Fellini and Felines: Italian Obsessions

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.

Someone is going to pay for this

Someone is going to pay for this

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.

Just to be clear, your job is to make me happy.

Just to be clear, your job is to make me happy.


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.

I'm nit fat, I'm big boned.

I’m not fat, I’m big-boned.


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.

Do you have anything that needs taken apart?

Do you have anything that needs taken apart?

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.



15 May , 2015 at 3:49 pm

Hello Scott - am following up on our conversation of 30-06-2014. Our house is under agreement and we're frantically making arrangements for our long-planned move to Puglia. Just wondering how you 'staged' yourselves before finding a home. We intend to rent an apartment while looking for a house to buy. Did you rent an apartment first in Puglia? If so, did you do this online from the US? Did having a cat pose a problem renting? What about driving? Did you use your US license or int'l drivers license? Did you buy or rent a car? I have dual citizenship and that will help make things easier; but these first things upon landing have me wondering about how others before me have dealt with these issues? Love the blog and the spirit you share with readers. Best, Tom

Thomas Weikle

7 July , 2014 at 3:26 pm

I cannot express enough how much I appreciate this information. I have been tackling questions and issues one by one in prep for the move. This one question about transferring money for a home purchase never got answered adequately until now. I am aware of the banking problems with US accounts. The US is placing a big burden on everyday expats to the point where some banks, not wanting to comply with extra paperwork (hmm, I thought Italians were experts at this), are simply not opening accounts for Americans. I have dual citizenship and that may help me open an account, but gives me no privileges with the US in reporting the existence of the account -- especially when the balance goes over $10,000. That's not a worry for me; I do that in the States now. Your detailed response will be saved in my vast Italy Resources file to draw upon later to good advantage. I very much appreciate your kindness and generosity of spirit. How wonderful that you may visit the Milazzos at the studio in Martina Franca. Vincenzo speaks little English, Grazia a bit more, and their son (if he is there) is fluent. They are truly the best.


5 July , 2014 at 9:28 pm

Good info. Thanks much, Scott. Will look into Bliss. Yesterday I read all your posts over the past two years and enjoyed the stories and adventures immensely. You're a good writer and your posts read better than Frances Mayes, for sure. One of the posts indicated that you used a money exchange service to wire funds to Italy for a house purchase. I certainly want to receive a favorable exchange rate and reasonable fees for the transfer itself when I find a house in Puglia. Since I will be paying cash for my new home, this will be a significant sum. Would you be willing to share the name of the company you used? I will be looking for a house in the Val d'Itria as well. I love the area near Martina Franca which of course includes Cisternino. My Italian friends, Vincenzo, Grazia and their son Michele live in the centro storico of Martina Franca. Vincenzo Milazzo is a fairly well known artist who paints characteristic Puglian folk scenes in reverse on glass. His studio, La Lanterna, is a short distance from the Basilica di San Martino. My house in Boston is now on the market and I hope it sells soon so that I can start my own Italian adventure. Your blog has been most instructive -- especially since you are living the life in my favorite region of Italy. Best regards, Tom.


7 July , 2014 at 12:44 pm

Thanks so much for the kind words, Tom. The blog has been a labor of love and there is certainly no lack of fodder to feed it. What a great coincidence that you are looking at the Valle d'Itria. I hope your house in Boston sells quickly and that you find yourself here soon. I'm happy to give you the benefit of our education into how best (and least expensively) to convert dollars into euros. Having bought two properties here, we know how erosive a mistake in moving money from one currency to another can be. Here is what I recommend: You should open an account with a foreign exchange/currency trading group called OANDA. The process is a bit challenging due to governmental money laundering concerns but, once you have an account opened, you can have your US bank wire funds into your OANDA account. Once there, you can open sub-accounts, one in dollars and one in euros, and transfer money from one sub-account into the other thereby converting from one currency to the other. The rate is about as good as you can find and is based on the instant's market rate. In fact, if you wait more than 5 seconds to execute the transfer, you have to refresh the rate as it changes that frequently. The next step (and one you can't really take until you are physically in Italy), is to open an Italian bank account. This is the account into which you will wire your OANDA euro-sub-account funds when you need them. Due to the US IRS recent incursion into foreign banks who may assist Americans in hiding money from them, many Italian banks will no longer accept American clients. The one we use and I would recommend is Banco Medilanum based in Milan. All transactions are done on-line, but there is a representative of the bank here in Puglia, if we need him. They have entered into a treaty with the IRS which means that opening the account will be a real pain but, once you've done it, you're set up to convert dollars from the US, convert them to euros at the lowest cost, and get them into your Italian bank account. I hope this helps and would certainly be happy to make introductions to Raffaelle (from Banco Mediolanum) and to our real estate agents, Francesco and Colleen. And, the next time we're in Martina, we'll try to find Vincenzo at La Lanterna. I'd love to see his work. Stay in touch and please feel free to check in on any other issues. And, once again, thanks for following along with the blog. Perhaps, when your friends ask you what possesses you to move to Puglia, you can suggest that they check out The Soul of the Heel. Maybe then they'll understand. Hopefully, the novel version will be finished by the end of the year. All the best and ci vediamo a presto. Scott


4 July , 2014 at 9:15 pm

Would love to know a bit about the prep involved in transporting your cat to Italy. After retiring a few years earlier than expected and after making many trips to Puglia through the years, I will be Puglia bound once the house sells here in Boston. I want to have my cat with me in the cabin. Is this what you did? What airlines are best for this? Did a vet recommend sedation? Getting this right will relieve a bit or worry about my feline friend. Thanks, Tom


5 July , 2014 at 2:28 pm

Hello, Tom. Thanks for checking in on the blog. And I'm so glad to hear that you'll be joining us in Puglia one of these days soon. The process of getting Shakespeare here started with finding a good pet relocation service provider. I realized that I needed help after finding that there was no airline that I could find that would (1) transport a pet from the US to either Bari or Brindisi or (2) allow a pet in the cabin on an international flight. That left me with hiring a company to arrange to put him on a plane in the special cargo hold of a United plane, collect him in Rome and clear him through customs, and then put him on an Alitalia flight to Brindisi. The name of the firm I used is Bliss Pet Relocation based in Rome. I highly recommend them. As soon as Shakespeare landed in Rome, they sent me a photo of him showing him to be alive and well, if not a bit pissed off. They also guided me through the paperwork process that included a vet health form which requires the confirmation of the USDA. Timing is important as the USDA authorization has to be dated within a few days of your pet's flight. Fortunately, my vet had been through this process on several occasions and was able to help move things along. Just an FYI: the total cost to move Shakespeare to Italy ended up being about $2,000. I hope this helps a bit. Please feel free to ask any additional questions you may have and, if you want some additional information on what it's like for an American to move to Puglia, check out the rest of the blog. And, buona fortuna. Scott


30 June , 2014 at 7:19 am

Hi: I am an American who lives in the NW(Seattle area). I am coming to Puglia for about 1 week in early July. I will be staying in Lecce and have heard mixed reviews about the area, and now I am getting a bit nervous because my Italian is non existent. I have been trying to learn some key phrases, but i am running out of time. I haven't been to Italy in over 10 years and was much farther North last time. I have a friend who lives in the area, but I did not want to depend on him much because he will be working most of the time i am there. I've read up a lot on the Salenta region and am hoping I can get around by rail without renting a vehicle. What places would you recommend for a first time visitor. I am hoping to get to Trujillo, Otranto, Brandisi and ....

Col. R. J. Sule

14 May , 2014 at 4:16 am

Really enjoy every word of these clever posts. I learn a bit more about Italy with every chapter of your iadventure. Good on you Scott, good on you.


15 May , 2014 at 1:25 pm

Thanks so much for the kind words, Colonel. I'm having a great time sharing the stories and, if they lighten up someone's day, I couldn't ask for more. I'll keep them coming and hope to finish the book version by the end of the year. Stay tuned.

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