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.



Contributions

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From: Van Aken Martin (Aug 11 2008, at 00:06)

Following Stevenson (of "Treasure Island" fame) advice, I did a part of his trip in France (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travels_with_a_Donkey_in_the_C%C3%A9vennes), with a donkey, of course.

The animal is largely able to follow you on the track, at her own pace. The only problem we ever had was trying to have her cross a very small and narrow creek.

On this moment, you realise what it is to be "stubborn as a donkey"...

I hope you will be able to enjoy the experience as much as I did.

Martin

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From: Loïc d'Anterroches (Aug 11 2008, at 00:14)

Just for the spelling of âne. Effectively, you are always supposed to write with the "accent circonflexe", even in the case of uppercase a. Âne et non pas Ane.

The fact is that the French keyboard is really badly conceived and it is nearly impossible to write uppercase letters with the corresponding accent (or cédille) like  or Ç with it. The result is that we see less and less of them in computer written texts. I am myself using a US international keyboard layout with the compose key to write in French. It is surprisingly easier to use such keyboard to write "correct" French than the official French layout.

Anyway, Auvergne is a wonderful place, and if you are going there, do not miss the Cantal, the place is packed with blueberries (les myrtilles) and you can enjoy the place with small kids.

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From: Sophie (Aug 11 2008, at 01:27)

Last year I met people travelling with donkeys in the Crozon peninsula, Brittany. The randonnée was organised by Océâne, included flexible routes and booked lodgings. It seems a very nice way of travelling.

About the Â, I second the comment about the French keyboard layout. I use the French Canadian layout, which is vastly superior and allows to put the right accents in the right place.

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From: Ken (Aug 11 2008, at 04:27)

I thought of Donkeyites, but am tickled by Donkeyotays (sorry couldn't resist and would have gone for accents -- phonetic spelling will have to do).

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From: Dan (Aug 11 2008, at 05:57)

How about "Donkey-Wallah". A "wallah" is Hindi for s/he who occupies her/mimself with, whatever: a furniture-wallah, a rickshah-wallah, the candy-wallah.

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From: Ed Davies (Aug 11 2008, at 06:47)

It's my recollection from localization of word processors twenty years ago that use of accents on uppercase is one of the differences between Canadian and European French - Canadians keep the accents whereas Europeans drop them if I remember correctly.

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From: JB (Aug 11 2008, at 10:20)

On your first translation issue, I believe English speakers who speak about such things have decided to just borrow the word 'randonee' straight across, dropping the accents to better fit English orthography.

In the descriptivist spirit, I will provide empirical evidence gathered from the REI search engine:

http://www.rei.com/search?query=randonee&button.x=0&button.y=0

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From: Carolyn (Aug 13 2008, at 03:24)

Oh, heavens! Tim!

I hope you know me well enough I am jesting with you.

Of course you love donkeys! With your name? You speak the language!

From your "good ol' pal, Sal" *

* "Fifteen miles on the Erie canal"

P.S. I know mules aren't the same as donkeys, but they're related.

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From: Josh (Aug 14 2008, at 03:41)

Donkeywonk?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Policy_wonk

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From: Sheila Morrissey (Aug 14 2008, at 06:54)

RE: 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. ¶

Acutally - etymology is with you -- random comes from the same root :

random

"having no definite aim or purpose," 1655, from at random (1565), "at great speed" (thus, "carelessly, haphazardly"), alteration of M.E. randon "impetuosity, speed" (c.1305), from O.Fr. randon "rush, disorder, force, impetuosity," from randir "to run fast," from Frankish *rant "a running," from P.Gmc. *randa (cf. O.H.G. rennen "to run," O.E. rinnan "to flow, to run"). In 1980s college student slang, it began to acquire a sense of "inferior, undesirable." Random access in ref. to computer memory is recorded from 1953

from http://www.etymonline.com/index.php Online Etymology Dictionary

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From: bob (Aug 22 2008, at 02:34)

Maybe a closer english word for randonnée is rambling, see definition below.

American dictionary definitions don't quite communicate it's use in the uk - hiking and trekking are ugly americanisms, going for a long walk is going for a ramble. The biggest organisation that looks after the interests of walkers in the uk is called "The Ramblers Association".

Or, "donkey wandering" has a ring to it, too.

from http://dictionary.cambridge.org/

ramble (WALK)

to walk for pleasure, especially in the countryside:

I love to ramble through the fields and lanes in this part of the country.

Shall we go rambling tomorrow?

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