THE TIPPLING POINT | A Man’s Two Best Friends: Mountain Dogs and Brandy Kegs
Many believe that poor mountaineers who get lost in snowy Alps pine away thinking that mastiffs, St Bernards, a kind of strong and huge dogs, are on their way to nourish them with brandy bottles hung from their necks.
(Image for representation: Reuters)
It doesn’t matter whether the stories stand the test of logic and reason but drinkers need a lot of reasons and stories to cover up for what they lose. So many believe that the Jagermeister has deer blood in it, Mescal has a live worm in it, many Japanese wines have hissing snakes coiled at the bottom of the bottle, and poor mountaineers who get lost in snowy Alps pine away thinking that mastiffs, St Bernards, a kind of strong and huge dogs, are on their way to nourish them with brandy bottles hung from their necks.
That last one is legendary for the image is so deeply stuck to the public conscience, for centuries, that they need all their spirits of scientific enquiry and knowledge of history to dispel it from their mind.
Unlike many myths which have a cloudy birth, St Bernards' myth has a traceable origin.
It all started in the 1600s when watch dogs were brought by the monks living in Alpine pass. With strong muscles, thick winter coats and a keen sense of smell, those strong hounds could take care of the cattle, they were assigned to by the monasteries. They could even find people, mostly pilgirms on their way to Rome, who had wandered astray or were caught in the blizzard or avalanches while negotiating the passes of Alps.
Well, that account of history might have caught the fancies of a young boy, Edwin Landseer, living in England at the beginning of the 19th century. One evening in 1820 he drew a painting in his crude studio. In it one could see a haggard man being rescued by St Bernards, those Alpine mastiffs, as he lay half-consious in a snowbank.
Take a closer look. There were two dogs in the painting - one signalling the rescueres by barking aloud, another licking at the hand of the man, perhaps nudging him to make him twist open the spigot of the tiny barrel hanging from the mastiff's neck. In the bottle contains the antidote to sufferings caused by such punishing cold and altitude of the Alpine pass where the traveller is stuck in - Brandy!
The boy-artist had never seen Alps in his life, but a recent incident of a mastiff crossing the English Channel had wowed him enough to pay a lasting tribute to the beast. Landseer had created many other paintings in his lifetime, but none could outstrip the fame of this one painting that satiated the poor drinkers who always thirst after stories like this sort. Stories where mastiffs run around looking for lost people at the dizzying heights of Alps with brandy kegs tied around their necks. What more do you need from those poor dumb creatures!
People took the artistic creation for real.
Even after two centuries of the artist’s demise, the picture of slobbery dogs with tiny casks hanging around from their necks continue to lure travelers to the prohibiting heights of the Alps. And that’s the story behind those pictures you might have seen, where dogs with little casks hanging from their necks, pose for ads that promote tourism to the Switzerland.
(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees. Views expressed here are personal)
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