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, October 28, 2012

Chuck In Sicily - Becomes Sicilian Style Tuna Fish

The hotel where we stayed which was once a tuna factory

          After a short respite at home, Sicily beckoned.
       When you think of Sicily, especially if you are a “fan” of the Godfather movies or if you watched the recent phenomena on HBO--The Sopranos--you may equate Sicily and the capital city--Palermo--with the Mafia, and it’s true that Sicily has a long and not so pretty record of Mafia involvement, partially owing (I think) to its poor economy over the years and the desperation of the people to survive.
        Or, perhaps, when you think of Sicily you think of the fancy resort-like cities of Taormina on the eastern side where thousands of visitors flock for the sun and shopping and food.
        But the “rascal cat” and I wanted to see another side of Sicily. We’d heard that Sicily was also the home of ancient villages and caves and medieval towns and bell towers and salt roads and windmills. (No, we didn’t expect to veer off course and somehow land in Holland.)
        We decided to spend our first few nights outside of Palermo in a hotel located in a former tuna factory in Piazza Bonagia. Yes, you heard me correctly. We’re talking about a factory that dated back to the 1600‘s, located on the water, of course.

View of the water from the rooftop

         Better than that, John Marie, a tuna fisherman for many years, was going to explain how tuna fishing worked and how the fishermen who caught the fish--even up to now--use the oh so ancient technniques of his ancestors.

John Marie, a tuna fisherman wearing stripes, explaining the ancient ways

         I was excited because I knew that fishermen in other countries used ultra-modern techniques, but not the Sicilians.       They’ve stuck to their old ways and using an intricate system of nets and levels, they’ve managed to not only lure but trap and then kill the tuna, enough tuna for them to sell and make a living off of.
John Marie, who only spoke a Sicilian dialect of Italian, explained the process through an interpreter.

An old anchor from a tuna boat

        During May and June the fishermen use dense nets to capture the bluefin tuna in a process called “mattanza” which means “to kill.” The key to the process being successful is organization and technique. A series of nets are lowered into the ocean. The tuna are captured in successive nets which are reduced in size and raised to the surface. The fish are speared and killed. This technique requires the effort of many fishermen working cooperatively together.

One of the boats used in tuna fishing

         The fish struggle for survival, but they are no match for the fishermen’s spears. That’s the reason why the word “mattanza” also means “massacre.”
        And where was Chuck during this entire lecture? Squirreled away in my smart bag, but listening intently. Anything concerning food, especially fish, has his rapt attention. Quickly, he got the concept that the place we were staying in USED TO BE A TUNA FACTORY.
       Darn it.
       Key operative word--USED TO BE.
       Now, however, he was enthralled with the notion of how the nets caught the fish. While the other people ascended the narrow stairs to the rooftop to see the view of the water, we stayed behind because Chuck insisted on seeing the nets more closely.

John Marie on the rooftop, answering questions

       He hopped out when the coast was clear and sniffed the nets.
      And then it happened.
      Without warning, he jumped up and into the nets themselves.

A "model" to illustrate the intricate nets used to capture the tuna and CHUCK

      Whatever possessed him to do that?
       Immediately, his weight pulled the netting inward and he was completely encased inside, trapped.
       He panicked, of course, and began flailing around.
       If you know anything about cats, they like their paws on solid ground. The more he tried to get his paws down on the net, the more it swayed this way and that, and the more he struggled, and then he began to whimper.
       Of course, we tried to come to the rescue, but he was in such a panicked state that he wouldn’t be still for even a moment, and it became impossible to extricate him from the net.
       To make it worse, any minute people were going to begin coming back down from the rooftop.
      “We need organization and technique,” I whispered.
      Bob nodded. “You grab the net and open it up. I’ll grab the cat.”
      I grabbed the net.
      He grabbed the cat.
      Chuck was rescued.
      In the nick of time.
      Ten seconds later everyone began descending the stairs from the rooftop, and that was our clue to go up on the roof--just to readjust ourselves. The view was magnificent.

The view

The view of our hotel from the roof

        And if you’re wondering if the nets were damaged during the incident--no--those nets are incredibly strong. It’s conceivable Chuck could have been caught in them forever!
        The poor kid--a Sicilian style tuna fish!

To read more about Chuck and his adventures, log onto www.katelutter.com 

Wild Point Island, my paranormal romance, is now available in paperback and ebook formats at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Chuck's Big City Eats Almost on Restaurant Row

Traditional Italian Restaurant on Ninth Avenue

        As you have probably guessed by now, Chuck is no ordinary cat.  
What cat would caterwaul while watching a Broadway play in a Broadway theatre in the heart of the Big Apple just because he liked the music?
Especially since he knew he was expected to be on his best behavior.
The New York crowd expects sophistication!  So as we sauntered (rather quickly) out of Evita, I had my doubts as to whether we could put the next phase of our plan into operation--stop at one of the fabulous eateries on Restaurant Row in New York City--especially since I couldn’t guarantee that said cat would behave himself.
But I was starving, and on our way to the theatre, we’d passed a gauntlet of fabulous eating places.
No matter what you were in the mood for . . .
if you liked French cuisine, then the Marseille Restaurant was for you . . .

French Restaurant

           if you were in the mood for exotic Thai food with a vietnamese influence, then Yum Yum on the corner of 46th Street would be perfect . . .
           the Hour Glass Tavern with their famed Bettibar and their cute menu serving snacklettes and sliders and snackages and stuffed puffs was a particular favorite of Chuck’s . . .

Thai Food or American fare at the Bettibar?

            I spied Becco and remembered when we’d gone there the year before and simply loved the food and the wine and the waiter and the entire experience.  Lydia’s son Joe (yes, that Lydia, the famous chef who has the show on the Food Network) owns the restaurant and offers good Italian food at fair prices and all wine under $25.00) . . .

One of my favorites--Lydia's son Joe owns and operates

And what about an open MIC piano bar that has been a landmark for over 25 years?  I loved the name, although I have to admit I’d never heard of the place before now--Don’t Tell Mama.  And there’s a singing wait staff.  We were tempted, but then fearful that Chuck might begin to caterwaul again . . .

Open MIC piano bar and singing waiters

What about Irish food -- O’Flaherty’s popped into view . . .

I love Irish fare

And we couldn’t miss the brightly colored Via Brasil Restaurant--the eye-popping yellow and the green facade which offered traditional Brazilian dishes of meat and fish including Churrasco, a grilled meat dish . . .

The colors alone drew my eye

Was Bob (or Chuck, for that matter) in the mood for a steak?  Broadway Joe Steak House beckoned us to drop in and become part of the magic that has surrounded this restaurant since 1949.  It has been featured in several Hollywood movies and was the restaurant where Joe Namath, the famed football player, chose to hang with his buddies when his career was in full swing . . .

This place has a really interesting history . . .

But, no, we passed these restaurants by and chose instead a lesser known restaurant on Ninth Avenue called Cara Mia, a traditional Italian Restaurant with a cozy setting and great food.  The wait staff appeared to be friendly and the service appeared to be prompt.  

Our choice for dinner . . .

Things were calm.
We sat in the back and figured nothing could go wrong now, and, therefore, we became what we later realized to be “too comfortable.”

We loved the interior . . .

Chuck, who normally--at least in a restaurant setting, especially in New York (sophistication expected) remained hidden in my smart bag, but stuck his head out to look around AT EXACTLY THE WRONG MOMENT.
Our waiter, who was amazingly friendly and congenial up that point, spotted him.  He raced over to our table with a surprised look on his face. Let me rephrase that.  He raced over with a SURPRISED look on his face.
“Is that a cat?” he whispered.
Now, I recognize that he was in a difficult position.  We’d already placed our order, a very generous order -- appetizer--in fact two appetizers (we are hearty eaters), the main course -- a rather expensive entry that I’d convinced myself I just had to have--something I don’t often see offered on a menu so I jumped at the chance to have it “osso bucco.”  And he probably also figured we were going to go for the gusto and order dessert.  So, did he really want to KICK US OUT OF THE RESTAURANT IF WE ADMITTED TO HAVING A CAT? 
All of this, of course, remained unsaid.  
I smiled at his question.  “Is that a problem?” I asked.  
He narrowed his gaze at me.  “This is New York.”
I cleared my throat.  “One of my favorite cities.
“This is a sophisticated restaurant.”
“I can tell by the decor,” I said, smiling again.  “This restaurant is bellisimo.” I threw in some Italian, hoping it would help.

“We do not allow cats.”
Of course I knew that. But I remembered traveling in France where the French people were allowed to bring their dogs just about anywhere.  There never was a problem.  Why couldn’t we be more like them?  I wanted to say something like that, but I didn’t dare.  I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.  I figured--keep quiet and say nothing.  The ball was in his court.
But he didn’t say anything.
“Would you like us to leave before we’ve eaten?”
“I’m thinking,” he finally admitted.
“He is a very well behaved cat,” I lied.
At this moment anything could have happened.  I half expected Chuck, the rascal, to begin caterwauling again and expose my lie.  But he didn’t.  
Our waiter swiveled on his heel, like the way you see the professional waiters do in the movies, and he left our table.  
When he returned, moments later, he’d brought our appetizer.  
Not another word was said about Chuck.
I turned to Bob.  He shook his head.  “Entirely too much stress.”
But, still, we ate our delicious meal and left.  



Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chuck "Sings" With Evita

The Evita Poster announcing our arrival at the Marquis Theatre in NYC

               I make no secret that I’m a Jersey girl, born and bred.  And, I suppose, that Chuck, my rascal cat can be considered a Jersey boy, too.
One of the advantages of living in New Jersey--the so-called Garden State--is its proximity to New York.  Once Chuck and I returned from our trip to China, we decided to quickly undertake another perilous journey.
Where? To the BIG APPLE. The city that never sleeps.
I wanted to see the musical that everyone was talking about: Evita.  Because I’d heard that Ricky Martin was playing the part of Che, one of the main characters, and Bob and I had seen said pop singer years ago in concert in of all places--the Lisbon Zoo.  

Peron and Eva

Well, not exactly in the zoo.  The Lisbon Zoo had a kind of amphitheatre attached to it where performances were given, and it was just our luck to wander in at the exact moment one day when Ricky Martin was on stage performing one of his greatest hits--La Vida Loca.
It was an electrifying moment.  And maybe it was nostalgia, I’m not sure, but Ricky Martin was partly the draw that pulled us into the city to see Evita.  
Chuck--who is not a big fan of musicals--wanted to see Restaurant Row.
Because--you guessed it--when you saunter down Restaurant Row, you are accosted by some of the most delicous smells in all of New York City. In those few square blocks you pass a wide variety of eateries, and he’d heard stories of how fabulous the cuisine was in New York.
So . . . we compromised.  We’d see Evita and then have dinner in one of the fave restaurants.  

Walking through Restaurant Row on the way to the theatre

We rarely drive into the city.  We either take the train or the bus.  This time we caught the bus from Bloomfield and drove into the Port Authority in plenty of time for the Wednesday matinee at 2 p.m. 
It’s a short walk to the theatre, and it was quite exciting to see the large posters advertising Evita coming into view when you arrive at the theatre.  Posters used to be the best way to advertise in the theatre a hundred years ago--before television and radio and the internet.  In fact, the great Czech artists, Alphonse Mucha, launched his own career and that of stage actress Sarah Bernhardt in Paris at the turn of the century by creating posters for her in the Art Nouveau style, advertising her performance in various plays. 
Chuck hardly noticed the Evita posters, but he went bonkers for the large escalator that we rode to reach the theatre.  


Now I can imagine what you’re thinking. Are you crazy to bring a cat into a sophisticated place like a Broadway theatre?  But luckily we didn’t have the best of seats.  We were sitting towards the back of the theatre, and I was very careful to keep Chuck well hidden in my bag until the lights went down.   And for cat as jumpy as Chuck usually is, he was remarkably well-behaved.
For the first act.
Evita is all about the music.  
Don’t cry for me, Argentina.  
     I kept my promise.  Don’t keep your distance.
I can only explain what happened next--Chuck’s partial breakdown in the second act--by suggesting that, perhaps, the music got to him.  
Imagine the stage beautifully lit up, dancers twirling around, the music blaring through the theatre . . . and my rascal cat--I think this is what happened--must have gotten so excited--he began to “caterwaul” with the music. 
At first, you couldn’t hear him because the music resounded through the rather intimate setting of the theatre, but then you could . . . hear him.
“Shsh,” I said.  “No singing.  You’re not on stage.  You’re not the star.”
Immediately, he quieted down because for the moment the music stopped.  
But in Evita, one song leads into the next.  The entire play is a story set to music. So another song started and, of course, the “caterwauling” started.

The sets, the staging, the singing, the costumes--fabulous

“Chuck, did you hear me?  No singing.”
But he seemed to be a cat possessed.  
“Chuck, stop singing.”
But he couldn’t seem to keep himself from making noise.
Bob tapped me on the shoulder.  “Is that Chuck?”
“I can’t get him to stop singing.”
“I wouldn’t call that singing,” he said.
“What are we going to do?”
There were two ladies in front of us who were beginning to shift in their seat.  They were beginning to notice something.
“Snacks,” Bob said.
The magic antidote to all Chuck’s problems.
I reached into the outer pocket of my bag.  Thank God.  Temptations.  Half a bag remained.  Just in case of an emergency.  
I stuck my head into my smart bag.  “Chuck. Snacks.”
In mid note, all “caterwauling” ceased.  We were saved.
The lesson learned was: 

To read more adventures about Chuck, log onto www.katelutter. com.

Wild Point Island, my paranormal romance, is now available in ebook and paperbook formats from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Chuck Almost Drowns in the Canal

Here's a shot of the canal, the main thoroughfare through the "water town."

             Before you feel too sorry for Chuck.  Before you imagine Chuck, who could have had a wild time in Shanghai, lying face down on his bed--because he ate too many snacks--just remember that Chuck is often the cause of his own difficulties.
It’s true that the next morning we flew out of the Shanghai airport for home.  We said goodbye to China.
I neglected to mention that when we were in China, we didn’t always visit big cities--Beijing and Xian and Shanghai--we also wanted to see how the Chinese lived in smaller towns.  
      So we made a stop in a very interesting little town outside of Shanghai called Zhujiajiao, which is called the “water town” because a number of rivers intersect through the town. The town itself is over 1700 years old, but amazingly enough archaeologists have discovered artifacts dating back over 5,000 years.
This town is also known for its canals and for its 36 stone bridges that cross over the canals.  

One of the 36 historic stone bridges that cross the canal

Along the canals there are ancient rice shops, spice shops, and even a post office that dates back to the Qing dynasty.  Approximately 60,000 people live in the town.  There is also a Buddhist temple, of course. 

The Buddhist Temple

And, as you may already suspect, Chuck wasn’t interested in the history.  He wanted to see this “water town” for two reasons. 
He wanted a ride on one of the canal boats AND he’d heard there was this cool little shop along the canal that sold cat figurines and he wanted to bring something back for Ella, his sister.  

The upscale shop that sells "everything a cat lover wants"

He likes boats, and even though he can’t swim and he’s not a fan of water, he does like to “hang out,” and drift down a river.
Well, it all seemed innocent enough. The plan was simple--we’d ride down the canal in one of the canal boats, and we’d stop off at the cute little cat shop we’d heard about.  
What could go wrong?
We completely missed clue number one that could have alerted us to impending disaster.  When we arrived, we walked into the town along the street and passed a number of “merchants,” ahem, farmers who were selling their wares along the street.  In this particular case, this particular farmer had chickens for sale--live chickens--and one suspected that if you were interested in buying one for dinner, he would have either chopped its head off or strangled it right there in the street.

The "chicken man" who was on the street--that Chuck became fascinated with . . .

We didn’t see that.  This is pure speculation, but Chuck was mesmerized by the live chickens.  He didn’t want to leave.  
That was our clue that the curious boy was, maybe, a bit too curious.
When we arrived at the canal boat, we climbed in and took our seats.
      Now these are not fancy boats.  They are made of wood.  They are small and close to the water, so close in fact that you can dip your hand in if you want, and they resemble oversized canoes with a cloth stretched over the top that serves as the roof.  They are propelled by sheer human force using an oversized wooden paddle. 

A good shot of the canal boats and the oversized paddles that propel them

We set off down the canal, past the restaurants and the shops.  But Chuck was not noticing any of that.  His gaze was directed downward toward the water.  Toward the fish that were swimming up to the surface as we were meandering by.
Chuck inched closer to the side to get a better look, and frankly, I didn’t think anything of it.
I saw the fish, and remembered that when we’re at home, Chuck had impecable eyesight when it comes to spotting small flies and bugs that land on the wall or floor.  And then he won’t rest until he captures them.  

If you look carefully, you can almost see the fish that almost lured Chuck into the water

When Chuck inched even closer and bent over the side of the canal boat, an alarm should have gone off in my head--an alarm of danger--but it didn’t.  It seems a school of fish were swimming alongside the boat and popping up--ever so often--just often enough to make Chuck think that he might have a shot at grabbing one of them.
For a fat kid, he’s fast.
Then it happened.  He leaned a bit too far over.  
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a fish leap out of the water, close to the side of the boat.  Chuck leaned out to swipe at the fish.  He teetered outward, as if he were going to fall into the water.
I was sitting there, and suddenly a shiver shot down my spine.
“Chuck,” I screamed as I reached out and grabbed the nape of his neck.
As I tell it, it was just in time. 
The kid would have fallen into the canal.  
And then what would have happened?  Chuck can’t swim.  Would he and his big belly have sunk to the bottom of the canal?  Would I have been able to reach him in time to rescue him?
“No fish is worth it,” I said to him.
But it wasn’t the fish, it was the adventure.  That’s how kids are.  They want the challenge.  Chuck was not a happy camper until the boat landed.
At least now he was able to buy his sister the cutest Chinese “Good Luck” cat that she now has hanging where she sleeps at night.  

Oh, yeah, we're back home.  Here's Ella and her new "Good Luck" cat that Chuck bought for her.

And even Chuck had to admit, Zhujiajiao, the water town, was pretty cool.

      If you'd like to read more about Chuck and his adventures, log onto www.katelutter.com   

      Wild Point Island, my paranormal romance, is now available in ebook and paperback formats on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.