Who is Chuck and why does he like to travel?

I was born to be a writer and when I wrote my novel Wild Point Island, Chuck, my orange and white recently rescued feral tabby, got it in his head that he wanted to travel to the island and see the place for himself. Well, of course, Wild Point Island, can only be seen by revenants (you'll have to read the book to find out who they are) and Chuck is no revenant so instead, I concocted a plan to take Chuck with me when I travel around the world, which I do frequently. Not an easy task. First, I have to deflate the poor kid of all air, stuff him in my carry-on bag, remember to bring my portable pump, and when I arrive, I pump him back up. Ouch. But he's used to it by now and given the choice to either stay home in his comfy cat bed or get deflated, he pulls out his passport, ready to travel, every time.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Chuck Eyes the Bikini Girls at the Villa

How does a cat gain the reputation of being a rascal?

It can easily happen when it has something to do with bikini girls.

I am often amazed at what Chuck knows and yet pretends not to know--when directly quizzed. For example.

In the middle of Sicily, in the middle of a green valley, sits a Roman villa by the name of Casale near a town called Piazza Armerina. This villa has 63 rooms and some believe it was originally designed as an imperial hunting palace, outfitted with an intricate heating and cooling system, indoor plumbing, swimming pool and 42 colorful floors of mosaic tiles estimated to have taken 21,000 days of work (if it’s true that a worker needs six days to complete a square meter of mosaic tile.)

Now you might be thinking--so? I am sure that Sicily is chock filled with villas, but this villa is special. Why?

Well, for one thing the floor tiles in this villa depict scenes from a lifestyle that no longer exists--a very comfortable middle class Roman family life of over 1500 years ago--and the only reason the villa still survives today is that it was destroyed by an earthquake and then covered (and thus preserved) by a landslide.

The earthquake occurred somewhere around 346 AD. The landslide in 1161 AD.

Chuckie decided--when we were in Sicily--that he wanted to see this villa. Was it because it was recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site? Was it because it was considered a “famous archaeological site of cultural tourism”?

When I mentioned these facts, of course, the Chuckster nodded in agreement, a kind of yah, yah, yah. But I know Chuckie. I know how he thinks.

It seems that the truth was a lot more interesting. Chuckie had seen somewhere, I suspect on the History Channel, that this villa had a floor mosaic of BIKINI GIRLS, and he wanted to see those girls for himself.

Now, we’re not talking Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, but we are talking about a mosaic that depicted women in bikini bathingsuits that went back over fifteen hundred years ago. Could it be true?

The security at The Roman Villa of Casale is very strict. Several years ago tourists were allowed to wander from room to room and actually throw water on the tile floors so they could more clearly see the mosaic tiles which sprung to seeming life when the outer layer of what appeared to be dust was washed away. One day a tourist threw acid, not water, on one of the floors--irreparably destroying that particular floor--so tourists are no longer allowed to throw anything down on the floor. As one wanders from room to room, it is difficult to imagine what the floors must have looked like so many years ago.

Chuck and I kept a very low profile. Luckily, we arrived toward the end of the day. It was in November and as we began to lose the sun, I figured it would be easier for Chuck to peer out of my backpack, where he was hiding, and catch a glimpse of tile floor he wanted the most to see without being seen himself. I was nervous that if one of the Italian guards spotted us, we would be booted off the villa’s property.

Finally, we made it into the Bikini Girl Room, one of the rooms which surrounded the built in swimming pool area that was in the center of the villa. For a moment we were alone. Chuck popped his head out and snuck a peek at the mosaic floor. He remained absolutely still, and I could tell he was impressed.

“There they are, Chuck,” I said. “The bikini girls. Over 1,500 years old.”

He pointed to the girl in the red suit. She was obviously his favorite.

Just as I was snapping the photo as a keepsake, I heard noise from the hallway. A guard appeared. “Signora. Signora.”

It was easy to tell by the frown on his face and the multitude of hand motions that he was ushering me--I mean “us” out of the room.

Luckily, Chuck had ducked back under cover.

As we sauntered outside, I listened for the usual purring that I expected to hear--but this time there was no purr, only a kind of snore.

The kid was already in “dream land,” no doubt, sunbathing on some Italian beach somewhere, flanked on either side by the BIKINI GIRLS.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chuck Pays Tribute to the Cyclops

In some ways cats are like little boys. When Chuck first heard about the Cyclops--that mythical creature who captured Ulysses and trapped him in a cave until he devised a way to escape--my rascal cat became enthralled with the idea of a Cyclops. He wanted to know more. He wanted to see a real Cyclops. And when I explained that Cyclops didn’t exist anymore--that he was part of ancient lore--he wanted to see where he had lived.

Which meant that after we trekked up Mt. Etna to see the flowing lava underneath the earth, we took a side trip to a small but beautiful town called Accitrezza in Sicily. According to myth, this is where the Cyclops lived. Near the sea. This is where Ulysses met him and this is where the cave sat where Ulysses was imprisoned.

Chuck knew the entire story.

He’d heard the tale of the Cyclops, the creature who had only one eye in the middle of his head. He knew that Ulysses and his men had finally escaped imprisonment by flinging rocks at that eye and blinding the Cyclops. That’s why we had traveled to Accitrezza--to see the boulders in the sea--the same boulders that Ulysses and his men had thrown on that fateful day when they had hurled them through the air at the Cyclops and regained their freedom.

When Chuck and I arrived on the spot, we stood there in awe and fascination. Sure enough, if you stand on the shore’s edge, you can clearly see the boulders. Thousands of years later, you can still see them resting there as a testament to the cunning and the brute strength of Ulysses’ men.

“Okay, then,” I said to the Chuckster. “Now you’ve seen the boulders. You know the story. I know you’re impressed. What do you say to a nice gelato at that store over there.” I pointed behind us to a nice mom and pop gelateria.

But Chuck did not glance behind. He waited, perched like a bird on a rock, staring into the sea, at those boulders.

This was not a good sign.

I know the Chuckster.

When he puts his mind to something, he is rarely dissuaded.

“What is it, Chuck?”

Now, of course, cats can’t talk, but this cat of mine always seems to find a way to let me know exactly what he wants. I crouched next to him and followed his line of sight. He was staring directly at those boulders. That’s when I felt sick. I had to hope he wasn’t thinking that he could somehow leap onto one of those treacherous rocks. For what reason, I didn’t know, but it was such a Chuck thing to do.

And sure enough, the moment the thought popped into my head, I could see his hind legs bounce as if that was exactly what he was thinking.

“NO!” No, you don”t, I thought as I grabbed hold of him. If he jumped out there, all I could imagine was him being swept away by a wave and that would be the end of Chuck and my weekly blogging.

When I reached hold of him, I seemed to break him out of some kind of trance. Or did I break him out of the siren’s call?

Chuck meowed.

I held him close.

“Let’s go get that gelato,” I finally said.

Later that evening, back in our hotel, I caught Chuck in his usual meditative position--on his back, his paws curled forward, eyes closed, but just as I went to snap the photo, his eyes shot open.

What was he thinking about--Ulysses and the Cyclops?

Poor Chuck.

The kid needs more adventure in his life . . . or more girls.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chuck Falls In Love

I have never tried to deny the truth--Chuck has always had an eye for the ladies.

As we’ve traveled around the world, he’s noticed the beautiful girls and CATS wherever we’ve gone.

He’s quite a flirt when he wants to be.

A cat about town.

So I shouldn’t have been that surprised when I realized that Chuckie had fallen in love with a cute little number who lives at a privately owned cat shelter that I volunteer at on Fridays.

Now just to be purrfectly clear.

Chuck is not the volunteer cat type.

He is much too busy traversing the country and the world and when he’s home, he likes to stay put and eat and sleep. We don’t call him the “belly boy” for nothing. But . . . part of my volunteering includes writing about some of the cats who live at Tabby’s Place, a wonderful organization for cats located in New Jersey.

One of those cats just happens to be a beautiful girl named Chickadee. I’d taken a few photos of her and brought them home with me.

And . . . Chuck had noticed.

Yeah, I had caught him actually staring at her pic on my computer screen.

“What’s up, Chuck?” I asked him one evening.

And, of course, he pretended to be staring off into space, because the rascal cat is often evasive and sometimes uncooperative, especially when it comes to his personal life.

I ignored his attempts to ignore me and plowed along. “This is Chickadee.”

I saw his ears perk up at the name. He couldn’t help but focus in to get a better look.

“Is that your tail wagging?” I asked.

The tail immediately stopped wagging.

But I knew the score and could see that Chuck was falling fast for Chickadee.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, and me being the incurable romantic I am, I had an instant idea.

“Chuck, why not send her a valentine. Let her know how you feel? I have just the one here.” I showed him a cute valentine I had just bought at Hallmark. It had the picture of an orange and white cat that looked remarkably like him on the cover, with an arrow shot through his little cat heart.

It didn’t take that much persuading for the Chuckster to put his pawprint inside. For good measure, I included a photo of him inside the valentine so she could catch of glimpse of just how cute he was!

Well, the days went by. Valentine’s Day came and went. Chickadee got the valentine from Chuck, and Chuck checked the mailbox everyday as if he hoped she would respond. But she didn’t.

Finally, I felt as if I should say something to him.

“Chuck, about Chickadee. I don’t think she’s interested in you.”

He cocked his head to the side and looked a bit confused.

“Chickadee. I’m talking about Chickadee.”

He shrugged.

It seems he was already over her and had set his sights on someone new.

You see I write for two cats at Tabby’s Place and little did I realize but Chuck was now checking out the other beautiful cat. Her name is Colleen, and her eyes were just as green as Chickadee’s.

I guess I should have been happy that the Chuckster’s heart wasn’t broken, but I couldn’t keep myself from saying, “Next time you can buy your own valentine to send her.”

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Chuck Watches the Lava Flow

I should have known that when Chuck started watching the History Channel, we were all going to be in trouble.

Fast forward. We are in Sicily on the Taormina side, and if you know anything about Sicily, you know that they have an active volcano that seems to be forever erupting--Mt. Etna.

Now, relax, they tell me, because there is no chance of a full-fledged eruption like the one they had back in the 1600’s when the lava flowed down for thirteen years straight, reached all the way to the town of Catania, completely destroying it, and well . . . you can imagine the rest of the story.

These eruptions--which occur practically on a nightly basis--are baby eruptions. And, I have to admit, when we stayed at the Villa Diadora, we would go up to the rooftop at night and gaze over in the direction of Mt. Etna and watch the lava flowing down the mountain. Pretty cool sight.

But Chuckie wasn’t content to watch the lava from afar.

He wanted to see the lava close up.

And, yes, it was possible. But you needed to get to the top of the mountain.

Were we crazy??

First, we boarded a bus which could only take us so far. Then we hopped on a cable car, the kind people board who plan to go skiing, and up we went--higher and higher. Now, at this time, Chuckie had his eyes plastered shut, because if you read my blog faithfully, you know my rascal cat has some trouble with heights--does anyone remember the Eifle Tower incident?
Finally, we climbed into an all terrain vehicle which proceeded even further up the mountain.

When we arrived, we were assaulted by the terrible odor of rotten eggs.

But we weren’t there yet. Oh, no. We had to hike for another 25 minutes across what appeared to be a moon scape. We were hiking across a wind blown, freezing landscape, covered with lava which had hardened.

Finally, we reached the spot. A crack in the earth where we could peer down and see FLOWING LAVA INSIDE THE EARTH.

Now the earth beneath our feet was like black glass.

“Be careful,” they said to us in Italian. “If you fall, you will cut your hands.”

Ha. That was the least of our problems.

The crack in the earth was located on a precipice, which you had to climb to the top of in order to see anything.

When it was my turn to peer over and look down into the hole, there I was, camera in one hand, CAT peering over my shoulder, and one too casual Italian Mt. Etna worker grasping my other hand, as I leaned over and tried to snap a photo.

The heat from the hole was so intense, my make-up melted off my face.

The surface of the earth was like black glass.

The whiskers on Chuckie’s face were singed.

For one horrible moment, I imagined everything going wrong--dropping my camera into the pit, dropping my CAT into the pit, slipping into the pit MYSELF.

As I stumbled away from the cauldron, I slipped, of course, and my hands smacked against the black glass-like ground. Ouch. Blood ooozed out.

But this time I couldn’t blame the Chuckster.

Yeah, he had egged me on to see the flowing lava, but the sight of that red hot liquid mass flowing along, inside the earth, was breathtaking.

As we tramped back to the all terrain vehicle, Chuckie snuggled close to me, and I knew what he was trying to say--this trip had made up for that other one--where I had tried to ply the kid with a bit of culture--you know, the Vincent Van Gogh semi-tour/almost cemetery one.

Oh, yeah and even I had to admit--this was way cooler!