The Nightly Barking Crescendo

Next stop is Portugal. I stay with my sister in Oeiras, on the beautiful Lisboa—Cascais coast. My sister was so fortunate to buy a house there, many years ago, when real estate prices were right. I always look forward to staying there, only 100 meters to the beach and the great Atlantic Ocean.

We have a good fresh seafood dinner in one of those restaurants that look like nothing but where the food is just divine. A walk home along the shore is just what I need before going to bed to get a good night’s sleep after a day of traveling with flight delays and overcrowded airports.

Lying in my bed, window half open, allowing some moonlight in the room, and especially the rhythmic sound of the Atlantic Ocean waves softly beating the cliffs, is the best lullaby one can wish, and a few moments later, I guess, I’m asleep. ‘Good to be home’, is my last thought, for even though I haven’t lived in Portugal since I was nineteen, a part of it always feels like home.

I wake up with an infernal barking going on. There’s a dog barking right outside my window on the other side of the street. Then, there’s another one barking two houses away, and yet another, and another, and another. I try to count them and I come up to seven-eight dogs barking in the night. I look at my watch: 1:30 in the morning. It takes about half an hour for all the dogs to be quiet. The barking lessens in intensity from one, and then another, then one stops, a final one comes with some unconvincing barking and then it’s over. The worst part is that my sister’s two dogs also feel obliged to join in and they are like right outside my door.

I slumber, and once again I’m lulled into sleep by the merciful Atlantic Ocean, alas, only to wake up once more to the same infernal barking about one hour later. The whole thing again, except that this time I can hear two more dogs barking farther away. I’m getting better at identifying dog voices.

Believe or not, the process goes on all night with about an hour’s interval. First the barking crescendo and then the de-barking phase, as I call it by now. Many thoughts pass my head. I’m very fond of dogs and all animals in general, but I must confess that around 5:30 I begin speculating whether my grandfather’s old rifle would still be operational. Woozy of sleep deprivation, like in a hallucination, I see myself like a Rambo cleaning up the streets. Of course this is just a silly, sleep deprived fantasy.

At seven I give up sleeping, get up and go to the kitchen to make a cup of green tea. My sister joins me shortly after. ‘Morning brother, did you sleep well?’

‘What?’ I think, ‘she can’t be serious!’ Well, she is, I find out. She didn’t hear any barking and neither did my brother in law. They slept like innocent children through out the night. It really amazes me. Dogs in Portugal bark madly more or less when they feel like it. Nobody says anything to it, nobody minds, and they don’t even hear it any more. Coming just from Scandinavia, I can’t help but wondering about the huge difference. If this happened in Scandinavia, and much less would do it, there would be a neighbors-war of such proportions that the intervention of the UN would certainly be necessary.

Then again, I realize how true it is that a problem dog has nothing to do with the dog. Those Portuguese dogs, and maybe their owners too, would be dead by now, were they living in Scandinavia, but here in the southwestern shores of the European continent, they are absolutely normal dogs.

When I next go for a walk in the neighborhood, I get acquainted with all the actors of the nightly barking crescendo. They all look at me innocently, from behind their fenced gardens, tails wagging merrily.

PS—Four days later: Needless to say, I don’t hear them anymore either, until my next visit, that is.

--from Dog Star Daily’s international roving reporter Roger Abrantes