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 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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Day 53: Proekt 365 (A story for Caturday)

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So, Saturday is also known as Caturday in this house. In truth, every day is Caturday given the size of our darling beastie’s personality.

But, there was a time when we had not just Che Fufu, but also Kissochka—a thoroughly Russian cat with an equally large presence and personality, although very different to Che Fufu. Kissochka was my cat when The Cuban and I met. Later, we adopted Che Fufu. Kissochka was not amused but was also wildly protective of the tiny furball who invaded her territory. It was ever-so sweet and ever-so confusing.

Today, The Cuban sent me the sweetest of stories retelling this history from his perspective. In my first reading of it, I didn’t realise it was his writing for whatever reason, although I chalk that up to the utter lack of focus I’ve been experiencing today and other issues weighing on my mind. (Also, his writing in English has improved tremendously in the 8+ years we’ve been together!) But, this story is so accurate and so lovely to read given that it’s how he experienced that time, it’s made my Caturday.

So, I give you, his Story for Caturday, unedited and in his own words:

On Pet-religion.

When I was a kid we had a dog and his name was Lobo. That’s Spanish for wolf. Mean Little-Red-Ridding-Hood-for-breakfast kind of dog. It’s easy to see growing up with a dog would make anyone a dog person. But Lobo didn’t last long. My mom had to give him away because he was so protective he wouldn’t let anyone get close to the kids. I still became kind of a dog person because of my dad. He loved dogs and he had a very smart and sweet Doberman. Not so sweet if you crossed the garden fence uninvited.

Growing up in a misogynist patriarchal society meant having a dog was the typical reinforcement of macho attitudes. Cats were for pussies, that was the mindset.

When I finally could live by myself I didn’t get a pet. I always thought a dog was not suitable to live in a small flat. And when asked about pets I would reply I was a dog person. That was the pet-religion inculcated into me.

One day I got a girlfriend with a cat. I would explain I was not a cat person but didn’t mind cats. When she moved in with the cat I started to realize pet-religion was hogwash. I went through long periods of doubt, insecurity and despair thinking I would end up in dog hell.

It was my dad’s suggestion I’d take some quantum physics that led me to solve my uncertainty. First we had a cat, then a second cat was added to the equation. The cats interacted with each other showing love, hate, and both – love and hate at the same time. I thought it was interesting and sweet… if I was awake. Not so much if I was sleeping and the eye of the cat-storm was passing over my head. How accurate could I predict cat-one’s position knowing cat-two’s momentum? It was all too complicated but the fact Schrodinger used a cat for his famous entanglement experiment made me see the light in the end.

I guess the point of the story is let your child grow up to decide which pet to worship.

And this is how I became a Catheist.