Here’s a collection of various cat-related pictures I’ve taken on my travels. First up is Ottawa, Canada, home of the cat condos. If you look at a map of Ottawa—mine is below—you may see a strange landmark. Check out the lower middle of this photo. Cat condos! Right next to Canada’s Parliament building. What are they? (Click to enlarge all photos.)
The original Parliament cats were mousers in the government building. They no longer have this job, but, thanks to lots of volunteers and Canadian good humor, a bunch of cat condominiums were built for strays, just a kibble’s throw from Parliament. When I visited a friend in Ottawa, I of course demanded to be taken there. Here’s a view; you can read more about the cats and their condos on the semiofficial blog.
Now across the pond to Dorset. I spent a week in a rented cottage, roaming the countryside and soaking up history. Dorset is of course Thomas Hardy country: his “Wessex.” There you can visit the beautiful cottage in which he was born, as well as Max Gate, the large Victorian house he built after he was famous.
Hardy loved cats. Alma Evers describes his penchant for felids:
Hardy was, however, like so many artists and intellectuals, above all a cat-lover. In the late nineteenth century, at least eight cats were living at Max Gate; in the afternoon saucers of milk were placed on the lawn for others who just came to tea. These animals were adored equally by Hardy and his first wife, Emma; this passion was shared by many of his friends. When W.B. Yeats came to give Hardy a literary gold medal, Emma talked to him throughout the whole of lunch about cats. In the last few years of her life, when relations between Emma and her husband had become very strained, their devotion to the cats remained one topic on which they could communicate with enthusiasm. His letters to her include reports of his having reimbursed a maid whose hat one of the cats had ruined and of a servant being instructed to cuddle a cat deprived of her kittens. The most attractive pictures of Hardy show him with cats. One in particular reveals him as an authentic cat-lover: an aged Hardy sits on a hard upright chair, lightly supporting himself against a comfortable armchair where a cat rests. Like Queen Victoria, the Hardys had a pets graveyard, complete with headstones, in the garden.
And indeed, you can still see the cats’ gravestones in the garden, though you have to hunt to find them. Here are the headstones of two of Hardy’s favorites: Kitsey and Snowdove. It’s said that Hardy, having stonemason skills, carved these headstones himself:
I found a copy of Tess, written in Hardy’s own hand, at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester:
Last year I did a lot of good traveling, including a visit to Guatemala to speak at the Universidad de Francisco Marroquin. I was also hosted at the Finca de Los Andes, a coffee farm/nature reserve owned by one of the University officials. Here, after a hard day of observing quetzals, I’m relaxing with a drink and the resident cat Oreo. Life doesn’t get any better than this.
I also spoke at Groningen, in the Netherlands. It was my first trip to that country, so of course I took some time off to visit Amsterdam. And here, in the best beer bar I’ve ever visited—Gollum—I quaffed fine Belgian ale and petted the resident cat Sloopy. The bar was closed, but I looked so pathetic peering through the window that they let me in an hour before opening. Sloopy and I had the bar to ourselves.
I collaborate with and visit colleagues at the University of Vigo in Spain. On one of my trips I made a nonreligious pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. There I found an exhibit about a Spanish writer. I don’t read Spanish well, but was fascinated by the photographs. This writer obviously loved cats, and I took a picture of a picture. This is one of my favorite photos of human + cat. Sadly, I’ve forgotten who this writer was, and I can’t find him by Google-imaging, but I’m sure one of you will inform us.
UPDATE: Alert reader Luis (see comments) has identified this as Julio Cortázar, born in Argentina.
Finally, just because I came across this while searching for cat photos, here’s my father, Floyd P. Coyne, with Sophia Loren on the Acropolis in Athens, 1956. She was 22 at the time. That’s dad to Sophia’s right. Check out the kitteh at lower right. If you’re good, some day I’ll tell you the story behind this.
Okay, I had the kitteh Photoshopped, but the rest of the story, and the photo, is real.