The Art of Racing in the Rain is Garth Stein’s third novel. In his elegant and earthy prose, we discover Stein’s development as a writer and a thinker. This beautifully spare writing creates a visual novel in which we read the scenes through Enzo, the dog narrator, who interprets what he sees for us readers. Eventually we come to see the world his way. Is the story about Denny, the race car driver with the steady heart in the face of adversity? Or is the story about Enzo, who is Denny’s moral core and whose strength in the face of crisis redeems Denny and those he loves? Or is the story about the mystical meaning of dogs? Stein tells the tale of an ordinary man, a hero to the loyal Enzo, living an ordinary life where joy and sorrow trump each other through the years. Yet the story, like that of James Joyce’s Ulysses and John Updike’s “Rabbit” series is infused with the search for meaning through the significance of myth. Enzo is a dog of mixed and non-specialized background, but, as the storytellers of the past tell us, to be a dog is to be a creature who straddles several worlds- the world of the animal and the human, the world of the living and the transformation beyond. In mythology, dogs are the guardians of the soul- and Enzo does save Denny’s soul regularly, as well as guards the soul of Denny’s wife, Eve, when she needs him most. Dog consciousness is the new modernity, as is the evolved male. Stein creates a better man than Leopold Bloom and Rabbit- and a shorter story. But brevity is the new modernity too. Stein’s book has been compared to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, which is about neither Zen nor motorcycles, actually. Philosophic ideas like transformation, karma, reincarnation and the ascending soul do figure strongly in the novel as core principals, but Stein’s book really is about Enzo, one of the best dog characters ever invented in the history of dog writing. I have one issue. Enzo really, really wants to be human. He learns from Denny’s racing principles how to change the roadway of his life: “… while I cannot say I am master of my own destiny…, I know what I have to work toward.” (44) But if one could be as stable, loyal, clear-headed and simply sane as Enzo, why aspire to be the basket case of mixed motives and confusion that is the hallmark of human nature? I think we should all aspire to be like Enzo. Go ahead and read the book and see if Enzo gets his wish. You will like the ending. Dear Blog Readers, Garth Stein’s representatives are offering a free copy of this novel to the first reader who simply barks up and requests it. Just write us at: email@example.com and say you would like a copy of the book. Provide your mailing address and, for the first reader who simply asks, we’ll take it from there.
As we promised, we’re following up our big-dog-air-travel post with a piece on one of the Pet Airways destinations: Denver, Colorado- the mile high city, which is a couple of hours drive from the Rockies in Vail. So this is really about Vail. Not that we don’t like Denver- we do. It’s like Portland, but high and dry and less artsy, though nevertheless just as healthy and casual.
But Vail- the snow is always powder, the bowls are transcendental, spring skiing past the red rocks is ethereal- what’s not to rave about?
Some big dogs work at Vail. If you get caught in an avalanche, dogs will sniff you out and hopefully dig you out. How wonderful to see that black nose pushing the snow away! You can mush your own dog sled too, but make sure the dogs you are given are healthy and fit. (Some dog sledding operations have been exposed for abuse, so keep your eyes open and report any suspicions.)
Vail is very dog friendly; you can even take your dog for a beer and a bowl of water to the deck of the pub at the bottom of the Vista Bahn Express. Bart and Yetti’s restaurant will let your well behaved dog inside. Yes, that restaurant is named after the owner’s dogs. The food is rustic, but the staff are friendly and isn’t it nice to eat with your dog by your side? (Oh you do at home, no big deal. OK) The Bully Ranch Restaurant also takes dogs; the menu is Western-style steaks, wings and burgers. (Dogs love that, and it's conveniently close to the Vail Valley Medical Center- a place I know well, alas.) Many hotels allow dogs. My favorite is The Antlers condos- dog friendly, off the beaten track but close and always cozy- and near Bart and Yetti's. (And no, we get no kickbacks.)
Raja and I have seen big dogs- Huskies, Chows, Goldens and Malamutes sitting patiently in snow banks outside elegant restaurants in Lionshead (the posh district to the west in Vail) off leash and serene, waiting for owners dining inside. Don’t try this unless you can trust your dog to stay, and even then, hmmm, maybe just don’t do it. It looks wrong, doesn’t it? Or is it only me? (We also saw a Shih Tzu sitting in a snow bank outside a pub in Tremblant, Canada, but that doggy was seriously cold.) If you’re going to leave your pup outside, make sure the pup is massive and furry enough to handle it.
Returning to Vail- and I hope we do this upcoming spring- if you have a big dog and want to go, the deals should be huge this year. Maybe you can fly doggy to Denver, rendezvous in the airport, drive to Vail and have an unparalleled vacation in one of he top 10 ski mountains in the world. (If you rent a car for the ride, rent a solid one. On one trip up the big hill we were suddenly socked in by a storm and many cars had to be dragged off the side of the road 5 hours later.) And if you have a small doggy under 15 lbs, book him in cabin and fly direct!
News from about a month ago was that a pet only airline was starting up, but the news was tinged with doubt. (“Who are these people, they got nothin’, a little less talk and a little more action”, etc.) So we waited to see if it really materialized. Now today, news announcements say that ........ Big Fur Will Now Fly!
“Pet Airways will start out in five cities — Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Chicago and Denver. The animals will fly on Beechcraft planes… (Alysa) Binder tells Renee Montagne. All the people comforts have been torn out and reconfigured with pet carriers. There are sections for cats and dogs, but there's no first class.
This represents a big leap for dogs and cats over 15 lbs, as well as for incurable barkers and mewers. True, the current flight plans limit travelers to the most major business hubs of the USA, but it is a start. LA is a fab pet destination (Raja considers himself to be a west coast dog actually), New York is the most dog friendly town in the US, Washington has the marvelous grassy mall, Chicago is the site of one of the biggest pet product shows annually (the Backers Show), and Denver is the gateway to the Rocky Mountains for skiing and hiking (Vail is just a 2 hour drive, up up up).
I must admit, when I write about flying on this blog, usually, I’m talking about small dogs under the seat in cabin and I feel a little guilty. But if Pet Airways gets underway, I’m going to feel a lot better. Next time, we’re going to talk about big dogs in Vail, Colorado to inspire pet owners to think of flying to the big peaks with the big pups this upcoming snow season.
Up, Up and AWAY!
May 30 / June 1 is the biggest moving long-weekend in North America. Raja has facilitated 10 moves. Nomadic dogs can weather moves very well, but they want to be part of the process, rather than to be kenneled away.
No wonder dogs often act up after moves- they didn’t get to help. By “help” I don’t mean they can move the dresser down 5 flights. Dogs are notoriously useless for that. But they can make you smile and express enthusiasm over the littlest things (a ball discovered behind the couch, the shrubbery outside the new apt. building). Also, having a dog overseeing logistics can create the nicest chance encounters- like Raja’s encounter with a lovely woman last weekend who came up to say, “Please tell me our neighborhood is not losing a resident Shih Tzu?”- which was so gracious, it made us want to move IN.
So, if you have a dog and you are moving, keep him safe, but let him take part. If your dog sees everything going into a box and onto a truck, if he makes the drive to the new destination and sees everything put in the new den, his sense of participation and security will be reinforced. We have some advice: Make sure……..
to watch he doesn’t wander outside and get lost.
to keep him well out of the way of people carrying heavy things.
to consider health and exposure at all times. (Raja’s wearing boots to keep his feet safe from any random glass shards, splinters, carpet tacks or mystery germs.)
to feed him regularly. He’ll probably need more water than usual because the expected elevated heart rate and respiration will make him thirsty.
to talk to him so he knows he’s important and respected.
to take time to make a space for one of his beds and bowls in the new place right away.
to help him walk the new beat and lead him toward good places to sniff.
One of our friends made a move from Texas to California, by herself and by plane with her three dogs (one in cabin, 2 in hold) and about 13 pieces of luggage. I’m hoping she’ll guest blog and tell us about that saga! It has to have been a doozie!
If any of you have moving stories to share or questions to ask, please use the comments section. We hope all your moves of the future are to happy places and are facilitated by canine foremen.