241 Things

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241 Things

Have you ever wondered what goes through a dog’s mind? I know I have, especially for two particular dogs I’ve had in my life. They were my best friends and I will always remember them.

Growing up, I didn’t have any friends and my parents thought it would be a good idea to get a dog for the family. We adopted a nine year old shepherd from the animal shelter named Tosca. This old girl became my best friend. I even like to think she saw herself as my guardian and me as her pup. But seeing her age she only lived for a couple of years. And one day while I was petting her noticed that her nipples were bleeding. I ran upstairs to tell my mother, she said we had to go the veterinarian to check her out. Her voice sounded reassuring and her facial expression didn’t change, so I thought everything was going to be okay. But I cried all the way to the veterinarian anyway, I was so scared because I knew something was wrong.

My hunch proved true when we arrived. The vet told us she had breast cancer. I remember thinking “that isn’t so bad, cancer can be cured right?” But things wouldn’t be that easy, it would have meant a lot of medical attention and she was already very old. Besides, my parents didn’t have the money or time to take care of her. At that moment I couldn’t comprehend any of this, I was so angry that they were putting her to sleep.

She was my best friend! They knew that, right? She can’t leave me yet!

That night of one of my dear friends died. I held her andshe licked away my tears comforting me. It should have been the other way around.

Until this day I am still wondering what went through her mind. Did she know she was ill? Did she understand what was happening to her? I blamed myself because I was the one who discovered her bleeding nipples. I thought that if I hadn’t anything she would have lived at least one more day.. Then I would have had the chance to say goodbye to her, to give her the best day of her life.

When she passed away, Tosca left a huge gap. I felt alone again when I came home. I missed her presence. I missed talking to someone. My mom vowed to never take a pet again, she couldn’t take the emotional drain it took to see an animal die. But I just couldn’t handle the silence. The house was so empty without her. I started looking around for a new dog, a new friend. I convinced my parents and I found a program that transfers stray dogs from Spain to the Netherlands. That’s where I saw Jimmy.

Everything you can think of was arranged by the organisation, his passport, flight, vaccines, you name it. I only had to pick him up from the airport and pay of course. When the moment was there, my mom and I drove to the Airport Schiphol and awaited him. I was so anxious and nervous. “What if he doesn’t like me, of what if I don’t like him!?” I even had nightmares about it. My mom assured me it would be fine, and gave me a bag of treats that I could give to him. We went to the assigned gate and saw more people waiting for their adopted pets. I panicked and didn’t want people to take my future friend so I made sign with his name on it. Nothing could go wrong now.

I kept wondering what kind of dog he was and if we could get along well. The first thing I knew for sure was that Jim was really good at giving paws. It was the first thing he did after he got out of the cage. I gave him a treat every time he did. But he kept doing it, so I ended up giving him the whole bag of treats. For me it was love at first sight.

In the end he became my best friend, where I went he went with me. He was the first one I saw in the morning and the last one I said goodnight, we were inseparable. He was just nine months old when I got him and I taught him everything I could teach him on my own. He understood me like no one else could and I loved him. But I grew older, made friends, started dating, got a job and started studying. I still tried to take care of him the best I could, took him wherever I went if it was possible and my parents would sometimes even look after him. On top of that I started living on my own and it became impossible to take care of him, I felt immense guilt when I left him alone at home and I didn’t have enough time for him anymore.

A couple of months ago, I had to give my best friend away.

He lives with a couple on the countryside now, it sounds ideal but I wonder if he agrees. I will never know if he’s happy there or if he’ll miss me. I threw a goodbye party the day before he got picked up by his new owners. I thought that would make things easier and it would give me a chance to say goodbye. But he had no idea what was happening and just went happily along with it. How do you say goodbye to someone that doesn’t know he’s leaving? Sometimes I wonder how things would have been if I knew what he thought. Did he bother being alone, did he wanted to stay with me? Would he have said goodbye?

We hadn’t even finished our desserts when he asked it. It was a question that seemed to have come out of thin air. I couldn’t believe that this sentence rolled from his lips like any other sentence. I didn’t know what to reply. Instead, I posed my date the same question. ‘What is your top three of favourite animals?’ Without hesitation, he summed up his favourite animals. For me, it was clear. There would not be a second date.

Even though the proverbial spark between the man in question and I didn’t occur, he continued to resurface in my mind now and then because of this peculiar question. I was bothered that he so readily answered this question to which I had no reply. I started to bother others with the same question. Many reacted like I did, in exactly the same order: first surprise, then disbelief, and at last frustration because of their inability to answer. Do none of us have favourite animals in life?

Even if I look at it more generally, I hardly have favourites. No favourite band, colour, food or film. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I go through a phase of immense appreciation for a dish or musician, but for a while now I have been very careful in using the word ‘favourite’ in this context. The realisation that my preferences are temporary prevails.

The whole idea of a favourite seems to have disappeared out of sight. The word ‘disappeared’ is not randomly chosen, because as a child I seemed to know exactly what I found cool and what I found dumb. Exactly.

How could it be that I was formerly so apt at listing my top faves and am now so hesitant to call something ‘my favourite’? This probably has to do with the limited information that you have at your disposal as a kid, in comparison to what you learn and know about later in life. As a child, the world seems to be encompassed within everything you know – your reality is the only reality. At a young age, you’re unaware of the limitations of your knowledge. Precisely the limited knowledge and information enable everything that you know to be simply divided into good or bad. The world is still black and white. As you get older, newer colours are added. Knowledge is accumulated and slowly you learn that there are countless elements in the world that are preferred or despised. There is so much information available that it is hard to distil favourites. Moreover, you find out that preferences also change quickly.

Maybe I should not have written my date off as a weirdo, but seen him as someone who is closer to his inner child than I am.

I am not afraid of spiders. In fact these, these creatures particularly remind me of my childhood and make me feel nostalgic rather than disgusted.

Spiders appear as the royal king in the kingdom of insects. They are the most mysterious and the most beautiful. We all admire their extraordinary ability to create webs: structures that could be seen as something in between tree houses and vicious traps. Our perhaps we admire them because human technology is still unable to deliver a structure equally simple and light yet powerful.

They are familiar to us both as dangerous enemies and as prey. We admire these insects because we are truly afraid of them, and it is not wise to disrespect an ominous enemy. Especially when that potentially deadly and dangerous creature can be so much smaller than us, since we tend to relate power to the size.

Maybe what is the most fascinating about these animals is that even they seem to be the closest to more developed and closer to human species like for example dogs and cats, they remain mute.

What might be the most fascinating thing about these animals is that although they resemble cats and dogs in their domestic proximity to humans, they remain mute. They accompany us in our kitchens, bathrooms, and attics; yet they emit no sounds of approval. The other animals that we have deemed intelligent and live so close to us communicate their joy or discontent, but not spiders. Are they simply aloof? Like us maybe? Or maybe they do not think at all?

Spiders not only inhabit the area located someway between intelligent animals and the grey mass of insects and lower forms of life like bacteria: dangerous but robbed of any personal traits (When we think about any other bug, we usually think about THEM, in plural, when a spider appears, it is a lonely hunter most often and this gives him more individual traits.) but also the area between what is disgusting and fascinating. What disgusts about them is their set of eyes that lack the characteristics of a personal gaze. Their hairy legs also somehow do not make them fluffy and cuddly, instead they express something more primal, a scary force of brutal nature.

Louise Bourgeouise's sculptures of giant spiders can be regarded as a homage to these little monsters. Reimagined by the artist they seem to posses all of their core traits of "character" but made more visible, more tangible. They drift above our heads, like they do in ordinary life, on their strong, scary legs. Suddenly they can encircle us, and create a shadow over us, but is it really something unusal when they live all around us in the pipes of the houses we inhabit, under-the-carpet areas that nobody has ever time and enough energy to clean or in the corner under the ceiling where the human eye, tired of the every day routine, cannot, or at least does not want to, notice them?

Bourgeois compared the spider to her mother's omnipresent way of being. My memories of them somehow send me to my grandmother because of many reasons.

First of all, she owned a beautiful necklace in the shape of a spider made of artificial emeralds. This piece of jewelry interested me a lot when I was a child, made me think up different stories of its provenance or to imagine to whom it might have had belonged before, even though it was only made of plastic.

I can also remember her room in my family home that was truly full of spider webs and spiders. She never allowed my sister and I to kill them because that brings bad luck. Instead we were taught to catch them, to let them crawl onto an old newspaper, which she kept so many of in her own quarters, and then gently place them outside the window so they could live in the garden.


I often cycle from Amsterdam to the polder and cut through the Bijlmer. Yes, for the simple reason of finding pleasure and enjoyment in the cycle ride.

In the area that connects these two regions, I spot a large empty parking lot in the distance. There, in a small strip at the side, three aluminium boxes are piled on top of each other onto a construction with legs. Sort of like a three tiered barbeque. Beside it, a car is parked next to which a man and a woman are preparing a cup of tea. I ask them what they’re doing. Pigeons. They’ve transported these homing pigeons from Zaandam to here, where they’re training the pigeons to fly both long and short distances. Since they’ve only just arrived, the pigeons need to acclimatise for a little while, otherwise their orientation skills may falter.

There are some 57 pigeons in the aluminium construction. Later on, they’ll be released and will have to find their way home. Their sense of direction is guided by the magnetic field.

“Disruptions in the magnetic field have meant that the pigeons are becoming more prone to getting lost than before’, the homing pigeon hobbyist explains. ‘The magnetic field is disrupted by mobile phones, by everything that is sent via airwaves’. ‘Is there no more room in the air?’

‘For example, if you pay attention, you’ll see many pigeons in the Dam with a ring around their leg. These are carrier pigeons that have lost their way. In fact, the other day a man from Krommenie called me to see if I could pick up my pigeon from him. Pigeons fly in groups, first in a circle around the area where they’ve been released, then they’ll pick up speed and fly away. But nowadays they seem to get lost quite often.’

‘It’s a wonderful hobby’, the man excitedly tells me. ‘`It’s so relaxing.’ He bares his perfectly white teeth in a broad smile. When he speaks, saliva sputters in all directions, but, oh well, that’s probably just because of his dentures

Then they release the pigeons and I watch as they circle around and fly away, and they’re as beautiful as a flock of sparrows.


Alex Lacey and his favorite lion

If you’ve ever seen predators in a circus act, you’ll know how intense the experience is. You can smell and hear the animals, see their muscles flex, stare into their eyes. As you watch them perform with their trainer, they suddenly become personalities: awesome and dangerous.

The British animal trainer Alex Lacey's performance at the Carre's winter show was a work of art:an elegant ballet of harmony as he maneuvered the animals into various figures formed through simple actions like jumping, rolling, and sitting; all performed in a state of complete trust and compliance. The climax arrives the moment Alex dips his head between the jaws of the only male lion, Masai. Entwined, they are one, as though the boundary between man and animal has temporarily been lifted.

Placed completely at the mercy of his lion, this position is the ultimate demonstration of trust between a trainer and his animal.


‘I could never dominate my animals’, Alex explains, ‘so I must be their best friend.’ As a member of the audience, this is plain to see.

Circus animals are in the spotlight once again, although not on stage, but in politics. The issue at hand concerns twenty to thirty animals, that is, if we restrict our definition to semi-wild animals such as sea lions, tigers, lions, and elephants that according to some, maybe even you, should be prohibited from performing in The Netherlands.


The slurs and slander directed towards a regular, legal group of professionals and those affiliated –trainers are treated like near criminals, circus directors are threatened, and visitors to the circus are booed– poses some tricky questions. Does this hostile perspective on the circus world secretly contain a deep-rooted distrust to these ‘traveling folk’? The circus is traditionally associated with gypsies. ‘Bring in the laundry, the circus is coming’ is an old saying. Animal activists eagerly pounce on these gut feelings by hanging chains around their necks and gathering in front of the theatre during Carre’s winter show, conjuring images of gypsies forcing bears to dance on hot plates.

Do the animal activists realize that the Serbians, who traveled all over Europe from 1860 until the second World War with their dancing bears, had absolutely nothing to do with the circus? Or that dancing bears have been a thing of the past for a very long time? Even Hitler banned dancing bears from his Nazi Reich out of love for bears and hatred for the gypsies. How easy it is to destroy centuries of tradition and put people out on the street in that fit of rechtaberei and self-righteousness (look at how animal-friendly I am)!

Henri Martin

A famous European lion tamer

The English research report, Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses, explores the physical and mental state of the animals through quantifiable factors such as their levels of stress hormones and the sizes of cages. The report, compiled by those both for and against, uneasily comes to a conclusion: ‘There appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or any worse than that of other animals kept in other captive environments.’ The predatory animals aren’t always kept in cages. Yes, it’s where they sleep, but during the day large roaming areas are set up. Dancing bears and cycling primates have long been banned. Even the tigers jumping through hoops have been abolished. And not because it hurts them. Animal trainer Tom Dieck described jumping through a burning hoop as being the easiest trick to teach an animal, because as long as they’ve never had a bad experience with fire, they won’t be afraid of it. But alas, the fire department has prohibited it.