Betty and Rita Go to Paris

by Michael Malyszko and Judith E. Hughes

Published by Chronicle Books

84 pages, 1999












Paris: Doggy-Style

Reviewed by David Middleton


Are the influences of the Bauhaus school, the play of light and shadow across the façade, the choice of the finely cultured stone or the pains the artist took in creating an architectural masterwork fully appreciated as your Rottweiler uses the corner of the building as a pissoir? Is the world just one big chew-toy, one big produce aisle, one big sofa to your Chihuahua? When your poodle looks into the eyes of Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon does it see a virtuoso's world inspired by the creativity of the African artiste or the genius of time and space? Or is it just straining to see if there is a sausage hidden within the picture; a sort of Where's Waldo of weisswurst?

How would a city of romance and culture such as Paris look through the eyes of two friendly and curious dogs? Tall? Wet? Fast? Would it look like a sea of bistro tables all waiting to be begged at? Or like a giant park with grass to be rolled in and fountains to be splashed through? Combine the beauty and charm of Paris with the enthusiasm of two slightly muttly canines and -- voila!, Betty and Rita go to Paris -- giving us bipeds a glimpse of the city in a way we never thought we'd see.

Betty and Rita are the two dogs in question, running mad on a tour through the city. Judith E. Hughes and Michael Malyszko are writer and photographer tagging along behind, occasionally taking time to jot a thought or shoot a shot as the dogs visit some of the more famous sights or just sit and soak up l'ambiance. Whether it's a somber look over Betty and Rita's shoulders as they pay their respects to Jim Morrison at Pere Lachaise or a mid-afternoon snack at a park in the shadow of la Tour Eiffel, Betty and Rita is filled with some unique views of Paris. And while the French Board of Tourism may not use any of the pictures to lure people into the country, Malyszko's camera gives us a refreshing and original perspective of a city we've seen many times.

The dogs and the reader get to immerse themselves in a bit of the culture: the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, Montmartre, Notre Dame, a game of pétanque, le Métro and even a Picasso exhibition. Do we or the dogs stop to ponder? Yes, but whether or not the significance of the adventure is fully absorbed need not matter. This is Paris. Whether you're frolicking in a fountain or pondering pétanque, we can all take a cue from these canine adventurers. Soak it up, enjoy yourself, live in the moment. What fun!

Hughes' descriptive poetry of the adventure is just succinct enough to give us a feel of a Paris beheld by creatures whose language skills probably do not include such words as "café" and "baguette," at the same time teaching a soupçon of French to those of us animals who can only read English.

Three major musées were the second day's fare;

we took l'ascenseur instead of the stairs.

A strange illustration right on la rue

Left nothing to chance on where to go poo.

At a cute bistro politely we begged:

Please, just a morsel; it worked, we got fed!

Then outside it rained and, soaked to the bone,

we headed chez nous and called the day done.

An elegant, handsome and fun volume suitable for any coffee table and filled with lovely duotoned photos accompanied by simple and straightforward text and typography. Betty and Rita is a book for everyone, young or old, who loves photography or dogs or Paris, or -- in this case -- photographs of dogs in Paris.

We may see Paris as the City of Light, home of Le Moulin Rouge and the Champs-Elysées where Citroens careen and bérets are in all-too-plentiful supply, but Betty and Rita, Judith and Michael see it as a place to be explored and a place to be experienced, all from a new level: about 18 inches from the ground. Thank goodness, Paris has gone to the dogs. | July 1999