What is the Mona Lisa Doing Here?

It was a cold winter day in Washington, DC, and the lines to get into the National Gallery of Art snaked all around the huge building. The year was 1963, and President Kennedy had managed a diplomatic coup by getting the French government to loan the Mona Lisa so that Americans could see the most famous work of art in the world.

The crowds to see it were unprecedented. One had to stand in line for hours and even overnight. A little boy was among the thousands who flocked to see the painting. Bundled up and shivering from the cold, he grew excited as his place in line finally got inside the building, and eventually into the very gallery where Leonardo’s masterpiece hung.

But being a short little kid, he had to wait until he could place himself squarely in front, just a foot or so from the canvas. And then he did something astonishing.

Unbuttoning his winter coat, he revealed his dog, whom he had been carrying secretly all this time.

“I wanted my dog to see the Mona Lisa,” he explained matter-of-factly to the startled guards.

How many dogs can claim to have accomplished such a feat?

Photograph: President Kennedy, Mme Malraux, French Minister of Culture André Malraux, Jackie Kennedy and Vice President Johnson at the unveiling of the Mona Lisa, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 8 January 1963
© Photo © Robert Knadsen, White House / John Fitzgerald Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston


A Karmic Tale


Earlier this year I wrote a story that seemed to touch many people’s hearts. It was about my friend Pamela and her beloved Brigandi, a wise soul in the outward form of a chow.

After 16 years of constant companionship, Brigandi had to depart this world.

To know him was to understand what deliberation meant. He understood his mortality, but more to the point, he understood how difficult his absence would be to his best friend. So he determined that somehow, some way, he would find a means to manifest his bond with her after he had gone.


Call it karma or what you will. Brigandi figured out a way to guide to his Pamela another little soul in need of love. Her name is Bramwell—and as you can see, she is strong, Welsh, and overjoyed to be with her new companion.


Love never ends. It just has new beginnings.


Surfing Bulldog

‘I’m NOT a surfer’, originally uploaded by Cynr.

A friend of mine sometimes invites me to her family’s beach house in southern California. One of their neighbors has a bulldog who is a fanatic about the beach. The minute the dog arrives she runs as fast as she can into the water, crashing her thick body against the waves with full force.

When a surfboard is within sight, she runs to it, jumps on it, and implores her human friends to take her surfing. What a sight she is! With her human standing on the back of the board, she balances on the front, ears flapping, mouth open in the widest possible smile.To see this bulldog throw herself into the water with total abandon is to understand what it is like to do something passionately, wholeheartedly. If only all humans could experience such total joie de vivre!


Memories of a Dog

The Old Man, originally uploaded by Four Doxn.

When I was a teenager, the neighbors’ dachshund came to visit every day. Snoopy treated our place as if it was home, and he would often stay with us overnight.

He especially liked it when I would scratch him under the chin, then behind his ears, under the collar, down his spine, under his front legs, etc. I could make him go to sleep by doing this routine, and I loved it when he would start snoring and dreaming.

Eventually I went to university and moved away. Years later, I visited Snoopy’s family. He recognized me immediately, and we had a joyous reunion. But he was old and arthritic. His poor body was creaky and probably in pain. His face was white.

He lay on my lap, like old times. Then I started our little scratching routine, which took several minutes. Suddenly, Snoopy let out an uneartlhy sound which startled everyone in the room.

Had it come from a human it could not have been more eloquent. It said: “I remember you! I missed you all these years! You understand me! I used to be young, and now I’m old. Don’t leave me!”

But I had to leave. It was the last time I ever saw him.

If only I could pet him now, it would be I who told him: “I remember you! I missed you all these years! You understand me! I used to be young, and now I’m old. Don’t leave me!”


In Memoriam

Brigandi standing

Brigandi Glintenkamp (1991-2007)

To say that Brigandi was a dog (a chow, to be exact) seems to be entirely beside the point. Those of us who love and observe animals closely will understand. Each creature has its own way of being and moving through the world regardless of its species.

Brigandi was a philosopher. He was born in Lancaster, California in the summer of 1991. It is there that he first met my friend Pamela, who had come to visit the breeder and the puppies on offer. For years Pamela had so wanted a chow, but circumstances had conspired against it until that moment. She had read everything she could get her hands on about the breed.

And when she appeared before Brigandi and his siblings, she sat down on the dirty floor, wanting to see what would happen. Brigandi wasted no time, leaping with enthusiasm into her lap. He recognized a kindred spirit: someone who is thoughtful, deliberate, and empathetic to other species.

Pamela took photos of Brigandi’s mom, dad, and siblings, and posted them around his food bowl so he wouldn’t feel too lonely. He soon grew up to be a magnificent and arresting figure who would attract attention wherever he went. Often people would ask if he was a lion. On a typical day in the park, he might have his photo taken 20 times.

He lived a colorful life, including time at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch, where he loved chasing animals larger than himself, like deer. In the 1994 Northridge earthquake, furniture was flying through the air, and Pamela called out to him. During this crazy Wizard of Oz moment, he hurled himself over a flying lamp into her arms. The next day, one of his whiskers turned gray, though he was only three years old.

The Southern California climate was too hot for such a furry creature, and Brigandi shared Pamela’s passion for the climate and culture of London. It was their dream to walk in St James’s Park together, and that dream came true when they moved and became ex pats in that great city.

Since he was a pup he and Pamela had taken a natural approach to his health care, shunning chemicals in favor of acupuncture, homeopathy, and chiropractic treatments. It paid off. Despite advanced age (well beyond life expectancy for a chow) and arthritis, he enjoyed life to the end. Pamela would even take him through the streets of London in a blazing red Radio Flyer wagon, turning heads all the way.

Brigandi in wagon

Brigandi was Pamela’s constant companion, watching out for her with the dignity of the most loyal Palace guard. And in turn, she let him know that she appreciated and loved him without reserve. They “got” one other, and were each enriched by the other.

Brigandi aptly got his name from the stereo photographer Philip Brigandi. A stereo photograph is actually two perspectives on one subject, merged into one image through a stereo viewer. I think this captures the essence of the relationship of Brigandi and his Pamela. With their two perspectives on the world and one another, they showed us the potential we can achieve through the simple power of love.

Pamela and Brigandi

To see more and to add comments for Brigandi’s scrapbook, please visit his tribute video.

See postscript added in March, 2008.


Madrid’s Dogs

Goya’s Dog (Prado)

Have you noticed that when you travel to a foreign culture you are thrown into an almost strictly visual mode for gathering information? I am in such a mode because I am in Madrid for the first time ever. When I arrived I went for a stroll, then settled into a sidewalk cafe that faced an open public area where ordinary people were strolling. I figured I would see an introduction to Spanish life. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Almost immediately I noticed how many people were walking their dogs. It was a week night, so I imagined that these folks were home from work and the dogs were enjoying a well-deserved time outside with their favorite person. And indeed, the dogs were smiling. You know that upward curve their mouths have when they are really happy.

So many dogs! And they were utterly devoted to their companions. Some waited patiently while their human chatted with friends. One was overjoyed to chase a ball its human would throw, ever further away. Some dogs greeted one another as well-known friends or adversaries. But what struck me was that no matter how foreign a culture may be, the relationship between dogs and their companions is universal. What a comfort when one is feeling alone and, well, foreign!

And today, I went to the Prado, where I discovered an unusual proportion of paintings that somehow had dogs prominently in them. And yes: whether with kings, nudes, crucifixions, or private visions, there was a dog, being its self: sleeping in the sun, begging for food, scratching and sniffing.

But in one memorable painting by Goya, a dog appears as the protagonist. It is alone, with only its head visible, a golden background taking up the rest of the painting’s space. This dog must find its own meaning, and so must we. Critics and historians are mute on this haunting image.

I return to this painting several times, searching for its meaning, unsettled by the dog’s eternal loneliness. Do I see faces in the golden background? Like me, is the dog seeing these shadowy figures above–or is it a cruel trick our minds play to convince us that we are not alone and devoid of significance?