Italian Life is “The Cat’s Meow”

This is the story of Francesca and Oscar, our two cats, and how I imagine they view their lives in Italy. Oscar is an Italian native, Francesca is an American transplant, and they have distinctively different personalities. But, at the end of the day, I think they would both say that Italian life is “the cat’s meow”.

Oscar is almost 3 1/2 years old. Born in the hills of Umbria, to a feral mother, we gave him a decidedly un-Italian name because it fit his unique, mischievous personality. But, he has decidedly Italian traits and preferences.

For starters, he communicates passionately. He just puts it all “out there”, and doesn’t brood. He is very direct and clear about what he wants. I’ve never had a cat who vocalizes with so much emotion. (Read more about cat vocalizations in this online article from Catster).

Oscar also uses his hands to communicate. For Italians, the hands are almost as important as the mouth in fully expressing oneself. Oscars stands on his hind legs and whips his paws up and down the surface of a closet, door, or a window, to let you know he expects your attention (while also expressing his displeasure that you would dare to be otherwise engaged). In the kitchen he artfully employs his little cat hands to snatch his favorite foods. Tops on his list is arugula.

Oscar makes himself at home in a sea of pomodori.

Oscar makes himself at home in a sea of pomodori.

Yes, arugula. His wild, greedy nature comes out whenever he sniffs the presence of arugula. It’s a real head-scratcher. You would think he was eating the treat to end all other treats.

He also loves other salad greens, and he loves to nestle himself in my summer harvest of tomatoes (pomodori).

Life in most Italian households centers around the dining table and the kitchen. Oscar loves to camp out in both places. It is as though he is watching and studying to be the next Italian Master Chef. I’ve given up on banishing him from the kitchen. He is just too intent on being part of the action.

Read More
Francesa and Brother Oscar

Announcing the Winning Post Ideas for Italywise

I’ve been blown away by the quality of all of your blog post idea submissions. You’ve prodded my brain, and my heart, to step aside from normal perspectives. Thank you.

Choosing just two winners was next to impossible. Here they are:

Italy through the eyes of our cats.

Here’s what Laurie submitted:

“How about something from the perspective of your pets? Are they watchful out the window and what do they see? Do they have an italian diet? Do they meow in Italian? Do they like prosecco? How does caring for a pet there differ than u.s.? What do you have to know to get a pet from the u.s. into Italy?”

I’m going to have a blast with this one, since Francesca (California born and transported to a life in Italy) and Oscar (Italy born – in the hills of Umbria) are full of personality, and I have spent countless hours observing them, their behaviors, and learning what fascinates them. How do they experience Italy?

Momma Liz and my painting, Clairty

Momma Liz and my painting, Clarity

Learning to “see” the world differently, as influenced by my artist mentor, Momma Liz

Here’s what Anita submitted:

“Hi Mr Jed! I have an idea! I know growing up as a daughter of an artist my life was much different than the average person. Looking through their eyes was so interesting and beautiful.  A for instance – I was leaning over my dads shoulder in the car 7 years old. My father commented about an older woman crossing the street. He said “look at her face”, her face is a road map – the lines and wrinkles she had a hard life! He saw what most people never cared to see!! Az.”

While the other winner invites me into a flight of fantasy by looking at Italy as if I were a cat, this idea resonates with me on a deeply personal level. We all look at the world uniquely, and different things fascinate us. Those of you who had the good fortunate to know, and/or be taught by my dear Momma Liz – you understand how she had an uncanny ability to help you see the world the world through a different lens, and to find your own artistic voice. I will feel honored to give tribute to this amazing woman, as I also tell my story of why I choose to paint and photograph the subjects I choose.

In closing, I again offer my deepest thanks for all your entries, and for giving your ideas such careful and creative attention.

The Ebb and Flow of the Feral Cats of Italy

During a Thanksgiving trip to Italy several year ago, this was the scene that greeted my friend Nicole and me upon rising the first morning. That's Oscar's mom left to the center (tawny with the green eyes) before she embarked upon a life of pregnancy after pregnancy.

During a Thanksgiving trip to Italy several year ago, this was the scene that greeted my friend Nicole and me upon rising the first morning. That’s Oscar’s mom left to the center (brownish grey fur with the green eyes) before she embarked upon a life of pregnancy after pregnancy.

On a sunny Saturday February afternoon in the hills of Umbria, my next door neighbor Amalia and I have followed Micia, the mother of all mother cats, from inside Amalia’s house, where she has been resting (even though she is a feral cat) contentedly by a nice fire. Micia is now in the middle of the gravel drive, yowling in “those” tones. The sounds are desperate, insistent, and deeply disturbing. Yes, this is her provocative mating call.

Two tom cats we’ve not seen before in our little hamlet have heard the call and are circling Micia in the driveway. Both are tabbies. One has grey tones with a white chest, the other is a ginger boy. Micia continues her call, and the grey fella moves in, bites the back of her neck, and the “act” is soon completed. Yuck. Cat sex is never pretty. I’m disgusted with myself for even watching. Amalia and I look at each, shake our heads and start calculating when to be on the lookout for this new litter. Let’s see, 65 days from now takes us into the middle of April. At least the bitter cold will be past, and the kittens will have a fighting chance.

And so the cycle keeps going. Even though I remember when Micia was just a kitten about five years ago, I’m sure she already has had at least eight or nine litters of kittens. Last year she had back-to-back pregnancies, with barely three months in between (the second litter of four died because she couldn’t produce milk). After this upcoming litter we know we need to talk to a local vet who volunteers to neuter feral cats – especially in a community of cats that can and does occasionally get out of hand. When our feline population has boomed a couple of times, weather, other wild animals, and an occasional car speeding along our tiny road have knocked back the population. Even so, we always become attached to these wonderfully entertaining personalities. We all feed then (hence the “camp” outside my front door in the attached photo). They keep the rodents and snakes at bay and we all get along famously, in spite of their using the gravel path and sitting area in front of our house as one giant litter box. It’s never fun to have guests over, sitting in the garden admiring the view, and unearthing a cat turd while inadvertently repositioning one’s foot. Again, yuck.

Read More

A Cat’s Journey to Italy

Francesca, a California girl, made the long trip to Italy with flying colors.

Francesca, a California girl, made the long trip to Italy with flying colors, in spite of my anticipating otherwise.

One of the many considerations and practicalities you will need to tackle when planning the logistics of your to Italy is the relocation of your pets. If you’re really going to pull the trigger on either a long term stay in Italy, or a permanent relocation, you’ll have to do your due diligence in getting this figured out. Our cat’s journey to Italy was an adventure that began with extreme paranoia on my part….

Francesca is a feline beauty. Rescued from an animal shelter when she was 2 1/2 years old, Francesca came home to my apartment with “issues” – meaning she was 90% sweet, adorable, and loving. The other 10% was pure, wildcard craziness and unpredictability. I enjoyed my many nights of her cuddling up next to me. Such periods of togetherness kept luring me into a false security of a devoted “daughter” who would never hurt me. And, then she would “turn” at a moment’s notice, leaving me with deep bite marks or scratches…and usually a parting hiss, as if to underscore her sudden bad mood, and to remind me that I could never, ever, really let down my guard.

I share this so you can understand why I began losing sleep as the day approached that I would have to put her on a plane with me. Sure, there the were necessary examinations, approvals and paperwork, but what I feared most was how I would get her through almost 24 hours of travel, from door-to-door, without needing plastic surgery to repair my shredded flesh. And, then there were the fears regarding my fellow passengers. My nerves are usually shot fairly quickly in the vicinity of a screaming baby on board. I could only imagine the impact on fellow travelers of a yowling cat.

Can you tell I was building a huge horror film in my head?

Let’s set all of that aside, for now, and talk about the logistics of taking a pet to Italy…

Read More