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Archive for the ‘Animal and Veterinary Stories’ Category

After our visit to the veterinary school at UNAM, I called Dra. Aline. She didn’t exactly remember me but I suggested I should pay her a visit and she immediately demonstrated the gracious hospitality I remember her for, and invited me to come for a visit and stay for la comida (the major late afternoon meal). She said she would be out of town for a few days so we arranged for me to come to her home on Wednesday. Wednesday came, but Alexis was under the weather, so I went to visit the Doctora on my own. Her house, built by her father just after World War II, was as I remembered it, a beautiful, Spanish hacienda, quiet solitude in the middle of a very busy, and noisy city. Here’s a photo of her living room:

When I arrived, she was still resting from her trip to Puebla, and another place that I didn’t catch the name of, where she went to attend the livestock markets. She is on a mission to convince the Mexican people that if they treat their livestock in a more humane manner, the health of the animals, and indeed, the quality of the meat, will improve. She explained that it was difficult to change the attitudes of the farmers and ranchers towards livestock, but she is so well respected by the veterinary profession, and so persistent with her message and with government authorities, some progress has been made. In Puebla, she told me, ramps have been installed for unloading and loading the animals, instead of forcing them to jump into and out of the trucks. “But,” she told me, “except for people who own pets in the big cities, the general attitude is to physically force animals to do what you want them to. You also see many stray dogs and cats in the streets of the cities, as well as in the countryside.” We certainly saw more homeless dogs than homeless people as we moved about.

We had a great visit and despite my beard she recognized and remembered me, especially after we spoke of a study we did, before the Olympic Games, to evaluate the effects of the Mexico City altitude on horses brought here for the equestrian events. She was pleased when I told her the article we published with the results of that study are still referenced, now and then. We reminisced about my FAO colleagues and the effect that project had on veterinary education at UNAM. The results were not immediate, but she feels our efforts may have hastened many changes that have taken place over the past 50 years.

At age 97, she told me she was born in 1920, she is remarkably lucid and mentally agile. If I live that long I hope I can match her.  She lives alone, except for a very dedicated and solicitous housekeeper/ cook, who also has day help to keep up the house. Doctora also employs a man who takes care of any necessary home repairs, the garden, and drives her where she needs to go. Her dedication to animal welfare is what keeps her active and focused.

Tomorrow morning, we return to Seattle. The trip has been extremely worthwhile for me. I hope Alexis has enjoyed my pleasure in revisiting all the places I remember. Our Airbnb hosts, Thomas Friedman and Juan Carlos Luna Vaszquez, have made everything easy for us. They are always helpful and concerned that we do everything we want to do as easily as possible. The apartment in this historic house has served us extremely well. The house is located on Avenida Yucatan #16, in the heart of Roma Norte and we were able to explore widely on foot. Alexis feels she has to walk at least 3 hours a day for exercise, and although she had to reduce her pace for me to keep up, I managed to stay with her, mostly because she keeps stopping to inspect anything that catches her interest.

Part of the wonder of Mexico is the public art. The photo below shows blow-up stills from famous movies. The display lines the walk next to Paseo Reforma as that famous street winds its way through Chapultepec Park.

The next photo shows blow-ups of artifacts recovered from the Templo Mayor excavations in the Zocalo of the historic district. Art and culture are everywhere.

 

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When I was here in Mexico in 1967-68, working with the Food and Agricultural Organization, the most helpful, friendly and professional Mexican faculty member colleague, was Dra. Aline Schunemann de Aluja. After we arrived here on this trip I made some inquiries and learned that she is not only alive, at age 98, she is a Professor Emeritus at UNAM, and still maintains a laboratory at the veterinary school. More than that she comes to the laboratory, every now and again, to do some work.

We visited the vet school and, of course, after fifty years, everything has changed. None of the buildings I remember are to be found, at least by me. The small animal clinic looks quite new, and was busy, with a lot of students, faculty, clients and patients, going in and out.



The next stop was to find the house we lived in, at Avenida San Francisco #12. Here is the house as it was in 1967:

The house was behind a stone wall, down a curving cobble stone drive. The property behind the huge oak gate, consisted of a small house next to the gate, five stone houses, and the owner/architect’s office, that was the building to the right of the white pickup. There was a lot of open land around us, and only a few houses and stores on the roads leading up the hill to our house. The commute from the University to the house usually took me 10-15 minutes. Not today. The trip was well over 30 minutes, through significant congestion, a busy freeway on a Friday afternoon, narrow streets, crowded with businesses on both sides. We found the place but the beautiful oak gate was replaced by this:

 

 

 

 

A private security guard was on duty and even with a long explanation, and showing him my identification, he could not allow me in, even though I assured him it was just to take a photo of the house from the drive. He had to check with his boss. He made a phone call but then told me his boss was not available until after 5 pm. The best I could do was to stick my phone through the gate, with his permission, and snap this photo:

 

 

Close, but no cigar, our old house cannot be seen. I understand that the guard could have lost his job if he opened the gate for us. We regained our good spirits by lunching at the San Angel Inn. It’s in an old monastery, the building over 350 years old. The restaurant was a very elegant and special place to eat fifty years ago, and it still is. You can Google it and find photos and even a menu. Our special meal cost less than $100, with wine, desert, and the tip.

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The day before yesterday we visited a Warhol exhibit at the Jumex Museum. It was an experience. Neither of us knew about his fascination with violent death. Many images of suicides landing on cars, terrible auto accidents, and criminals condemned to the electric chair. The renderings of famous people, soup cans, and boxes were what we expected, but there was also an interactive display called “Silver Clouds”. Here is Alexis inside that display.

The Jumex Museum was across the street from a huge Costco store, so we went in to see if anything was different. Not much.

Yesterday was time for the Anthropology Museum, overwhelming. I did learn that when I was here last the famous artifact known then as the “Aztec Calendar”, in fact isn’t a calendar. It is now known as “The Stone of the Sun”. It was discovered in December, 1790, and has been moved five times before finding a permanent home in the Anthropology Museum. It is, actually, a large gladiatorial sacrificial altar, known as a temalacatl. It was never finished because on the back side is a large crack that runs from an edge to the center. It is believed that it was used to stage ceremonial fights between warriors, despite the crack. Here’s Alexis in front of the Stone of the sun.

In the large plaza in the middle of the museum is an amazing carved-stone water feature that cools the place by at least five degrees centigrade.

Today we spent about three hours at the “Templo Mayor Museum”, and associated archeological digs. The excavations for this dig didn’t start until 1978, although the Stone of the Sun was found near this site over two-hundred years earlier. It is an amazing place, in the historic center of Mexico City. The site and museum, which must have well over a thousand artifacts, most taken from the site, are both very well done. Almost all the explanatory writings have English translations and are very informative. The displays are artfully done and allow close examination (but no touching). The site includes the original location of the main pyramid (temple) but is only a small portion of the sacred precinct of Tenorchitlan. That covered an area not comprising seven city blocks in what is now the Zocalo and surrounding buildings.

Here is a photo of a small part of the excavation that shows a statue of Tlaloc (the Rain God). He is identified as such by the goggle shapes around the eyes, long fangs, and complex decoration on top of the head that represents a headdress with folded paper fans on the sides and a band of green stones, topped by white feathers.

I was not aware, before this trip, that the buildings and temples of all the various city/states in Mexico, were, in many places, covered with plaster that was painted in brilliant colors and depicted important celebrations and events. It seems Mexico has been a colorful, civilized place, for a very long time.

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We spent the day wandering the Zocalo (the main plaza) in the historic district of Mexico City. Unfortunately, it was Monday and the National Palace, with all of the famous murals, and the archeological digs very near to the Cathedral, were all closed. No matter, we’ll go back. The whole area was crowded, so the people watching was good, although we didn’t spot very many tourists. I suppose most of them got the word that the museums and public buildings are all closed on Mondays.

We had an early dinner (2 pm) with a view from the Mayor (a huge bookstore) rooftop restaurant, just off the Zocalo. We are now into the swing of Mexico; a late breakfast (9:30 – 11 am) depending on when we get ourselves out of bed. We have coffee and yogurt with fruit and granola in the apartment. Our main meal in the afternoon (3 – 5 pm), in a nice restaurant, and a light cena (snack), usually some cheese and crackers or a salad in the apartment (9 – 11 pm). It’s a very civilized way to live and we rarely require any sort of snack.

Here is a view of the archeological digs with the Cathedral in the background, the perspective is somewhat distorted, but the façade on the far left of the Cathedral really is leaning, as are many buildings in the area. The Zocalo is built in the center of what was the original ceremonial district of the Aztecs (now preferably called Mexica here). Cortes had all the pyramids razed and the Cathedral and National Palace contain stones from those pyramids. The whole Mexico City basin was full of shallow lakes and canals, much of the land created by dredging. Pumping of domestic water from the aquafer results in sinking land, ergo the leaning buildings.

 

We entered the Cathedral where mass was being said in two different, and separated, naves in the huge building. Each nave had small chapels on either side with, of course, significant amounts of gold-plated decoration of the main areas as well as the chapels. Pretty impressive.

We were strolling through a small mall, near the cathedral, and found several stores selling medicinal herbs. Here is a photo from one front window. Each package is a different dried herb touted to be effective for various diagnoses.

 

One of the stores had a bin with fresh herbs. Aviz is translated as root. The only one I recognized is jengibre (ginger)

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We just returned from the scenic mountain city of Taxco. Alexis wanted some unique jewelry made and I was able to convince her we would be able to find a silversmith in that town, renowned for silversmiths. So off to Taxco, a little over a hundred miles from here. For some reason, Uber was down that morning, so we took a taxi, plenty to choose from passing our Airbnb. The taxi took us to Terminal Centrale de Autobuses, about $2.50 for a twenty-minute ride. My Spanish was good enough to purchase two tickets, sitting together, on a first-class bus to Taxco. We only had to wait about a half-hour, they run about every hour. The bus was very clean, had restrooms, TV showing a movie, and the seats had significantly more leg room and were larger and more comfortable than we had on the airplane to get here. The ride was about two and a half hours, and the cost was about $5 a ticket. Next another taxi ride through the narrow, winding, cobble-stone streets of Taxco and up a steep, mountain road, at least a mile-long, paved with black cobble stones. Our driver said the road was built, and the cobble stones placed, by manual labor using hand tools. Another $2.50 taxi ride to the Montetaxco hotel with a stunning view of Taxco below us.

 

 

Nice pool but we came for only one night with small backpacks, no swim suits.

 

After I asked several people for recommendations for a silversmith, we walked, no more than a hundred yards from the hotel, down a different steep cobble stone road, to the plateria (silver factory) of Antonio Arce. He was not only well-known, he was very friendly and helpful. Alexis showed him exactly what she wanted, two pendants, one in gold-plated silver, the other in solid silver. She also had a design for two bracelets, again gold-plated and solid silver. How fast, I asked? Antonio said he would have everything ready for us less than twenty-four hours later. The total cost was four thousand pesos, about two hundred dollars. Alexis estimates those items would have cost at least two thousand dollars in the U.S., if she could find someone to make them to her exact specs. They would certainly not get done overnight. Senor Arce had them waiting for us the next day and they were exactly as she wanted.

While wandering Mexico City a few days ago we stopped at a bookstore where I made a small purchase, and we had coffee in their coffee shop. We have seen these short coat-racks in several restaurants. They put them next to your table to hang a coat (mine would drag the floor), or your purse or backpack (mine is the backpack hanging). The sign says; “Don’t forget to watch your belongings”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hotel ran a cable car down the mountain into town for $5 a person, round-trip. Here’s a view from the cable car:

While strolling through the town we spotted this dog standing guard over the street from the roof of his house:


 

 

There are a lot of dogs running loose in Taxco, but also many on leashes and behind fences. We have yet to encounter a vicious attitude amongst them, even the pit bull-mixes that are common. Perhaps a manifestation of the friendly, calm, nature of the people? Another note, despite the large numbers of dogs everywhere we’ve been, we have only seen one pile of dog feces on the sidewalks, much different than in another city I love, Amsterdam.

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It was at least six months since I could encircle her waist with my hands but the rest of Rosalie’s body was still reed thin. Saturday afternoon and we were sitting on the couch. I was holding her very close. A dust storm raged outside rocking the eight by forty-foot house trailer. We each wore wet handkerchiefs tied over our nose and mouth their purpose to filter as much dust as possible. The handkerchiefs smelled like the first drops of rain falling on a dusty dirt road. The trailer shuddered, slipping on the concrete blocks supporting the far end, where we were huddled. The swirling dust inside was so thick I could barely make out the passageway from the kitchen area to the walk-through bedroom only ten steps away from where we huddled.

“It feels like it will tip over,” she moaned.

“No, we’re solid,” I lied. “It will be OK. It would be more dangerous to go outside than to stay put.”

Mister lay panting at our feet, occasionally sneezing to clear his nose. It was August in Paradise Valley, north of Phoenix, and hot, very hot in the closed tight mobile home. The dust turned to mud in skin creases on our necks and on the inside of our elbows where sweat had collected. I wasn’t certain if the threat was greatest from dust inhalation, heat prostration or the house trailer being blown over. Finally, the wind started to abate. I wiped the dust from the face of my wrist watch and peered at it.

“Only forty-five minutes but it sounds like it may be over. It seemed to last a lot longer than usual.”

A last burst of wind slammed the trailer adding to the thick cloud of brown dust. Then it was quiet. Mister sat up and licked Rosalie’s hand to reassure her.

“I am hot, unbelievably hot. I can’t stand this anymore.” Rosalie stood and alternately coughed and sneezed.

“OK,” I said. “I think it’s over. I’ll get up on the roof and take apart the cooler and clean it up so we can turn it on. When I get it apart I’ll yell down and you can turn on the fan.  It won’t do much to cool the trailer down but if you open the windows maybe it will blow out some of the dust.”

After stepping carefully on the slippery hot metal of the trailer’s roof I worked my way over to the evaporative cooler. Imagine a car that has been sitting in the Phoenix sun with all the windows rolled up, that was our home. I took off the first of the four side panels and the heat from inside the trailer pushed past my face. Each of the excelsior filled panels was full of mud. I unplugged the circulating pump.

“Honey, turn on the fan and then come around and hand me up the hose, OK?”

I climbed halfway down the ladder to reach the hose Rosalie handed up.

“OK, when I holler turn on the water. I’ll clean out the cooler pan and the excelsior pads.”

Using my thumb over the end of the hose to create a jet I rinsed out the cooler pan then each of the side panels and the pads.

“Watch out, I’m throwing the hose down.”

Mister pounced on the hose snaking on the ground and proudly carried the water spouting end to Rosalie in the process soaking her from the belly down.

“Mister, drop it,” she snapped. “Actually that feels pretty good.” She patted the dog’s head as she turned off the water faucet.

I put the cooler back together and Rosalie turned it on as I came down.

“That should help. I’ll help you clean up the mess inside.”

The people building what was to be the Paradise Animal Hospital were off for the weekend. I was starting my own practice. We had acquired the trailer for a hundred dollars in cash plus taking over the previous owner’s payments. We then moved it to the back of the lot that was the construction site for our hospital. I was spending most of my time going around and leaving business cards with everyone I could find letting people know I would take calls to treat horses or other farm type animals and could do simple things like vaccinations for their pets as house calls. The hospital building was due to be finished soon, or so the contractor kept telling me.

My Dad was an accountant. Two of his clients were retired veterinarians, Drs. Bramley and Shapiro. They would identify likely areas for a veterinary practice, purchase the land and build a clinic. They then leased the buildings to young veterinarians giving an option to purchase the practice after three years. It was a good financial arrangement and investment for them and a good deal, my Dad assured me, for someone like me without the financial resources to build a hospital and practice on my own.

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“Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticism” – George Elliot

Mister rose to his feet and tip toed three steps to the metal door of our mobile home, the hair on his back bristling. Three sharp knocks announced a visitor. Rosalie struggled to her feet then leaned back to balance the watermelon-size protrusion that was to be our firstborn. Mister positioned himself between her and the door as she waddled towards it.

A hard-used woman was standing on the top of the three wood steps. She moved down two steps as Rosalie pushed the door open. She was dressed in dirty Levi cutoffs riding high on overly muscled thighs. A much washed and faded orange T-shirt did nothing to hide she wasn’t wearing a bra. The sweet/sour odor of unwashed armpits caused Rosalie to wrinkle her nose. The apparition’s face was leathery from too much sun, her hair a curly mop dyed jet black. Too thin lips were drawn into a sarcastic half smile, half sneer. She held her right hand behind her back.

“Yes,” Rosalie inquired?

“The Vet here?”

“No, I’m sorry. He’s out on calls.”

“You recognize me?”

“No, I’m sorry.”

“Thought you might, my picture’s been in both the Republic and Gazette. I was just acquitted for the murder of my girlfriend.”

“Oh.”

Mister leaned against Rosalie who took another step back.

“I’m a professional wrestler, Killer Amy, maybe you’ve heard of me?”

“No, I’m sorry, I haven’t.”

She brought her hand from behind her back, holding a chunk of skin covered with thick gray hair. Mister rumbled.

“I need to have the Vet tell me if this is human or not. I found it on my property. I don’t need more trouble. Will that dog attack?”

“My husband should be back soon. Can you come back in an hour or two?”

“Can’t I just leave it and he can call me when he gets back?  I’ll leave you my phone number if you’ve got pen and paper.”

The woman took a step up and extended the scalp, it smelled like meat left on the counter overnight by mistake. Mister rumbled louder and leaned against Rosalie forcing her back another step.

“I think it would be much better if you kept it in your possession until he can look at it.”

“Well, if you say so. You think he’ll be back in an hour?” She stepped back down as Mister growled again. “That dog’s pretty protective ain’t he?”

 

The mobile home was parked in back of our under-construction veterinary hospital in the summer of 1961. We expected to overcome the delays and get the hospital open within the next few months but meantime I was taking horse and other animal calls and even spaying a few dogs on our kitchen table, much to Rosalie’s consternation.

I was back and eating lunch when she returned. I went outside to examine the scalp.

“Looks like jackrabbit, I doubt it’s human but I can’t say for sure. If I were you I would take it to the police. They have labs that can identify human remains.”

We never found out if she took it to the police. We did see her name in the newspaper, the sports page, two weeks later. A story about a wrestling match.

***

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