Days like these

November in southern Finland is not child’s play, particularly once we set the clocks back that one precious hour and live on ‘winter time’. The nights become unending and the sun — if it appears at all — shines less than brightly. Couple the darkness with a heavy dose of stress and finding any joy at all becomes excessively difficult if not impossible.

But joy can be found even in the darkest of places. At least, that’s the hope we hold on to even on those darkest of days. This week featured an array of stressors and frustrations. Don’t get me wrong: bright spots shone. Yet both of us acutely feel the effects of an entirely overly optimistic and far from restful year as we near our long-awaited and overdue holiday and annual escape to the sun.

Before our escape, we must take whatever opportunities arise to break free from the daily grind. It may be a fully working weekend for us both, but we work just as hard to find time to get out and break free for our peripatetic bonding session before night falls and the darker darkness of winter characteristic of these nights descends. We made our break sometime around 16.00.  And, here’s what we found on this wintry Caturday afternoon/early evening:

  • The street lights were on well before we made it halfway through our walk. We appreciated the light on our return journey home. But, it’s weird and eery to see them turn on well before 16.30 in the afternoon. A month from now, it will be fully dark at this time of day. And, that darkness is intensely black, standing in stark contrast to the dusk that pervades throughout what counts for summer nights. (Need I say, we prefer the darkness of summer.)
  • Despite needing multiple layers on our walk, as we approached the beach nearest our neighbourhood, a lone, brave swimmer made her way from the changing rooms to the pier and finally down into the icy waters. She wore a wool cap, gloves of some sort, slippers of some sort, a bathing suit and was wrapped in a towel. We shivered simply watching her as she submerged into the waters and swam from the pier. As she emerged after her swim, she confessed that the water ‘wasn’t so bad once you got used to it’. We both thought, ‘Better you than us, girlfriend!’ We prefer the warm bath water of the Caribbean, thank you very much.
  • Despite living in Finland for 10 years now, we still don’t understand the weather here. We left under relatively cloudless skies. At least, it looked as though the clouds had moved on to elsewhere. As we stood watching the less-than-sane swimmer [our classification of her mental state, naturally], rather large and cold drops of rain plopped on our heads. Once again, we were stuck far from home without an umbrella.
  • Mosquitoes still survive even now. Surprisingly. As I typed this post, one lone little bugger landed on my hand.

Days like these, I’m happy to be alive.

Crazy Cat Ladies — On ‘Kedi’

It’s safe to say that in this house we are crazy cat ladies.

At some point when I find a bit of free time, I’ll finally sift through the photos from our last trip to Cuba and put together a post I’ve been mulling on ‘El Gatos de la Habana’ — The Cats of Havana. I must have hundreds of photos of cats. Just cats, doing what city cats do. With catitude.

Naturally, one of our favourite non-anger-inducing documentaries in recent memory features cats and the crazy men and women who love them.

Kedi‘, which premiered in 2016 in Istanbul, follows the lives of various city cats who inhabit the streets of Istanbul and the humans who live alongside them. It’s rather fitting that the personalities of each of these twitchy-tailed and -eared creatures rely on narration from the humans who feed, care for and watch over them as they come and go at will, occasionally hissing and swatting at any unwelcome attention. These cats are not merely known to any one neighbourhood’s residents; they are considered fellow members of those communities, each individual with unique personalities, character flaws and moods much like their human pals.

Throughout each cat’s story, the humans in its life detail each cat’s quirks, habits, likes and dislikes. Power struggles. Histories. Annoyances and indicators. And, naturally, relationships. Both with other cats and humans. Take what you know of your own community and extend that intimate knowledge to the animals in your hood. That’s what this documentary offers for a city filled with cats.

More than anything, this is a story of symbiosis. The cats of Istanbul, as told by one human character in the film, enjoy a long and storied past, and one completely intertwined with humans. They arrived from various locations far and wide primarily via sailing vessels. Once trapped as their ships set sail without them on board, they then added a bit of diversity to the feline population of Istanbul. After they earned their keep as controllers of the rat population in the city’s sewer system, they took on a rather more important position, and one not entirely without some sort of mystical quality. Rather touchingly, several of the humans narrating individual stories speak of how they feel various cats ‘saved’ or ‘healed’ them. And, just as many humans feel that, ultimately, caring for cats might just help us humans care for and be kind to one another again if only we would try.

Cheese factor aside, this documentary is a must-see for any aspiring or confirmed crazy cat lady. Even if you aren’t particularly fond of cats, it provide a bit of insight into why so many of us are.

Crazy Cat Ladies en Cuba

It’s no secret, I love cats. Plop me down anywhere on the planet, and within minutes, I’ll find a cat to hang with. Thankfully, my husband now shares this feline fondness. And, as we discovered on our holiday, so does our family in Cuba. We are, collectively, the Crazy Cat Ladies.

My affection for cats began when I was 7 or 8 years old with the first cat we brought home. This particular cat was not meant to simply be cute and cuddly companionship; she was intended to be entirely functional. At the time, we lived in the countryside on the outskirts of St. Louis on a 500-acre farm. Field mice thrived both indoors and out. Winters were no joke when I was a child, and as winter set in, the mice migrated indoors obviously and wisely seeking warmth. One night, I was awoken to the screams of my mother: one clever little rodent sat on top of her dresser in front of her alarm clock’s LED display casting a ginormous monster mouse shadow on the opposite wall, which happened to be the first thing my mum saw when she woke up. Her reaction was a blood-curdling scream and to find a cat as soon as possible. I was thrilled, of course.

The next evening, we welcomed a lovely little calico kitten into our fold. Because Dollie Parton was my idol at the time, I named our new pet Dollie. Dollie the Cat quickly adapted to her new home and new role as mouser extraordinaire. And, thankfully, no further monster mouse shadows were cast.

Since then, at least one cat has lived in each of my homes. To me, a home without a cat is like a room without books: What’s the point?

Not all cats are equal, but I’ve been fortunate enough to be owned by own some incredible feline personalities over the years. Che Fufu stands apart. Spending six weeks away from her during our holiday was tortuous at times. Team Che Fufu, the small army of friends who agreed to care for her in our absence, took their task seriously and we thank them for easing our fears and concerns whilst away. But, a more pressing problem remained: What to do with all of that excess attention reserved for the furry feline ones amongst us when in Cuba?

Since our first trip to Cuba together we’ve sought out the ‘neighbourhood’ felines. On that first trip, we befriended Cheetah Fu, a particularly handsome, cheeky fellow living at the resort we called home for a few weeks in Varadero. Each day as we left the dining hall, we’d take him a few bits of sliced cold cuts or whatever we could find that was easy to sneak out and feed to him. We’d meet him at the same spot each day, and he in turn would meow sweetly, allow us to pet and admire him for a bit before turning tail and skulking off to do something thoroughly unimportant but to which our presence was entirely unnecessary. Cheetah Fu did not feature on this journey. But, cats were literally everywhere we went in Cuba. As were our kind of people — those who worship love cats as much as we do.

Our first feline encounter occurred within minutes (literally) of stepping off the plane. Several months before our arrival, five (FIVE!) kittens were born at my father-in-law’s house, and have since taken up residence outside the kitchen. Each day at mealtimes, they perch on the other side of the window from the stove and wait (im)patiently whilst our cousin Isa prepares their tea. When it comes to feeding the, an almighty cacophony ensues which can be heard from everywhere within the house. The remainder of the day, they lounge in the sun, chase various lizards and insects in the garden, play with one another and generally don’t bother with us mere humans. But, they thoroughly belong to the house and the (human) occupants belong to them.

At the resort in Varadero, various cats stalked the dining hall awaiting guests those like us who took pity and brought bits of dinner to them. Spotting the Crazy Cat Ladies was far too simple — find the fools carrying paper napkins bulging with greasy contents and follow them. A cat was sure to be on their heals, albeit a wild, skittish cat. Villa Tortuga also served as home to a friendly little guy, at once vocal and affectionate. This guy, who also sported a fetching pink, tiger-striped and sequin-trimmed collar, desperately needed help one evening. Rather than climbing a tree and getting stuck, he found himself atop a trellis and couldn’t navigate back down. The Cuban and I spent a solid 30 minutes gently coaxing and encouraging him down through a network of vines and branches. Once safely on ground, his purrs and kitty nips of affection warmed our hearts immensely. Obviously relieved and starving, we fed him, and reassured him as best we could. Of course, when he was done with us, he was done. No amount of calling or cold cuts could entice his return for another bit of a bonding. Typical bloody cat.

Then, we met Mama Cat (yes, that is her name), a lovely black and white creature who recently encamped at Tia Minita’s house in Artemisa. She is insanely lovely, and more dog-like than cat. The only picture we have of her is from afar despite are many, many attempts. Each time we tried to get a picture of her, she would run over for a bit of kitty bonding and even with a macro lens, no pictures were possible. We first found her as we wandered in the garden at Minita’s, discovering her nestled in a little kitty nest she created amongst the shrubs. Hearing us, she leapt up and immediately began weaving in between our legs and rubbing up against them with the happiest, loudest of kitty purrs. Like I said, rather uncat-like is Mama Cat. [We learned this week that she gave birth to two kittens, both white, whilst another black kitten (who we also met when we were there) joined their little family, curling up with Mama Cat and her babies.]

We met various other random kitties along our journey (as well as a few non-feline creatures). What we loved most was our concern and affection for the furry beasts who inhabit each of these homes extended beyond the two of us. Our family in Cuba also notices and takes great pains at caring for the felines in their midst. Feeding scraps to the cats at various restaurants and cafes. Leaving leftovers out for the neighbourhood cats, friendly or not.  We were not alone or odd in these behaviours. That comforted us somehow, and simultaneously normalised our own craziness about cats.

We’ve often fantasised about our ideal ‘retirement’ plan of opening up a B&B somewhere along the coast in Cuba and filling the garden and house with as many cats (and plants) as possible. Originally, I wondered if we could find those cats. Now, I’m fairly confident the cats will find us. As will the Crazy Cat Ladies.

 

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