AUTUMN COLORS

IMG_20181111_151326.jpgThere is no doubt my life is richer since I have a dog… or two. One dog -you’ll perhaps think- is enough, but I can tell you that two dogs are even better. It seems I walk more with two than with one.

Ever since Lollipop arrived -my second dog, the little one-, I have been walking at least two times more and twice as far each time than I used to walk with Salomé, my older doggie. You might ask why… Well, it isn’t because of the dogs, of that much I am aware; rather it is for the pure pleasure I have found in the walking.

I leave in the morning and stroll to my regular coffee shop to meet with my Frenchoznor friends, two dogs in tow … or racing ahead as the case may be. Usually it is with one racing ahead (Lollipop, being the younger) and one trailing behind (Salomé who -as the queen of the realm-takes her time). An hour later, when I leave to walk home, I take the long way around, or go to the park before returning. By that time, it is 11a.m.

IMG_20180929_134106.jpgAround 90 minutes later, I foot it back into town for lunch and take another, longer walk afterwards. Then, again, about three in the afternoon, it is time to trot into town anew for an afternoon coffee at the shop in the center where they offer dog biscuits to Salo and Loli (for short). Both canine damsels know they are going to get treats and pull desperately to get there first. IMG_20181111_161210.jpg

The way home takes us on another loop around the other side of town and sometimes we slip into a smaller road or some alleyway we haven`t been up before and discover a special corner that offers a new view.  At 5 o’clock, it is doggies’ time for dinner so it’s back home again. When everyone is fed, out we go for yet another stroll, this time heading for the roads behind our building, to the public vegetable gardens and the general compost deposit, where I will leave my little gathering of vegetable peals and wilted lettuce leaves.

Our walking is done until after my supper and perhaps watching a movie or writing a blog or playing solitaire, and then about 9:30 pm., a last turn around the block for a nighttime pee. IMG_20181113_095358.jpg

It sounds like a lot of work, but actually it is a gift. I am obligated to get up from my computer, or the book I am reading and go outside. And outside is where life is. At this moment it’s where autumn life is. What colors I see! What fantastic combinations! What unexpected natural Works of art hidden in corners or down an alley between two brownish houses; at the far end of the park, across the street, in front of the neighborhood supermarket (unfortunately closed since the flood and with no sign of reopening)…sdr

These are places I have passed a thousand times in the last 8 years, but suddenly an unexpected autumn color, a previously unnoticed combination of forms, a slant of sunshine that makes everything look new will catch my eye, and the camera comes out and the photograph is captured.

Recently there was a surprising new addition to Salies’ potpourri of shapes and colors, and it wasn’t a pleasant one. Someone, during the night of Saturday to Sunday last, had painted several walls with black, anti-Semitic slogans, calling the Holocaust a fraud. I was shocked that something that seemed so evil and violent had appeared in our peaceful little town and it seemed that everyone else was too. I had to actually look up what or who “Faurisson” was. It turns out that Robert Faurisson was a French Holocaust denier who died last month. Then -of course- the words Resistance and Shoah Escroquerie (fraud) suddenly made sense. place-du-temple-a-salies[1]

All day Sunday, everytime I went past the painted walls or looked out of my living room window at the small electric station 20180832-1[1].jpgacross the way, I wondered who in the world would do such a thing, and the ugly words became the talk of the town. Then, yesterday, something beautiful happened. A local graffiti artist, who signs as Athorn, started covering the aggressive expressions with beautiful flowers, and turned something of hate into something of beauty. I saw him as he was finishing his work on the old, abandoned barber shop near my home, and I went over to thank him from the bottom of my heart. oznor

“I do this without pay,” he humbly offered as an explanation, confirming what I oznorsuspected: his was a work of love.

So today, the walls of Salies have sprouted multicolored flowers and a feeling of peace returned to my heart.

Tomorrow, I’ll venture forth again with my trusty cámara and -of course, my two little doggies.

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EATING DOG

There is a joke that goes something like this: «Two Indians from a dog-eating tribe arrive in New York and suddenly one says HOTDOGto the other: ‘Look, hot dogs! Let’s have one’, so they go over to the hotdog stand and order two. When they receive their buns, one Indian opens his up and looks at it. Then he turns to his companion and asks: ‘What part of dog you got?’»

untitledDid such a ‘dog-eating tribe’ ever exist? Yes. Maybe not in what is today the United States, but in Mexico the Aztecs even bred special, vegetable-eating, toothless, hairless dogs for the purpose of eating them. They are called escuincles and they exist today as a very prized breed of house pet.

The other day a dear friend sent me an irate protest letter against the Dog-Eating Festival in China asking that I sign it in order to stop this barbarous act. I didn’t sign it. I couldn’t sign it in good faith and, believe me, I love dogs and anyone who reads this blog knows that. I, personally, have never eaten Dog, nor do I expect to in this lifetime, but I am not a vegetarian or a vegan; I am omnivorous and I eat Cow and Sheep and Goat and Chicken and Fish in moderate quantities without batting an coweyelid. And three of these things I eat in their tender, sweet, baby form as Veal, Lamb and Baby Goat. I have also eaten Deer (what could be more adorable!) and probably, unknowingly, at some point eaten Horse as I now live in a country where it is sold in the marketplace because there are people who prefer it to Cow. I have also eaten Baby Eels lambwhen they weren’t so expensive, Manta Ray (recently in a restaurant), Iguana (in a food fair in Mexico), Snake and tasted fried Grasshoppers (once, in Oaxaca, Mexico), Ant’s Eggs (called escamoles and considered a delicacy in Mexico today, along with Maguey Worms which I have not tasted). There is also a town in Mexico where they eat live beetles called ‘jumiles’ or ‘chumiles’ (in English ‘stink bugs’) wrapped in a tortilla and the trick is to get them all into your mouth before they crawl out of the tortilla onto your cheek (they’re fast little critters!) And if you consult Google, you will find that Insects in general, have been eaten the world over for millennium and that they have a very high protein content, are low in calories and very ecological to breed and farm. To each his own. So, as I said: I am omnivorous even though at this time meat makes up less than a fourth of my diet.goat

So, if I can eat these really adorable animals, why should I criticize the Chinese for eating Dog? I can’t do that. I would have to join a campaign against Cow, Sheep and Goat eaters and, of course, those terrible people who eat Chicken (according to a friend of mine, whose chickens are part of the family and receive better treatment and more love than my dog!).

One of the convincing arguments for not eating meat (and it is very convincing!) is that we were never meant to be carnivores and our bodies are not equipped to digest any form of meat. (Here is the link to the article http://www.celestialhealing.net/physicalveg3.htm). As I said, it is very convincing, and yes herbivores like those mentioned in the article (cows, goats, gorillas, elephants, rhinoceroses), are neither scrawny nor unhealthy, but they consume their vegetables raw along with a large amount of very protein-rich BUGS. So the chickenfact that many mainly vegetarian or indigenous cultures eat Insect is not strange at all.

One thing stands out in our carnivorous history and that is that we don’t seem to favor eating other carnivores, but rather stick to herbivores. That is Nature’s rule, carnivore eats herbivore. Even the Nahuas or Aztecs bred toothless vegetarian dogs to eat. So, the habit of the Chinese of eating ‘normal’ carnivorous dogs goes against the natural (Carnivore eats herbivore) grain of things to say the least.

The same aforementioned article claims that vegetarians are healthier and live longer. I have no proof of that. I know quite a few vegetarians and some vegans and those that are around my age seem to have the same as or more physical complaints than I do (and that’s not hard seeing as I have very, very few at this moment… knock on wood). Yes, they do seem slimmer on the whole and I notice that they eat A MUCH SMALLER amount of food than I do in general, so I am not sure if the slimness is due to amount or kind.

On the other hand, they seem to suffer a lot more stress around food matters than I do; they are sometimes very worried deerabout what they put in their mouths or where they eat, what kind of food they buy and what ingredients went into every dish. I do not stress over what I eat: I love ALL food (possible explanation for why I struggle with my weight). Nevertheless, I am accustomed to avoiding carbs and/or not combining even ‘good’ carbs with animal protein. This doesn’t make me better, but it does make me happier and less stressed out, because carbs (any kind of carbs, even the good carbs like quinoa, lentils or chickpeas) awaken a compulsiveness that makes me insatiable, so I shy away from them.

I also can understand how difficult it is to be a vegetarian in a meat-eating world, I have a similar experience being a non-drinker in a world that thinks alcohol and fun/enjoyment are inseparable. Just as a vegetarian might not enjoy going to a coctailsbarbecue, I shy away from cocktail parties (I hated them anyway, even when I drank). So I can understand a vegetarian’s frustration when the menu in a restaurant includes no dishes without meat or meat products, and I sympathize.

Maybe the principal reason why I do not become a vegetarian, in spite of the fact that I am a COWARDLY CARNIVORE (if I had to kill the animal myself I would give up meat immediately) is that I am lazy, I do not like to cook for myself so I eat out every day. If I had a vegetarian at home who would cook for me, I would probably eat vegetarian. When I have gone on retreats (spiritual) I have often enjoyed the vegetarian diet immensely (and gained weight). C’est la vie! I will continue for now to be a Cowardly Carnivore and just try to not talk about it in front of my vegetarian friends (out of respect for their house pets, especially their chickens). One thing is for sure: I would feel the same way about someone eating my dog, as my friend feels about anyone eating her chickens!

A MIND OF HER OWN

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Dogs are not supposed to have a mind of their own! They are supposed to think, want and feel what their owner thinks, wants and feels. Their will should not only be pliable to their human’s will, it should anticipate it most of the time. Well, someone forgot to inform Salomé of the rules. She not only thinks for herself, she has a very definite opinion about the whats, wheres, whos and hows of her existence. Let it be said and held in my favor, that I have no problem with that… as long as it does not interfere with what I think, feel and want at the same time. The problem is that very often it does.

For instance, when I decided to wake up early (6:30 most days) in order to work on my genealogical project before the day’s interruptions and busyness begins, Salomé decided that any time before the sun rises is an ungodly hour to circulate, so she stays in bed. Now that is fine with me, because I am not ready to take her out for her morning wee until around 9:45, so if she sleeps until 9, there is no problem. She not only sleeps, mind you, but snores loudly enough so that I can hear her all the way in the living room where I am working. She does not snore at night -as far as I know- nor does she snore in the morning when I have opened my eyes but before I begin to stir. No. It is only when she finds herself queen of the whole wide bed that her sleep becomes as that of the free and innocent and she loudly lets me know that she sleeps much better when I leave the bed to her. No problem. I can live with that.

It is a little more difficult to weather the fact that she believes she has the right to sleep smack in the middle of the bed. My bed is only 1m40cm wide and she is not only in the middle every night when I arrive to get in, but sleeping crosswise. She measures 50cm so that leaves exactly 45cm on either end of her. Of course, she does not get her way in this matter even if only by question of size: I measure 1m62cm long when stretched out and, even though I have not recently measured the width, it must be at least 60cm at the hips when lying on my back. So each night I have to drag a limp, uncooperative, dead-to-the-world hound up and over to the other side of the bed while I rapidly occupy my place before she can shift. Needless to say that by morning she has managed to snuggle her way almost into the middle again and I am lying on my side, very close to tumbling over the edge.

Then, of course, there is the it-is-time-to-play ploy. Even though she spends quite a bit of time napping on one or the other of my two Image

big black armchairs there is a moment when she decides that enough is enough. At that time, she’ll begin bringing me her toys: the black sock with a ball in it, the small blue mouse that squeaks, the tennis ball and anything else in the toy basket that meets the fancy of her jaws. Each toy will be carefully deposited close to one of my feet so that I might appreciate how fascinating it is and be irresistably tempted to leave my uninteresting occupation and roll around on the floor with her or chase her as she runs with the ball in her mouth.

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Furthermore, Salomé’s inner clock is infallible. It is never more than two minutes before noon or before 6pm when I will suddenly be extracted from my concentration by a muzzle between my knees and a pair of sharp black eyes looking hopefully up at me: feeding time. One would expect that after I have dutifully performed my nuturing obligations, she would allow me to return to my work, but no. After she has consumed everything in her dish and licked umpteen times to make sure not even a nano-morsel is left, she’ll trot over to wherever I am and look sternly at me until I follow her into the kitchen, gaze at her dish and exclaim in my most admiring voice: “Oh, Salomé! You have eaten everything!” 

Five minutes later, as soon as I have settled down once more to continue whatever I was doing on the computer, I will once more be interrupted by the presence of a canine mammal gazing up at me from between my knees and gently knudging the side of my leg with her snout. I know damn well what she is trying to tell me: it is time for me to go to lunch, so I should get moving because she might have finished everything in her plate but she is far from full and wants all those tasty morsels that I pass down to her from my own luncheon plate.

Going up and down stairs is another way for Salomé to impose her way of doing things. We live on the second (top) floor of a building that has no elevator, so we are obliged to go up and down the stairs several times a day, which is -by the way- considered almost as good an exercise as making love (something I do not do very frequently… umm… never, as of several years ago so thank goodness for the stairs). Salomé, however, has a very definite opinion as to what stairs are for and it has nothing to do with exercise. Going down stairs is her favorite game, or rather, that I should go downstairs first is her favorite game. As I descend, she waits at the top of the stairs peering through the bars of the banister. I am supposed to stop and look up every once on a while as part of the game, and say: “Come on, Salomé, come down;hurry up, run, let’s go…” and all my other verbal encouragements which she proceeds to ignore.

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When I arrive at the bottom, it doesn’t matter how much I plead, or beseach or scold, she doesn’t budge until she hears the door open and then she races down as fast as her little feet will carry her, past me and out the door that I stand holding open for my dog. We play this game every single day; she never tires of it.

Up until now, that was all I had to put up with and to tell the truth I enjoyed the communication and playfulness of our relationship. But recently, Salomé has decided that she wants what she wants and she is going to let me know about it every time. For instance, when I leave the restaurant where I have lunch almost every day and turn to head for home, she will stop dead in her tracks and look at me, her ears cocked to attention.

“Come on, Salomé” I’ll coax, “we’re going home now.”  She won’t budge, looking at me with that very determined angle of her head. “What?” I’ll insist. “You don’t want to go this way?” Still she stands like a statue. She is obviously not going to follow me, so I turn and as I walk towards her, she also turns and begins to walk in the opposite direction. She does not want to go home; she wants to take a stroll around town, smelling every dog pee along the way and receiving the salutations and caresses of all the Saliesiens who know her.

Or, we will start home after my morning coffee and, upon reaching the fork in the road where I always take the right hand one to go straight home, she will stop, perk up her ears and stare at me until I understand that she wants to take the left fork because the smells on that street are different than the ones she already smelled on her way to the Café. 

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The determination in her expression is such that most times, I accomodate her wishes and we take the long way around, or the other way home; but occasionally, I have something I need to do at home and then I must drag the unwilling dog the way she does not want to go. But, afterall, who told her she has the right to an opinion on where we go, when we go, what way we go and all those things that are supposed to be up to the human being in CHARGE of the situation? I suppose soon some animal psychologist will be accusing us of traumatizing our pets when we make them do things they absolutely don’t want to do, but until then… well, sometimes Salomé gets her way and sometimes I do. That is only fair, right Salomé? And, anyway, as I recently read on an internet cartoon: “Life without a dog is a mistake”.

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GUILT

It seems like the day I recently lost was not the only thing that Salies caused me to overlook and even though that misplacement caused quite a bit of mental confusion, there was no guilt involved. Guilt is another thing, something to be avoided at all costs, something insidious that creeps into the stomach and liver making life quite miserable as long as it lasts. Continue reading

MY SOCIAL CALLING CARD (2009)

img-20150706-wa0001Enter Salomé. Salomé is a story in and of herself and in Salies she is my introduction to almost everyone who talks to me; she is the excuse, the reason, the attraction. And it is true, I too find her so adorable that if she weren’t mine I would want to pet her; she is mine and I want to pet her all the time and do so, much to her pleasure I believe. But the French seem to love dogs and passers by stop to pet her, to ask what kind of dog she is, to comment (“c’est très sage”) on her good behaviour or just to smile, so my “social” life grows. I seldom learn anyone’s name as  people who stop on the street to pet your dog and then ask where you come from or what her name is, seldom introduce themselves, but they do become familiar faces that smile knowingly and say “bonjour” each time they pass you on the street or in the park. It makes Salies seemfriendlier every day .

But Salomé has been even more than that. She was the introduction to my two solid friends here. When I was here last August, we walked past a Café near the studio, and she darted under the table to sniff (dog-greet) a Yorkshire terrier; they immediately leapt at each other in playful fashion and before I knew it had their leashes all entangled.  There were three people seated at the table: two men and a woman. I said “pardon, pardon” in my worst French to the man holding the leash and proceeded to untangle the playful dogs. While I was so engaged, he turned to his friend at the table and said “Es un schnauzer” in perfect Spanish, even though I had heard him speak French a moment earlier.

“¿Usted habla español?” I asked, using the double question mark as is the custom, “¿de dónde es?” (Do you speak Spanish? Where are you from?)

Once more in perfect Spanish, he said he had lived 20 years in Mexico and –of course- I immediately identified myself as a Mexican now living in Spain and visiting Salies… and that was an invitation to sit and share a cup of coffee. Charles, or Carlos as he prefers to be called, is a Swiss-Frenchman who has lived in Baja for many years and now lives in Navarrenx, a nearby medieval town. The couple sitting with him came from Barcelona, he a native and his wife a Canadian. I was later informed that Pepe, the Catalán, owns a restaurant.20150319_103437-copia

“We must get our dogs together” Carlos declared in perfect English and thus we proceeded to make a play-date for Salomé and Mickey, the Yorkie, for the following Saturday. On Friday before the appointment, Carlos called me and suggested that we make it lunch while the dogs played, as his Mother , Ettie,–with whom he was living- was feeling well and Pepe –the Catalán restaurant owner- would be making the meal. I was delighted and thus made my first friends in Salies. Over the last year I have not contacted Carlos, but have exchanged e-mails with Dolores, the Canadian woman who lives with Pepe in Sitges near Barcelona. It was through her that I heard of Carlos’ cancer and operation, and was kept up to date more or less on his health. With such news I did not expect to find him in the excellent condition that I did when I first visited this year, but it seems that his giving up smoking and drinking (which he did with absolute abandonment last year) has greatly improved his physical well being even though the cancer persists and he is receiving chemotherapy treatments. (Update: 2010, Carlos died shortly after my visit last year. His mother died six months later.)

Salomé, however is not always able to establish such lasting encounters and usually they are just brief interludes that lead to nothing if not just beginning to feel at home and comfortable in a town where the faces become every day more familiar and smiley.

Salomé is not, of course, my only source of introduction to the townsfolk (and the passing tourists, and here a slight digression: I do not consider myself a “tourist” for I settle here during a whole month and am not just a passer by, peering at the sights and the town’s idiosyncrasies without integrating), the other source being –naturally- human needs. I have come to the conclusion that all social life stems from the identification of needs that others can satisfy, including the need of distraction and human contact: we don’t socialize because we like other people, but we do begin to “like” people with whom we socialize when they satisfy our needs and do this in a kind and fair way. Need creates social contact and this, no doubt, is a very large oxymoron, but a very noticeable one during my stay in Salies. I need bread and the baker needs clients. If this exchange is done in a friendly, kind and fair way, I begin to experience pleasure on ‘visiting’ the bakery and, 20140920_141941I presume, the baker experiences some pleasure on seeing me each morning. Our initial “bonjours” and “bonne journées” sometimes lead to questions of where I come from, or if he is a native of the town, or even to gentle jokes as with my friend René at the Café René where I have my morning coffee. These relationships must be cultivated over a long period of time –it might take me two or three more years to finally ask René what has happened to his voice (never louder than a whisper even when he seems to be yelling)- but they too, like the smiles from nameless acquaintances in passing on the street, make Salies every day more a place I identify as mine.

So, petit à petit I make a life for myself in this small town, so much so that as my time here draws to a close, I feel my heart a bit heavy and am already thinking of putting aside the studio for next August, or even taking it for a month and a half. Who knows? The future is nonexistent and I can but think that today that will be my choice.

In the meantime, as a farmer plows his field, sows his seeds and harvests his crop laying the land fallow for the following season, so I go about Salies, leaving seeds of smiles, harvesting the acquaintances that have grown this year and preparing the terrain for the next season.