Philippine, one of my great-aunts, never left the tiny farm in a Burgundian village where her many brothers and sisters were born. As with so many families at that time, from the first day of his life to the day he died at age 97, his bedroom was located just above the barn, where his three cows, their calves, his donkey and his horse plowing took the place of natural heating by the ground.

The little city dweller that I often was, readily adapted to the habits of the house. In fact, they were not a matter of whim but were largely imposed by the seasons and the animals, which had to be milked, fed, taken to the meadow, brought back, and I felt that everything that had nothing to do with them seemed like a small thing. Philippine treated her son-in-law as if he were her orderly, who, moreover, had no more consideration for her own son, absorbed in his books for the entrance examination to the teacher training college, to which he threw in passing: “Since you are doing nothing, come with me to groom the horse. »

Those happy days come back to me after decades away from the farm. However, I have never been far from pets, dogs, cats, fish and birds, having, if I may say so, grown up with my children as much as they did with them, and they have fulfilled their role well beyond this that we expected. Their dependence in particular saved us in the trying bereavements of our lives, when without the obligations we had towards them we could have simply given up getting up in the morning. Despite everything, they were not the masters of the house as had been the three cows, the donkey and the horse of the small farm in Saône-et-Loire. Masters who, if school or any such futility had been given priority over them, if they had been neglected, would no longer have provided milk for the milkman, calves for the butcher, back for the pack or heat for the room. Philippine and her family on one side, the animals on the other, everyone depended on everyone, and we were quits.

These thoughts came to me after watching two unusual films in the past few days. One, named EO(like “hi-han”), jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival, has as its only hero a donkey that wanders in Eastern Europe, where his feet take him. The heroes of the other, The Banshees of Inisherin, awarded at the Mostra of Venice, are two Irish peasants who tear each other apart, without regard except for a small donkey and a dog, victims of the agitation of men, innocent and as if sacred. They remind us of another “movie donkey”, almost sixty years earlier, whose hero was endowed by its author, Robert Bresson, with the name of the mage king, Balthazar. Bresson to describe it spoke of a “animal, a donkey, in all its purity, its tranquillity, its serenity, its holiness (1) “.

In our lives in the cities from which it was excluded, the animal gradually reappeared. Foxes and wild boars come out of the forests at night to prosaically rummage through our garbage cans, it’s the trash side of their return and the raw expression of our urban development at the expense of nature. There is also a moral side, with the slow, so slow realization of the disproportionate nature of our consumption of meat and fish, which results in daily carnage beyond imagination. This same moral side has made the confinement and training of circus animals, progressively prohibited, unbearable for us, starting with wild animals. And then there is this philosophical return to the animal, whose companionship we seem to be rediscovering, after a long oblivion. Horses are called upon to relieve people suffering from mental disorders from their worries, their obsessions – perhaps they mysteriously take their share? To certain dogs, with round and sociable physique and character, is entrusted with the mission of accompanying child victims through the stages of their trying legal journey (The cross of December 28). On a lighter note, cat bars offer simultaneous consumption in town of coffees and purrs, cuddles and macaroons.

We missed these generous animals, these intimate animals. Dogs, cats and horses return to make themselves useful as therapists since they are asked to do so, and the “movie donkeys” take over from stained glass windows and nativity scenes to show innocence incarnate. It remains to be seen what reciprocity to invent with these beasts who give themselves to us, and if one day we will be able to feel like yesterday that they and we are really quits.


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