Seven years ago, when I at long last fell in love on what I consider to surely be a permanent basis, I not only had the pleasure of keeping regular company with the travel-loving, Italophile partner of my dreams, but her large, black, curl-laden dog as well. And just as Gertrude and Alice tooled around the bomb-scarred countryside of France, the head of their slobbering, beloved Basket hanging out the window of their car -- a World War I ambulance re-christened Aunt Pauline -- I too made the assumption that our travels would take us far and wide with our 90-pound, generally damp, water-loving dog happily lolling in the back seat, gums flapping and drool flying. Moreover, I assumed that she'd be a willing party, not unlike the pugs and poodles who travel with apparent ease from coast to coast in their mother's (or father's) Louis Vuitton dog carriers.
Like most former New Yorkers, I longed to have a mellow country dog who would be my comrade in both travel and in life. And while my last trip with a dog involved a stay with my Airedale in a now-defunct borscht-belt hotel (the dog spent his days in the room, doing what, I wonder, and why did my parents and I bring him? To see the show?), I trusted the gods that my curly-coated, country stepdog would be different. After all, didn't those Mini Cooper people base an entire ad campaign on the theory that "dogs love to go motoring?" So we began to plan small trips to introduce Macgillicuddy to the joys of short (and eventually long) distance travel.
As a food writer, it was imperative that I create journeys centered on gastronomic pleasures, and so every trip had a food-focused destination: a brief Hudson River Valley day jaunt would land us in Pine Plains, New York to visit the Coach Farms goat cheese people. (The dog adores their peppered pyramids.) A car-to-ferry-to-car excursion would deposit us in Menemsha, on Martha's Vineyard, where she would know that a black dog such as herself was the island's mascot, and where the calm waters of Squibnocket Pond and the endless lure of the salty ocean awaited, along with a bottomless bowl of the boiled and peeled shrimp that makes her swoon. Eventually, we would take her to the northwest, where she could sample the goods at Pike Place Market, and then, after waiting an hour for everything to digest, go for a luxurious dip in Puget Sound.
She would have none of it.
The psychology of dog travel is something that perplexes me, even though it's relatively simple to understand: either they love it or they hate it, and Macgillicuddy most certainly falls into the second group. Not ones to be accused of psychologically harming our dog, my partner and I decided that if the dog must curl up in a fetal position, shake violently, and develop sudden and extreme dyspepsia every time the car keys are jangled or the suitcases appear, so be it. We get the message. Our hopes of introducing her to double-cockpit sea kayaking off the Baja Peninsula are for naught. Sailing in Washington State's Friday Harbor will have to be accomplished without her. That great hike along the Roaring Fork River in Aspen will have to be done alone, but oh, we say, every time an Aspen dog races up the trail ahead of its master and passes us on its way into the river, how deeply she'd enjoy it. So, we've long given up our dream of having a traveling sort of dog, and rather than torture her, we now just show her pictures, read her books like Betty and Rita Go to Paris (wherein a black lab and a golden retriever visit the City of Lights and sample fresh croissant at a boulangerie), and then we buy her some Montrachet at the local supermarket. This is your mother at the Mesa Pueblo. Notice the composition. Would you like another piece of cheese?
But some years ago, after a particularly brutal summer, we decided to give it one more shot. Macgillicuddy is nothing if not comforting to both of us (and presumably, we to her), so a few months after I lost my beloved father in a shockingly sudden and violent manner, we felt that we needed a change of scenery and color, a respite from the acute grief that hung on the windows and walls of our home like heavy, velvet Victorian drapery. After much on-line hunting for somewhere to go that would be soothing, where we weren't required to do anything beyond sitting in Adirondack chairs on the back lawn and reading all the books and magazines that had piled up over the course of one year, I found us a small cabin on a lake in northern Vermont, not far from Middlebury.
"Do they take dogs?" my partner asked.
"We're not renting it unless they do," I replied, ironically wondering exactly how clean a summer rental could be if it allowed large dogs to stay and was only a few feet from the water. My nostrils filled with the imagined, pungent smell of mildew and the stench of damp, stained orange 1970s shag wall-to-wall carpeting. Macgillicuddy is odorous when she's wet, but frankly, I didn't want to take a vacation involving another dog's particular odor, and I'm sure that Macgillicuddy didn't want it either. But the place was inexpensive. It looked clean. The owner wasn't a crackpot. We booked it, and I mentioned we'd be bringing our dog, who loved the water and was very large.
"Wonderful," the owner replied, "there'll be so much for her to do...Hiking, swimming, and the townspeople love dogs up here. You can bring her with you wherever you go."
"That's what you think," I said.
We talked about Vermont as often as we could the week before our trip, which would involve five hours of driving and strong doses of Dramamine for both the dog and myself (she took hers wrapped in a piece of young chevre), assuming we could get her into the car at all. We pleaded and begged, threw sticks for her, and finally, miraculously cajoled her into my packed Subaru, where her usual indigestion hit her and us, full force. And then she hung her head out the rear passenger window for the entire five hours it took us to get to the cabin, slobbering like Basket doubtless did all over Aunt Pauline, as Gertrude and Alice took her along on visits to see funny Uncle Pablo and his weird paintings, down in the South of France.
Upon our arrival, Macgillicuddy stuck close, examining every inch of the house and sampling the cushions on the clean but old sofa that sat in front of an enormous stone fireplace. She went to the window, and when she saw the lake, she began to cry. She had finally figured it out: this vacation was as much about her as it was us. She spent the rest of her vacation learning how to leap off the end of our private dock and swim back to shore, which she did all day every day, before enjoying cocktail and kibble hour with us, in front of the roaring fieldstone fireplace.
We've rented the same cabin on the lake this year, for exactly the same reasons: so that we can all have a vacation together. Macgillicuddy still hates to travel, but these days, when she hears the word Vermont she responds like any intelligent dog would, who can put two and two together: she jumps into the car and gazes down our road, ever hopeful.