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They’re Ba-a-a-a-ck

June 21, 2020

The rains are here, fitfully. That means the mosquitoes are multiplying. Hi, kids! We didn’t miss you.

Mosquitoes, if you look at them in real life and not in one of those blown-up photos, are oddly elegant little critters. Close up, they look like terrifying monsters, but in the normal range of scale, they’re oddly delicate, well-designed bugs. I try to focus on that when I realise three of them have bitten me on the ankles in five minutes.

Sometimes, I’ve clapped my hands and caught one, only to see it fly off when I open them again. They don’t crush easy. They’re flexible, like arthropodic ninjas. And they seem smart. I swear our local ones have psychic powers that tell them when they’re about to be swatted. Three times last night I had one touch down on my wrist, and was sure I could splat it. Each time, it was gone by the time my other hand struck the wrist, so the whole exercise seemed like a weird exercise in masochism.

I use a mosquito net at night, but often there’s at least one enterprising bug that makes it in under the hem of that. I read they’re attracted to carbon dioxide emissions, and other things the chemistry of our bodies produces. They’re amazingly well evolved for what they have to do, but I still wish they didn’t do it.

Now, dogs it seems, don’t react to mosquitoes’ anaesthetic saliva the way we do. They don’t itch. They get bitten, but when they’re scratching, it’s because of something else, not the mossies. I envy them that.

My four-legged buddy Rem, for example, has a particular sardonic expression for me when he sees me trying to swat the things. He looks up and out from the corner of his eye, giving the impression he’s seen through human antics by now, and thinks we’re nuts. At least, when I’m not feeding him, that is.

Mind you, he has thick fur, so he’s mostly protected against skeeters anyway. I’m getting him some anti-tick meds, because they also emerge with the rains, but mosquitoes aren’t his problem. And when I’ve tried explaining to him the drawback of not having thick body fur, he just gives me that look again, and goes back to sleep.

Sardonic

Rem being unconcerned about mosquitoes. (He was too wary of the camera to look properly sardonic).

He does, though, lunge at bigger bugs, snapping his jaws. And every year when we get a kind of round, brown flying beetle that comes into the house at night, he makes himself ill by trying to eat a few. But I get no help with controlling the mosquitoes, not from him nor from the other dogs.

Citronella, despite its reputation, doesn’t seem to deter them much, and while I’ve heard they dislike cigarette smoke, that’s an aversion I share, so I’m not trying it. They come, they bite, and they ebb with the rains. That will put us in late October.

I’ll just have to keep swatting when I can, and being as tolerant as possible when I can’t. And Rem can keep on giving me that “Uh-huh, more useless effort” look.

Requiescat in Sartagine

The time had come, we agreed, to give Rem the dog a bath. He had roamed freely in our large back yard (or wilderness) for months, and rolled in a few too many patches of mud. He had been white and brown, and now he was several blended shades of murky grey. This morning being the first sunny one in days, and good for drying wet dogs, my friend Lucero and I warmed some water, and began the assault on his fur.

All considered, he didn’t take it too badly. Perhaps he was exhausted after barking at a cornered squirrel for most of the previous evening, or maybe he’s a masochist and only pretended to resent it to maintain his canine credentials with the other dogs.

Sure, he tried to make a bolt for it three of four times, but between my efforts and the leash that anchored him to a window grille, he didn’t get anywhere. Even when Lucero was working on the thick mass of grit and plant material in the fur around his neck, he largely tolerated the insult in silence. Finally, Lucero rested her tired arms, I let him off the leash, and we jumped away from the inevitable wet-dog-shaking-itself shower-bath. Then I gave him a late breakfast, which he accepted with grace (by then, he was starving, a condition he insists is constant), following which he took advantage of the morning sunshine to dry off. And, we concluded, he probably felt better for getting rid of all the crap in his under-fur.

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A washed Rem dries out in the sun.

A short while later, Lucero had to visit friends in the village, and left in our neighbour’s car with a cheery wave. But Rem, ever swift and resourceful, slipped out the door as the neighbour held it open. At night, he roams around if he escapes. In the daytime, he chases the neighbours’ chickens.

Maybe his bringing us a freshly killed hen in his jaws was his way of saying “Thanks for cleaning me up.” That’s Lucero’s take, anyway. Ever the cynic, I wondered if it was his way of saying “F*^% you and your petty rules, unworthy owners of a noble hound and fierce hunter like me.” Also, he might have felt piqued over last evening’s escaped squirrel. Either way, there he was, trotting home with a dead black chicken in his jaws, and the neighbour and two of her kids in determined pursuit.

This was chicken-hit number three for Rem. His reputation as a chicken-killer is now established. The woman was easier to deal with than we expected, however, and asked only for a modest payment. This was a creature grown for meat, after all, not a pet. We doubled the amount, as a goodwill gesture. I half-heartedly spanked the dog (I dislike hitting animals, even naughty ones) and made penitent faces at the neighbour, and Lucero left.

A few minutes later, she called me. If the neighbours hadn’t retrieved the dead bird, could I bring it over to Don Aurelio’s? Then he and his family could have chicken for dinner.

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All  that remains – a black chicken feather.

Well, they hadn’t, and I could, so I did, and they will. We sat around Aurelio’s kitchen, while his wife Cecilia plied us with their home-grown coffee and tamales, which are a kind of bean-filled sandwich made from masa (maize dough). And we swapped dog stories, of which everyone in this village of five hundred dogs has many, and reflected on the short life of chickens.

I so easily forget how interwoven with life and death an agricultural community can be. A fact that, I don’t doubt, the delinquent dog who started this incident appreciates better than I do. I just wish he’d realise that when your recreational hunting activities annoy too many people, you become a target yourself. And in case he doesn’t, or won’t, we’re putting an extra gate on the property.

But Cecilia’s a wonderful cook, and I’m now thinking of excuses to stop by at dinner-time. If Rem did bring the chicken to Lucero and myself as a gift in gratitude, it behoves me to check out what she did with it, right?

  • The heading is Latin for “Rest in (a) Frying Pan.”

Rem

“That’s funny,” people say. “Why on earth did you name your dog Rapid Eye Movement?”

I didn’t. I didn’t even name him, for one thing, but Rem’s name isn’t an acronym. My neighbour, V, is an architect, and a fan of the Dutch architectural philosopher Rem Koolhaas (below). So that’s how the name originated.

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No, not Rem the dog.

Rem was found on the street, and ended up here because … well, street dogs do that. He has a line of four or five previously homeless predecessors. He’s an amiable guy, apart from a tendency to bite visitors (he tried to bite me at first) and another tendency to escape and chase after the neighbours’ chickens. He shows me remarkable affection when it’s feeding time, though, and … sometimes a little attention at other times.

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Yes, Rem the dog.

The strange thing is, he’s a claustrophobe. If I say “Rem, come in,” he takes off like I’d said “Bath-time!”  He occasionally comes into the house that I rent for a few moments, but he won’t stay. At night, even when it goes down to nine degrees C, he wants to stay out and sleep in the grass, or maybe on the rubber mat that goes over the cement cover of our water cistern. I tried leaving the kitchen door open, but he showed no interest.

There are two houses on this property. One, where V now lives, I built for myself six years ago. My friend Lucero and her mom built the larger one, most of which I now rent. There is a dividing fence, but Rem has access to both parts of the property, as well as to a hillside backyard.

So, he can happily go up on V’s roof to watch cows and horses in the field outside. Or, he’ll sit on the dividing wall, waiting for me or V to come home, occasionally knocking over potted plants when he jumps down to greet one of us.

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No, I will not pose for a photo, thank you.

And if possible, he’ll find a garbage bag and rip it open, even if there’s no food in there. One time, I left my shoes outside for two minutes, and of course, one of them immediately became a chew-toy. Polite manners, I’m sure he’d explain, aren’t “street.” How he ended up homeless no-one knows, but he demands his independence even if he does like regular meals.

So, apart from deigning to come into the kitchen at mealtimes, outside is where he stays. What he’ll do when the downpours start in rainy season, I don’t know. And once or twice a year we get hailstorms, which won’t be fun for him. V has a porch that offers some protection, and the upper floor on this side has a partly covered area, but he’ll probably get his fur soaked.

My considered view of this dog is that we need to change his name, especially since he doesn’t seem to recognise it anyway. Conan, perhaps, since he’s a barbarian dog? Or maybe Lucky, since the neighbours who have the chickens haven’t killed him yet.

But I feel that a creature who’s so averse to any experience of built interiors shouldn’t be named after an architect. Most dogs want to insinuate themselves into the indoors, but this guy says a resolute “nope” to entering human structures. I admire his stand on principles, but I think he’s being unreasonably impractical.

Mind you, Mr. Koolhaas is a bit like that himself: he made his reputation breaking taboos, and having the stamina to follow through on that. So perhaps this dog isn’t that misnamed after all.