#14 On animals.
I first came to Crete about 20 years ago and the one thing that struck me at the time was the manner in which Cretan villagers treated their animals, dogs in particular. There appeared to be little or no overt cruelty, but an animal was rarely considered a pet and if it didn’t work it didn’t eat. Some might think that a harsh regime but having been brought up on a farm it didn’t bother me that much. Now it seems that things have changed. For example, my friend Spiros has got three dogs; one a hunting dog, one a guard dog on his goat pens (though who would want to keep goats let give them pens to write with is beyond my comprehension) and one which serves no purpose whatsoever.
Yes, unfortunately Spiros has succumbed to the temptation and has joined the growing number of Cretans who now possess, what I can only describe as a bald, four legged, bat; I’m sure there’s a name for the breed, other than s**t-hound, but If I ever knew it, I’ve forgotten. I suppose the things can’t help the way they look but given the diminutive size of their bodies and the grossly over proportional size of their ears, it’s a good thing no one takes them for a walk on the beach: one good gust of the, currently prevailing, north wind and they’d end up in Libya…..maybe not such a bad thing.
The fashion for these beasts seems to be growing rapidly and their owners appear to lavish an inordinate amount of attention on them, which is strange in light of the older Cretan approach to animals. As far as I can see they’re a poor excuse for a dog since the things can’t cope with loud noises, drops in temperature below 15 degrees C., not being the centre of attention or walking anywhere. The pampering lavished on them is outrageous: Spiros once turned up in a restaurant with his wrapped up in it’s nice little doggy coat, a tasteful Santa Clause outfit since it was nearly Christmas, and a pale pink blanket; the animal sitting in a custom made walking/carrying out bag. Spiros then commenced feeding it from his own plate – and this from a fully grown, otherwise very sane,* man!
And another thing: when did dog owners start to lose the ability to walk? I ask this because a not uncommon sight in the winter was dog owners taking their dogs for a drive; the owner sitting in the car and holding the dog’s lead out of the open window while the dog ran alongside. I just think it’s rather bizarre owning a non working dog here, there’s nowhere you can take it out of the village; the shepherds will have no hesitation whatsoever in shooting a strange dog on sight even if it’s nowhere near their flocks. The other rather unsettling thing about modern Cretan dog ownership is the approach taken by many owners, mostly male, to neutering or sterilising the animals; they don’t. As a consequence are then surprised when litter after litter of mongrel puppies are produced.
However, least you think I’m biased against pet dogs (and I am) I would point out that I’m friends with ‘Bella’, formally the ugliest dog in the world but now, having had her protruding teeth removed at long last, the second ugliest. Bella occupies a place in the heart of the community simply because she lies in the middle of the road at crossroads in the middle of the village and only moves in her own time. It’s a heartbreaking heartwarming sight to see a bus driver attempting to get a 60 seat coach around a very sharp corner only to be thwarted by Bella declining to move and the driver then having no recourse other than to get out of the cab to physically pick up Bella and put her back in her second sleeping spot; across the doorstep of the main Pharmacy. (I would point out at this juncture that such is Bella’s hold over the village that such events are usually played out in front of spectators in the two kafenions by the crossroads. However, none of the spectators would even think of going and shifting Bella.) It’s from this position by the Pharmacy that Bella gets to know everyone and when Spiros, her nominal owner, shuts up for the afternoon, instead of jumping in the carrier on the front of Spiros’ moped, she is after all an old dog, she will often wander around the kafenions gazing lovingly at anyone who is having a mezede…particularly if there’s meat or fish in it.
I have to declare an interest at this point since I’m sitting 2 metres away, and upwind, of a rather nice young white and ginger cat that has adopted us. I mentioned sitting upwind of it because we don’t feed it and whoever does, and it is well cared for, apparently feeds it on baked beans and cabbage, at least that’s the aroma that occasionally comes wafting in your direction if the wind changes or the cat moves upwind. She is rather fun though, once you are used to her idiotsyncracies. The biggest problem, other than the olfactory experience mentioned, is the cat’s inability to understand the word ‘Psssssssst’ when directed to her in English; apparently it’s different in Greek according to the memsahib. Unfortunately, my inability to speak the Greek version of cat means we don’t know her real name, so I’m reduced to calling her ‘Ella’; which appears to be the name of most Cretan cats and dogs.
Finally, a word about the village Carnival: I did attend but I don’t remember much. However, I’m told there are various photos of me floating in interwebnettycyber space. If you find them, in spite of the announcement that came with the last of these missives, I will not be wearing my basque – I know this will come as a shock to those of you (and I know where you live, Sid Bonkers) who expressed a somewhat suspicious eagerness to see me so dressed, but the lack of basque was beyond my control. I did in fact originally have a choice of three basques to wear, one red, one red/black, one a very tasteful shade of ivory; however, the evening before the carnival there was a fire in our apartment and we had to evacuate. I threw the basques out of the emergency door and jumped out of the window. Alas, the basques got stuck in the door and were all destroyed in the fire. It’s my own fault; I shouldn’t have put all my basques in one exit.**
*Sane for a Cretan man that is.
*That joke probably copyright ‘I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again’, circa 1968