Thursday, April 26, 2007

Cats or dogs?

When I spoke at the start of the week of getting a dog, it was purely a pretext for introducing the dog/girlfriend comparison. A dog simply wouldn't fit into my frenetic lifestyle at the moment (and would, I fear, soon go the way of the several houseplants people have given me as gifts since I moved into my current apartment 2.5 years ago - i.e., DIE).

In fact, I am more of a cat person anyway. I love dogs too, but I find them dim, demanding, over-exuberant, and too bloody helpless - they always give the impression that if you abandoned them for even a few days, they might die of want of affection as much as from shortage of food. A slutty, free-spirited cat will just swan off next door and charm your neighbours into feeding it. A cat, goddammit, always gives the impression that it is smart enough to open the tin of food itself if you're not around, but just won't demean itself with such trivial labour.

Cats are more 'feminine' in their character: their sensuous, sinuous elegance, their coquettish rationing of affection, their magnificent indifference. Dogs are more 'masculine': loud, good-natured, oafish, clumsy, touchingly loyal, but..... they're good fun in the pub, but I wouldn't really want to live with one.

Enough digression. Here's Neruda on cats.

Cat's Dream

How neatly a cat sleeps,
sleeps with its paws and its posture,
sleeps with its wicked claws,
and with its unfeeling blood,
sleeps with all the rings -
a series of burnt circles -
which have formed the odd geology
of its sand-coloured tail.

I should like to sleep like a cat,
with all the fur of time,
with a tongue rough as flint,
with the dry sex of fire;
and after speaking to no-one,
stretch myself over the world,
over roofs and landscapes,
with a passionate desire
to hunt the rats in my dreams.

I have seen how the cat asleep
would undulate, how the night
flowed through it like dark water;
and at times, it was going to fall
or possibly plunge into
bare deserted snowdrifts.
Sometimes it grew so much in sleep
like a tiger's great-grandfather,
and would leap in the darkness over
rooftops, clouds and volcanoes.

Sleep, sleep, cat of the night,
with episcopal ceremony
and your stone-carved moustache.
Take care of all our dreams;
control the obscurity
of our slumbering prowess
with your relentless heart
and the great ruff of your tail.

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), tr. from the Spanish by Alistair Reid


Anonymous said...

My father used to say, "A man who does not love dogs is no true Englishman."

I'm afraid he saw cats as a foreign affectation. He felt that domestic pets should still be fundamentally 'working animals', and had no time for those that are merely adornments or conversation pieces. Cats particularly annoyed him. "Workshy and worthless" he always used to call them.

Froog said...

With all due respect to your dear father, I've always felt rather ambivalent about the supposed virtues of the "Englishman". I only embraced 'Englishness' in my childhood as a defence against the danger of becoming a naturalised Welshman (dread thought!). As you know, my family are Micks on my father's side and Fritzes on my mother's, so I'm a bit of a mongrel, and perpetually 'culturally confused'.

Did I ever tell you that my Mum was born in Brazil? Her parents met in Rio in the early 20s: grandmother (my 'Omma') was, I believe, working as a nanny there, after fleeing the post-war inflation in Germany; granddad (who I, unfortunately, never met) had decided to go bumming his way around the world on merchant ships rather than accept a life of middle-class conformity by going up to University. He somehow blagged himself a job as the manager of a huge horse & cattle ranch in central Brazil. Yes, my grandfather was a gaucho! And his leather over-trousers ('bombashers' they call them in those parts, apparently), gnarly with age, scoured and pitted from years of battling with thornbushes until they resembled Keith Richards's face, hung on the wall in our dining-room throughout my childhood, looking down on us as we ate, dominating my imagination at every meal. My mother and her sister were born in a town called Aracatuba - the name has always seemed exquisitely exotic to me, and I hanker to visit one day. Why on earth the family came back to England - on the eve of the War - I'll never understand.

So, growing up with dreams of riding the open range on a distant continent, it was never likely that I was going to be able to settle down to a humdrum life in a bank or a law firm. Or that I would tend to define my character as 'English'.

And I can't agree with your pater on the cat question at all. It is their magnificent indolence that makes them so beautiful. I think you can love and perhaps even respect a dog - but you can only ADMIRE (and perhaps envy?) a cat.

georg said...

We currently have 4 cats and 2 dogs. I only like cats better because I can leave the house all day (or all weekend even) and not find poop all over the house or worse.

We have a basset for one of our pups and criminy this dog is needy. He is a 65-pound lapdog and continuously farting or grembling. Contrast this to any of the cats who come to you when they want to be petted and are perfectly capable of entertaining themselves, and I have to admit I like the cats better. But the basset is terribly adorable.

Anonymous said...

Dear Froog,

Is Snopes for real? Your Butler? 72 years old and found you on the internet - blogging? Did you make him up?

and childhood dreams of riding on the open range?

how much of this should I be taking seriously?

(though the mom being born in Brazil is intriguing... not sure if I really want you to tell me it is for real or not... maybe I just want you to tell me more.)

The Princess

Froog said...

Ah, Snopes is a LONG story. I don't really have any idea how old he is, but if he says he's 72, I suppose we should believe him.

(Snopes, old boy, are you out there? Do you have anything to add? 'The Princess', by the way, is another of Tulsa's many aliases.)

Yes, it appears he found me by chance on the Internet. I have been using the nickname Froog for a very long time. And it appears that - rather to my surprise - he does spend quite a bit of time online. I suspect he'd been reading the blog for quite some time before deciding to announce himself (provoked by my reference to him in a comment a while back).

My mum really was born in Brazil. Her first language was Portuguese, and she spoke little if any English until she moved to England at the age of 9. She couldn't remember a word of Portuguese in adult life; amazing how quickly language fades if you don't use it.

Her being born in Brazil caused quite a few headaches. Apparently, the Brazilian records office burned to the ground some time in the 1950s, so there was no formal evidence of my mother's birth. In the eyes of the British Foreign Office, this made her a non-person: despite the fact that she had lived in Britain for most of her life, had married a British citizen, had paid taxes and National Insurance contributions, was registered on the Electoral Roll, etc., the obscurity of her origins precluded her from getting a passport. At least, until we complained via our Member of Parliament. Thanks to his intervention, she was able to get a special 'one use only' passport for a holiday to Europe in the mid-70s - the only time she was ever overseas since her exotic early childhood.

Yes, it's true: all my earliest daydreams were of being a cowboy. And the bombashers are the one family heirloom I would really like to keep hold of.

Anonymous said...

They are not really aliases if you keep leaking my identity...

(any connection to Rove that you'd like to share?)

Would love to see the bombashers (chaps?)... any possibility of getting you to post a pic?