Pets

Inch by Inch

Reina, Purebred Mexican Street Dog, guarding her favorite toys on our lawn..

Reina, Purebred Mexican Street Dog, guarding her favorite toys on our lawn..

We are just slogging through this construction phase in the new house – every day the crew has their breakfast on a portable comal (a round metal sheet for warming tortillas) which they can plug in upstairs in my half-built office now that they have electricity up there. They sit around in a circle on the unfinished cement floor, as though the comal were a campfire, eating freshly warmed tacos, chat and joke for awhile, then they get up, get their tools and go to work – straight through till they break for lunch at 1 p.m. They fix their lunch and rest, sometimes really conking out and going to sleep on a pile of cement sacks or under a tree somewhere, until 2  p.m. Then they resume work again, without stopping, till 6.

The front part of our garden continues to be a sea of mud, our section of the cobblestone street is filled with sand and rubble which the yellow truck comes and carries off once a week (to Reina’s continuing delight), and there are always pieces of brick and rocks and rebar all over the place. The carport is stacked with cartons under tarps, bags of cement and tools. It is really a mess out there, and noisy as all get out while they are working, between their hammers and chisels, their radio, and their cheerful (terrible) singing and bantering back and forth. Arquitecto Roberto shows up every so often to check on their progress, and Saturday afternoon he stops by to pay them, after Arnold has made a bank transfer to cover the week’s expenses. Once they’re paid they head off and calm descends all too briefly upon the place until Monday morning. I keep thinking I’ll be able to get things a little more organized on Sundays with some peace and quiet and without the constant interruptions, asking if I want this here or there, dealing with deliveries, and other distractions. But as a practical matter, we can’t unpack much more than we have because there’s no place to put x thing yet, so the house is still stacked with boxes and art still leaning up against walls pretty much everywhere. And by the weekend I am so exhausted that I just want to lie around and do nothing. Still, in spite of the mess, we can see that inch by inch, centimeter by centimeter, week by week the addition is getting built and from my perspective, at least, it will have been well worth the chaos of these few miserable months. But miserable, right now, it most certainly is.

Reina has of course, as would any sensible Mexican street dog, figured out when the guys are going to be eating and she begs to be let outside so she can scrounge bread or tacos or tortillas from them. These she carries around in her mouth for awhile until she finds a place to bury them. The first time she did this I saw her scratching around under a hedge and was sure she had found some awful dead thing under there, till I saw what she was doing. We try not to let her into the house with these unearthed treasures once she digs them up (to enjoy them at leisure, I suppose), but sometimes she sneaks them in and stretches out on the living room rug with this disgusting piece of taco or whatever…but this is doggie heaven I guess so what can we do? It’s devoured soon enough so we leave her alone.

With the 4 gatos and Reina it is sometimes hard to tell when something goes wrong with one of them. The floors in the house are white tile and the least little bit of mud or anything shows up pretty dramatically. We’ve all noticed little spots of dried blood on the floor over the past couple of days and Rosa’s oldest daughter Mirella, who is now helping Rosa with the housecleaning, worked for years as our vet’s assistant and she thought we should take Reina in to be checked out – maybe something is going on with her rear end. So she and Rosa walked over to the vet’s office with Reina and the vet suspects that she may have a kidney infection. He has run some blood tests and we will have the results on Monday. She seems to be none the worse for wear, if that is what she has, because she is still eagerly eating her hoarded garden treats in addition to her own dog food and running around. Maybe a teensy bit droopier than normal but now we think maybe we are seeing things. We will soon find out what, if anything, is going on with her. If it isn’t her, it’s one of the cats and that will be really complicated to track down. We looked sequentially, under all the kitties’ tails to see if anything looked amiss, but they seem fine to our laymans’ eyes. But, as Arnold says, one step at a time.

In any event, I am really worried about Tabitha, my parents’ tabby cat, who eats nonstop and is becoming enormous. We have tried limiting her food but it is very hard with three other cats in the house and she cries for more if we cut down her rations. The house is so open that it would be difficult to keep her away from food but I am beginning to think that the “free-feeding” thing with the feeder is not working with her. I am terrified that she will get diabetes and have to be be put to sleep the way our much-loved Korat, Achille, was, after a year of insulin injections and a declining quality of life. The vet, who is very practical, had suggested, when the second two cats arrived, that our lives would be a lot easier if we just let them have a feeder and eat whenever they wanted and it has worked well for three of them, but poor Tab just can’t stay away from the food and I am afraid that ultimately it will kill her. And the saddest part is that she is now so happy here with us, she’s like a whole new cat. Purring, contented, not aggressive any more the way she was when we first brought her into the household. We finally get things right for this unfortunate kitty, who was scheduled to be put to sleep the day after we first saw her in the shelter and adopted her, and then she has this lifelong weight thing which will probably be the cause of her demise. It echoes my own fears about myself, and my inherited predisposition to diabetes. What an ongoing battle the whole fending-it-off thing is for both man and beast.

With Achille, we gave him his insulin shots at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. promptly. This played havoc with our social lives (hard to go out to dinner with friends or to concerts, etc.) To make matters worse, the easiest way to test a cat’s blood sugar is with a pin prick to that big vein in their ear which you can pretty easily see. This hurts them and it makes you feel awful and soon they are running away from you and the whole situation is dreadful until finally their kidneys fail and you have to put them to sleep anyway. So I am wrestling with what to do about her weight, and since I have been struggling with my own weight issues since I was a little kid it is not a happy or easy topic for me. And like so many things in life and death, there may just not be an answer to it except to live through it and do your best as things unfold.

On the other hand, I guess I have to weigh (pun sort of intended) how crazy I am going to get over the whole four-cat situation. They are doing so much better now in the new house – there is the occasional hiss here and there but basically now they are all getting along reasonably well, and one really could say, since three of them are shelter cats who, once adopted, have led long and happy lives, that at their present ages it wouldn’t be surprising if bit by bit they start to get sick or at least to begin to show some signs of aging. And if Tab gets diabetes, the vet’s attitude is, don’t let her suffer with insulin shots and constant pricking and poking for blood sugar readings, just put her to sleep before it gets awful. I don’t know that an American vet would have that attitude, but here there are so many mistreated animals around, dogs running around loose in the streets, just the barest beginnings of a public consciousness about spaying and neutering; these vets deal with things differently than they did back in the Ancestral Homeland. Maybe you give them the best life that you can and when it’s time for them to go, they just have to go without the heroic measures one could try. Was Achille better off because we delayed euthanizing him for that year? Maybe the vet is right, the second he began to react badly to the whole shot ritual we should have put him down and spared him all that suffering, though we felt, at the time, that we had done the right thing by giving him the insulin as long as we could. But attitudes are different here.  We got Reina in the first place as a two-month old puppy because she had been dumped in front of a vet’s office and his kids found her there. He of course took her in and tried (and succeeded) to find a home for her. She’s been a great dog, too, smart and loving and fun.

Meanwhile, on a cheerier note, we are definitely planning to escape to London and Paris for a couple of  weeks – it should be a great trip and Arnold is looking forward with great anticipation to getting out of here  for a reapite from the incessant noise and invasion of the construction. For my part, I am looking forward to all the wonderful food and art, and being able to revisit both cities, neither of which we have been to in many years. My sister will join us which will be fun, and I know I’ll do at least a little bit of retail damage over there!  When we get back from the trip, I’m guessing that the worst of the banging will be done, and they will be at a quieter stage – installing light fixtures, plugs, flooring and even starting to do some finishing work and painting. My new office will be just wonderful; I can’t wait to move into it and unpack my books and other things, which now are stacked up in storage in huge cartons. And when the office is done and the cartons moved out, the casita will be liberated to be turned into a little art studio for me, and I am already thinking about some ceramics and other projects I would like to tackle.

But who knows – right now it seems like a long way off and life mostly consists of getting through each day, waiting for six p.m. when the relentless chiseling, drilling, cutting through cement, stop at least for the evening. Sundays continue to be the best – they’re off for the day and the house and garden are quiet, and I can indulge in imagining what it is going to be like when the whole thing is done, and what will I really do with myself? I had been warned that when my mother died six months ago, there would be this huge hole where the worrying about her and dealing with her illness and her maintenance would have been. The hole is there for sure, but I don’t feel it as a cause for depression, just this sort of quizzical “and now what?” sense; made more complicated by the fact that I won’t really be able to move into this new house and settle into it for a few more months. It is just a time of waiting and going off on a European jaunt to look at art, see some opera, and eat some really great food may be just what the doctor ordered.

The Dog Show

We had our first bit of tentative rain last night – it was just enough to tamp down the dust and break the cycle of heat and oppressive humidity, bringing in a gorgeous cool morning with bright sun and fluffy clouds. We are in the weird in-between period with the new house purchase where almost all the papers are signed, or at least enough of them are signed so that we are reasonably certain we have a deal.  However in typical “mañana” Mexican fashion, the real estate agent representing the seller has gone off to Spain on vacation for a month and a half, and our own agent (who is also a good friend) is off to Mexico City for a couple of days of business and pleasure, right in the middle of the wrapping-up of these house-purchase negotiations. With my American sensibility and knowing how insanely compulsive I used to be about my clients back in the old days, it is absolutely unfathomable to me that anyone would just leave with a purchase contract sort of hanging there in limbo and take off for six weeks, but I guess he figures we’ll still be here when he gets back, ditto the seller and the house itself, so what’s the big rush? It’s hard to relax about it but I think that is what the real estate gods are telling me to do at this point.

It’s going to be probably two months till we really do get in to the new house – too early to start packing things in earnest – why live in chaos? – but obviously we are done with any new projects here at our old house, so we are just finding things to amuse us locally and we’ll just bide our time till everything comes into sharper focus. Right now we aren’t sure exactly WHEN we will move, it’s all sort of blurry. It is hard for me to live with blurry, either physically or mentally (I just went nuts getting new glasses and contact lenses!) but that also seems to be the lesson of the day.

In the area of things we CAN do while we sit here in limbo, we have been on a campaign of finding new homes for things we no longer think we need or want – on Mother’s Day after seeing all the moms being feted in town Arnold impulsively threw open the doors of the armario (armoire) in his office and gave Rosa his old television set – she had been complaining that her next door neighbor had gone up on the roof and illegally stolen her cable signal by rewiring the cable to his TV; and she’d been paying for it for months now, thinking her tele was broken since there was no reception. The entire family had been bashing away on this poor television set, poking it, hitting it, fooling with its knobs and wiring, to try to get it to cooperate and show some sign of life, till they finally did destroy the TV and then when the mystery of why the cable wasn’t working was discovered, the poor thing was by then truly muerto.

Arnold of course has his heart set on something newer and fancier for the new house, so it all worked out. Rosa was thrilled, her whole family has TV now and a flat screen even! The little stand that holds the set upright had broken awhile back, but Carlos rigged up a new stand with some wood and screws and god knows what so it was good to go. Rosa said the old TV that had been wrongfully accused of not working was twenty years old anyway; she had purchased it when she was pregnant with Gaby who is now 22 or 23! Now Rosa is battling with the cable company to reimburse her for all the time she paid and paid and got no service, but she is resigned to the loss of her money as it turns out the neighbor’s kid works for the cable company and she suspects that’s how he knew how to rewire the roof connection to from hers to their TV in the first place. Could be Mexican paranoia but she might be right. Anyway her cable is working again now and the new TV is being venerated by everyone over at her house.

Meanwhile this afternoon we decided to check out the dog show they’ve been advertising. This was supposedly a dog show sanctioned by the Mexican equivalent of the American Kennel Club and since we are avid Westminster Dog Show watchers every February (luckily we have figured out a way to watch it down here) we love seeing all the dogs, so off we went to see what we could see.

Well, as Arnold wryly pointed out, Westminster it ain’t. But the handlers and judges were very serious about it all; they had set up a series of big tents where the judging took place sheltered from the blazing Mexican sun, and off to the sides were the grooming areas with all the dogs’ crates set up. There were plenty of us ex-pats there, along with the Mexicans, enjoying the afternoon’s activities. Just like dog shows everywhere, many of the dogs had fans – family and friends – who applauded their every move with great gusto. We stayed to watch some of the judging – mostly  bulldogs and the labradores – the labs. The men mostly wore suits and ties which is quite formal attire in Mexico; the dogs were like show dogs everywhere- some of them amazingly well behaved and “into it”;  a few who you could tell would much rather be chasing a ball somewhere. But all beautifully groomed and turned out.

As with so many things Mexican, they had their own stamp on it – everywhere there were children, picnics, babies, and grandparents. There were kids who were “junior handlers” just like they have in the States and doting parents showing them the ropes. People brought out coolers with all sorts of things to eat and as much as an excuse to see the different dogs, it provided a chance for yet another gathering with friends and family and scarfing down a few tacos. No alcohol allowed on the grounds though, so it was all rather civilized and – excuse the pun – well-bred.

Then we came home to discover that Pedro the pool guy had left the hose running to fill the fountain and forgotten about it and taken off; of course it had overflowed so there were huge puddles all over the garden. Arnold turned the hose off in disgust – a dumb waste of water. Then after dinner our neighbors started up their dreadful high-powered stereo again for some awful party; then on top of that, there is wedding up at the evento place – we know it’s a wedding because at one point the Mendelssohn wedding march came crackling over the loudspeakers and the sound carried down to our house easily, a block and a half. In self-defense, I have retreated to the comfort of Corelli aided by my ipod and excellent noise-cancelling headphones which block out most of the external din. As long as I can escape it, nowadays, it doesn’t make me as much of a nervous wreck as it used to. I am getting used to it, just in time for us to leave.

Kitty wars update….

Kitty wars update – today’s tally, one vase with flowers in it knocked over TWICE in early morning skirmishes, water all over the floor, the dining room table soaked, and water in and on several bags of books I was planning to donate to Sofia’s school library. Before I could figure out where to move it, they knocked this poor vase over AGAIN and this time demolished my lucite salt shaker. Dr. Jesus did come over and drop off the pills and we have been experimenting with different dosages – they DO help but we obviously haven’t found the right formula – giving them enough to quiet them down but not so much that they are comatose or their health is endangered. It is apparently a delicate balance. The two big ones continue to stalk and pounce upon the two smaller ones, but not quite as often and not quite as enthusiastically, given that they are a bit stoned. S

Rosie, who continues to be a nervous wreck, threw up all over the dresser and all over the runner my sister wove for me. It will have to go to the cleaners…

Tab is eating her food AND Luigi’s food, we have to sort of feed them sequentially. That kitty’s eating disorders make me with my weight problem look like a rank amateur. She REALLY has a problem. Definitely kitty-shrink material.

Tonight we are just going to let them all have the run of the house and see if we get any sleep at all. Rosie and Missoni will hide I am sure and be really upset at the loss of their preferred spaces on the bed. But I have this weird theory that we should try it because if Tab and Luigi can sleep with us it might ratchet down THEIR anxiety levels and make things calmer all around. Either that or it’ll be all out third world kitty war all night as they duke it out. My weird theory will probably turn out to be just exactly that – a weird theory – soon to be tossed onto the pile of other cat owners’ weird cat behavior theories that turned out to be -well,  dead wrong.

As they say, vamos a ver!

Meanwhile the weather here is absolutely gorgeous, blue skies cooling off a bit, and big puffy clouds. We are awaiting the annual arrival of the snowbirds which marks the beginning of “high season” here – with all sorts of concerts, activities, charitable events. They stay until April and then when the spring rolls around, they all head back to Minnesota or Canada, sort of like flocks of geese.  While they are here, though it’s lively, with restaurants and shops full,  you can give up hope of finding a parking place in the village.  But right now it is still calm; we are going to enjoy it while we can.

The Kitty Psychiatric Ward

The cuatro gatos are still battling each other for domination of our household, four months to the day after their “introduction”, and we have just about had it. Just when you least expect it (like when you’re in the shower) one jumps another and you have to race to wherever the confrontation may be (probably diagonally across the house and either up or down a flight of stairs), squirt bottle in hand, to break up the fracas. Both of us have struggled with what to do about the fact that they just seem not to be adjusting to one another, and it has become for us a terrible moral dilemma. Tabitha, my mother’s hugely overweight tabby female, and jet-black and big-eyed Luigi, the male, arrived on the scene just wanting lots of love and attention from us, but the minute they spotted their two rivals in the living room, war was declared.

I had promised my mother years ago, when she was still “compos mentis”, that we would take her two in if she and my dad could no longer care for them. In retrospect, my promise to her to keep them with us “forever” may have been not such a bright commitment to have made. And now, to be honest, if I wanted to weasel out of it and give them up for adoption, I surely could, because she is completely gone mentally at this point. Still, a promise is a promise, aside from which the shelters here are overflowing with stray kittens and cats, dozens of them, needing homes (that’s how we got Missoni, after all). But neither Arnold nor I could do that now to both my parents’ poor kitties. They have been traumatized; starting with being brought down here from the States and adjusting to that, then going through the death of my father last year (he adored both of them and they were really disoriented when he died) and then they suffered, not  comprehending, as my mother stopped petting them and talking to them (they used to sleep on my parents’ bed in the old days). They don’t understand why or how she became bedridden, blind and suffering from dementia, eventually not relating to them at all.

I think cats do understand death and dying, and sadly, they both reacted to the loss of their master and mistress by becoming hugely depressed and hiding in a closet in my mother’s house, pretty much all day and all night long.  Well, I’d promised to take them in. So, seeing these two poor cats confused and disoriented, if we have to run a kitty psychiatric ward once they come here to live, I thought to myself, so be it. Guess we’re stuck; and Arnold agreed. In the old days, back in Santa Fe, roaming around my parents’ house and enjoying their affection, they were the world’s sweetest pair of kitties, but they have been upset now to a point where – good news – they get it that we are their new masters, but – bad news – they want us ALL to themselves. Desperately, both of these poor cats want security and lots and lots of affection from us. From their point of view, there is no room for any other cats to compete for attention.

Thus, we quickly found that my daughterly devotion unleashed upon our household two panicky felines who, starting the day they arrived, began incessantly to stalk and attack our two delicate, much more sensitive cats, who are half their size and terrified of these two invaders. As a result, our original two have become nervous wrecks. This turmoil was, of course, on top of the stress we were enduring with Arnold’s coronary adventures and his stent procedure. We tried everything “natural” we could think of to calm them down, and which Dr. Jesus suggested, including various and sundry herbal and flower-based aromatherapy sprays and drops in their food, none of which have really worked, or at least not to the point where it’s made any difference that we can see. In exasperation, one morning I went out and bought collars and tags for both of them, and threw them both out onto the terrace. I had hoped that keeping the newcomers out of the house for much of the day would mean that Group 1, and we, had a break from the catfights and we could go about our lives for awhile each day in relative peace.

At first they were scared and hung out near the door meowing incessantly to be let back in – having been indoor cats their whole lives – but day by day they have timidly ventured further away from the house and thankfully, now they are totally digging being out there, chasing bugs and rolling on the grass for the first time in their lives. Our garden walls are so high they can’t escape and of course Tab is too gordita to climb anything, sadly for her. (That’s our next job, getting her on some kind of kitty diet …I keep saying she needs Dr. Catkins). If anything, her metabolism is now more messed up than mine from stress. Luigi doesn’t have front claws so fortunately he can’t really climb too much either. He was declawed when we adopted him from the shelter in Santa Fe, and luckily, now that he’s older, our garden seems to be plenty big enough for him to explore.

By now they are generally content to find chairs on the terraza and just hang out there.  Jet black Luigi also strolls around contentedly and has found a nice maguey he likes to crawl under for his afternoon naps. The only thing you can see, if you need to find him, are those two huge green eyes! After sundown, though, we still feel we have to bring them into the house. First of all, even though Ajijic is warmer in winter than many other places, the nighttime temperatures here in the winter can get down to the high thirties and frequently the low forties. And the creepy crawlies we do have – black widows, scorpions, and brown recluse spiders, are out there and much more likely to sally forth at night.  So while peace has begun to return during the daylight hours, we still are having battles in the evenings. Missoni and Rosie find high places and just stay hidden, trembling and wary. Winter is coming and the days are already getting shorter. Not good.

Well then, what to do? Mexicans are very paradoxical about drugs – some pills, like Viagra, it seems you can buy by the handful in any farmacia in the country. But anything that might be even vaguely addictive or dangerous is now controlado (controlled) and it’s every bit as hard to come by the stuff as it is in the U.S., even for animals. At my wits’ end and ready for a stay in an asylum myself, I went in to town to see Dr. Jesus, the classical-guitarist vet.  I said “I know you like all this natural stuff and don’t want to prescribe drugs for them, but honestly, we need to try to put at least the two new ones on kitty tranquilizers for a while to see if it ratchets down their “chase and dominate” instincts. It’s not fair to our two: their whole existence now is about being pursued and/or hiding in high places”. I confessed to him that I had dug around and found a few pills left over from when Arnold brought Group 2 down in the plane. Even though the medication had expired long ago, I figured, let’s see what happens – and I tried chopping the pills up into quarters and giving them this small dose. Thankfully, for we were at the end of our ropes, it seemed to quiet things down quite a bit. Dr. Jesus agreed to get us some kitty calmante drops – they have to be ordered from Guadalajara and it takes a few days to get them. We can experiment with different dosages and “medication schedules” to see what works best to settle the four of them down. I am hoping that  we won’t have to  keep them doped up for more than a couple of weeks, I suspect, till their little kitty motherboards are reset and hopefully we can all go on about our lives. Better living through chemistry.

Today, we brought  Group 2 in at sundown and gave ‘em two of the four little pill fragments I have left. Stoned kitties means that we don’t have to race up or downstairs, with squirt bottles in hand, to break up altercations when we hear screaming and hissing from some part of the house where someone has been cornered and is about to be pounced upon. I have enough until tomorrow; I’m praying that Dr. Jesus does indeed get the stuff from Guadalajara for us or we will be back at Square One. For now, at least for part of the evening after dinner, thankfully, Luigi and Tabitha just LIE there, right in the middle of everything, sort of like meatloaves. But no stalking, no switching of tails, no narrowing of the eyes followed by chasing and the inevitable attack.  We are so preoccupied over my mother right now that we just don’t need the house to be insane and tense from the cats. As I write this three of them, for the first time, are calmly in the same room. Rosie is still hiding upstairs in a closet, but I’m grateful for what I’ve gotten. The two newcomers are lazing on the dining room table, eyes kind of glazed (anyone who grew up in the ‘sixties knows that look!) but mellowed out, at least for the moment, with Missoni underneath the table perched on a chair. No one is hissing, no one is growling. I decided to make a run for it, put down my weapon (the squirt bottle), and came upstairs to write this. Maybe, just maybe, peace will reign in the land.

Podando (pruning)

This week, we had a crew of guys crawling all over the garden in hard hats and tree gear pruning our trees. They grow like weeds here, especially during the rainy season, so this monster haircutting has to be done once a year at least. There was a huge wood chipper parked outside, partially blocking the calle, and our gate stayed open all day long so they could haul debris out to put in the chipper. Adding to the stress, chain saws and pruners were everywhere, with branches falling all over the place, so we and the animals all had to be locked inside all day. We have the “nicest” house in a very Mexican neighborhood, and I am always a little jumpy about who can peer in and check out the property. Having the driveway gates open makes me nervous since I don’t like passers-by being able to see into our garden.

Then the plumber was here trying to figure out exactly where our septic tank is located; we have never had a set of plans for the house and no one ever has known exactly where it is.  “It’s by the back wall somewhere” was the best the guy who painted the house originally could do, trying to remember back to when the house was built in 2003. Thus no one had ever inspected it or cleaned it out. So, fearing a seriously unpleasant disaster somewhere down the line (literally and figuratively), I said, if this plumber has one of those cameras – as he said he did – and can figure out where the bloody thing is and look at it and tell us it either needs cleaning out or is okay, that would be well worth the investment.

So he also was out there banging and running drills and equipment, poking holes in the lawn and chipping out our exterior walls every few feet trying to locate the septic tank itself and the lines that lead to it. He did locate it out back, finalmente, and put a nice new sort of manhole cover on it, so now, if there are problems, it’ll be easy to get septic cleaning equipment down there. This new plumber is replacing the guy we’d used for years, who – sadly – has developed just a little bit too much of a drinking problem. The terrific new plumber-designate, is gradually working his way through all our temperamental and problematic plumbing and electrical systems, correcting all sorts of things that – as it turns out – had been done halfway, or totally wrong. It’s costing a fortune but step by step, things are undeniably improving around here. Or so we like to think.

But we still are suffering the ongoing battles of the cuatro gatos, which adds to the craziness. The new arrivals are still fighting to establish territory, mercilessly chasing and ganging up on our original two. Poor little Rosie got cornered on the kitchen counter by Taby this morning and took a flying leap down into the open empty dishwasher. The poor kitty, who is tiny, landed right on all the upright prongs in the lower rack. She seems okay, but pobrecita, who knows. I decided enough is enough and I called our vet, Dr. Jesus, to come over and a) give them all the shots they need, especially rabies for Group 2 who are venturing outside now into the enclosed garden with its high walls. I asked if he could prescribe some calmantes (tranquilizers) for all of them so maybe we can ratchet down the inter-gato tension a bit. Group 1 is completely stressed out and maybe Group 2 will be less aggressive with a little relaxant. He said he’s going to try some natural remedies first and see if that helps the situation. He says some Vitamin B will help with all their stress (in their water bowl!) and there are herbal remedies to try to see if it helps the territorial battles before we go to real drugs. Thank god he makes house calls – we did not look forward to bundling four yowling cats, plus Reina the dog, who also needs booster shots, into carriers and going into the village to his office.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the chaos, we had one of those Perfect Mexican Moments when Dr. Jesus did come to the house. He arrived with only half the vaccinations he needed, however, having forgotten the others. He gave the kitties what shots he had with him, and then our house call came to a screeching halt. Oh well, mañana. He is a wonderful veterinarian and much-loved by pet owners here, but in his other life he is a very serious classical guitarist and everyone in his family is musical. When he realized that he could go no farther with the vaccination project, we began chatting, as we often do, about music. In passing, he mentioned that he had his guitar in his car.  Well, we said, since you don’t have the other vacunas with you, how about you play us something? A little Sor or Tarrega etude, or perhaps some Bach? Claro que si, and he ran out to his car and brought in the guitar and serenaded us for a half hour with several pieces.  It was just delightful, hearing the music float through our house as the afternoon began to fade. The kitties, having been spared for the moment, ran off and hid for the rest of the day.

Then he had to go to minister to some other cats and dogs and took his leave, saying he’d come back tomorrow with the missing vaccinations – which he did.  But no recital on the second trip.  Sadly, he said he had to get back to his office because two guys had a very old, much-loved Rottweiler he was going to have to put to sleep, and he said “I know I will have to stay with them for awhile, it will be very hard for them to say goodbye to this poor old perro, even though they know his time has come.” This is how he is; he consoled both of us so wonderfully when we had to put our much-loved Korat cat, Achille, to sleep a couple of years ago. I said to Arnold, “So typical, he forgets half of what he is supposed to do but then, also SO typical –something completely delightful and unexpected happens instead.”  If you can just let go of your assumptions about precisely how things are to be done and in which order – difficult for us gringo types – sometimes you get really nice surprises, like the sound of a guitar  echoing against the masonry walls of your house for awhile.

In all the chaos and noise of our week of home maintenance, I tore a contact lens and without even knowing it really scratched up one of my eyes. Looks like I was in a bar fight. It’ll be okay in a few days but who needs it? But the good news is that the crew is all down there singing and bantering back and forth over the horrific racket of the chainsaws, drills, and the chipper outside. Without being too colonial about it, it is good to hear them belting out Mexican favorites at the tops of their lungs as they work. It reminds me so much of one of my all-time favorite pieces of music, the chorus of sailors in Act I of Britten’s Billy Budd, the sea chantey they sing while they are fixing the sails, readying the cannons, and scrubbing the decks of their ship, the Indomitable.

Death of a Pajarito and Other News

As so often is the case, there is good news and bad news. Well, sort of bad news, I guess, but maybe it is actually good news. My mother, who has hovered in an undoubted twilight zone for the past year, since my father had the audacity to pass away rather suddenly and leave her behind in this vale of tears, seems to be more responsive than she’s been in a while. But she is also simultaneously starting to be much less interested in food and drink, which may be a signal that she’s fixin’ to die. Death has been on my mind the last couple of days, because yesterday I found a little bird struggling in the fountain, gasping for breath, with what looked like broken neck and a broken wing and it was clearly probably not going to make it. But I got it out of the water and set it down in a sheltered place where at least Reina wouldn’t get it, and thought maybe there would be a miracle, maybe it would recover; maybe it was just in shock, maybe it wasn’t that badly injured.  I couldn’t tell how it got into the water but it was cold and rainy and I know birds can’t survive long once they have gotten that waterlogged . And I was right, the poor little pajarito soon died. It just was one more sad thing upon sad thing that I’ve been dealing with lately.

The other day, I went over to the pretty little house we have rented for my mom and her caregivers, and for the first time in many visits, she was actually awake and seemed to recognize that I was there. She is in bed night and day; they turn her every so often to prevent bedsores, and change her diapers, keep her warm, give her oxygen, adjust her nebulizer, cool her off, whatever she needs; she has the world’s most attentive care from Jose and Sandra. She can’t really talk any more but I made a joke about getting her up and dressed because there was a sale on at Saks Fifth Avenue and there was just the tiniest, tiniest hint of a smile. That’s more than I’d gotten out of her in months. But the horrible thing about it was that it also was proof positive that – as we all say – she’s still “in there” – and what must this ongoing saga be like for her? She is asked repeatedly by the nice young doctor who stops by every few days to check on her, whether she’s in pain, and she nods her head to say she is not. I ask her if she wants anything or needs anything and she nods no. Or barely whispers no. But she – who was one of the most visual people I can remember – admired for her beautifully decorated homes and her personal style, is now completely blind, bedridden, incontinent, and her health has been failing, leading to this final landing place, for decades.  Now, she can’t carry on a conversation any more, and she is ever so slowly fading away, but she is still, for some unfathomable reason, with us, in spite of the ravages of diabetes, COPD/Emphysema, and just plain old age and frailty.

As I’ve noted on these pages before, I’ve been waging a pitched battle to lose the 70 lbs I managed to put on god knows how over the years.  It got more serious for me as I watched my mother disintegrate and I’ve read more and learned that in fact, based on my own history and blood test scores, it’s pretty reasonable to assume that the tendency to obesity, strokes, diabetes, heart stuff, is also genetically encoded in me as well as the various relatives who have died from all this stuff over the past few decades. I’ve read every book I can find about all this and they all sort of drum “diet and exercise” into your head to the point where I finally just surrendered to the obvious, cut all the carbs and sugar out of my diet and started to make excruciatingly slow, halting progress on the journey back down to a normal weight.  From the point where I began, it felt like being at the base of an enormous mountain I was going to have to climb, some monstrous, fog-shrouded Alp or something. I had no idea whether I would succeed. But, with all my “numbers” now in normal ranges, I guess I can say I have won at least the major skirmishes of the battle since nothing else horrible seems to be going wrong with me just yet.

It has been hard, but in a way it hasn’t, when I consider what I’m trying so hard to avoid – the pleasures of having to replace my entire wardrobe with new, NOT-plus-size stuff notwithstanding. Watching so many people around me age, especially my mother, I realized that thanks to the “miracles” of modern medicine, the chances are pretty good that lots of us baby boomers are indeed going to live to a ripe old age, whether we are actually fit to keep living or not. Everyone who knew my dad would have agreed he was one of the most brilliant people they’d ever met – with a Ph.D. from USC in musicology and an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Oberlin. He was brilliantly funny, loved by his colleagues, and successful enough to have kept us all in reasonable Southern California style when I was a kid, complete with red Jaguar and Encino swimming pool. He spoke four languages – five, if you count Italian, required by his musicology degree and love of music; even through the ravages of Alzheimer’s or whatever dementia or depression finally got the best of him. Though he died quickly and with great dignity, his departure was preceded by decades of slow, inexorable mental decline and withdrawal from the world which was a torment for him and an even greater torment for the rest of our family. Then there’s my mother, who absolutely refused to do the exercises prescribed by a parade of physical therapists and doctors throughout her life, as though somehow, as the Queen of the San Fernando Valley or whatever she thought she was, she was going to be exempt from the ravages of mostly preventable illness and old age.

Well, guess what, troops. She wasn’t exempt, nor was my dad. So even at the risk of being a little over-obsessed with it, I decided along the way to look the snarling demon right in his glowing red eyes and take him on. Scary and hard, when all you want is a tortilla with your chile relleno but you have – over and over again – to say no, it’s got too many carbs for me. I’ll just have a salad, thanks. (Well, I’m Atkins enough to have had a steak with my salad, to be more precise).

But the rewards are there, too, now, closer to the end of the trail than the beginning of the daunting project eight or nine years ago. I’ve lost weight more slowly than any other creature on the planet, I think, with stops along the way for various family and professional crises. But I have managed to stick with it and now, getting stronger working out three times a week, it’s starting to be more fun. I told a friend the other day “it’s odd, I look in the mirror now and the reflection I see staring back at me is a NORMAL person. Not thin, not especially athletic looking or sleek or anything like that, and most assuredly an older woman, but NORMAL. For a five foot tall girl who was pushing 200 lbs, this is weird but also undeniably kind of cool. And as I think about it from this new perspective, my hope is that at least while I’m still alive – hopefully twenty or even thirty more years – I can keep my strength and my faculties and enjoy whatever time I have left.  My poor mother could have had a much better time of her late eighties than she has had, that’s for sure.  None of us knows what fate awaits us, of course, and a bus could hit me turning a corner in the village tomorrow, but barring that, it is curious to say “here I am, at sixty-five, in the best shape of my life.”  I know others have had this experience too, from my reading, and at the end of my own life, for what it might be worth, at least I can say I tried. Not that it makes any difference if the diablo with the red eyes has you in his cross-hairs. Which he well might, knowing that we live in the land of vicious armed narcos, loco drivers who drink and text, unstoppable superbugs bedding down in hospitals, and on and on.

In any event, tomorrow I go back to my workouts with my trainer to keep slogging away at this, for what it is worth. The territorial battles of the cuatro gatos continue apace and it’s just so crazy with the yowling and hissing and chasing and god knows what that we honestly wonder if we will have to find new homes for Tabitha and Luigi in spite of our best efforts at some point. We hate to admit it, but maybe this ISN’T going to work out despite our intentions. Our original two are petite, delicate little girl kitties who have ruled their roost for years. But my mother’s two are bigger and stronger, and having been strays rescued at an older age, they were both on the streets in Santa Fe long enough so that they both can be aggressive with other cats, though they never were with any humans they encountered along the way.  We try to separate the four of them and break up the hissfests before they turn violent but today for the first time I heard some screaming while I was out in the garden, dropped my pruning shears and came running in to find a few drops of blood on the staircase. But all four kitties were by then far apart calmly licking themselves. Examined each cat for damage, could find none, checked the ears, the paws. Who knows which of the four got nailed? Now, they’re all curled up asleep scattered around the house. We are trying to be patient, give it some more time. Meanwhile, we seem to have a moment’s peace.

Brief Kitty Update

We dared to go out tonight to friends’ house for dinner, so Group 2 was locked up in our bedroom for several hours. Now we’re back home and they’re roaming around, having been sprung, getting in each others’ way and hissing their heads off. But at one point a rather spectacular hissfest between Luigi and Rosie (Luigi having cornered her, not such a good idea) was so loud and scary that both Missoni and Tabitha jumped up on the buffet in the dining room either to escape or to watch the show. They were completely concerned with what was going on down on the floor between the other two and didn’t realize that they were only three feet apart from each other. Is this progress?

Missoni finally jumped down when she realized, with a start, how close she was to Tabitha. Tab has been chasing after Missoni, and started after her once again, but I scooped her up and stopped her. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Maybe in a few more weeks our life will return to normal, the four kitties being more adjusted to one another, and we can resume our worrying about being kidnapped and beheaded instead of breaking up catfights. You just never know in life. Who would have ever thought we would have four cats? And my mother is now so far past being able to even be grateful that we’ve turned our lives upside down to give them a home here, or even to be aware that the cats are gone from her house, that it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter, but I look at her two cats, who are actually settling in here quite well (it’s our original two who are crazed) and think “I just really couldn’t have put them up for adoption, we will all – animals and humans – make it work somehow.”

Today it’s one year since my father died — his yahrzeit – and I remember on the day he died noting that had been a particularly spectacular day here – big puffy clouds, blue skies, the perfect temperature outside, just a hint of a breeze, flowers and birds everywhere. It was like that today too, particularly gorgeous. Once the rains start every June, things do get better.