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February 4, 2014

Animal House


It's never peaceful when you live right next door to six young, boisterous neighbors who are prone to mischief. It's probably worse when they are squatters in a crumbling abandoned space. But that's what my family dealt with last summer in a small city in Italy. Night time was when they did the most fooling around.

When we moved in, an odd looking woman was delivering food to the clowder, on their steps. (Clowder is the official term used for a group of cats or kittens—like a pride is a group of lions, and gaggle is bunch of geese.) Did I mention that it was stray cats living next door? Cute, huh? Not so much. It was a family, actually—I think a single-parent family—a mother and her six kittens.

They weren't friendly neighbors. They never engaged with us, no matter how hard my wife and sons tried. The cats would spend their long days sunning themselves on our front stairs, and lounging in our window planter, newly stocked with basil plants. It would all seem charming, I guess, except that every time we came and went, they scurried in the most dangerous ways. Worst of all was what happened every night. We lived in an ancient home—one of a row of stone buildings from the middle ages, all connected. Every night, as I lay in bed, the kittens would chase each other in our ceiling. Somehow, they could get between the floors in our house, and because the ceiling was so low, medieval style, it felt like the kitties were scampering, scratching, skidding and screaming on my skull. 

One time, when my wife and one of the kittens surprised each other at the top of our steep, ten-step staircase, the little cat leaped to a most ugly fall on the stone ground below. We watched as the pained kitten scrambled and limped through the broken slice of the door next door. We thought for sure, that kitten was a goner, but it recovered quickly apparently. Our neighbor on the other side tried to comfort us soon after we witnessed the fall, "Ah! Don't worry! She is a cat! We have a saying here in Italy. Cats, they have seven lives!" Note to all you Italian cats out there: you might want to move to America, as here we say that cats have nine lives.