Thursday, October 29, 2009

Vecinos rabiosos

Ground zero for the kind of grumpy, mis-fit ex-pat personalities I mentioned in an earlier post is surely Jardines de Antigua. It's a gated community without a gate...a state of affairs which seems to lead to a particularly twitchy kind of paranoia. This lot make the residents of La Zona look like frigging Tahitians.

With a certain type of north American one is used to the frontiersman mentality — where almost any form of otherness is interpreted as savagery. Through this daft spyglass, most locals tend to manifest themselves as so many injuns circling the wagon train. But in truth, the problem in Jardines is not with the wild westerners, it's with what Donald Rumsfeld calls the old Europeans. There's the Frenchman who rushes out to beat his beagles whenever they bark at us from behind his gate (surely what he put them there to do?) Then there's the unbalanced couple who have forced us to change the route of our AM and PM chucho promenades simply in order to avoid them.

'Herr Bunker-mentality' has a German Shepherd like ours, though his appears to be more of a penis extension than a pet, because when his 'Fritz' attacked Jin and lost, he went beserk and started kicking and throwing rocks at our dog. It didn't matter how much we screamed at him to behave like a normal human being, it was as if we weren't even there.

In my experience two large male dogs will nearly always have a short scrap the first time they meet, and it will only make matters worse if owners rush in to separate them...or indeed to join the fight. This initial altercation establishes the status situation for all future encounters, and this is clearly what proved intolerable for our mitteleuropean 'gent'. Jin has been put in his place by small furry pooches, but I've never felt the urge to drop a boulder on them afterwards.

Anyway, some weeks later we ran into his wife walking the same dog in Jardines in the late evening and she ran off screaming before either canine had come within sniffing distance. And my Norwegian friend in London is always telling me how many new friends he makes whilst out walking his cocker spaniel.

Most worrying of all was the incident when V had a machete waved at her by a notorious Italian perve. As far as Jardines goes this guy is more transient than resident, riding through the development on a bicycle dragging his husky along behind him on a fairly short leash.

Of course when his dog and ours become aware of each other's presence he finds it hard to keep going in a straight line. Any 'normal' person would realise that all they have to do is stop and wait for the dogs to interact and then carry on as before, but no, this was his cue for a frenzy. He ran over to where a gardener was pruning a hedge, snatched his machete and started bearing down on V.

She hadn't brought a gun to this particular machete-fight, but she is very adept at using words as penetrating weapons, and found the right way to bring up having recently spotted this man openly enjoying gay porn in a cyber-cafe with two young Indian boys seated beside him. He tossed the machete aside and fled the scene. The gardener stood petrified nearby as this played out.

Jin is not an aggressive dog at all, though he barks at lone males with alcohol on their breath or anyone with a history of shooing him away with pebbles. He keeps his distance though and hardly ever intrudes within leaping range.

But once, when V was ambling down the rough earth road on the edge of Jardines that we have dubbed 'Gringits' (the residents generally being both gringos and gits) Jin wandered over to smell some flowers outside the impressive colonial-style residence which then belonged to a deceptively dignified-looking Yank that we'd come across a few times on the Antigua culture circuit. This man duly appeared, reached inside his pocket for a can of MACE and shouted at V: "Take your dog away or I'll spray him ...and then I'll spray you!!!"

In this instance V had only her disarming sang froid to defend herself with (Never, EVER, show fear, she constantly counsels me), but most gringo aggressors are ultimately unprepared for the firm little lecture she can quickly deliver in her well-enunciated English proclaiming their lack of education. (This man later came over and apologised, claiming that he had mistaken Jin for one of Arzu's ferocious K50-trained Alsatians, widely-rumoured to have torn apart several pedestrians who have strayed into this itchy trigger-finger neighbourhood.)

Most of the Guatemalan residents of Jardines are paid to live there, while the real owners spend their time in cramped, over-furnished apartments in Guatemala City. Few of these guachimen are hostile, though there's one kid who once tried to scare us by appearing with a shotgun (which he cocked ostentatiously) as we walked past his employer's house.

Last weekend we were out again with the dogs when Cherry (notably smaller than Jin) made the mistake of snarling at an old chapin with a walking stick...which he was soon flailing around like a cavalry sabre. I rushed over to apologise on behalf of Cherry and explained that she is harmless and that he should just say her name rather than try to club her with his bastón, but it soon became clear to me that I was dealing with the ex-military type, whose last intimate interaction with a dog may well have been when he had to slit the throat of the puppy that newly-recruited cadets are given here in Guatemala.

You don't realise who you are dealing with,"
he screeched, "the last time a dog came and barked at me I pulled out my gun and shot it dead."

Dogs, I have discovered, really can detect a dickhead a mile away.

In a land where the majority of people suffer from one or another kind of powerlessness, 'Usted no sabe quien soy' is a much overused form of intimidation. I didn't know who he was, but he certainly looked like a silly old fossil terrified of a small dog, and he was soon scuttling off back in the direction from whence he had originally appeared.

Pets are not the only way to make new enemies around here, especially in the open-air sanctuary for demented retirees that is Jardines de Antigua and adjoining neighbourhoods. There have already been a couple of incidents relating to my right-hand drive vehicle which have led me to recall the time it was set upon by another bastón-wielding berserker back in Salamanca.

V was at the wheel and when we entered a fine plaza with a very fetching plateresque church at the end of it, I asked her to pull up and let me out so I could take a picture. As soon as I got out the car I heard a torrent of Spanish invective behind me and watched as an ostensibly feeble old guy started bashing my car with his stick. What had him fuming was the notion that any driver should have dared to blithely disembark there without bothering to park properly. Thanks to the polarised windows he hadn't at first spotted V at the timón, but as soon as he did he vamoosed pretty sharpish.

The other day here in Antigua V was parked outside a local shop when an agent of the PMT appeared at the passenger side window and shouted in overbearingly"Where's the driver?!!". "Here?" my wife offered in return, pointing at the wheel in front of her.

On a kind of related note, here's a little clip of my mother cerca 1953 getting into a car which, by today's standards at least, features a measure of unconventionality in its door layout which might, in the words of Peter Cook, "confuse a stupid person ".

(The car and cine camera belonged to my grandfather.)

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