of a Granada Cat
As told to Harley White
© Harley White. Granada, Spain. Feb. 11, 2000
From the depths of my heart, thank you Mama-cat
for being such a true, sensitive, loyal friend and soul-mate
and for genuinely being there for me
throughout the days and nights of my darkest despair.
Your great spirit will always remain in my heart!
I will love you forever!
July 28, 1994
— 1 —
They call me Mama-cat and I answer to it, so I suppose that is my name, though it wasn't always. I was born in Andalusia, southern Spain, in Granada, an area that is hot in summer and cold in winter, and I survived thanks to the ingenuity of my mother, who hid me in a deserted house along with the brothers and sisters of my litter. There I was safe from my father, turned enemy, and from the dogs and bullies who roamed my street. My mother, whose memory I cherish, has long since disappeared, and I have no idea what has become of my siblings. I fear that their fates have not been as fortunate as mine.
At first I had no place to call my own other than the narrow streets of the Albaicín, but soon I was more or less befriended by a lady who hung parsley over her front door, from which a stream of strange men furtively came and went. She permitted me to enter her house from time to time and gave me an occasional pet on the back, for which I shall be forever grateful, since I learned from this that certain humans can be approached, though always with discretion, which realization has led to the improved quality of my present circumstances.
But to return to former times and places, since several other cats already claimed my new habitat as theirs, I had to take what food I could find when they weren't around. Initially it was quite difficult for me to grab more than a mouthful or two, but after a time, we settled into a sort of live-and-let-live attitude, which enabled us all to partake of what there was.
This wasn't much. Though our mistress seemed to have a big heart (unlike her neighbors who mostly tormented me), she would sometimes forget to leave us food and water. Or perhaps there simply wasn't enough to go around at these times. I was never quite sure. But there were feast days as well. The day following particularly boisterous nights—on which nights I would always take care to stay out of sight—there would be a plentiful supply of fish heads and tails on the street just in front of my parsley decorated door. On these occasions, I would be grateful for my housemates, who together with me, defended our fish from the ubiquitous street cats who always appeared in droves at such times, stalking the borders of our territory, in the hopes of snatching a fish head in an unguarded moment.
Of course, this hardly ever occurred, except, that is, when Tobias, the huge black dog who lived a street above had gotten out; or when the German shepherd, owned by the small man who sold things on a corner, came out for a stroll. At such times we had no choice other than to abandon our vigil, and it was then that the leanest, meanest street cats dashed daringly close to capture a bit of our feast. (By the way, Tobias has been immortalized in a work of art, painted by the man. He can be seen, joined by another small canine, perched on top of the wall with the Arab door, across from the house I was later to call my own, in his favorite Cerberus-like reclining pose. But I'm getting ahead of myself. For the lady and the man had not yet entered the scene.)
Most of the time, I stayed in the streets. Our neighborhood had narrow cobbled ones, thankfully devoid of cars, but with plenty of other hazards, the worst of which were humans, particularly the ones called children, and the roving dogs, who delighted in pursuing me at top speed whenever possible (fortunately I'm faster and more agile) and putting my life in the direst peril. Indeed, once I was almost killed, in a particularly nasty incident, when I was chased straight into the jaws of the German shepherd. This was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life, the evidence of which I still bear as a long jagged scar on my neck.
— 2 —
There are those who would claim that my days and nights at this time were relatively uneventful, though they certainly did not seem so to me. Besides my own struggles to survive and stay out of harm's way, I was witness to a great number of strange and wondrous happenings. The passing of several large beasts, laden with rocks, to the cry of "Arre, arre!" was a frequent occurrence. They were not interested in me, but the tread of their heavy hooves and the stick of the man who drove them were to be feared. So I always watched from a safe distance, until their thundering steps had died away.
Then there were the neighbors I alluded to previously, for whom I had always to be on the strictest lookout. The one called Dolores was a menace to the feline community, since she did not shrink from kicking us if we came too near, and it has been whispered that many of our kittens have perished by her pitiless hand, deliberately drowned, so I have heard tell.
If there is any truth to the widespread beliefs that are held here and abroad in regard to cats, then Dolores is certain to suffer the consequences of her evil deeds. It is said, 'Never kick a cat, or you'll get rheumatism.' And 'Never drown one or the Devil will get you.' Still cause and effect operate over long spans of time, and besides, whatever Devil might get her could make her even more of a menace to me and my kind for the time being. So although I had faith that divine justice would prevail in the long-run, in the meantime, it proved wiser to give her a wide berth. Better to see the world as a merciless place than to expect miracles of kindness from such humans as Dolores.
By the way, I am including her name and the others of her house (though in an altered form), because the infamy of these people, especially Dolores, achieved mythologically villainous proportions among the cat community.
She was rumored to have the same profession as my mistress (though certainly not the same disposition) with the exception that Dolores was bossed around by an older woman called Milagros, who flew into fits of screaming several times a day. To complete this household was Milagros's offspring, Curro, who roared home on his motorcycle twice daily in a totally inebriated condition to the accompaniment of his mother's screams that he should be in jail. This point of view was not entirely disagreeable to me, since Curro, who, when awake, was always in the foulest of moods, certainly was no friend of mine; nor did he contribute anything to the peace of my neighborhood. Nevertheless, his comings and goings were as regular in my world as were the rising and setting of the sun.
Dolores seemed to be thoroughly cowed by Milagros's ravings and threats that she would be thrown out into the street. She seldom raised her voice during these tirades, but, as is often the case in such personalities, she vented all her fury on me and other hapless creatures who inadvertently wandered her way. I have seen her wield her mop and broom like deadly weapons. And once, at a later time, when I was desperately trying to protect one of my more adventurous kittens from her clutches, she managed, by some mysterious stroke of evil luck, to grab hold of me and fling me as far as she could. Though I managed to land on my feet, still this forced flight through the air struck such terror into my heart that forever after I have been unable to tolerate being picked up and held by even the most gentle and loving of humans.
Coupled with my terror of the moment was my frantic fear for the safety of my kitten, which emotion emboldened me to the point of returning immediately to the scene of the crime. I was determined to rescue my offspring, who had been cornered by Dolores and was piteously meowing, her courage having failed her completely. With no thought for myself, I jumped, hissed, and puffed myself up in my most menacing manner, making sure I was positioned between her and my precious child. I think she must have realized that I meant business, because after receiving some scratches from my claws on her arm as she tried to grab my kitten, she turned and walked away with an enraged look in my direction, which I coldly returned.
Needless to say, I made certain that my kitten and I were never again in such close proximity to this wicked witch (as I described her to my little one), but all my care and protection couldn't save my daughter from the dreadful fall from a rooftop that finally took her life. At least that is what I prefer to think happened to her. Oh, bitter are the sorrows I have endured and many are the losses I have mourned! But I'm getting ahead of my story.
— 3 —
I am one who cherishes a regular pattern of daily life, though given the ups and downs of my varying circumstances, I have often found this quite difficult to achieve. You see, I need a lot of sleep in order to maintain my equilibrium, because the sleep I get is often not of the most restful variety. Due to the precariousness of my environmental conditions, I am never permitted the luxury of falling into a deep sleep. No, I must slumber with one eye partially open, as it were, always in a state of maximum alert, in case of who knows what. This was particularly true in my Albaicín days, when mostly I dozed (dare I say catnapped?) in the midst of all manner of dangers.
In sunny weather, hordes of camera toting, strange sounding people would fill the streets, making me scramble over walls, where I snoozed on ledges (I had a favorite one) or on rooftops, above the ever-present dogs who delighted in emptying our streets of all cats, and out of reach of the rocks and taunts of the children, who were a constant threat to our well-being.
Then there were the days when cracking explosions sounded, setting the dogs into a frenzy of barking howls. At other times, processions of strangely garbed humans would take over our streets to the loud beating of drums and general cacophony of sounds. To add to the horror and misery of these days and nights, the children created all manner of havoc, and sometimes the adults jumped around in a strange manner as well, making our territory quite unbearable. At such times, no self-respecting cat would show its face, though we still found ways of foraging for our daily bit of nourishment.
Still, lest I give a false impression, let me hasten to say that not all humans were bad. I have, after all, survived to tell my story, for during my periods of desperate need, somewhere would appear a bag of the food that people consider edible, with perhaps a plastic container of water nearby, put there by the merciful hand of some well-meaning soul. And, though I sometimes hate to admit it, many were the times I was grateful for such offerings. I shudder now to remember having had to resort to sampling some of the most uncatlike victuals I have ever tasted. But I did what I had to do to stay alive. And there are those of my species who still feed on such morsels of the type at which I now turn up my nose.
— 4 —
But let me go back to where I was. In rainy weather, well, you can imagine how difficult it could be to stay dry. Nobody hates getting wet more than I, unless by my own tongue. And in winter, even my fur-about couldn't compensate for the biting chill that penetrated to my very bones.
When I was not allowed in the house or when there was no one there, both of which situations account for the large majority of the time, I alternated among several different forms of shelter. There were quite a number of deserted houses, accessible through cracks in the shutters or doors, through which a cat could descend down, down to one or more streets below. These I shared with others, driven to the extremity of huddling together for warmth. Most of these houses had balconies, now in disrepair, upon which we could enjoy peering down on the streets from above. Or perhaps, if in need of inspiration, we could gaze at the graceful Alhambra Palace, which is said to be the home of many of our kind, overlooking our vicinity, with the serene Sierra Nevada mountains behind.
These sights could not, of course, take away the cold nor fill our stomachs, but the stately beauty of our surroundings served, on occasions, to dull the pains of existence.nce.
I was certainly not alone in my sufferings. In fact, there were others much less fortunate than I, for whom the job of keeping body and soul together was a full time occupation. But misery does not always love company, and I am sorry to say that I have seen my compatriots reduced to spitting and dashing at one another over a morsel of food.
I am proud to be able to hold my own when the situation requires it, as it did when some uppity new cats moved into the neighborhood, but I do not like to lower myself to the level of those they call strays.
— 5 —
You might ask why I had to endure these hardships, since I was one of the lucky ones who had a home, but everything is relative, and, in many ways, mine was a home in name only. In fact, I was not even permitted to take naps in the house except on rare occasions. Most of the time I was ignominiously shoved off of chairs, sofas, especially the bed—in fact anything appropriate to sleep on—and this usually culminated in my being ejected through the front door (there was no back one), after which I would sit as tall as my size permitted, licking myself with furious speed, in an attempt to muster whatever dignity I could salvage.
There is, you see, an unwritten law among cats, no matter to what social class we belong. That law says, in substance: Whatever befalls us cats, let it be known that we have chosen our lot. No one can cause us to do other than what we please.
I will here divulge the well-kept secret that this law exists for appearance only. No matter what tortures we are subjected to and how much pain we may be suffering (yes, we do have feelings!) I have never known any cat that would not do its utmost to counteract the impression that it had done anything other than out of free will. We will do whatever it takes to preserve our aplomb. Indeed, it is not without cause that one of the world's noblest and most highly advanced civilizations, the Egyptians, held us in such high regard, in fact considered us divine. But I'm wandering again.
— 6 —
I am aware that my narrative is not unfolding in a very orderly fashion. The problem is that the memories flit about in my mind, like the strange bat-like birds that dive and circle in the summer sky at dusk. In contrast to the long peaceful twilights I now enjoy on the terrace four stories high, that I alone rule, my youth in the Albaicín seems remote. It's not that I'm over-the-hill yet or ready to give-up-the-ghost, but my life has changed so drastically since then that I sometimes feel like a different being altogether.
But to go back in time, to the house with the parsleyed door I called home, there came a day when my mistress disappeared, parsley and all, never to be seen in our neighborhood again. When this happened, I and my previous housemates were left to the mercies of chance. I must say that at the time it seemed as though the world had come to an end. To be abandoned was the worst fate that could befall a cat. Better indeed to have never had a home, I lamented, than to lose the security to which I had become accustomed of semi-regular meals and a sort of roof over my head—and at such a time! For, in full tribute to the name I was later given, I was beginning to bulge. Or, to put it more euphemistically, I was expecting.
— 7 —
Let me here digress a bit in order to describe certain facets of street life which now pervaded my existence.
There was a definite hierarchy in our society, some aspects of which had to do with seniority, others with size and aesthetics, and others with sheer force of personality. It was during these times that I was courted by quite a variety of Tom-cats, which I must say, all modesty aside, was quite exceptional, given the competition I had in this area.
I here confess that there were certain seasons of the year when these loud, raucous, show-offy, huge-headed, generally obnoxious brutes were absolutely irresistible to me. I will leave it to those who spend their lives exploring the mysteries of the world to reveal the reasons for this otherwise inexplicable phenomenon. Suffice it to say, that at certain times I was drawn to the streets as though by an all-powerful magnet, and the nocturnal wailing of the Toms was the sweetest music ever to me. Further, I am embarrassed to admit, during these periods I myself was inconsolable until I had submitted to their bites and mounting embraces; and, in between, I wanted nothing to do with them at all. Ah fickle are the forces of Nature!
— 8 —
I stayed in my vicinity as a matter of course (Where else was I to go?) and watched and waited for signs of new occupants in my house. They were not long in coming; this time there were four people with, horror of all horrors, two small children.
Their main means of communication was a system of strange guttural sounds, the likes of which I had only heard now and again from an odd passerby.
But my major concern was what their attitude would be toward me, especially given my delicate condition. This turned out to be one of a minimum form of tolerance, coupled with, I thankfully add, the remains of their lunches and dinners, which appeared at regular intervals in the street, and to which I forcefully made claim.
However, I was no longer permitted to enter the house at all. This seemed to me a mixed blessing, since I have no doubt it would have been extremely unwise for me and my young to try to inhabit the same house with their children. Thus I was saved from the effort of attempting the impossible.