In Federico Fellini’s masterpiece “La Dolce Vita,” Marcello Mastroianni becomes infatuated with the gorgeous Anita Ekberg but not before she finds a stray kitten on the streets of Rome and fondles it lovingly. She follows this up with a dip in the Trevi Fountain and it’s all over for poor Marcello. This iconic scene is illustrative of my desire to somehow connect Fellini with felines and make use of alliteration in the title of this post where, otherwise, no such connection exists.
The story does, however, allow me to springboard to the subject of cats and the somewhat idiosyncratic attitude that Italians have to them. According to the ASPCA website (and I believe them), short-haired cats first appeared in Italy 2,100 years ago when the Romans experienced the Egyptian reverence for the feline. The Italians found the animal handy around the house for keeping mice and rats from the grain storage and the cats found the humans handy for keeping grain around to attract the mice and rats. It was, it seems, a very well-balanced relationship.
The deal we have struck with our cats is quite different and goes something like this: we humans will give you cats food, shelter, medical care and affection; you cats will give us humans a never-ending supply of entertainment. I can say, without reservation, that the cats have met their end of the bargain.
Of our three cats (at least the three permanent residents), Shakespeare is the elder statescat. He recently turned 10 and is the only feline member of the family with international travel under his belt, though he has expressed a clear disinterest in going abroad ever again.
Ripped away from his comfortable life as the “penthouse pussy,” Shakespeare has, in his latter years, become less tolerant of things that irritate him, namely, anything other than food, and he expresses himself uninhibitedly. He is particularly communicative with “the kids,” Caffe’ and Espressino, the little brothers he discovered he had when he arrived in Italy and was released from the plastic crate that had been home during his 20-hour trip. I guess it’s perfectly understandable, given what he had just been through, that he did not enthusiastically accept the fact that he was no longer an only-child. It has been a year now, but he continues to convey his dissatisfaction with the arrangement. Recently, in a bid to assert his machismo, Shakespeare, for the first time in his nine lives, ventured outside, something that just wasn’t practical for him to do when we lived on the 10th floor of a high-rise in downtown Pittsburgh. Now we can’t keep him in which is a problem since he’s the only cat on the block without claws. Here in Italy, they think that a cat has lost its usefulness if it can’t tear apart a varmint that could be annoying. De-clawing is so not done that, when we took Shakespeare to the veterinarian here, he thought that Shakespeare suffered from some kind of deformity.
Shortly after Jessica came here alone to live in Puglia, our friend, Francesco’s father’s cat had kittens. When she wrote to me and asked if she could adopt one of the kittens to keep her company, of course I said yes. Then she asked if she could take two kittens so that they could keep each other company. I didn’t bother doing the math. I just said yes again.
Espressino, named for a coffee drink that’s like a cappuccino except one can order one in a bar with head held high even after 11:00 in the morning, has longish hair and is the same color as his namesake drink. Jessica calls him an Ewok because he reminds her of the forest creatures in one of the Star Wars movies though I’m not sure which one because the first one was Episode 4 and I always begin at 1. Espressino, early on, showed a talent for putting on weight. He did it with the ease and grace of a Freddy Couples golf swing, never breaking a sweat. His extra bulk became an issue, however, when we disputed the vet’s conclusion that Espressino was female because he was not able to locate his testicles. When we finally had the boys snipped, the vet found his shy testes after some digging and, without charging us anything extra, removed a few layers of extra-Espressino. With his sweet personality and cuddly disposition, Espressino didn’t seem to take any offense at the suggestion that he was overly-girthed and goes on as a happy, uncomplicated being, unbothered by the merest hint of a thought.
If I awake at a time not of my choosing, you can rest assured that it is Caffe”s fault. And, when I do get up, I will likely tread on things like the money I had left on the bureau the night before, the razor that was on the sink ledge, the shirt I had hung in the closet and the cashmere sweater that was folded on the window sill. All of these things are courtesy of Caffe’ who spends the night roaming the house, looking for anything he thinks I might be interesting in stepping on in my bare feet and making sure I have the opportunity to do so. Leaner than Espressino, Caffe’ is also darker in color, sort of the color of the stone from which everything around here is made. In his affectionate moments, he curls up in our laps and purrs roundly but, most of the time, he is either looking for mischief or engaged in it.
These are our kids and, while there are three or four other felines that hang around our house and are generously fed and provided with medical care, it is the three of them that provide us with, what we call, “Kitten TV.” It is much better than cable, believe me.