Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Cat - But No Dogs - in Castilla

As a gatita in Castilla-La Mancha this past weekend - Holy Toledo to be exact - I couldn't help but notice the decided absence of dogs in the city. With the exception of the pooch you see to the left - and admittedly she (for I think she's a she) may not count - there is a veritable dearth of dogs in Toledo. And I think I know why.

They're all dead.

All dead because they've been killed by motorists. This is not remarkable in and of itself; dogs get hit by cars. But what is remarkable is that any pedestrian - resident, tourist or one of the 12,000 priests sweeping up and down Toledo's streets - lives to see another day in this City of Death City of Three Cultures. Having come from a 2-year stint in Morocco, a country whose drivers and Death Machines would have felt at home in Rome's Colosseum where they could have been pitted against tigers and Christians, I was unprepared for Toledo's formidable drivers - made more terrifying by their complete obliviousness to anything half-witted enough to use their feet for locomotion. Outside their houses. On the street.

In Toledo's old city - and it is doubtful that anyone visits the new city, in fact, I don't even know if there is one - the majority of its labyrinthine cobblestoned streets are less than 2 meters wide. These centuries-old streets were constructed for the passage of very tiny people with their equally tiny horses. Indeed, if one were to look at Medieval artwork, I am certain that one would see that ancient Toledans used Shetland ponies rather than horses. Even they would have been hard-pressed to pass each other in the street. In most cases, there is just enough room for a speeding vehicle to careen up and down streets and around corners. Assuming that nothing is encumbering its trajectory. And even then. So narrow are these streets - indeed, "street" is a misnomer - so narrow are these alleyways that standing on a sidewalk, which on average is about 30 centimeters wide (or less), offers no protection. That's if there's a sidewalk.

You see, Toledan sidewalks are false friends. That's if there's a sidewalk.

"Car!" called Señor Gato Gringo (hearkening back to his street hockey days) who was walking ahead of me but has better hearing than I do. I automatically stepped onto the sidewalk to allow the approaching car to pass. But this car was driving at an especially break-neck speed for such a diminutive street alleyway and it suddenly occurred to me that there might not be enough room for the two of us. And equally horrifying: there could only be one victor. I flattened myself against the building as best I could. As the car passed, its side view mirror narrowly avoided disembowelling me and spreading the contents of my digestive system across the wall. My t-shirt fluttered in the breeze. I nearly shit myself.

This transpired during our first 15 minutes in Toledo. It would prove to be a long if not stressful two days.

Señor G.G. and I visited every freaking church in Christendom quite a few churches, monasteries, convents, a mosque, two synagogues, and the rather over-the-top Cathedral where the graves of bishops are indicated by long red pointy hats suspended from the ceiling. We ate - oddly, almost only potato products - and drank - oddly, almost only alcoholic products. But all of this visiting required walking up and down Toledo's streets and pretty much every ingress and egress involved Señor G.G. calling, "Car!" I would then flatten myself against the building as best I could. As the car would pass, its side view mirror would narrowly avoid disembowelling me and spreading the contents of my digestive system across the wall. My t-shirt would flutter in the breeze. I would nearly shit myself.

To be fair, the locals seemed to have no problem with this but they're undoubtedly used to it. I suspect that there's a high infant mortality rate though. Just look at the dogs!- there aren't any, are there? The feeble of mind and limb must be at high risk here. I confess that it was rather disconcerting to see old men and women and mothers with strollers
flattening themselves against Toledo's buildings as best they can. As cars pass, their side view mirrors narrowly avoid disembowelling them and spreading the contents of their digestive systems across the wall. Their t-shirts flutter in the breeze.

Perhaps this is where the expression Holy Toledo comes from. Leaving your house and not getting into a car
is tantamount to putting your life in your hands. Or in God's hands, if you believe in that sort of thing. And with more monuments to God than in almost any other city in the world, Toledans certainly do believe in that sort of thing. So I bought Señor G.G. his saint's medal - an individual (the saint, not Señor G.G.) now officially poo-pooed by the church but as the patron saint of travellers and transportation, I figured we could use his help. Toledo does a brisk trade in saint's medals. No wonder.


Cath said...

Maybe all the dogs are in Portugal, eating.

La Gatita Gringa said...

The weather is nice there.