I have always been sweet on donkeys. I’ve published some fetching donkey photographs in this space, and have visited the Donkey Sanctuary in Devon on three separate occasions. Herewith a donkey-centric book review, travel recommendation, and French word that needs a better English translation.
Donkey Wisdom · That’s the book: in full, The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World by Andy Merrifield; a present last Christmas from my Mother, who knows I like them.
Merrifield likes donkeys a whole lot, perhaps more than I do, and has wrapped a thin and enjoyable (note that I do not say “but enjoyable”; thin is good) philosophical discourse around the species. He has plentiful recourse to every literary and scriptural donkey that you’ve ever heard of, and a few that I hadn’t. The book’s core is a narrative of a walking tour of part of the Auvergne, in France, accompanied by a princely ass named Gribouille.
A donkey’s back is famously strong, able to carry incredible weights without bending, as I saw growing up in the Middle East. Merrifield’s travelogue and repertoire of donkeys-in-print do however bend occasionally beneath the weight of his philosophical excursions. But not alarmingly, and the whole is smoothly enjoyable, end to end.
And, after all, the virtues of the donkey are important: calm, caution, and obstinacy. Plus they’re fun to pet; there is evidence that their companionship is beneficial to mental health. Clearly there’s more than one book to be carved from this raw material.
Donkey Trekking · Merrifield named the outfit that supplied his walking companion: Une Ane en Auvergne. (Shouldn’t that be Âne?) Which was easy enough to turn up on the Web, and it quickly developed that it is but one of many outfits providing this service around France. You can read all about it in four languages at Anes et Randonnées. Their tag-line is Quand les chemins ont des oreilles — “When the roads have ears”, and the English intro text says “FNAR is specialized in introducing people who like country walking to donkeys who like people.”
It all makes perfect sense as Merrifield describes it; a donkey is good company, regards your forty-pound pack as a trifle, and will have no trouble on most trails suitable for people. I think I must try this some year when the kids are older.
The Translation Problem · I have two. First of all, randonnée sounds much more carefree, suggesting random divagation, than the English “trekking”, which feels laborious. Alas, etymology is against me; it’s the past participle of randonner, whose roots seem to stretch through randir back toward some Latin ancestor that also birthed rennen in German and “run” in English. Fooey.
Now... there’s a word for the people who offer the donkey-trekking service: Âniers (that circumflex on the capital A seems very fragile and even somewhat on the lower-case letter, thus often just aniers). It turns out this seems to apply anyone who is primarily occupied with donkeys to whatever professional end.
We don’t have word for it in English; thus that French site uses the awkward “Donkey-centers” for the trekking providers. Clearly this needs addressing; I kind of like the sound of “arsist”, but there are good reasons, these days, to stay away from neologisms involving “ass”. I offer the title of this essay.