Ah, New York. I had a wonderful visit earlier this month, seeing old friends, going to museums and restaurants, and walking, walking, walking. I was in my element in my hometown, negotiating crowded streets, dodging people and cars. It’s in my DNA.
But Manhattan is no place for small, fearful dogs from Arizona. When I looked at the city through his eyes, I realized Frankie would not ♥ New York.
Luckily, I had a pet sitter who took great care of him while — I admit it — I enjoyed not being on insulin duty. It was a treat, not needing to be home between 5 and 6pm. And I slept really, really well.
How the 1% Lived
But of course Frankie was often on my mind, especially during my visit to the Morgan Library & Museum to see the current exhibition, In the Company of Animals.
It’s small, only about 80 pieces in a single room. And I wasn’t taken with a lot of them: Bestiaries and ancient images of fantastical creatures don’t particularly appeal to me. So I’m not sure if the dozen or so more personal pieces that I heartily enjoyed would have been worth the $15 price of admission. But I had a press pass and got in for free, so I was very happy. And if you haven’t visited the Morgan Library & Museum before, it’s worth it for certain. Sure, J.P. Morgan was a filthy rich industrialist who wielded disproportionate economic clout, but I can’t help having a warm place in my heart for someone who spent a great deal of his money on books and manuscripts.
Among my favorites were a watercolor of Babar the elephant before he got his signature green suit; a sketch of dachshunds by David Hockney (reproduced here); and a manuscript page on a yellow lined pad from Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.
But the highlight was learning something surprising about two well-known literary women and their pets.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s golden cocker spaniel, Flush — sketched by the poet in the 1843 letter above — was abducted and held for ransom three times; apparently dognapping was fairly common. Sadly, although the thieves knew how much pets were valued, Barrett Browing was mocked for being distraught at her loss. In her letter, which tells of Flush’s return, Barrett Browning says:
I was crying while he was away; & I was accused so loudly of ‘silliness & childishness’ afterwards that I was glad to dry my eyes & forget my misfortunes by way of rescuing my reputation. After all it was excusable that I cried. Flushie is my friend — my companion — & loves me more than he loves the sunshine without.
Also fascinating: in the adjacent display was a copy of Flush, the 1933 biography that Virginia Woolf wrote of Barrett Browning’s dog, based on the abduction incidents (somehow the book never made its way into my lit classes). The Kirkus review calls it “a sympathetic study of the famous spaniel,” adding:
Though essentially Flush’s story, Virginia Woolf has given interesting sidelights on the Brownings and those associated with them, and she has told it in her most delightful style, devoid of the indirection and obscurity of most of her fiction. .
It’s on my to-read list.
A few things I learned by following up on the Morgan Library exhibit:
- Robert Browning didn’t particularly like Flush, who bit his ankle the first time the poet visited Elizabeth Barrett. Indeed, Browning tried to discourage his wife from paying the ransom for the dog.
- Virginia Woolf had a cocker spaniel named Pinka, whose picture is on the cover of Flush; Hans, another of Woolf’s dogs (of unknown breed), was notorious for interrupting parties by getting sick and peeing on the rug; and Woolf’s husband, Leonard, would shout at every dog he encountered until it was intimidated, after which Leonard would relax and befriend it (the last two facts are from 59 Things You Didn’t Know About Virginia Woolf).
Freud’s Last Session
I’m an idiot.
My main reason for going to New York was to meet the director of Vienna’s Sigmund Freud Museum, where my great uncle’s butcher shop has been turned into an art gallery. In the interest of learning more about the father of psychoanalysis, I also went to see a play called Freud’s Last Session, based on a hypothetical meeting in London between Freud and C.S. Lewis during the final year of Freud’s life. A fascinating dialog between the famous man of faith and the famous atheist, the play seems to get the details of Freud’s life right — except for one.
In the beginning of the play, Freud calls out to an unseen barking dog,”Come, Yofi.” But Yofi died when Freud was in Vienna; it was Yofi’s sister, Lun, who went along with the Freuds to London. In the play, Freud even mentions that his dog is avoiding him because of the smell of his jaw, necrotic from cancer, a detail I would not have expected the playwright to catch. By coincidence, I recently wrote about all this...
So why am I an idiot? Because after the show, which was in a very intimate theater, the actors came out to talk to lingering audience members in the hall and I avoided them out of nervousness. I could have said I loved the play — I did! — before I brought up the mistaken identity dog. What was my problem? I had credibility. Why wouldn’t Martin Rayner, the actor who played Freud, be interested in talking with Sigmund Freud’s butcher’s grand-niece about Freud’s dog?
Rayner would surely have passed the information along to the playwright, Mark St. Germain, who, I’m certain, would have revised the play because he is interested in veracity (though yelling “Yofi” is more mellifluous than yelling “Lun” so St. Germain’s decision might have been an artistic one).
Fantasy? Probably. But I’ll never know now.
Update: I was right about the choice of dog name being an artistic decision, wrong about “I’ll never know.” See Mark St. Germain’s comment (!), below.
While in New York I also had the pleasure of meeting Lee Charles Kelley, dog trainer and writer whose credits include a mystery series that features… a dog trainer. I am currently reading and heartily enjoying his To Collar a Killer.
As I mentioned before, Lee is going to write a guest post — or two — for me about Freudian dog training. Stay tuned.