Day 14: Anna’s Camino – Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

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If you’ve been reading along, you might remember that I had my first “Camino moment” in Zabaldika, after reading some beautiful thoughts from the nuns there. My second Camino moment happened on Day 14, in Grañón, Spain. It’s not a pretty thing, but it was a raw, emotional occurrence that changed me in some mysterious way, so I’ll tell you.

I don’t remember much about leaving Santo Domingo de la Calzada, except that we met at the same little restaurant where we’d had dinner, and had one last coffee with Australian Mark, who would be staying behind for one more day on doctor’s orders, until they could make sure that he didn’t have any lasting damage from that blow to the head. English Mark met us there, as well, and that’s the last time Natalie remembers seeing him, though I ran into him once more later in the day. We had our coffees and juice, said our goodbyes, and got back on the road. Natalie was walking faster than I was that morning, and I trailed behind her, sometimes catching a glimpse on the road ahead, other times chatting with new pilgrims as we passed on the road.

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Along the way, we walked through a little hamlet and met up again for a mid-morning snack at a lovely little albergue. We met Ruth, a bubbly Anglican minister on holiday, and chatted briefly with her as she decided whether or not to call it a day and stay here in this town instead of moving on. The hospitalero was a woodcrafter, and had some beautiful simple jewelry on display. Before leaving, I bought what are still my favorite pair of earrings, little teal circles with tiny, yellow, applied wooden arrows, a reminder of the yellow arrows that mark the Camino. After a quick bathroom break, we walked on, and Natalie quickly pulled ahead again, heading towards Grañón.

I’d read about Grañón before, and had heard that it’s a magical place that pilgrims tend to love. I didn’t have the same experience, and for a long time, I thought that maybe people were wrong. Now that I know a little more about magic, especially in relation to totem animals, I’m inclined to believe with the original assessment. Just because something’s magical and life-changing doesn’t mean that it’s got to be all sunshine and lollipops while it’s happening. Anyway, as I walked into town, I encountered a small, starving dog on the street. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence, as heart-breaking as that might be. Animals aren’t put on a pedestal there like they are in the U.S., and I’m not in a place to pass judgment, but I did feel heartbroken quite often over it then. This dog came up to me, and I petted her and scratched her belly for a little while, until a dour-looking old man clomped down the street, waved his cane at me, and shouted at the dog. She cowered, then scampered away, he scowled at me, and I moved on, shocked.

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A few blocks farther down the street, I spotted a bunch of pilgrim packs outside the door to a cafe, and saw that Natalie’s bag was there, as well. I stopped, heaved off my bag, and started to walk into the cafe. At the threshold, I noticed two grown cats and two sets of kittens, all sick, eyes swollen shut and noses dripping. I wondered how many of the kittens would live through this. My brain stopped, and something else happened. It was like I was standing outside of myself, watching everything unfold. I watched myself grab a kitten, clutch it to my chest, then collapse on a nearby bench, sobbing uncontrollably.

It’s hard to explain what was going on, because I didn’t exactly know, myself. I was causing a scene, crying quite loudly. The kitten squirmed, trying to get away from the crazy lady holding it in her iron embrace. Pilgrims rushed out of the cafe, and suddenly I was surrounded by kindhearted souls who thought I must be seriously injured. People were asking me “what’s wrong? what’s wrong???” and all I could manage through the sobs was, “The kittens, LOOK!” After a minute or two, it was obvious that I wasn’t hurt, and was just having a little mental breakdown, and people left me to cry. The kitten wriggled out of my arms and ran back to its brothers and sisters. A couple of fellow cat ladies patted my hand and told me that they understood, but I could see that they were as mystified as I over this ridiculous outburst. I apologized, pulled myself together, picked up my bag, and decided to move on, with or without Natalie. To me at that moment, it seemed that the town was obviously full of negative energy, and I needed to get out.

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I had walked almost to the town border when I caught a glimpse of an adorable little terrier sitting on the bench at the bus stop. This little guy was exactly everything that I’d ever want if I were to adopt a dog – he was small, sandy-colored, shaggy, smiling, and his little body just quivered with excitement as I got closer. He looked so joyful compared to everything I’d just experienced, and I was drawn to him. I dropped my bag on the bench, took a seat, and spent the next 15 minutes getting a huge dose of much-needed love from the little mystery dude. I tried to take a photo of the two of us, but every time I’d push the button, he’d give me another kiss. It was incredibly restorative, especially since he was wearing a collar and was well-fed. It renewed my faith in humanity, at least for a few moments. Eventually, I’d been sitting long enough that Natalie happened along, and the little dog was very happy to offer her some love, as well. After a few minutes, we reluctantly said goodbye to the pup and walked on. Here’s a little slideshow of our meeting…

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The rest of the day is a blur. I remember walking through Redecillo del Camino, a town famous for its elaborate baptismal font. We stopped and took a look, and had a cup of coffee at a nearby cafe. At some point in the day, I also ran into English Mark for the last time, also at a cafe. Maybe this was the same one? I can’t remember, and Natalie doesn’t remember seeing him again after breakfast, but when I saw him for the last time, he called me over to the bar, almost giddy in his eagerness to tell me a story he’d just heard about a road marker we’d passed earlier in the day, called the Cross of the Brave:

In medieval times, Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Grañón were locked in a dispute about the land the lay between the two towns, particularly who had rights to the lumber there. The towns were constantly fighting, and finally someone thought it would be smarter to just pick a champion for each town, and have them fight it out. The winner would determine which town had land rights. On the day of the big fight, the champion from Santo Domingo arrived, covered in oil. The only way the champion from Grañón could best the oily bastard was to grab him by the only part that wasn’t greased up – his anus. The fighter from Santo Domingo was thus thrown out of the ring (some say off a cliff), and Grañón won rights to the land, though the winning fighter died only days after the battle. Soon after, the Cross of the Brave was erected in memory of the fight. Mark finished telling me this story with, “But which one was truly the ‘brave’ one?” followed by a deep belly laugh. I’m glad that’s my last memory of him.

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The baptismal font at Redecillo del Camino.

Natalie and I covered another 15km, but I don’t have many photos. That night we ended up at an albergue called the Cuatro Cantones, and it turned out to be a lovely spot, run by a very nice family. Our friend Terry from Seattle was in Belorado that day, so once we got settled into our room, she came over and we all went out for a late lunch at a nearby bar. I can’t remember if I took a nap or not, but for the first time, I did no sightseeing (despite the fact that the town looked really interesting, and I sincerely regretted not being able to see more). That night, Natalie and I had dinner at the albergue restaurant, and invited the other peregrina from our small room (only three of us there – yay!) to join us. She was not a native English speaker, but between the three of us, we got along famously and had a great dinner together. After dinner, I snuck away to an empty bedroom to call my parents, then it was lights out.

Click here to read about Day 15.

Photography Friday: Rewards

Today’s photo challenge at the Daily Post is to show what “reward” means to us. It turns out that I’ve taken a few photos over the course of the last few weeks that exemplify the term in various ways. Looking back through them has made me realize how easily I forget the simple pleasures encountered every day. I tend to notice details, and love the little scenes captured on my walks through New Orleans (and elsewhere), but it would be nice to hold on to the feeling of discovering these vignettes in my heart, rather than having to be reminded by looking back over my Instagram page.

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I walk through the French Quarter every day, and often pass a little art gallery full of really cool/creepy art. Every now and then there’s a cat sitting in the window, along with the artwork. Each time I pass, I look for the cat, and when I see her I’m always happy. It feels like a privilege, somehow; she’s so regal.

The other part of the story that makes this an even better reward is that you can’t see it in this photo, but the cat’s other ear is docked at the tip. In New Orleans, when feral cats are part of the catch and release program (where they’re caught, spayed/neutered, then released), they get one ear docked. This tells me that this gorgeous girl was once living on the streets, but has since become the queen of her own art gallery. Pretty sweet rags to riches story.

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I love looking for good new graffiti, no matter what city I’m in. Thus far, my all-time favorite street art has been in Venice, but New Orleans’ scene isn’t too shabby. Our city attracts a lot of outside artists, including WRDSMTH, a Los Angeles-based writer/painter who’s been posting awesome stuff like this typewriter and message around town for awhile. This popped up in my neighborhood, and every time I look at it I end up laughing. So I guess that the reward is two-fold for this photo, as well. First finding it, then getting to laugh over and over.

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This shot was taken on Lundi Gras night (the night before Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday), down by the Mississippi River. I was with friends, just hanging out, and we didn’t know that there were going to be fireworks. This was a great reward for me because I really hadn’t felt like leaving my house that day, despite (or maybe because of) the celebration that was going on. I adore fireworks, so getting to see them was like a little “thank you” from the Universe for just pushing myself to lighten up a bit and go have fun.

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While in Chicago last week, I decided (quite stupidly) to walk from the restaurant where I’d just had dinner, all the way to the nearest movie theater. A distance of about a mile and a half isn’t bad in decent weather, but when it’s 10 degrees out and you’re not at all accustomed to that kind of cold, it’s just a crappy idea to try to do it on foot. But I did, and it all worked out just fine. Still got all of my digits. Bonus: it was beautiful and quiet out, didn’t meet very many people on the way, and every now and then a scene like this would present itself.

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This is the least exciting photo, but my favorite. I took it last night; it’s the parking garage that sits behind my gym. I had a good workout, then left the gym to see that the parking garage was looking really nice with the contrast of streetlights and night sky. Sometimes I feel like being allowed to notice and appreciate beauty in such mundane things is its own reward. The fact that it showed up after a particularly good night of working out was just that much sweeter.

Another Day, Another Laundry Pile

Everyday isn’t laundry day in my house, though sometimes it sure does feel like it. I don’t mind doing the laundry, though. This is my first apartment with an in-unit washer and dryer, and they’re both brand new and awesome. For the first time in my adult life, I don’t have to hunt for quarters any time I need clean underwear, and the dryer actually DRIES my clothes. It’s revolutionary, I tell you.

Of course, we all know who absolutely adores laundry day – the gorgeous Miss Isabel. She’s always happiest when towels are part of the mix, but earlier today I was on a roll, and thoughtlessly unloaded and folded a dryer’s worth of towels quicker than she could make it to the bedroom to come play. Realizing my mistake a few minutes later, I threw a couple of the clean towels in with the next load of things to dry, so she could still enjoy a good snuggle. I’m such a sucker, but as you can see, it was totally worth it.

Isabel the Cat in a Laundry Pile

"Mmm...so toasty warm!"

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"Seriously Mum, this is the best ever..."

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"I'd invite you to share, but you see, it's such a small pile. It's really only big enough for one of us."

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"Seriously - you're not going to fit. Especially not with that black box thing strapped to your head."

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"Oh, all right, you can come play too!"

And much cuddling and purring ensued.

The End.

Made of Stars

Sorry that the last post was private. There are two reasons for that:

1) I needed to vent about a problem I’ve been holding inside for the last year or two, a problem that has become more intense since my move. I wanted to share without making my musings public, something I have tried to do in my private journal in the past, but found unsatisfying. I’m a fast typist, and it’s nice to be able to see many full thoughts come out of my head and start to live and work themselves out on the electronic page. Maybe in the future I’ll share my thoughts with the world. For now, however, if you really wanted to read, I wouldn’t mind, I think. The post is password protected, and I’ll share if you’d like to write me for it.

2) Since the problem concerns another person, I didn’t want to air something I really should be able to talk to them about in person. Since this person’s demeanor makes it virtually impossible for me to share real thoughts without getting laughed at for “thinking too much,” and this in itself seems to lead to a much darker future path in our friendship, I didn’t think it good to air grievances quite as publicly as I would like. My few readers know me well enough by now, I think, to know that I really don’t mind telling all about myself. There’s not much about my life that I don’t find is made richer by sharing, but this is one of those rare times when I believe the problem might come back to bite me in the proverbial ass if I let it live outside of my head and one protected blog page. I haven’t even been able to tell my best friends. Another interesting way the internet has changed relationships forever.

But enough with that. I’ve already written a major post on it today, and now I’m tired of letting negativity into my borders. From now on this afternoon, only positive thoughts. The most positive? I’m back with my band again! I have some photos I’d like to share with you of the band’s practice space, so I’ll save more musings on that precious topic for another post, but let it be known that I’m insanely happy about getting to sing again, and also to hang out with dear old friends that I haven’t seen in years, and love, love, love collaborating with.

Also in my personal news? I’m taking two free online courses in pagan studies at The Pagan Campus. I know I told you about these before, but I’m having so much fun that I had to mention them again. One class is in Numerology, and the other is in Sabbats and Esbats. I’m learning a lot, but also learning how much there is to learn, and that I’m only touching the tip of the iceberg. I love it. I’m so excited to spend the rest of my life honing my craft, and following the right path for me. Having grown up in super heavy-duty Christian country, where people believe that the devil ‘planted’ dinosaur bones in the earth to fool the weak-minded (lol, btw) into believing that the earth is older than a few thousand years, among lots of other weird, backward-ass thoughts that make very little sense, it’s so nice to get to meet people who believe in something that makes all the sense in the world, and find a religion where appreciating and honoring Mother Nature is the common thread. I don’t care to separate the Universe into multiple gods and goddesses, as many pagans do, but I also love the fact that for once I’m being given the right of way to practice what the Universe keeps proving to me every day is real and right and logical, and to finally see and embrace the abundance of love and energy we have at our fingertips, just by opening our eyes to the possibility of being proactive healers instead of sheep. Like Moby says, “We Are All Made of Stars“.

What else? Well, I made 100 overall in my last marketing class, which is good. I think that this next class is going to really kick my butt, so I should probably actually be doing homework right now instead of writing a blog post or two. But that leads me to the next interesting bit…

I dreamed a book last night. Not a short story, not part of a storyline, but an entire book. It’s not an earthshaking novel or anything, something more like a Harlequin romance, but hey, a book’s a book, and now I’m going to start putting it together. In all, I have three books in my head now that need to be written. One’s about an old haunted house in NC, one’s about ghosts and voodoo in New Orleans, and this last one is about a centuries-old curse on a New England family. I have got to get a routine developed. This is just getting silly. Think of the money I could be making, or at least the ways that I could be so much freer in my life if I just got some kind of order mapped out. With three books and the idea for a very strong small business in mind, I believe the only thing that’s truly holding me back right now is not procrastination, but rather fear. And for the life of me, I have no clue why I should be afraid of success. After all, I want so much to be self-sufficient.

So I’m sitting in bed on a rainy Saturday afternoon, listening to The Man curse at the pieces of a bench he’s been trying to build from scratch all day, my beloved Miss Isabel cat curled up beside me, thinking of this new book, the many paths of my life stretched out before me in my mind’s eye, trying to choose the right one, trying not to hurt anyone too much, or disappoint anyone too much, but trying most of all to be true to myself.

Esse Quam Videre.

I’m trying.

 

Murphy

Murphy in October of 2011

You’ve already read about my beautiful eldest cat, Isabel. If you’ve been reading along, you’ve probably caught on by now that there’s another fur child in my household, Izzy’s younger brother Murphy. His story is a little less involved than his sister’s, but every bit as important to our household’s history. Some of you might have experienced the feeling of being a family with loose ties, and how those ties tightened in the face of a major event, good or bad. Murphy’s simple story is the event that brought Isabel, The Man and myself together as fully-functioning family unit.

In the years BM (before Murphy), there was Isabel. She started out smelly and small, and grew to be snappish and larger. She loved me, and I loved her. I also loved The Man, whom I had started dating a few months prior to the disappearance of my late cat, Matthew. There was no love lost between Matthew and The Man; in fact, when The Man and I first began dating, he told me that he “didn’t really like pets.” He’s really fortunate that I can spot a lie a mile away, and understood his asinine comment really translated to “I haven’t ever had a pet of my own, so I don’t know what it means to love one.” Well, Matthew would have gladly raised a leg on The Man if he were a dog and The Man stood still long enough, so for awhile I resigned myself to the possibility of eventually having to dump this guy in favor of my cat. Fate chose a different route for us all, however. Matthew passed on, and Isabel entered our lives, so tiny and at first so sweet that The Man’s heart of stone was turned to mush – for awhile. Until she went half wild and took to treating The Man, in particular, like a favored scratching post. So much for their short-lived love affair, but at least there was mutual interest and healthy respect on The Man’s part. I figured it was a good starting place.

Two years later, we moved in together. We were in a new city, in a new house, with a two year old cat who was getting a little bored all on her lonesome. I started to put out feelers. We needed a new member of the household, but not just anyone. This cat had to be special.

I spent a lot of time researching cat personalities, and realized that Izzy was a bit of a mash-up of Beta and Gamma, being talkative, pushy, thoughtful, and very eager to please when dealing with me, but also very shy and non-verbally expressive in some realms, especially if other people are in the house. She’s a tricky little beast, and I spent months envisioning the type of cat I’d be bringing in to be her brother or sister. I knew there was only one chance to get this right, and it could be very difficult for everyone if I didn’t take my time.

A few months later, a friend of a friend moved to town from Texas, bringing with her SEVEN cats, four of whom were part of a litter of kittens. While out at a party one night, the new girl mentioned her kittens, and that they were weaned but she wanted to keep the mother and family all together a little longer. I found it refreshing, a complete 180 from the life Izzy was born into, so I asked for more info. What were their markings and personalities? What was their mother like?

The Black One (Murphy), napping with his litter mates Tooken and Saki, and their Aunt Ro Rittens

Cat 5, the kittens’ mother, had been an indoor cat who went into heat younger than anyone expected, and pretty much immediately got out of the house and knocked up. As her human mother put it, “babies having babies.” When the resulting progeny arrived, the first was a little brown tabby. Their human was happy – an entire litter of dark kitties, just like their mother! Then the next kitten arrived, and the next, and the next – in the end there were four orange and white tabbies, and one little dark kitten, who picked up the moniker The Black One. That night, the story of The Black One stuck in my head. I knew I couldn’t afford to choose a new child by looks alone, but I promised the girl that when the time came to give her kittens new homes, I’d be waiting.

Murphy's brothers & sisters

Murphy's mom, Cat 5, and her daughter Kitteh Fluff (a.k.a. Flurf)

A few weeks later I got a phone call. I’d just had all of my wisdom teeth out the day before, and was heavily drugged. The call was from two of my friends, roommates, who were on their way to choose kittens. Since everyone knew I was looking for something specific, I was to be given first dibs on the litter. All I had to do was get across town, my cheeks swollen like I was chewing softballs, my mind complete mush. Awesome.

A few hours later I sat in my new friend’s living room, surrounded by cats. I ended up sitting there for about five hours. It was a surreal experience, and not just because of the painkillers. I was watching kittens like my life depended on it, rating their actions in my hazy little mental scorecard. My friends humored me, sitting, watching, waiting, drinking beers. Of the four kittens in Chicago (one had remained behind in Texas), there were two males and two females. The long-haired female, the sweetest, silliest ball of fluff, was to stay with her owner. She and her mother are still as thick as thieves, or so I’ve been told. Of the others, there was The Black One, a mostly-orange male tabby named Tooken, and his sister, an orange and white tabby who was later renamed Saki (I can’t remember her original name). It was a very tough decision, but as I watched the kittens play it became obvious that Tooken was the alpha of the litter. Saki deferred to him, and hung tight to his side. The Black One wandered happily about, attacking the broom, crawling inside of a wicker table, jumping on his siblings, and getting bathed often by everyone. It was clear that he was the baby, and he loved it. He looked high maintenance, though. I was gravitating toward Tooken, even though he wouldn’t be the best choice for Isabel. It was a moment of drugged weakness. Luckily, I came to my senses when Tooken climbed up the back of the television. With The Man having just bought a new flat screen beauty a few weeks earlier, I realized the orange tabby was not the most intelligent pick.

And so that’s how I made one of the best decisions of my life, and came to carry a sleepy, utterly calm brown tabby kitten home that night. The Man greeted me at the door (I have no clue why he wasn’t in attendance for the choosing, but it’s probably best), and there was a brief moment where I was sure it was a mistake, he’d hate the new cat, Izzy would hate the new cat, it was all going to go awry…

Murphy still naps belly up, though he doesn't do it mid-play any more.

Then, wonder of wonders, I watched as The Man began to fall in love with a pet for the first time. Over the next day, I tried the method of introducing cats through a closed door, with the kitten in the bathroom and Isabel outside. He was very happy with the arrangement. She – not so much. Eventually he bounded out on accident, and when Izzy didn’t kill him immediately, I decided to let it slide and see what happened. The first few weeks were oddly sweet. The kitten, who became Murphy after taking a sip of my Guinness, trailed after Isabel constantly, despite her obvious disdain. She hissed, spit, and batted, but still he followed her around, looking like her pint-sized doppelganger. He made a habit of ambushing her from high places as she walked, and pouncing on her as she settled into her naps. He stole her toys. In general, he made such a cute little ass of himself that I’m inclined to think she couldn’t help but fall in love a little bit, herself.

Murphy wore Isabel down with good old fashioned love. This is about two weeks into their relationship, when she'd finally given up and let him nap beside her.

Isabel was orphaned as a very young kitten, and had never had this kind of relationship with another cat. When I walked in to find Murphy giving the perfectly relaxed Isabel a bath, I knew they would be just fine together.

One day I walked into the living room to find them giving each other mutual baths, and I knew that all would be well.  Now, Isabel and Murphy have been together for a little over two years. Once less than half her size, now she’s about half of his. At about 14 lbs., he’s a linebacker of a cat, with the sweetest, most lovable personality. He still tackles his sister once or twice a day, and their epic battles rage through the house, but they also nap together, take baths together, and generally pal around together like siblings should. They look so similar that people assume they’re from the same litter. Since Izzy prefers to remain out of the way and Murphy likes to come out and meet people, some folks that see both but never at the same time just assume it’s the same cat, moving around quickly. Of course it’s easy for me to tell them apart, as Isabel is petite and sharp, and Murphy is bulky and soft, but at night, it’s easiest for me to tell by their tails. Like the witch in “Hansel & Gretel”, I often find myself reaching out in the dark, running a hand down an encroaching cat’s back, and gently squeezing the tip of its tail. If it’s a calm, bony tail, waiting for me to ascertain its owner, it’s Isabel, come to curl up for the night. If it’s a thickly padded tail, twitching with impatience, it’s Murphy and he’s only come to tell me he needs more kibble.

True love - Munkey and The Man napping together a couple of years ago. He's too big to sleep on someone's neck now, but this basic scene still plays out most days at our house.

Murphy (a.k.a. Murph/Munky/The Munky/Munky-man) has always been The Man’s cat, even though I feed him, change his litter, take him to the vet, and give him belly rubs whenever he pleases. He likes me just fine, but he and The Man have bonded in a way I’ll never get to be part of. Their mutual love of napping during baseball games probably has something to do with it. He is a gentle cat, interested in simple pleasures – kibble, belly rubs, shoulder massages, tastes of coconut oil, naps on a velvet throw that we keep on the couch just for him. Like his mother, he can’t meow properly, instead squeaking or just opening his mouth and exhaling loudly when he’s perturbed. He can’t stand the idea of an empty bowl, and often lets me know that he’s going to be running out of food in a few hours. Even though he’s not a big eater, a bowl with less than several teaspoons of kibble is cause for complete red alert-style meltdowns, with much frantic squeaking, so I’ve learned to keep an eye out. He loves to knock the water bowl over in the night, as well, so I get woken up pretty often for that calamity.

He’s never been interested in toys, but he is scarily obsessed with straws. You can’t leave a cup with a straw in it alone for even a second if Murphy’s nearby, and he will be nearby because he has a 6th sense that only works to pinpoint a straw’s location in his domain. I’ve forgotten and walked away from a cup a couple of times, and come back to either a spilled drink with no straw, or just no straw if he’s been particularly clever. A few days ago I brought home a cup with a straw and he sat on the end of the couch, his eyes never leaving the straw for the entirety of my meal. I swear he didn’t even blink, just followed the cup’s journey to my face and back every time. His normally sweet, teddy-bearish face was taut with the kind of intense emotional hunger he only experiences when tubular plastic items are around. Once gifted with the desired object, he becomes a furry little madman, batting his prey about the house for ten minutes or so, then leaving it lifeless on the rug, perforated with tooth marks.

Well, there you have it – my weird little fur family, in a nutshell. I consider myself to be so blessed to have found a brother for Izzy who surpassed my expectations, and who has brought so much joy to our lives. The Man will never again say he doesn’t like animals (in fact, I often catch him telling others that he’s “more of a cat person”). My beautiful Isabel will never be a lonely, maladjusted orphan again. Over the last two years, she’s mellowed, become less inclined to bite, stopped using her claws when she plays or reaches out, and has even started being affectionate to The Man on occasion. As for me, there’s nothing like being woken up at 3am to clean a litter box again, or wondering what on earth could be making that weird noise, just to find it’s a by-product of crazy cat games. In other words, it’s the best.

My beautiful little man, all grown up.

The Cats of New Orleans

Since I’m working from home now, it turns out I end up spending a lot of the day basically Velcro’d to my couch.  My social life is pretty sparse, since I’m not a big drinker and I’m trying to drop some weight, which makes me not too much of a big eater, right now, either.  That means that my only real excursions are rather boring – trips to the gym, grocery store, and the occasional coffee shop.  Thus, it seems like a good idea to start inventing reasons to get the hell out of the house, so as to prevent (or at least slightly impede) my gradual decent into madness.

Which leads me to my new project: taking photos around the neighborhood.  I have a DSLR that I’m trying to learn to use, and even on ‘auto’ (which yes, I know makes me one of those people) it takes decent shots.  I’ve signed up for some classes, starting in early November, but until then I’m not going to shelf my camera and wait to become learned before trying to capture a piece of everything I see and love.  I typically take photos of architectural details, but the other day I saw a number of cats out in people’s gardens around the Lower Garden District.  Here are a few who were kind enough to pose for me.  I guess you could also call this series ‘Cats Behind Bars’!

Magazine Street Cat, New Orleans, October 2011

Magazine Street Cat, New Orleans, October 2011

Catnapping on Magazine Street, New Orleans, October 2011

Catnapping on Magazine Street, New Orleans, October 2011

Unimpressed Cat on St. Mary Street, New Orleans, October 2011

Unimpressed Cat on St. Mary Street, New Orleans, October 2011

Isabel

The beautiful Miss Isabel in October of 2011.

I met Isabel in the Fall of 2007.  It’s a long and intricate story, but let it suffice to say that my beloved cat Matthew had just passed on in May of that year, and I was devastated.  He disappeared (and after several months, was presumed dead) after over six years of successful cohabitation, and his absence left a gaping wound in my already fragile heart region.  He had been with me through everything.  I found him in a Walmart parking lot in the summer before my junior year of college, and his generally piss-poor attitude had helped me weather many a tough situation, including when we evacuated New Orleans together for four months in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  He was a tough little bastard who shat in my laundry pile, yowled for food/open doors/whatever-the-hell-else-he-wanted, and put me to sleep every night by pressing his damp nose under my right ear and purring me into oblivion.  I would often awake to find him sleeping beside me, paw slid into my outstretched hand.  He was what we Southerners call ‘honery’, but infinitely lovable all the same.

Matthew

Matthew in 2005, a few months before Hurricane Katrina.

When Matty disappeared, I kept up searching for quite some time, but assumed the worst.  I’m not religious, but I prayed desperately for his safe return, and protection wherever he was.  He was an indoor/outdoor cat, and I learned my lesson about the dangers of that lifestyle the hard way.  He always came home, and an hour late was not his M.O., so it seemed obvious after a week that he was dead, body or no.  My friend Trin and I were getting ready to move to a new apartment in a nearby neighborhood when he left, and that was a stressful time, searching every day down the nearby streets, putting up signs, checking Craigslist compulsively every few hours.  There was never to be news, even though I kept up the search in the coming months.

After we moved, I was frightened of being alone.  Our new house was built around 1900, and we lived in the attic.  It was spooky by nature, and my disposition is such that I’m naturally afraid of dark, old places, as well as being sensitive to energies.  Though I didn’t want to alarm Trin, I was convinced that the house had some bad energy attached to it, and if she wasn’t home I’d shut myself in my room until she arrived.  Years later, I found that she had felt the same way, and tried to never be in the house on her own, either.  When Matthew was around, I had felt more secure in situations like this.  His presence calmed me, and being alone in my grief, in a haunted house, no less, was making me a little more batty than usual.  A couple of months went by, and I realized I couldn’t live without a furry companion any longer.

I was still searching for Matty every day on Craigslist, and also half-heartedly looking for a kitten to fill the void he had left.  It had to be a brown tabby cat, like him, and definitely a male.  One day, someone posted an ad for a brown tabby kitten.  I responded to see if it was male, and the person said it wasn’t, so I gave my regrets and moved on.  A few days later, the same person posted an ad about a brown tabby kitten, this time saying that if no one picked it up that day, it was going to the pound on the morrow.  This raised my hackles to no end, and I responded that I’d take her.  On the drive over to pick the kitten up, Trin and I talked about her plans to also get a kitten, and decided that if she did, she could have this female kitten and she’d find a male for me.  We walked into the house with the idea that it was a rescue mission, and found that we were more right than we could have known.  The people who had found the kitten had actually found an entire litter of kittens and their mother – all feral.  The kittens were about two weeks old, and since the mother was too tough to handle, they took her to the pound immediately.  The kittens were all given away within a day or two (hopefully they survived), but the runt of the litter remained, too sick and tiny to appeal to anyone other than a bleeding heart like me.  I came to the house expecting a weaned kitten, a cute little roly poly bundle of fur.  Instead I was handed a tiny, weak, sickly thing that fit into the palm of my hand.  She was living on milk and moist dog food, her eyes were runny, and she smelled AWFUL.  I fell in love immediately.  On the ride home, Trin asked if I still planned to give her the kitten.  I was probably a bit more gruff than I should have been when I said “Absolutely not.”  Luckily, she loves me and realized I had already fallen hard for the new baby in my life.

Baby Isabel

Isabel in Winter of 2007, after recuperating from her illness and putting a little weight. Notice her big, crazy brown eyes and needle-sharp, grappling hook claws.

Isabel was named after Isabeau, one of the main characters in Ladyhawke, one of my favorite films.  She grew to be just as beautiful as her namesake, with large jade green eyes (they started out blue, later changed to rust brown, and finally turned green about two years ago) and delicate features.  When she started, though, as cute as she was, I never expected her to be a beauty.  Over the first month, she ate lots of banana-flavored medicine to cure her of the bacterial infection that left her gassy enough to clear everyone out of a room.  I’ve never smelled anything so disgusting, and she was so tiny!  As a baby, her favorite spot to sleep was directly under a person’s chin, and as soon as she relaxed, she’d start farting.  It was unholy, and uproariously funny for those who were lucky enough not to be her target.  It was hard to be angry at such an adorable little baby, though, and that was good, because as soon as she felt better she began to come out of her shell.  For the next year she was a tiny terror, attacking ankles, climbing drapes, killing furniture (and bugs – she’s a great hunter), scratching, and being generally awful to just about everyone but Trin and me.  She also killed most of Trin’s beautiful house plants, which was a cause for entertainment when the plants began to slowly migrate up the wall to see how high they’d need to go before the cat couldn’t get to them.  The answer: she’s the world’s foremost house plant hunter – they never stood a chance.

Izzy & her Auntie Trin in 2008.

Now she’s older, wiser, and immeasurably calmer.  She’s still a little bite-y, but mostly just sleepy and affectionate.  She loves kisses, and rubbing faces, and we often say ‘I love you’ from across the room by slowly half-closing our eyes at each other.  At least that’s what I’m saying – she’s probably just blinking, or perhaps planning how nice it will be to smother me in my sleep.  During her first year with me, she took a shine to a particular type of mouse toy with a fabric body and white rope tail.  She gets them in sets, and plays with the green and blue ones often, hoarding the pink ones away to drag out and maul on special occasions.  She’s a crackhead for cat treats, but only the crunchy ones, and loves nothing better than being covered with a blanket or towel and roughed up a bit.  She has a very particular meow, plaintive and drawn-out, that makes her sound like she’s being punished or highly annoyed, and she issues it very often.  Just after she releases her bitchy meow, she begins purring heavily.  Like her mother, she’s not truly content unless she’s had a chance to do some kvetching.

Izzy, getting ready to start lodging a formal complaint. October, 2011.

Best of all, Isabel/Miss Isabel/Izzy/Izzy-graniada still likes to sleep with humans, and with me in particular.  Sometimes she still curls up under my chin – all 9 lbs of her.  Most of the time she stretches out along my side.  Every now and then, however, she curls up with her cool little nose pressed just under my right ear, purring me to sleep – and that odd little bit of synchronicity is how I know that prayers do get answered, after all.

(Note: I now have two cats, and both are microchipped and are indoor-only cats.  The average life of a feral cat is 2 years, and the average life of an outdoor cat with an owner who provides regular vet care is anywhere between 3 and 5 years.  Meanwhile, the average life span of an indoor cat that receives regular vet care is anywhere between 13 and 17 years.  My grandmother’s last 3 indoor only cats have lived to be 21+.  I have friends who have outdoor only cats, friends who have indoor only cats, and friends who have indoor/outdoor cats.  Everyone has their own reason, and as long as your cat is happy and well cared for, that’s the best any creature (including a human) could ask for.  However, if you haven’t thought hard on this issue, please do, for your cat’s sake – and your own.)