February 29, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Oh, Roger Churchill!

By |2018-03-21T19:03:52+01:00December 31st, 2014|At Large & Sports|
Roger Churchill, what are you doing?

verywhere I live I seem to meet women who like talking to their dogs. In Dubai I met Mary the Expat and her heavy-breathing terrier named Roger Churchill (I doubt he had much choice about the name).

Mary the Expat walked Roger Churchill every night near where I went for my evening run. Conversation between the two of us rarely went very far mostly because she was busy talking to Roger Churchill (never “Rog” or “Churchie” or “RC”), as in:

“Roger Churchill what are you doing?” (This is when he’d dig, which he stopped to do a lot). “Roger Churchill (harsher now), whatever are you doing? What are you digging at that way? Stop now! You’ll ruin your paws. Oh, Roger Churchill.”

Roger Churchill never talked back. He’d only whine – fair enough since he was being pulled away from his devout digging. Sometimes I imagined him saying, in the style of, well, Churchill: “Miss, I’m digging because I’ve been entrusted with reaching China. I’ve been doing this for many years and have made considerable progress. But, Miss, as a result of your pulling me away, China, once a great hope of mine, is has become little more than a pipedream, which will ruin my memoirs. I’m also left with aching paws and bad dreams of Mandarins in holes…”

Or maybe Roger Churchill actually worked for an oil company, in which case the digging might have eventually made Mary the Expat famous, even in Dubai. But that couldn’t happen since Roger Churchill never got to finish a single hole.

Other times, when Roger Churchill would take a few steps down the pavement on his own, briefly unleashed, Mary the Expat would say, “Roger Churchill, come back here now. You’ll get lost.” To which Roger Churchill gazed back annoyed and bewildered, maybe both, muttering about the implications slavery and eager for a divorce. He never got one.

In Rome, on my block from the foreign ministry, a woman named Letizia walked her two dogs, black and torpedo-like creatures called Jolanda and Mimmo. Mimmo wore the pants (snorting a lot), but he came in for all the feminine treatment as in, Mimmino, Mimmimo, amico mio, ma che fai? Che fai? Amore mio stai fermo! Mimmo seemed uninterested in what he was doing, or even why, focusing most of his energy on sniffing the ground like an anteater or sniffing Jolanda’s apparently aromatic body parts, and even sniffing my ankles, which, thanks to Mimmo’s occasional attention, I grew to appreciate more (ankles are fathers to the man, I told myself). Mimmo was also fond of car tires, fronds of any kind (they made him sneeze, which he seemed to enjoy), and barking at innocuous objects, like pebbles or gates. Mimmo was especially annoyed when Jolanda tried to sneak through the barred gates around out complex, as if she might know something that he didn’t, like the whereabouts of food or a nightclub. He’d then look at Letizia for help, which she offered in the form of a monologue:

“Jolanda, be a good girl! Good girls don’t prowl. Good girls don’t go there! Jolanda is my good girl who doesn’t go there and always behaves…” — all this while in my mind’s eye Jolanda was busy removing her skimpy bra and squeezing between the barrier bars to meet up with a hot hound neither Mimmo nor Letizia knew anything about.

Letizia did know about me, though, and like Mary the Expat, she never said a word, at least not to me. “Mimmo. There’s the American man! He comes and goes.” Mimmo was bored with the American man, aside from his ankles.

When I lived with my wife on the outskirts of Paris I got to know Georgina and Hatchet. Georgina was a pensioner who lived nearby; Hatchet — or Hashe, or Hachette, take your pick — was her Irish Setter.

Georgina was an interesting dog-whisperer in that her lines were limited to: “Come with me, come with me,” or “go with me, now come,” eloquent enough if Hatchet wasn’t already coming and going and doing nothing but that, always in close proximity to Georgina. Sometimes, Georgina said, “Hatchet, don’t go there. Stay here,” when Hatchet hadn’t budged from Georgina’s side. I felt for Hatchet’s confusing predicament.

Location aside, I sometimes thought of getting Hatchet together with Roger Churchill. They could have dug for China. Or competed for a date with Jolanda. Or, worst case scenario, corrupted Mimmo into joining a gang.

Anything but being forced to hang out with boring humans.

About the Author:

Eliot Stein is a proud native of Silver Spring, Md. He graduated from Emory University with a degree in Italian studies and journalism and left for Italy the next morning. He has studied sociolinguistics at the University of Siena, kayaked through the Tuscan archipelago and taught English in Cagliari, Sardinia. He is the author of Footprint's guidebook to Sardinia and his writing has appeared in Travelers' Tales Best Travel Writing 2008 anthology, Budget Travel, MSNBC.COM, and Creative Loafing. He now lives and works in Washington, D.C.