To start with the correction of a common misconception: Norse mythology is not strictly limited to Norway. The stories told originate in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and their overseas territories, among them the Faroe islands and Greenland: a rather large area referred to as the Nordic countries. While reading the old tales in a new guise from the hand of master storyteller Neil Gaiman in his book ‘Norse Mythology’, I did not only get carried away by his narrative skills. The book also reminded me, that in the world of the gods anything is possible. Thus, goddess of fertility and love Freya is transported on a chariot pulled by cats. The goddess was not only gorgeous, but also combative: she would not pass by an opportunity to take part in battles. But would it be even possible for two pussies to transport a full-grown – although divine – woman? Perhaps aided by the touch of the hand of a god! Taken into consideration Frey was pulled along by a bore and Thor by goats, it doesn’t seem necessary to ponder about the issue for too long.
According to a Russian tale, Freya’s cats were a gift of the god of thunder, Thor. After having fallen asleep while fishing, he had been roughly woken up by a horrible sound. It turned out to be the magical cat Bayun, who had been lulling his two kittens to sleep. After the mother had left to his own device with the little ones, he had been a single parent. He asked Thor for his help, who came up with the idea of giving them to Freya. Bayun metamorphosed into a bird and flew away, the kittens came under the care of the goddess. They grew up to be the cats pulling her chariot: Bygul and Trjegul.
There was a time I was absolutely convinced Loca disliked me. He demonstrated it through almost everything; not just through what he did, but also through what he didn’t. Initially, he displayed some curiosity for this new sitter. He sniffed at my hand, but then continued his way with a disdainful look on his face. It made me feel weighed and found wanting… Cats with no interest in lap sitting was not a novelty to me, but no fuss at all? That never happened to me before Loca!
The second time around, for a month-long sit, I was adamant to steal his heart. With the exception of daily playing and brushing, I had no pre-defined plan. A lot of love for cats and perseverance, that was all I had.
The daily brushing went fine from day one. As soon as I started to work at Loca’s thick fur, he immediately began to writhe with delight. Sometimes his rear went up and he would always be purring to his heart’s content. Within days, I assumed I had succeeded and won him over. Wrong! On the third day of the sit I came home around midnight. As I had an early start that next morning, I was looking forward to a nice warm bed. As soon as the light in the bedroom went on, I spotted what was wrong. There it was, a big turd on the duvet… Luckily there was an extra sheet against the cat hairs placed on top. It was only a matter of getting rid of the turd and throwing the cover in the washing machine.
It did provide me with some extra concern: what does this cat miss? The answer evidently being: his owner. And to be fair: I wasn’t sure what else I could do to steal his heart. I ended up doing the only thing I could think of: to persist. I kept on brushing him every day. Now this was an easy success, as the treatment was greeted every single day with the same amount of enthusiasm! The playing didn’t really get off the ground, but as the sit progressed, the cats started to move more of their own accord. Perhaps they just needed to get used to me as well?
Finally, I did it! There is no real proof to back this, but I am convinced I owe it all to a present I got for Loca and his friend Izzy. It was a bull’s eye, even though it was no more than a patch of hare fur with a couple of pheasant feathers attached to it and some valerian inside. At the end of the sit, about a month later, both cats were still rolling around enthusiastically with it. And over time, I noticed Loca started to come around. He looked at me with an open expression, I was now allowed to stroke him and he saw no objections in settling down at my feet in the evening. The biggest proof of all was, that at night I started waking up from a heavy weight on top of my feet: Loca’s.
It is true after all: love persists. Love for cats isn’t any different in that.
If there ever lived a painter who had a preference for using animals in his works, it might as well be Marc Chagall. As a child he was extremely shy, what is used as an explanation of this frequent depiction of soft, or even vulnerable animals: donkeys, calves, goats, lams and the likes. Perhaps this is what lead to an invitation in 1926 to illustrate a classic from French literature: La Fontaine’s Fables. Commissioner Ambroise Vollard was heavily criticized in France for not choosing a fellow-countryman for this assignment. He had definitely noticed a similarity between Chagall and De La Fontaine; they both possessed a sense of esthetic. Either of them had a talent for being ‘being at the same time naive and subtle, realistic and fantastic’. The work ‘The cat metamorphosed into a woman’ appeals to me a great deal. The storyline describes a man who loves his cat so much, that he sees an ideal woman in her. People that identify with their domestic animal is not a rarity. But it is also a very human trait to wish to change one’s beloveds within a relationship. In De La Fontaine’s fable it looks like it’s all working out for the best, until… a mouse passes by. Than the lady of the manor forgets what she is, and chases the mouse across the floor. Once a cat, always a cat!
Izzy is an elegant beauty, who’s often coming across as a bit skittish. At the very first acquaintance, she had hidden underneath her owners’ duvet. After having had to deal with the hoover, and then the doorbell that announced my arrival, she had decided that enough is enough! It took her a while to open up to me on the first sit: I was allowed to stroke her once or twice but no more than that. Izzy is not a lap cat. Sitting on the couch together was as far as it went. Fast-forward one year, and I’m looking after Izzy and housemate Loca again. Much has changed for the better! Both cats are much more accessible, each in their own way. Izzy is still a bit of a scaredy cat. When I open the front door upon arrival, I often look straight into her startled eyes. Then she speeds off like a bat out of hell, usually in the direction of the bedroom, which is an excellent place to hide! As soon as I enter the apartment, I always greet both cats by calling their names and checking up on them. I mostly find Izzy staring at me from behind the bed, table or couch. The first thing I see, are her cute white, pointy ears. She’s a quiet little feline, you could actually forget about her presence at all…
Until late in the evening! Usually she sleeps for the largest part of the day in one of her favourite spots: in a corner of the couch or at the foot end of the bed. But as soon as I get up late at night with the purpose of going to bed, it starts: Izzy is getting wild! She jumps up and starts to shoot across the flat like a rocket, meowing all the while. It seems as if she knows it’s sleeping time. When I enter the bedroom having prepared for the night I find her there, as if waiting for me. To reassure her, I speak to her in an encouraging tone of voice: “Hey girl, time for some shut-eye, right? Why don’t you get comfortable, I’ll be right with you!” She only responds to my suggestion by doing the exact opposite. She runs back and forth across the duvet, routinely avoiding my hand when I try to stroke her. Reading a bit before turning off the light is not easy to accomplish: as soon as I’ve settled down, she starts to literally walk all over me. It feels a bit confusing, because it comes across as if she actually wants to sit on my lap. Which never happens… Upon her owners’ advice, I try to play with her for a bit to see if that calms her down. They use a long piece of lace to entertain her with, but it looks as if she doesn’t even see it! Luckily, I found out quickly how to get Izzy to settle down: by setting the example. Whenever I just turn out the light and lie down, it won’t take her long to do the same. In the dark I can see her stare at me for a little bit, or even walk past my face once or twice, as if she’s checking if I’m going to sleep for real. Then she disappears to her own corner of the bed.
From the movie Bohemian Rhapsody I mostly learned that Freddie Mercury and I have something in common: a big love for all cats. The song Delilah, named after his favourite, may not be the most brilliant created by Queen, as a cat enthusiast I cannot but like the lyrics to this song. It doesn’t matter what the feline does, we will love her no matter what. The fact that the member of what I consider to be the best band ever meow in unison toward the end of the song is definitely an added bonus!
Whomever watched Bohemian Rhapsody, knows the discussion the band members had about contribution of songs for their albums. It should therefore not be surprise to find the following dialogue between the guys among the reactions under the video: Freddie: Hey guys I wrote a song about my cat. Can we put it on the album? Roger: No Brian: Says the man who wrote a song called I’m In Love With My Car. John: Let the man have his song about his damn cat, Roger.
Anyone who’s got a soft spot for cats, is quite vulnerable in an environment with a lot of street cats present. On the one hand, it can bring about beautiful pictures, but whomever is looking further than the end of his own nose, there is also a flip side to the coin: hunger and disease among the animals. During a cat sit on Buyukada, a five square kilometer island in the Marmara Sea, (close to Istanbul) I witnessed this every single day. Traditionally, the island is a refuge for wealthy Istanbulites during hot summers. These days, it’s filled to the brim with day-trippers, mostly Turks and Gulf Arabs. During my stay they were riding around the island on bikes decorated with flowers, or horse carriages called ‘fayton’. The latter have meanwhile been abolished and replaced with an electronica variety. The phenomenon had been criticized for the longest while due to the allover bad condition of the horses, but was no longer tenable after an outbreak of the horse plague.
However, with the exception of the odd little bully in the making, I mostly witnessed empathy. One of the images that stuck with me, is that of a girl sitting on a wall drinking from a bottle of water. As soon as she incidentally made eye-contact with a cat sitting next to her, she started pouring water into the cap. There were signs of compassion everywhere: in most streets there were bowls of food and water to be found. Host Tugba did her rounds on the island on a daily basis. She knew exactly where all the cats lived, and gave every single one of them a portion. Occasionally we were kindly asked not to feed the cats: they were already taken care of. Obviously, she also fed the cats living in her garden: I renamed them the Front and Back Garden Posse. Around feeding time, things could get quite heated, as twice a day the inhabitants made a ravenous impression! Driven by compassion, Tugba ended up with nine house cats. She had moved to the island with only two. Taking care of her household was quite easy during summer, as the cats lived mostly outside. I can only imagine the amount of work all cats using the litter and sleeping on the furniture all day long brings about! There’s no surprise that the last cat was named ‘Yeter’, the Turkish word for ‘enough’. If she’s succeeding in sticking to her intention, only the future can tell.
Several artists are known for their love of cats, Henri Matisse being one of them. While the greatest love of his life was definitely his art, he only left behind very few paintings featuring cats. The most well-known one being ‘Marguerite au chat noir’, featuring his daughter with a black cat in her lap, possibly his own favourite, La Puce. Matisse was known to spoil her by feeding her brioche for breakfast!
There is however a fair amount of works that are being attributed to Matisse, but in reality, are more and less good imitations. Others bring a salutation to the artist, for example by adding a cat to a well-known scene. My personal favorite: ‘Interieur, bocale de poisons rouges’ from 1914, but with an added black cat by the hand of and unknown painter!
Especially from the autumn of his life, we know a fair amount of pictures of the artist himself with his beloved cats. He was battling with cancer and the last years of his life, he was bedridden. A lot of the cat photo’s date from that era. Many a cat enthusiast knows quite well what an exquisite the cat can be!
Cooper was an only cat for a while, but in the end his owner decided she wanted to have a kitten as well. He was after all not a very affectionate cat. He would never sit on your lap and after having sniffed your hand twice he’d be gone with the wind. So, little Morris came along and that was a hard pill to swallow for him! Once in sudden there was this tiny, orange thing that everybody loved. The cutest thing since sliced bread and he did everything Cooper wouldn’t do: sit on your lap, play and cuddle. And for some reason I felt sorry for Cooper. Cats can have valid reasons to be what they are without being able to help it. Perhaps he was even a bit jealous; as he was not always very kind with the little one… Cats can definitely feel emotions. They generally have to do with feeling threatened in being catered in the basic needs. Will I get enough food? Shall I be able to lie in my favorite spot? Scientists are however doubting if cats can experience emotions such as jealousy.
Meanwhile, we’re a year down the line and little Morris has grown up. Both cats have gotten accustomed to one another. That little one has definitely brought life to the party, that much is clear. Every now and again he’s kicking his roommate around the block, either the easy way or the hard way.
Sylvester is the cat with the loudest meow I’ve ever heard. Not surprising, as he’s deaf after all. At the first acquaintance I notice straight away he’s not a very social cat. As I usually do, I kneel down right next to him and stick out my hand cautiously. Owner Jari warns me, for Sylvester is known to lash out unexpectedly at occasions. Being careful as I usually am, I do not expect it to happen to me, but it does! Distracted by owner Elena, I get a warning swipe of the paw on my hand. Not painful, yet venomous: a clear warning. It’s not clear to me what for, especially as he looks as if nothing particular has happened.
A week is a relatively short time for a sit, with which I mean that this is generally not long enough to bond with a cat. Due to his deafness, he often wouldn’t even notice my arrival at the house. Also, the sound of cat biscuits clattering into a metal bowl went unheard. It caused for me to feel obliged to clearly demonstrate him I was preparing his diner! Another possibility was, that he wasn’t that interested in food. In spite of being on a diet – I was asked to feed him measured amounts of biscuits, no wet food – he never seemed hungry when his meal was put in front of him.
However, the only moment that he explicitly asked for my attention was in the dead of night! His owners had forewarned me, but only in a noiseless world I noticed how loud Sylvester’s meow was! To prevent him from feeling lonely, I kept the bedroom door open. Another reason could be boredom: because of his deafness, under no circumstances Sylvester was allowed to go outside. The only exception being to lure him in his bench, so he could spend some time in the garden in his mini prison. I never succeeded in doing so. What owner Jari pointed out to me, was that he would sometimes sniff at the narrow gap at the bottom of the door. As if he was smelling freedom behind it!
Much later on, I thought of another reason for the nightly noisiness: hunger. Sleeping on an empty stomach is one of the hardest things to do.