Aside from the thousands of felines, there is a small cat shrine, monuments of cats, and buildings shaped like cats. Dogs holiday. There’s a turning point during every overseas holiday when I begin missing home and my family of felines. It’s then that I begin popping into corner shops to buy the odd bit of processed meat, which waits in the corner of my handbag until I come across a deserving street cat. It’s downhill from there as I transmogrify into a wildfires, middle-aged, mad woman who walks the streets talking to herself and to anything small, furry and feral that comes within spitting distance.
It’s not long before the cold meat is replaced by cat pellets with added vitamins and minerals, canted into a zip-lock bag and ever-ready for distribution. Of course, although I try to be even-handed and feed every feline within the city walls, some become favorites. In Zanzibar, at a second-rate beach resort, I befriended a sweet young thing who crawled into bed with me every night. It broke my heart to leave her. On an island in Croatia, I met a cat with one ear, one eye, three legs and swollen nipples. I saw her hanging around the dustbins at the edge of the beach and I returned that evening to take her dinner. But she had gone.
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It’s an island, I thought, it shouldn’t take long to find her. Just a day walking the grid in a square kilometer produced results. She and her handful of babies had colonized a bush at the top of a narrow alley. I fed her Page 2 of 10 each day of the remainder of my stay and, although I wasn’t allowed to touch, she would gaze at me with her one remaining eye and occasionally grunt. We definitely developed an understanding. Istanbul was a pussycat paradise. They were everywhere: draped over piles of forsake carpets, curled under trees, perched on chairs at outdoor restaurants, sunning themselves on the tops of ancient walls.
They were fearless, haughty and hard to please. I was enchanted. Lira after lira went on tubs of yogurt, helpings of kebab and slices of pastrami. I held banquets in parks and gave out snack packs at monuments. I fed solitary toms and extended families. I gave to the beautiful, the disabled, the moth-eaten and the stout. On our way up to the Grand Bazaar I came across a man selling cheap Jewelry on the steps leading to a cemetery. He was clutching a tiny white kitten, painstakingly trying to feed it drops of milk. He was a little slow and more than a little poor.
I bought four pairs of earrings and he let me pat the kitten. I returned the next day. He now had a second, even smaller kitten that he’s found amongst the gravestones and he was trying to mediate the hissing war that had broken out between them. He can’t afford this, I told my long-suffering travel companion, I have to buy him cat pellets. “It’s 34 degrees”, she said, “l really need to sit down. ” “Just a quick diversion to the supermarket”, I pleaded. “How long can it take? ” Forever apparently. Cobbled roads, none of them stocking cat food.
After an hour, five shops and several attempts at eating cat food – meow, meow, yum yum – I found a pack of ‘AIMS, chicken flavored. It cost over RARE. I walked back to the park where I had deposited my exasperated companion and found her trying to fend off the vigorous wooing of a man young enough to be her grandson. We handed over the cat biscuits to the Jewelry maker. He was moved, the kittens battled on, I took photos. One street away, a woman holding a large plastic bag began to scoop little piles of meat stew onto the ledge of an old wall. Be warned: we are everywhere.