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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

August 06, 1995|Georgia Jones-Davis

LES CHIEN DE PARIS by Barnaby Conrad III (Chronicle Books: $12.95; 72 pp.; more than 50 black-and-white photos by Henri Lartigue, Marc Ribound, Elliot Erwitt, Robert Doisneau and Henri Cartier-Bresson et al.) Ah, Paris--the city of lights, the city of romance, fashion, wine, the finest cuisine, the city of, well, dogs. On every narrow street, in taxis, in each ancient doorway, in cafes as well as some of the finest restaurants, you will see them: Checking out the opposite sex, eyeballing pedestrians with a certain je ne sais quoi , devouring a simple meal (it's on the menu, ' 'le repas de chien , 5 francs, Service non compris ")--they are simply the four-legged Parisians.

Be careful if you get distracted by the sight of proverbial lovers embracing on a bench or even in the Metro: you might step into some crottes . It's everywhere, alas. (The French have come to call their sidewalks-- les trottoirs -- les crottoirs ; there are actually dog nuisance agents patrolling the streets these days, trying to enforce hefty fines.)

Dogs have been a part of Parisian life and the fabric of French history for decades. Charlemagne kept briards, an old breed of long-haired, strong sheep dogs; Napoleon schlepped Moustache, his poodle, to the battles of Marengo and Austerlitz and, according to Conrad, wasn't too crazy about Josephine's pug; Victor Hugo's old poodle, given to a Russian count as a gift, missed his master so much (was it the author or perhaps Paris he missed; wouldn't you, being forced to move to Russia?) that he walked the thousand or so miles across Europe back to Hugo, to Paris.

The photos in this (now dog-eared) book capture the absurdity, the joy, sadness and whimsy of dogs and their sophisticated human Parisian counterparts. The old poodle and his master sitting together in a cafe on the book jacket surely share the same expression. There's doggy romance in the park with the Eiffel Tower as an appropriate backdrop; glamorous flappers embracing snooty French bulldogs; aristocrats trotting down the grands boulevards with exotic, thin hounds; gnarly old folks in working-class neighborhoods hugging ugly but well-fed mutts. (Paris, in fact, is full of the ugliest dogs I have ever seen.)

The French have never been the velvety-voiced romantic types portrayed in old American movies. Hardly. They are truly a clear-eyed, sometimes hardhearted people who cross the line into pure sentiment when it comes to les chiens. Little wonder it was a Frenchman, Pascal, who wrote: "Plus je vois l'homme, plus j'aime mon chien" --the more I see of man, the more I love my dog.

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