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Jacket 15 — December 2001   |   # 15  Contents   |   Homepage   |   Catalog   |

Vincent Katz

The Dogs of São Paulo

for Kenneth and Karen Koch


The dogs of São Paulo are freer than the dogs of New York.
They have fewer restraints placed upon them.
The dogs of São Paulo know much more about
the women of São Paulo than you or I.
They have seen, heard, smelled, perhaps even tasted more.
The dogs of São Paulo do not have human names.
This would cause great displeasure to humans of the same name.
The dogs of São Paulo have names like Lua,
which means Moon, or Quincas, the name of the famous
dog from Machado de Assis’ novel Quincas Borba ,
sometimes called in English The Philosopher and the Dog ,
although I think if Machado had wanted to call his book
The Philosopher and the Dog , he would have done so.
If anyone has not read this book, I suggest they do so
without delay. Of course, Quincas Borba was not
a dog of São Paulo but a dog of Rio de Janeiro,
a category about which there should be a separate poem,
as no one poem could hope to encompass
the dogs of both Rio and São Paulo, although, admittedly,
there may be many relations between them.
Quincas, however, was a dog of São Paulo — the one named after
the Quincas from Machado’s book. The dogs of São Paulo
fall into two distinct categories — those with and those without homes.
The latter is a sad group indeed, tragic one might say.
It is also a very large group, much larger than its counterpart
in the United States. Among the dogs of São Paulo with homes,
certain breeds are preferred. Apart from the Rotweilers
and German Shepherds, which are bought largely for
their ability to protect, one finds a preponderance of
Schnauzers, Toy Poodles, Spaniels, and Dachshunds.
One hears the dogs of São Paulo much more frequently
than one hears the dogs of New York. They are a vocal bunch,
and one is treated to their vocalizing all day every day.
Thus, along with the different types of music one always hears —
I counted three just now: Brazilian music from the ‘30s on the radio,
the rehearsal of a Samba School somewhere in the neighborhood,
and a few youths rapping in front of the pizzeria
across the street — one is constantly aware of
the voices and expressions of the dogs of São Paulo.
What are they saying? This will be the subject of the next section.


It is very important to know what one is;
even more important than knowing what one wants to be.
The dogs of São Paulo know what they are.
This is not as simple as it sounds, for dogs
in other places do not always know what they are.
Today, one is not hearing many dogs, for it is raining
hard. It is a summer rain, and dogs, as a rule, are not
fond of rain. The dogs of São Paulo, though, do not mind
the light rain known as garoa . When it is not raining is when
they become really audible. One is accustomed to hearing a dog
barking every few minutes, some far off, some surprisingly
nearby. Surprising because one was not aware of their
presence earlier. In fact, one becomes aware of the dogs
of São Paulo suddenly, in unexpected ways. Many of
the dogs of São Paulo are not taken for walks, making use
instead of their house gardens, courtyards, or alleyways.
Thus, one does not encounter dogs being walked with the
frequency one does in other cities. The dogs of São Paulo leap
out suddenly from behind gates, on tops of walls, or upon
window sills. These dogs, when they spring into one’s consciousness,
are likely to bark out interjections such as, “What, ho!” or
“Who goes there?’ or “Ha!  Scared you, didn’t I?”
Some dogs, behind gates, will shout at other dogs,
“What the hell you doin’ on my street, punk?” or
“Hey, look at the little mama’s boy!”  Other dogs lie concealed
within walled yards and thus lack contact with the outside
world. These dogs will sometimes take to barking vociferously
in order to express their inner anxieties. These dogs may
be heard barking such exclamations as: “Look at me!  I too am
an individual!  No matter I’m not a fancy purebreed.
I am alive and am worried about life, death, and mostly
where to get something to eat!  Can anyone hear me?”
A little way off, another dog will be listening and answer,
“I hear you, friend. I too experience anxieties like
the ones you’ve described. What’s more, a little boy is always
pulling my tail and throwing toys at me!  I’d love to
get out of here!”  Farther off, a third dog joins the
conversation: “We’re having a barbecue over here!  Anyone
who can sneak over is invited to help themselves to bones
and abandoned plates!”  The barking now becomes so
clamorous it is all but impossible to decipher the individual
voices, all asserting their independent claims to various deserving doghood.
Today, just as everything was going wrong, I grabbed
my little dog and cried, “Thank god for you!”  Every dog’s
life is encompassed within that of their owner. Unbelievably,
we watch their life telescoped, from birth to death, and
as with many other lessons they are able to teach us,
we learn from that. If we pay close attention, we are even
able to learn from them how to die. Which is what makes
Machado’s book so interesting, as it is about a dog who survives
his master. Now the rain has stopped; it’s time for a walk.


This is such a perfect time; my parents are both alive,
I’m surrounded by friends, driving in a car through the
night of São Paulo, past flower stands which stay
open all night on Avenida Doutor Arnaldo, by the
cemetery, where my wife’s grandmother is buried.
One thing about friends: although they may have
differences at times, there is a core solidarity which
understands and moves beyond those differences,
accepting them, even when people’s conscious
minds may be preoccupied by the details of their
bickering. Of course, sometimes the differences
become too great, the forces pulling the people in
opposite directions too powerful, and there is a
rupture. When this happens, it usually has become
unavoidable, and a reconciliation, if it is to occur,
must wait some time, usually years, to be ripe.
All this may seem to have little to do with dogs,
particularly the dogs of São Paulo, but this is
not so. For the feeling I am describing, of
unthinking, preconscious, physical, loyalty, is one
with which we are very familiar in the case of dogs.
Dogs rely on the physical — they need to hear that
everything is ok; more than that, they need
to be touched, caressed, held, petted, to know
that they are loved, indeed that they exist.
This is another thing we can adopt from them.
My little dog has a friend on the street, named
Meninão. One of his eyes is blue, but people
say he’s not half-blind, just lacking pigment.
Every day, when we make our circuit around
the huge block, down Rua Rodésia, down
Rua Harmonia, up Rua Purpurina, and up
Rua Girassol (sometimes we go down to
Rua Wisard before coming back up and others,
when we have nothing to do, we wander aimlessly:
is this the appropriate translation for passear ?),
we encounter Meninão, and the two dogs converse
and play. In Rio, we met another dachshund, named
Jerry, who was also very nice. Sometimes there are
dog teams. On Girassol, there is a little house where,
when the windows are open, a little dog will spy
for enemies on the street. Sighting one, he sends up
the alarm, whereupon the second dog, a hefty mix,
joins his little friend on the sill, and both bark
ferociously. One day, we were walking down Harmonia
when I saw these two dogs approaching, unleashed.
I became concerned, but my concern was groundless,
as they were perfectly charming and well-behaved.
The next time we encountered them at their window,
they had completely forgotten our meeting; we were
the enemy again. Of course, if we had gone to the
trouble of having a real encounter with them, they
would have remembered their friendship. In any case,
my dog loves all dogs and is always taken aback when
one happens not to like him. In São Paulo, many
houses have large dogs to frighten away thieves —
German Shepherds and the dog they call Dog Alemão,
which I believe is the Rotweiler. These dogs are
trained to frighten and thus remain lurking
behind their barricades, ready to bark with
thunderous voices at any potential intruder,
almost always not an intruder but a simple
passer-by; they are ready to do more than bark,
should the situation call for it. Today, a big, long,
Saturday, we drove to a far restaurant, where
we had delicious feijoada and foreign beer.
The mysteries of the Portuguese language
are less and less mysterious to me, which
I appreciate. The city of São Paulo, once
an impenetrable labyrinth, has become less
impenetrable. Ten years ago, I preferred the
women of Rio to the women of São Paulo —
they are more immediate and open. Now,
as each year passes, more and more I like and
understand the women of São Paulo, their
dark mysteries, and the way the dress. But this
should be the subject of another poem.

February 1998

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