The Semi-Adventures of a Nomadic Mathematician Rotating Header Image


The peripatetic nature of my life style will not let me have a permanent pet, but I do occasionally have one. The pet typically comes as a complimentary accessory to the place where I happen to set up camp.

Once I rented a room in a flat belonging to a bunch of funky entrepreneurs in Singapore. Apart from their vibe the place was alive thanks to a fluffy Siamese cat. Its facial expression was that of someone being stoned. Given that finding anybody in the possession of any kind of drug in Singapore results in a death penalty, I never inquired where the cat got her stuff. Perhaps it was refined catnip that the cat snorted secretly.

The cat was convinced that any visitor must be a great hazard to its health, and it invented an ingenious way of opening the kitchen cupboard to hide there until the danger passed. It was, however, most affectionate to the residents of the apartment, explicitly demanding attention. It timed how long we spent doing one particular thing. For instance, if I was reading a textbook for too long, the cat would jump on the pages and lie across, indicating that the time for reading was over. It never managed to capture the idea behind a keyboard, and it developed a strong jealousy against this instrument, lying across it far more frequently than any other object.

Cat sprawling on textbook

Interim cat preventing me from studying.

Having a cat is a great source of distraction and it is a very efficient way to prevent work from getting done. Cats have one problem: they shed hair. By the time I lived with this cat, I was already in my post-cotton era, preferring to wear t-shirts made of merino wool. Cat hair and merino wool love each other so much I wonder why nobody ever wrote a song about the strength and endurance of this love. They are virtually inseparable. This is a great advantage if you want to show up as a giant fur ball at the next costume party, but otherwise this love is not desirable.

Experimenting with other furry animals, once I rented a dog. It happened in San Isidro, a quiet, artsy suburb of Buenos Aires. I was supposed to be there for about a month, and a lovely lady was looking for someone who would take care of her dog while she went off for a couple of weeks for a yoga retreat. It was a match made in heaven. She had a tiny house completely overgrown by vegetation, wedged in between big, evil houses. Before I moved in I had to pass a test: the dog had to have good vibes with me. I am generally good with animals, except horses, and the dog took an immediate liking. My relocation was approved.

The first thing I noticed when I moved in was that the dog had its own collection of pets: it was gaily breeding an army of fleas. There were so many of them they technically formed a halo around the dog. The owner of the house did not believe in poison, but I was very keen on reducing the number of beating hearts in the house to approximately two, so I got the strongest flea killer stuff I could get my hands on. It was a good opportunity to expand my Spanish vocabulary with such important expressions as ‘exterminante de pulgas’. The problem was resolved with an astonishing velocity. I sprayed this environment-non-friendly chemical sludge at every spot the dog could visit, and the fleas were no more.

The dog was of the short and nervous type. It had a suicidal habit of walking, especially when not on leash. It was afraid of certain houses and kept a big distance from them, venturing off to the middle of the road. Argentine drivers are not famous for being patient or understanding, but the dog failed to make this observation. I had to snatch the beast from the claws of death several times. I reckoned the owner of the house preferred to receive her canine friend in the same geometric configuration as it had been when she departed. Allowing the dog to be run over by a bus was out of question.

The walks were an absolute must. If I skipped one, a little heap of surprise reminded me of my mistake. I tried to replace walks with jogging, but given the size of the dog, it was very awkward. Besides, the dog was convinced that the whole jogging business was entirely for its own entertainment, and it kept jumping in between my feet to have me fall over. This was the point when I realized that this dog had been born without a brain.

A suicidal Argentine

This Argentine citizen is unlikely to ever run a marathon.

All in all we did not make as good friends as we should have. It always found there was some urgent barking to do at 3am. No other dog barked at that time, they were all sound asleep like good dogs should be. Its insomniac habits made me insomniac. I was not at all unhappy when I handed the dog back and left.

The barking business and the fur problem drew my attention to the importance of having voiceless and hairless pets. Geckos and other wall-climbing lizards are very common in Southeast Asia and in Africa. They make themselves quite at home, requiring zero effort from the owners, and they make a faint clicking noise only when they wish to copulate. No issues with the fur either, so they make perfect pets. In colder climates, if someone decides to own such a beast, all sorts of precautions have to be made to keep the reptile happy. It has to be contained in a fish tank, making sure that fish and water are absent, otherwise our lizard friend would drown very quickly. Temperature has to be controlled, they do not like anything below twenty-five degrees. Then one must feed the lizard with live insects, which in turn need to be procured. All these things are naturally taken care of in tropical homes. Yet most inhabitants of these homes do not appreciate how easy it is for them to keep geckos. In fact, there is a spray on sale in Singapore and Malaysia that makes the wall slippery for the geckos, so they cannot climb up to decorate the house with their presence. I will never understand it, geckos need love, not slippery walls. The only real problem with having geckos around is their strange sense of humour. They love lowly practical jokes. They know exactly which table you like to work at. Then, when you are away for a couple of days, they invite their friends over to crap as much as they can at the very spot. Vicious.

Water monitor in Singapore

Tropical environments allow you to adopt self-sustaining pets such as a monitor lizard.

Animals with scales are just one option. When I stayed in the Dominican Republic, I had a gigantic mango tree in the courtyard. Hummingbirds were regular visitors in the early evening. They are also pretty good pets. They do not have fur, they make no noise, they self-cater, and they do not cover your table with excrement. No creature is perfect, though. They do have the nasty habit of flying away. You have to kill them to make them stick around, but that somehow reduces the enjoyment of having them as pets.

Non-tropical environments are sparser in convenient pets. Cockroaches could be mentioned, but I never really came to like them; probably the problem is with me. I am also yet to meet a person who loves mosquitoes; biologists writing their PhDs on mosquitoes do not count. Perhaps it is because they are so easy to swat accidentally. You feel something itchy, you apply your hand in a quick, slapping movement, and your pet mosquito is no more. This is generally the problem with invertebrates, they are not particularly durable. The only solution to this problem is to move to a warmer climate, where the range of incidental pets is wider and more interesting.


  1. Kathleen says:

    Excellent photos. That Siamese Cat is absolutely stunning.

  2. […] rented dog did not give me enough distraction from work, so I clicked on a stray link to a Youtube video, […]