Shopping Days Be Damned

When Blue and I headed out this morning, there was a seasonal nip in the air. The south wind (νοτιάς) which has been keeping temperatures in the high 20s for weeks now, has gone, and the sun is playing its December role.

Even though I’d told myself that these walks would be spontaneous, take us wherever our feet fell, my need for routine has surfaced, and for the last 7 days we’ve tramped the same itinerary. I find I’m drawn to the edge of the city where the expansive views take in a 180 degree sweep of mountains, with sea tucked off to the right. It’s quiet there; the houses are larger, with enclosed gardens,  impenetrable walls. Along the edge of one road, there is a huge bush of Lantana Camara. The floral heads are individual bouquets made up of tiny flute-like flowers, burnt orange, yellow and red. Last week, the bush was twitching with a kaleidoscope of butterflies; it was still this morning.

I’ve realized that dogs in yards and on balconies on our route have set their clocks by us already, barking before we’re visible, in some cases before we round corners. I’d always assumed that a dog gets its information by scent over sight; some of these canines, especially the ones perched on fourth-floor balconies, can see us coming. I wonder what they communicate in that array of grating noise. Where does the nuance of their message lie? In the pause between barks, in their length, pitch, timbre? Would they “say” the same every time we pass, or would they be sharing their latest news? What does a tail-wag mean during vigorous barking? We’ve almost decoded whale song, yet the language of dogs entirely eludes us.

What’s noticeable over the last few days is the addition of Christmas decorations on balconies, in yards. Some are quite tasteful, others not. Blue couldn’t care less; she’s engrossed in life through her nasal passages. Every damp patch on the road needs to be inhaled, every tyre examined. And what is this male need for a vertical surface to pee against? There are more marked wheels than not. While Blue’s head sucks up the riches of other critters’ bladders, I take in the stuff above sight-line, muttering at the cheap look of tinsel wrapped around anything cylindrical, the gaudiness of the red and white likenesses that dangle from balconies. Yesterday, at the insistence of my 16-year old, we went to a local store that I try hard to avoid because of its cheap generic goods, and penchant for not returning small change. Said 16-year old wants to decorate a tree this year–we escaped it last. I’ve only agreed  if we get a real tree in a pot that can be returned to the greenhouse post Christmas. It took an age for me to stop vetoing her suggestions, since almost everything had that “Made in China” lack of appeal. No; clutter. No; too twee. What’s twee? Too nice, precious. How can nice be bad? It is, trust me. On exiting the store, with her hard-bartered silver spangles, I had to reset my face, shake off the grimace. It was all too fake, too commercial, too lost to what seems real, and precious in a grounded way. For example, coming down from the posh area today, I saw a hawk. Its wingspan grabbed my attention first. It perched on a rooftop, unaware of its brilliance. I froze, thought of ‘Kes’. In the film, the working class kid, who played Billy, had to work with the birds, help train them. I can only imagine the feeling of having something as regal as a hawk flying to your outstretched, leathered-up hand. This bird looked bigger than a kestral; maybe a female sparrowhawk. While Blue sniffed two yellow, rotting pumpkins lying in the overgrowth on a patch of derelict land,  the bird flew off, and the buildings blocked me from tracking it any further. Now that’s ‘grounded precious’, I thought; that doesn’t come gift-wrapped in paper with bells on it.

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