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.
The cats I sit are often a little older. It makes the job a relaxed affair: they’re mostly contented with food, drink and a warm spot to sit. This wasn’t enough for Rumela; she was one of the few cats the least interested in food. What she wanted, was to play, very often and then a bit more! It quite fits the picture of a eight months old kitten, but not long after the start of the sit I noticed it was also in my own interest. Born on the street, she was an inside cat due to circumstances. She still had tons of energy and the playing was also necessary to make sure I’d get a good night sleep!
Her owner warned me upfront this was part of Rumela’s evening program and during the first night I understood why. In the dead of night, the rummaging started: she balanced on the head board, inspected everything I put on the cabinet whilst pushing random items on the floor, jumped on the bed with her full weight and a few times she went as far as to flick my face with her paw. Her favourite toy, a rod with a little fish attached to it – according to her owner it was filled with cat nip – had been subtly put next to me on the bed.
From that moment on, the evenings were dedicated to playing with Rumela, who clearly enjoyed the attention. In all honesty, so did I. Swinging back and forth of the little fish on the rod led to the highest jumps I ever saw a cat make. She would fetch a simple hair tie thrown across the room for me. Sometimes I wondered if she was a puppy in a kitten’s body! After a couple of days, I started to feel a little bit bored: that rod again! So, I took it upon me to read about playing with cats, an easy job with all the information to be found on the internet. All the more because I regularly look after cats that don’t seem to be keen to play at all. I quickly learned that play for cats is a matter of habit: a little bit of action at the same time every day is a first step. It caused for me to look at playing with cats from a different perspective and to put a bit more fantasy into it. Rumela sure did appreciate; it turned out she found hide-and-seek games fantastic. After I put her beloved rod under the carpet, it didn’t take her long to find out something was hidden there. But what was it? And how to get it from underneath? It led to a game full of exploration and catching. After getting her prey she came to me with the little fish in her mouth and offered it to me.
If Loca loves me or not is unclear to me! He sure isn’t shy, at the first acquaintance he sniffed my hand without reservations, only to walk on, taking his sweet time. His attitude was exactly the opposite of housemate Izzy’s. Upon my arrival, she had already hidden under her owners’ duvet, startled by the awful sound of the doorbell ringing. In spite of showing herself once or twice before, she wouldn’t come near to me within the first couple of days of the sit. After that, she turned out to be one of the cuddliest cats since ages!
Loca would never ask for attention, although his owners claimed he was at least as big a cuddle bug as Izzy! Except for the early morning, when he knew he’d be getting his wet food. Initially, I was woken up by his shrill meowing right next to my ear at the crack of dawn, which caused me to keep the bedroom door closed after that experience. But as soon as I opened the door, I was getting the warmest welcome of the day. Seldom did I hear a cat purr as loudly as Loca! The sound continued as I scooped the ‘soups’ they were served for breakfast into their bowls. It only stopped after he had eaten the last bit of the mixture. I have no evidence of this, as I left the cats alone while they ate, but I suspect he also ate what his girlfriend Izzy left in her bowl.
After breakfast however, the love was gone, up until the end of the day: at diner time it was back again! Unfortunately, it seemed as if he didn’t care for me that much. Outside of feeding hours, he didn’t even seem to be able to stand my presence! He never asked for attention. Stroking him twice was a record! His fur felt rough under my fingers, as if he wanted to discourage the mere thought of stroking him. And sometimes, he would even jump up as if stung by a bee! He’d leave me behind, granting me nothing but a scornful look!
I should have known better: what the cat doesn’t want, he doesn’t want. Love cannot be forced!
There was no shortage of jokes about looking after Parisian cats prior to this sit: “Won’t they be horribly arrogant?” But Charmaine’s household was nothing like that at all, in fact they made me feel very welcome. I arrived at their flat at 9.30 in the evening and it looked as if a bomb had just exploded! Charmaine explained she still had to tidy up as well as pack her bags for her upcoming trip. Meanwhile, she welcomed and entertained me. This was the moment I had dreaded beforehand: being knackered and having to speak French after not having done so for quite a while… Much to my relief, she was quite a chatterbox, which suited me just fine after a long day of hard work followed by a train journey. She made it easy for me to get accustomed to the French language again.
“Luigi is special,” she said about her youngest cat. Personally, I find all cats exquisite, so I’m not automatically impressed if somebody makes such a statement. Especially if this person is the owner! But to start with, Luigi was a very sociable cat. His flat mate Polochon was more the solitary type, so she was of no use to him. Perhaps that’s why he was aiming his attention towards the humans present. Quite often, he’d come and ask for some fuss, or evenings he’d often be sitting on my lap or right beside me.
Luigi was quite good at communicating his needs. Now I know more cats can do that, and often it’s not rocket science to understand what the cat wants: a healthy appetite quickly leads to a meow. But this boy was still a kid, he hadn’t been ‘helped’ yet and he definitely needed his time outdoors. That lead to him hanging around the front door until I had gotten the message and helped him to go outside. Meant to keep burglars outside, this was a track that was probably if not certainly impossible for a cat to cover all by himself. Step 1: opening the door of the flat towards the communal hall. Step 2: opening the door towards the stairwell, leading towards the ground floor. Step 3: opening the door to the central hall of the building. Step 4: opening the door towards the inner garden (the complex consisted of two buildings. All the while, he walked by my side, waiting patiently each time another door was opened for him! Once downstairs, he meowed as if saying goodbye, and then disappeared into the garden.
It was a cold period in the month of February and I was a little bit worried if Luigi would be home in time for dark! “Don’t worry,” Charmaine said, “he’ll always find a place to shelter from the cold”. She was more worried about him being able to defend himself against the other outdoor cats! And almost every time I passed the inner garden, he would be there! Until that time that he wasn’t. He wouldn’t respond to my calling him, and even rambling his bowl with biscuits wouldn’t help. Time and time again I walked towards the window to see if I could spot him downstairs, or if could catch his attention by calling his name. Finally, he showed up, right before dark. Happily, he followed me up the stairs, thankfully starting his evening meal.
At one of my last days there was a strange smell around the house. I feared the worse, but couldn’t detect the cause. Nevertheless, I cleaned thoroughly but to no avail: the bad smell was lingering. While sitting on the couch in the evening, I found out the cause. The cushion that Luigi had been lying on so comfortably time and time again was soaked! Apparently, he had peed on the sofa… The cushion left the house indefinitely and I was quite grateful there was a plasticized cover around the matrass on the sofa bed. Charmaine was all apologetic: “He urgently needs his operation, I’ve been postponing it…”.
On my last day, Luigi was still outside in the garden when I had to leave the flat in order to catch my train back home. His owner wouldn’t be home until the next day. This time, Luigi would have to spend the night outside!
At first glance, I saw nothing but beauty. Jackson was indeed a gorgeous long-haired ginger tomcat, that would immediately remind you of a miniature lion. It seemed to me, he was staring at me in a defying manner. Originating from Doha, Qatar he had ended up in the French Pyrenees with his owner. He wasn’t very kind to the two girls in the household of nine cats, Cassie and Izzie. Cassie couldn’t stand the sight of him. In spite of her fear she would hiss at him angrily as soon as she spotted him. As soon as she hissed, I knew Jackson was near. I’d only have to turn my head to make sure of that. He’d have the same blank expression as usual. No idea what he was saying without making a sound. Undoubtedly, it wasn’t very nice..
In spite of his tough appearance, it turned out he was after all sensitive to attention and affection. It didn’t happen very often he would approach me for some fuss, but he would surely enjoy it if he would receive it. To keep his lion mane tamed, and to prevent the filter of the hoover to get clogged with cat hairs, he’d receive a daily brushing. It was quite clear it made him weak at the knees; he would tell me so by purring like there was no tomorrow!He was finally exposed in my view when I was being confronted with one of his imperfections. While I was reading, he jumped on the kitchen table in front of me. Jackson always knew accurately when diner time was approaching and he would make sure to be close! While he was walking past me towards the window sill, from where he could overlook the whole kitchen, I saw it. In the fur on his bum,close to his anus, a chunk of dried poop was hanging. It looked like he hadn’t been able to reach there while grooming his mane….
Tombili’s picture, where he can be seen leaning on the curb like a boss, is world famous. She fits perfectly in the Istanbul’ street scene, except for the fact we’re looking at a cat here instead of a human. Many edited photo’s have been made, among others of Tombili with a glass of Turkish tea handy. After the popular street cat’s death a few years back, a petition was started and signed by 17.000 people: they wanted and got a Tombili statue at the spot her famous photo was once taken. Not for long though, as it was stolen shortly after. Once again it turned out how popular the cat was: a lot of buzz was created on the internet. The action was widely condemned: “What are they planning to do with it; put it on their mantle piece?” Perhaps the perpetrator was impressed with all the attention, or possibly it caused him to feel guilty. Within days after the disappearance the statued of the beloved cat was back at its spot. From a reliable source I heard the statue is gone again, and this time indefinitely. The reason is unclear. Tombili’s image however will be forever seared into our memory.
More often than not, I say goodbye to the cats I have looked after with a sense of sadness: as if I will miss them… Sometimes the sit has been too short to establish a bond. It’s mainly after having spent more time with a cat that this sentiment is often catching me off guard. Especially if said animals appear to like humans and are looking for my company. By sitting on my lap, or right next to me on the couch, by waiting me up behind the door when I arrive home in the evening, or me meowing at me whenever they need something. Food, to play, some attention, it doesn’t really matter.
But as a teacher with over twenty years of experience in bidding farewell each year, I’ve been around the block a few times! The parting with the very first class I ever taught is seared into my brain. Two little boys carrying a plant larger than themselves to offer to me, it made my eyes brim with tears. It was first as well as the last time this ever happened to me. After all, no matter how great a class and a year was, there will always be a new one, with all of its pro’s and con’s. It’s the same with cats. However cute and fun they may have been, all of the cats I sat had plenty of food to eat and a warm spot to sleep. Thanks to their owners. And I, I will always find another cat to sit and to love… So many kitties, so little time!