Perry Solves A Literary Mystery

Dear Bear Friends:

We are in Paris!

A few hours ago, our train pulled into the "Gard du Nord", and we are really, really in Paris. I have so much to look forward to! Miss Cynthia has promised to take me on a bus tour of all the Paris sights, and I will write faithfully about all that I see and do.

This evening, however, Your Bear Correspondent Perry Bear Ewer got to the bottom of a mystery that has bedevilled bear literature for nearly 70 years.

As literary mysteries goes, it is a small one, but one of great interest to Miss Cynthia and to ME, at any rate, and here is how I discovered it:

Our Paris hotel is VERY grand, like all of Paris: a huge stone building with many tall windows. Our doorman wears a very dashing uniform, with a red cape. He said "Bon Soir!" to Miss Cynthia and me as we went out for a short walk on the streets of Paris. Miss Cynthia told me that "Bon Soir!" means "Good Evening!", because I was very puzzled.

Off we went, down the street. Paris IS very grand. The buildings are all made of stone, and are very tall. Each window has an elaborate iron railing, and everything is very beautiful. Cheerful shops line the sidewalk, and cars dash about on the street.

Everyone seems to walk EVERYWHERE. I saw young French girls, arm-in-arm, hair flying behind them, laughing and smiling. Although the weather was brisk and cold, Miss Cynthia and I enjoyed our first walk in Paris.

Suddenly, just ahead, we noticed many lights and people and much commotion.

"Shall we investigate?" asked Miss Cynthia. I was agreeable. Remember, while poor Miss Cynthia has to walk around in the cold with NO FUR, just a coat and scarf, I get to ride in warm comfort, snug in my fur, wrapped in a warm scarf and tucked into a corner of Miss Cynthia's handbag.

We crossed the street, and found ourselves in front of Le Pringtemps. Le Pringtemps is a very large department store--the name means, Springtime.

Miss Cynthia told me it is the oldest department store in Paris! Le Pringtemps is more than 130 years old, but it looked very new and modern.

When we got closer, we discovered the reason for the excitement: Christmas windows! I sat up taller to get a better view, because the windows were WONDERFUL. A whole court of cats, dressed in old-fashioned court clothing, looked on while Santa Claus was presented to the cat King and cat Queen.

Winter scenes with snowmen. Santa's workshop. So many wonderful windows, and all of them were moving. Why, I thought I'd gone back to Perryland!

I noticed something odd, however, and resolved to ask Miss Cynthia about it, soon. My chance came right away. "Perry," Miss Cynthia said, blowing on her gloved hands to warm them, "let's go get a hot drink--I'm FREEZING!"

So we turned into a nearby McDonalds. Yes, a McDonalds! It was the same as an American McDonalds, and it was a little bit different, too. The soft drinks are very small, and McDonalds sells WINE in France! Miss Cynthia got a steaming cup of coffee, and she was kind enough to purchase a hot chocolate for me, as well.

We found a table near the window, so we could watch the passing crowd.

"Miss Cynthia," I said, "Where are all the bears? There were hardly ANY teddy bears in those store windows!"

"Perry, you noticed!" said Miss Cynthia, solemnly. "Yes, this will surprise you, but teddy bears are not very popular with French children. I hope your feelings won't be hurt. The French are just not very interested in bears."

"Not even at CHRISTMAS?" I gasped.

"No, not even then," said Miss Cynthia, sadly. "If you look in the toy stores, you will see a few bears, but most of them are German or English bears, not French bears. Bears have never really caught on in France, I'm sorry to say."

Imagine! Hard as it is to believe, it is true. French children like many American toys. In Paris, every toy store has LOTS of toys from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and I could certainly understand THAT! After all, the cathedral of Notre Dame IS in Paris! Barbie is popular, too, along with a European doll like Barbie, named Sindy. Just not bears! I was very sad as I sipped my hot chocolate.

Meanwhile, Miss Cynthia was making a face at her cup of coffee. "What is it, Miss Cynthia?" I asked. "I don't know, Perry just look at this cream!"

Miss Cynthia held a small, opened container of coffee cream toward me. It was thick and yellowish-white, and to a bear nose, it smelled DELICIOUS.

"Is it supposed to look like this?" Miss Cynthia asked, "Do you think it's gone bad?"

"Nothing that smells THAT good has gone bad, Miss Cynthia!" I said. "Let me taste it maybe it's fancy French coffee cream!" I scooped up just a smidgen onto my paw, and licked it. Delicious! Almost as good as honey! I rubbed my tongue around the inside of the tiny tin, and guzzled the entire sweet, delicious morsel. "May I have some more?" I asked Miss Cynthia, somewhat stickily.

"Perry, what has gotten into you? Eating my coffee cream? What IS this stuff?" Miss Cynthia walked to the counter and retrieved some more tiny tins.

She sat down, looking carefully at the label on the top. "'Lait Concentre Avec Sucre'" she read, "Hmmm. Concentrated Milk with Sugar . . . why, it's condensed milk!"

Miss Cynthia was very excited. "Perry, do you know what you've done? You've solved a mystery!" Me? Solved a mystery? I just wanted Miss Cynthia to give me some more . . . condensed milk, was it? She opened the tin, smiled, and placed it in my paw.

"Perry," Miss Cynthia said, "all my life I have wondered about bears and condensed milk. You see, it's a critical element in one of the most famous Pooh stories, the one in which Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit's doorway. Remember? Pooh visits Rabbit for tea, and Rabbit asks, 'Honey or CONDENSED MILK with your bread, Pooh?' and Pooh says, 'Both!' but so as not to seem greedy, he adds 'Never mind about the bread, though!' You remember what happens next, right? Pooh eats so much honey and condensed milk he gets stuck in Rabbit's door--and I've been puzzled ever since I was a little girl about CONDENSED MILK. And now I know what it is! Perry, you have solved a literary mystery!"

Miss Cynthia smiled at me, happily, and I smiled back, very sticky about the muzzle. If it made Mistress happy to learn that bears loved condensed milk, it was fine with me. I looked at her hopefully, and she laughed, opened another tiny tin, and put it in my paw.

"Salud, Perry!" she said.

"What?" I mumbled, through another sticky, delicious mouthful. "That's French for 'enjoy'!" Miss Cynthia laughed.

I DID enjoy my first evening in Paris!

Perry Bear Ewer. World Traveler, Bear Friend, and most lately, Literary Sleuth.