Portugal recently celebrated the feast day for Saint Roche, the patron saint of dogs, which is one theory why this time of summer is called the dog days. It’s certainly the slow time in Portugal. Everything shuts down in August. Our language school, swimming pool, restaurants, even the doctor’s office closes its doors.
The weather has been intensely hot and dry, such that wildfires have raged all over the country and more than 60 people have been killed. Even the New York Times had an article a couple weeks ago about Portugal’s fires. Seems the entire timber industry is given over to eucalyptus trees because they’re fast growing. The problem is they’re full of oil so they burn easily. Next time you pick up a vial of eucalyptus oil, think about it.
Not long ago we watched a fire just on the edge of town from our balcony. A big famous luxury hotel had to be evacuated and a main highway out of town was closed. One day we had to shut our windows because clouds of smoke drifted over the city from a fire up North.
July and August are also the holiday season in Europe, which in Portugal means the beaches and tourist towns are jammed with people. We were cautioned about the crowds and so are waiting until next week for a trip up North to Oporto, Portugal’s second city. The beaches are pretty much blanketed – pun intended – by sunbathers who stake out territories in the morning and keep them all day.
The question is, since we’ve heard so many people complain about the crowds and recommend staying home during the season, who are all the mobs of tourists out there? My theory is the Europeans just trade countries – the British and French all come to Portugal, the Portuguese go to the UK and Spain, the Spanish to Germany, Germans to France and so on.
Even the government – heck, especially the government — shuts down in August. Why is it you can never find a bureaucrat when you need one? (Although we ran into the Setúbal mayor last weekend – at a fair. Nice lady, even if she is a Communist.)
Which is why not very much has been going on lately. We did spend an afternoon at Albarquél beach on the Sado River here in Setúbal with our friends Milu and Dave. Unlike some other beaches in the Lisbon region, the water on the Sado is clear and clean – but it’s also freezing!
Back In Touch With Jules
Referencing the dog days takes me back earlier in the summer to our stay with Jules the
Labrador Retriever. We got off to kind of a rocky start that week, and I guess I’m at fault
Like most in the public eye, Jules is skeptical about those who exploit her position for
personal gain. Perhaps this is why she had become noticeably aloof from me when Barbara
and I were put in care of her while her companion Rita went to the US a couple months
I had previously interviewed Jules on her insights about Portugal, in which she criticized relationships in this country between the human and canine populations. However, I failed to fact check it at the time, assuming Jules would not object to what I had written.
Boy, was I wrong. This fact was painfully obvious upon meeting her again in Cascais. Her greeting was noticeably frosty,
“Where ya’ been, bro?” Said with with a sour expression, pointing up the irony of the overly familiar greeting.
“You got me in a lot of trouble, you know.” It seems criticism she leveled about a breakdown in Portugal of the pack structure so important to canines, had caused a lot of resentment in the park. When some Portuguese dogs read translations of the post, she lost a lot of friends.
Ella the poodle
The tide turned when she was pressed into a confrontation with her old nemesis Ella, some kind of poodle mix and one of the fastest and strongest local animals. Ella had a habit of stealing balls and frisbees from other dogs and she was usually able to outrun most of them in their races around the park. She also tended to butt other dogs out of the way whenever she wanted.
The other dogs were unhappy to have such a bully in their midst. She had taken advantage of the breakdown in pack organization to take over as leader but things weren’t going well (similar to recent events in the US involving the rise of a certain person whose name we won’t mention).
Finally, Jules had enough. One day when Ella started pushing some of the other dogs
around, Jules jumped on her and, despite the fact the two are both females, started humping her. This of course shamed Ella in the scents of the other dogs and left her an object of ridicule from then on. The others were all so grateful that Jules was welcomed back in and became de facto leader of a group of other yellow Labs.
The Lab Gab, as it’s dubbed informally, is an international caucus including British, French and German Labs along with Jules and the Portuguese. After a few days of accompanying her to the nearby dog park where she spends her time interacting with the group, she began to open up about her recent activities. Whatever she pretends, Jules is way too sociable an animal to keep quiet for very long.
“What would you say,” I asked her, “is your main objective in organizing the Yellow Lab
group? By the way, what do you call it – a caucus, a Lab Gab, a pack – what?”
“It’s my crew, bro.”
“Okay, your crew. What’s the objective?”
“We like to sniff things.”
“What kind of things?”
“Oh, y’know, fire hydrants, each other’s crotches, important stuff like that. There’s a patch of sticky stuff up the street we sniff every time we go by there.”
I had noticed that patch while escorting her to the park for her morning meeting. It looked pretty disgusting, a long lasting remnant of something rotten that she not only sniffed every time we went by but insisted on licking until I had to fight her away from it with the leash.
“Why do you do all that licking?” I asked.
“So we know what things are.”
Changing the subject, I asked her what the group did at its meetings.
“We usually run across the lawn over that way.” She tossed her head to indicate the
“Then what do you do?”
“We stop and run in the other direction.”
“We jump up and down. Then we wrestle.”
I’ve seen them wrestle. One of them raises up its front legs and brings them down
on someone else, then they both fall down on the ground and roll around a while. Then one of them forgets what they’re wrestling about and starts rolling back and forth on its back to scratch while waving its feet in the air.
“What would you say is the overarching goal of your group?”
“Chewing things. Also, pooping. And then chewing the poop.”
OK, so I didn’t get very far with this. However, I later listened in to one of Jules’ daily
missives to her crew, and I’ve reproduced it here. I had wondered why she refers to her lectures as “raps”. It’s because, I discovered, that’s what they are:
“We all get together and we smell each other,
sister and brother find things to discover,
We run and we jump and we tussle and we bustle.
The dog who gets the ball ain’t the dawg with the muscle but the one with the hustle.
“We’re sniffin’, we’re riffin’, we’re smellin’ our world
Everything’s a mystery, it’s all a curiosity.
We nuzzle with our muzzles till we figure out the puzzles.
“We’re on the hunt for stuff to chew, it’s kind of like a job we do
It’s our nature to be driven, it’s how we know we’re livin’.
We don’t know what we’re learnin’ but our DNA is churnin’
It keeps our noses burnin’ whichever way we’re turnin’ but we never sort it out.
“When it’s time we be done with our play, we go off and break away,
Head for home down the alley way.
Where it smells familiar and we dine on paté
Then hit the hay (if I can use a cliché),
Lickin’ where we’re spayed till another day.
To anyone who doesn’t believe dogs can rap, I admit my chats with Jules are subject to some freedom of interpretation. After all, talking with a dog, even purebred, involves a considerable amount of nonverbal communication. In addition to barking, there’s a lot of whining, moaning, snorting, tail wagging, and crotch sniffing going on.
I believe, however, we’ve reached a level of understanding whereby I can interpret her
moods and body language. For example, if she rears her head suddenly and one ear goes
out, she’s probably saying, “I wish you’d get out of my way so I can get to that stuff behind you.” If she turns and looks over her shoulder then shakes her head a little, she’s saying, “Wait a minute while I snap at that fly biting my butt.” If she puts her head on the ground facing forward and blinks her eyes, she’s saying, “Can we talk about this later, bro? It’s too hot and I can’t be bothered.”
If you want the literal transcription of what she said, here it is. If you don’t like how I
translated it, well then, do it yourself:
Jules’ Rap Real
“Crrrh phoof , scrishhh scrishhh, Yuuayyuahh!
(Scratch scratch) (head toss), GrrrOwwuh.
(head shake), pfuvhnuh, Raowwwuh, sniff.
GrrrOwwuh . . . pufh! Sniff . . . Uh! Uh! Uh!
Farrrt! Scrinch, Yuff . (fire hydrant nuzzle)
pffpff pffpff pffpff pffpff, (chew-spit) (tongue droop)
Schnuvvv! Scratch . . . , Thump, (bite flea) Yaoww!”
Jules The Literary Sensation
As a matter of fact, Jules recently revealed she’s developed a serious interest in writing poetry. Apparently, she found in a gutter an old copy of the book Sonnets From the Portuguese, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the one with the famous poem “How Do I Love Thee?” By the time Jules finished chewing it into little pieces she had ingested several of the poems and was hooked.
She has therefore started her own collection which she’s titled Sonnits For The Portugeese. Get it? “For The Portugeese?” Well, I think it’s funny. Anyway, here’s just one example of her work:
When light shines in my eyes, I wake to see it bouncing on my bed,
My ears flap winged flies away my head.
The holes behind my legs get full of poop
Anon it’s time for me to head on out the stoop.
I summon one with two legs less than me
To let it know it needs to let me free.
Around myself she puts that thing she calls a leesh
And out we go into the park where I can get relief.
I know the way, I go there every day
To where I poop and pee and run and play.
When there we turn and head on thru’ the grass
And trees, the place whereunto pass the members
Of my crew already there who bark at me
And call me late but lick me anyway.
The reader will note that Jules’ sonnet fails to maintain any of the traditional 14-line
sonnet rhyme schemes, neither the Petrarchan, Spencerian nor Shakespearian. It starts off in Shakespearian iambic pentameter but then ends up int a monotonous A-B- A-B
repetition. Still, it’s not bad for a Labrador Retriever.
Some may criticize Jules’ poetry as limited, since it’s mostly about chewing, smelling and pooping, but I disagree. I mean, Elizabeth B. Browning only ever wrote about things like love and stuff, and everybody makes a big deal about her.
Ordinarily, Labs are more into social interaction than intellectual pursuits. Poodles make
the best poets because they combine the intelligence and refined sensitivity; but nobody
likes poodles because they’re so . . . well, y’know . . . “ARTSY”. Border Collies make
talented writers, but instinctively they’re more into outdoor activities – it’s hard to keep
them chained to a desk. There are a lot of Border Collies in the Cowboy Poets Association, but I think that’s kind of a waste.
That’s why Jules is unusual in the canine universe for her literary talent. Barbara and I
have encouraged her to continue pursuing a writing career. We look forward to all the
insights she has to offer about the expat life in Portugal.
The August holiday and summer heat are finally at a close. Barbara and I are
heading for Oporto, so we’ll see what’s happening in them there parts.
Editor’s Note: Our regular readers met Jules several posts ago when Wayne featured her with quotes and paraphrases. Jules was not entirely happy with the portrayal in those posts and has put her paw down to demand that only she be the one to write the posts that feature her. After an extensive vet-ing process followed by negotiations involving kibble, bones (marrow in) and a slobbery ball, we here at xpat-whimz.blog are proud to announce an additional, if somewhat occasional, contributor, Jules.
Disclaimer: Jules’ opinions are strictly her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors.