back, until, exhausted and defeated, he slunk off the way he had come.

“What a nasty world!” he said to himself. “Nothing but angry dogs in it.”

Then one day, a second stray dog happened upon the temple. Delighted by its beauty, he ran inside, wagging his tail and grinning broadly. In the hall of mirrors, a thousand other dogs grinned back, wagging their tails with gusto.

“What a wonderful world this is!” thought the second dog, “So full of friendly dogs!” and he returned to the temple many times over, to enjoy the company of his new-found friends.

As we said, “Diese Geschichte hat eine Moral!”– easy to see, although the rather challenging vocabulary took us two weeks to decipher; most of my class not being perfectly familiar with English, never mind German, and not sure whether dogs “wagged” or “wiggled” their tails.

Over the weekend, despite the nastiness of the news bulletins on every virtual newsboard I come across, I’ve been very conscious of the thousands of friendly people surrounding me. Once again, you should have seen the Rideau Canal (and perhaps you did!) swarming with skaters, old, young and middle aged, revelling in the northern winter. You should have seen the Inuit drummers, dancing and singing in Inuktitut to celebrate the sunshine. Next to them, small children were playing with coloured ice blocks on a bed of snow. Round the corner from there, a model of the Kremlin, penguins, huskies, an American Eagle and a giant Chinese fan (for example) had been sculpted out of ice. As we walked by, people were cheering the sculptors.

Friday turned out friendly too, my morning spent as a guest of the Indonesian Embassy. After taking pictures of people in the snow I came indoors to admire the artwork displayed in the reception rooms and to have some hot and spicy Indonesian soup. We also had an energetic work-out to the accompaniment of an Indonesian keep-fit video, but that is another story.

Was the second dog a more sensible breed of animal or was he just as useless and deluded as the first dog? Are the solipsists the only ones who really know what’s going on in the wilderness or is it wiser to assume that there are thousands of others just like us out there, and we’d better “walk cheerfully” and be nice to them?

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