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Possibly the most endearing line in Franco Zeffirelli's Tea with Mussolini is spoken by Lucca, the boy whose character is loosely based on Zeffirelli himself. The English ladies, known as the Scorpioni for their determination to remain in Florence when England and Italy are at war, are being taken into custody. The delightfully eccentric Arabella, played by Judi Dench, has a much beloved dog, whom she is not allowed to bring with her. When Lucca appears on the scene, she cries out, "Look after him." Lucca replies, "Of course! We were puppies together." That's the sweet line.
Puppy is a near onomatopoetic word. Say it a few times while you watch a puppy roll and leap and trundle and run as fast as its short little legs will grow—puppy, puppy, puppy—and you may agree with me. When I think of puppies, the word that comes to mind is roly-poly. And then perhaps joy. Unbounded joy. And it's hard to resist feeling that joy, even if you might not want a puppy in your own life. Laughter, too––belly laughs as a puppy falls all over itself and jumps up with no shame, no attempt to recover its dignity. What dignity?
Learning, however, is not the first word that comes to mind, and yet, it's embedded in Lucca's words, "We were puppies together." Probably the reason I'm content with enjoying other people's puppies and feel no need to have one of my own is the learning bit. Clearly Lucca and Arabella's puppy (who is never named, as I recall) are learning life lessons together. Arabella's puppy is learning where to pee and poop, how to walk on a leash, though it happens with the greatest of ease in the film. Lucca is learning harder lessons––the fact that his mother is not just on a cloth-buying trip to Paris; she is not coming back. In fact, he learns that she has died, though no one told him until Joan Plowright's character takes on the painful task. Later Lucca has to learn to transcend his jealousy to help the woman of his teen crush (played by Cher) escape the Fascists.
There is great joy for children in living with a puppy, and there is wonderful learning–– how to care for another, remembering their daily needs, seeing where harm could come to them and finding ways to prevent that. And then simply reveling in the task of childhood and puppyhood––play!
The word puppy was brought to you by Ann Przyzycki Devita, who recently brought a puppy into her life and the lives of her children, so they and Chip are being puppies together.


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