The ups and downs of daily life
I love it when I can use travel as my palette for life’s adventures. Sometimes though, being in the midst of those adventures feels like nothing more than a giant pain in the ass where I question my abilities, my sanity, my health and my judgement.
This is one of those times. I’m house/pet sitting for a friend in deeply rural Algarve so that he can go off on his own life’s adventures for the winter . . .and possibly the rest of his life. But that’s his story, not mine.
My adventure is not just about pet sitting when I’m unaccustomed to having pets. It includes managing a rustic, ramshackle rural property, keeping my writing business afloat and creating an active social life.
My charges are two dogs, Blackie and Luna and a male tabby cat named Monty. The dogs are very friendly and rambunctious, each with its own distinct personality. Blackie, the male, is territorial and defensive but with a sweet disposition, playful and quietly protective. He’s definitely an introvert, hanging back until he’s invited in for food, a cuddle or a walk. He has a disorder whereby he’s always digging in the dirt (although I never see him doing it) and he has a perpetual fungal condition on his nose. It looks a lot like really bad psoriasis. I have to be honest and say that I find the psoriasis-like eruption repugnant and so am reluctant to touch or cuddle him. For sure the thought of him licking me makes my skin crawl. I wish I were a more compassionate human being, but there it is. His icky skin creeps me out. Sigh. Yet he doesn’t seem to hold it against me and where he’s usually very aloof with people, he actually comes in for a back rub or cuddle from me from time to time.
Luna is a short-haired beauty, a Canadian or White Shepherd I’ve recently discovered. She has a roller-derby chick personality and body shape: a sleek but hearty build and a ‘don’t fuck with me’ attitude that simply exudes from her, even when she’s lying in a languid heap in the sunshine. She’s a character, of that there’s no doubt. A take no prisoners way of moving through space, a bark that makes other dogs sit up and take notice, an infinitely curious nature, an impetuous manner and a cheeky, devilish way of getting in your face.
She’s the leader of this small pack and when the aggressive dogs from next door come on an attack raid, she’s right in there giving as good as she gets. Blackie seems to be the focus of their attacks, which are terrifying, by the way. But Luna is very effective at keeping 3 large aggressive dogsat bay. One is so nasty he wears a muzzle full time but it doesn’t slow him down a whole lot.
And that’s part of the adventure I hadn’t realized I was signing on for. Portugal has very poor animal control laws, at least down here in the Algarve. Laws controlling aggressive breeds are almost non-existent. I had planned to go in and lodge a complaint with the local police but I’ve been advised to use that as a last resort. Apparently, if I get one of the less pleasant members of the local constabulary, I may find myself on the short end of the stick, required to come up with all sorts of paperwork proving that my own dogs are registered, vaccinated, spayed, and otherwise legitimate. I know that both of them are rescue dogs and that Gerry would have the paperwork somewhere. But where? Phhhtttt??? So I sit here and stew. The woman next door is building a huge stone wall and, apparently, a fence. It seems to be working in that her dog pack hasn’t been over for a raid in nearly 3 weeks. But the barking that goes on back and forth is enough to drive me bonkers. Next door seems to let their dogs out to run the property in the night because I’m often awakened in the wee hours with Blackie, in particular, emitting this deep, piercing howl/whine that sounds like he is actively dying. Very, very unnerving. And a great lesson for me in detached caring as well as patience.
Patience is something I don’t believe I have a whole lot of so these are probably darned good life lessons for me.
But what about these Nun’s Farts you ask? Well yes. Before we talk Farts, however, I’d like to point out that one of my friends has concluded that I’m in the process of ‘being trained into submission’ by these dogs. I suspect she may be more than slightly right on the money. Thanks Denise..
In the past 6 weeks or so I’ve become aware of just how unaware I am on many fronts. A bit of background. This rustic, ramshackle place in which I live is a converted holiday trailer or caravan. My landlord/friend has built a large room on one end. It has a patio stone on gravel floor, walls, a corrugated plastic roof, windows, bathroom and an on-its-last-legs kitchen with 2 fridges, 2 washers, a gas stove and clothes dryer (a rarity in Portugal where everyone, rich or poor hangs their laundry to dry). The kitchen is open along the side made up of the end of the trailer, both at the top and the bottom. So I can’t lock the cat out and Blackie from time-to-time makes an entrance from under the trailer, although he seems bored with that little trick these days.
Bad Habits I Didn’t Know I Had
I’m pretty much a from-scratch cook and I love to cook for myself as well as for guests. My ‘unawareness’ comes in very deeply entrenched habits of leaving food out to soften, warm up, marinate, steep or otherwise be part of the culinary process. I was totally unaware of the range of foods that animals like to eat. Like the bag of flour that Monty (the cat) chewed his way into and proceeded to lap up. Or the buns and bread that he regularly rips open if I forget to put them away and nibbles upon? I had no idea cats like carbs so much. I was also unaware of just how cats want to be the boss of a place, even if they don’t really want to eat the food involved. They’ll do what they need to do to gain access to it and then walk away once they’ve proved that they can do that.
So far Monty has not only ruined a roasted chicken I left out, covered, to cool. But I couldn’t get over why Luna was dancing up a storm to get into the kitchen one morning. When I opened the door, I discovered Monty had managed to get the fridge door open and haul out half a roasted chicken I’d stored in the fridge overnight. She’d eaten almost none of it but it was lying in the middle of the floor and the fridge door had been ajar all night long. Luna, of course, had a wonderful pre-breakfast treat that morning.
Then I had friends over for lunch. I’d cooked a wonderful roast of pork and made a fresh mango chutney to accompany it. I’d sliced the pork, arrayed it on a tray with a bowl of chutney in the middle then covered it with plastic, then an overturned pot and finally a heavy jug of water on top of the pot and went to the loo to tidy up for my guests imminent arrival. I heard a great crash and came out to discover that Monty had gotten his body behind the tray and leveraged it off the counter onto the floor. Oh my, both Luna and Blackie certainly enjoyed that roast of pork …and the spicy mango chutney to accompany it! Amazing. We dined on an Omelette!!
Monty hasn’t done any more fridge damage because I’ve taken to duct-taping the damned door shut when I have any meat in it. Although yesterday he did manage to pick a chicken neck out of the stock pot, in full boil, and chow down on his succulent treat while I was busy entertaining guests.
Finally – the Nun’s Farts
Yesterday’s damage was of Luna’s making. I had a generous chunk of pastry left from Christmas. So I’d made an Apple Pie for my guests and a batch of a very special French Canadian treat called Nun’s Farts (Pet des Soeurs) and was planning to use the balance as crust for a Leek and Mushroom Pie. I left the chilled pastry out to soften a bit before rolling out and had to run into the trailer to get my laptop and plug it in out in the kitchen. I was gone perhaps 90 seconds. On my way back from trailer to kitchen I noticed that Luna was out on the lawn with something plastic. When I went to investigate it was the bag of pastry that she was very happily chomping into. Oh crap. At least I had the pie and pastries safe in the fridge. So I quickly made a new batch of pastry that I put in the fridge to chill while I made the savoury filling.
Once my guests arrived and the Leek and Mushroom Pie went in the oven, I took the Apple Pie and Nun’s Farts out of the fridge and put them in safe places until dessert. Or so I thought. Turns out the the pie was fine but no so the Farts.
I had made these cultural treats especially for my friend Marc who, like me, has a Franco Ontarien heritage. Nun’s Farts are ends of pastry that you roll out, butter and then sprinkle heavily with sugar and cinnamon, roll up, slice and bake until crisp. They may not appeal to everyone but for those of us who grew up with them, they are a combination of delicacy and sweet memories.
So imagine my dismay when I went into the kitchen to pick up the wicker tray of these treats only to find Luna inhaling them. She had managed to get her nose high enough up to flip the tray down onto the ground and was hoovering these treats, tail wagging, tongue slobbering with joy. I caught her in the act so there was no denying that she was the culprit. My heart sank and this fountain of dismay arose inside of me. I had to admit that I have a huge need to control my kitchen and all that goes on in it . . .and these critters are here to teach me to just let it all go.
God that’s proving difficult. To tell an honoured guest that he can’t have his treat because the dog ate it . . .good grief, where have we heard that before? At least I did tease him with a look and a smell of them earlier so he knows they actually existed, weren’t just a figment on my imagination. I also have the photo evidence, of course.
Where to Next?
There are so many other stories I have to tell. Not just of the animals and food. But of electricity going off. And now today my water pump packing it in. Oh dear. Should I laugh, cry or have a hearty drink of something?
I know that I am a resourceful, talented gal. But honestly, this seems to be pressing my limits. So stay tuned as I work my way through the growth experiences this winter’s adventures are providing me. I have the feeling that we’ve only just begun.