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, November 25, 2012

Chuck Is Almost Caught by Ex-Nun in Pastry Shop

View of the land surrounding Erice

            I don’t pretend to be an expert in ancient history.  
But once you’ve spent a few hours in Erice, you can’t help but want to know more about how people used to live.  The place itself entices you to wander around and listen to the stories that beg to be told.  
So wander around, we did.
But first we did what every tourist does--we wandered down to the shops to see what we could buy and take back with us as a memento.  And there was one shop that caught our eye.  

The sunflower shop 
In Italy - you can not ride down a country road without passing a glorious field of sunflowers.  And by now everyone knows that sunflowers are so enchanting because they have this unique ability to open when the sun comes up and then twist their lovely faces around and follow the sun.  During the brightest part of the day, the sunflower looks magnificent in the field--especially when you are standing on the edge and gazing out over acres of them lined up--their faces, like human faces--tilted toward the sun.  As dusk descends, of course, their faces begin to droop and then close and that’s the saddest sight of all.  
But, here, in Erice, we spotted a shop devoted, it seemed, to sunflower plaques.  And that was a sight to behold!  

Sunflower plaques

Chuckie became immediately excited when he saw row after row of them outside the shop.  He admired them and sniffed them and put his paw down and demanded that we buy one as a memento to Erice.  Now that we needed to be persuaded!

More sunflower plaques
From the sunflower shop, we proceeded past one of the typical houses in Erice, where our guide pointed out how the townspeople used cow bones as a kind of gutter system to collect the fresh rain water.
Our guide pointing to the cow bones used to collect rain water

Then we visited the local church where we were hurled back in time.  As we stood and gazed around this ancient church, we learned that one of the customs in Erice was that a daughter from just about every family was “donated” to the church and became a nun.  Once they “joined” the convent, the only opportunity they had to see their family and the outside world again was from the balcony of the church.  They could look down from on high for their glimpse of the outside world.  But the exit door to return to the outside world was forever closed. 

Inside the church--notice the balconies--the only place where the cloistered nuns were allowed to see the real world

That story was the precursor for the next story we heard . . . rather a remarkable story really . . . about a young girl who was sent to the church when she was only 11 in the years following World War II because her parents were too poor to support her.  She was one of six children.  Fifteen years later she left the convent.  This is not a usual occurrence.  
This girl, Maria Grammatico, had learned to bake pastries while in the convent, and when she decided to leave, she opened up her own pastry shop in Erice.  She used the same traditional recipes she’d acquired from the convent.  Ancient recipes.  
Her pasticceria is now world famous.  

The famous pastry shop of Maria Grammatico
We, of course, were obsessed with visiting that pastry shop and sampling her pastries.  
After all, we were travelling with the “almost famous” belly boy himself--Chuck.  
The pastry shop was mobbed.  
My original intention was to let Chuck out of my smart bag, but because there were lines and lines of people waiting to order, we had to quickly revise the plan.  Instead, Chuck peeked his head out and saw the operation.  He glimpsed the famous Maria Grammatico, who still works behind the counter, greeting the customers and posing for photos. 
And that moment could have been disastrous BECAUSE I am absolutely sure that she glimpsed him too.
I saw her do a double-take.
She craned her neck forward and her eyes widened.
In her upscale pastry shop??
Fortunately for us, there were so many people, that a few very rude tourists pushed their way in front of us and blocked Maria’s line of sight.  So her momentary glimpse of Chuck became just that -- a momentary glimpse.
She probably thought she was hallucinating.
I pushed the kid back into the bag.
When the line of sight was clear again, Chuck was nowhere to be seen.
And she was looking!
We were able to snag a table outside the shop and enjoy our pastries.  
And as we snacked down, we were very conscious that we were eating the same food made the same way for hundreds of years.  
Very cool!
But before we left Erice, we had one more stop to make . . . we wanted to see the ancient castles that were still left standing . . .more next week!
        Log onto www.katelutter.com to read more about Chuck and his rascal adventures!
        My paranormal romance, Wild Point Island, is now available in ebook and mass market paperback from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Chuck Becomes Almost Mystical in Erice

Erice--spectacular views as we travel up the mountain

          Chuck, my rascal cat, and I have traveled the world together, but there have been few places as ancient and as mystical as Erice.  
Located in Sicily on top of a mountain, it has a Greek name.  And that is just one of the fascinating things about it!
Its ancient heritage includes Arab, Norman, Phoenician, and Saracen occupation.  And you can still see, after thousands of years, the city walls that were built to protect the city from invasion, and the two castles, which housed the noble families. 

Typical street view--the stones on the street, the narrow passageways
        Erice looks old, very old, as you wander through the cobblestone streets and pass under archways made of stone.

One of the two castles still standing in Erice

So, while we are in Sicily, on the Palermo side of the country--we relish the idea of trekking up the mountain--yes, Erice is located on the tippy top of a mountain--Mount Erice, of course, to see this ancient city which was well known throughout the Mediterranean area during the ancient age.
In fact, an important cult was celebrated there.  It was said that the animals chosen for sacrifice would voluntarily walk up to the altar to be killed.  That may sound a bit implausible until you come to Erice and feel the place.  It’s mystical, and that feeling that anything can happen begins the moment you begin to ascend the mountain.
I think Chuck, my rascal cat, feels it too.
His whiskered nose is plastered to the side of the window, straining to see out, as we follow the road.  
And this is when it begins to happen--In the early morning, the fog and mist act like a shroud and completely cover the land so it makes you feel as if the mountain is floating in air.  It’s a bit eerie, but beautiful.  The higher you climb, the more spectacular the views.  The entire countryside is at your feet, but you see everything through this cloud of mist.  
Once you reach the top of the mountain and before you reach the town, you travel past a forest of trees.  

The medieval forest that skirts the town of Erice

        To me, the forest represents the typical magical forest of every fairytale and ancient tale of lore.  The trees are ramrod straight.  The leaves are the greenest green.  And admission to the city requires a passing through under an ancient stone archway--a city gate--that was built centuries ago to protect the townspeople from invaders.  

The city gate--the magnificent archway that one must walk under

        To me, it feels like some kind of portal that whisks you from the present day to a time long past.  
And on the other side is Erice.  Because this place is so different, so old, so authentic in its look, it attracts a great many tourists.  Even Chuck seems to be enthralled.  He aches to hop out of my smart bag and sniff around.  Centuries of adventures await him.  
We are on our way to Chiesa Matrice (Mother Church) the medieval Catholic Church--14th Century--which stands as a testament to how long stone can endure.  

Chiesa Matrice (Mother Church) - 14th Century

        The bell tower with the bell that stands adjacent to the church.  We stand off in the distance and stare at the church.  

The Bell Tower

Most of the tourists, I suspect, are in the  main part of town--shopping, so this section is almost deserted.  But I love old buildings.  

Close-up of the bell 

        I’ve let Chuck out and he is moving about--sniffing and exploring. 
And then he’s gone.
I’m not sure how it happens.
I’ve poised to take a photo of the church and I’ve taken my gaze off of him for half a second.  
Has he wandered up the broad steps into the church?  Into the bell tower? Is he interested in the view?
I run over to the church to see if it is open and if he’s inside.
The door is open, of course, which means it’s one more possibility--he could have walked inside or not.  I scan the area again, hoping for a glimpse of him.
He must have wandered into the Church.
I am determined not to freak out.  Cats have a great sense of smell.  They can find their way back when they become bored with their exploration.  There is time yet.  
I am this close to entering the Church, determined even to try and appreciate the inside of the Church and imagine what life must have been like for the people so many hundreds of years ago . . . when out the belly boy prances.  Totally unaware that he’s caused any problem.  
I narrow my gaze and tilt my head.   My lips are definitely pursed.
He glances up at us but misses all the signals of disapproval.  
“Chuck,” I whisper.  “Get over here.  Now.”
Slowly, he sniffs his way over.
For one moment I’m actually jealous of his superior sniffing ability. The stories he must be reading--the hundreds of years of trials and tribulations that have been played out on these steps.  Near this church.  In this town.  He can sniff every one of them.

The "scene of the crime" where Chuckie suddenly appeared--prancing down the steps

And we’re not leaving Erice yet.  There’s a pasticceria that’s world renowned that I want to visit.  Run by an ex-nun.  Chuck has heard all about it.  Which is probably why he’s being so cooperative now. 
I’ll tell you more about what happens there . . . next week.  
        To read more about Chuck and his adventures, log onto www.katelutter.com
         Wild Point Island, my paranormal romance, is now available in mass market paperback and ebook formats at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Chuck - The Biggest Fan of Mickey Mantle

Marsala, Sicily--one of the main streets

        We were immediately suspicious.
Why did Chuck want to visit Marsala, Sicily?
        Can you guess?
Was it because:
A.   Marsala is known for producing Marsala wine, which
              is like “port,” and used in Italian cooking, ie. 
              Chicken Marsala or the yummy dessert Tiramisu
              AND Chuck loves to eat  OR
        B.   Marsala is famous for the landing of Garibaldi in
              1860, Italian general and politician, who is best 
              known for the unifying of Italy AND Chuck is a 
              history buff OR
        C.  In the last 200 years, Marsala has recorded three 
             earthquakes of medium to high intensity range 
             AND Chuck likes to live dangerously OR
        D.  The Church of Purgatory is in Marsala AND Chuck
              wanted to see the paper mache statues the
              townspeople carry through the streets during the 
              procession on Holy Week.
             Well, as it turned out, Chuck had a more devious scheme in mind, but we didn’t discover his true intent until the end of our day in Marsala.  

The Church of the Purgatory
Close-up view of the lovely Baroque style architecture of this church

More lovely architectural details on display

      We arrived in Marsala and proceeded to the Church of the Purgatory to see the statues that our guide was raving about.  It seems that the townspeople had constructed near life-sized statues out of paper mache, which they carry through the streets in what we would call a parade or procession during Holy Week.  It's a big deal.  

You can see the paper mache statues that are carried through the streets during the Procession

The Church of the Purgatory

The statues were magnificent.  And even though Chuck did not, at first, appear interested, once he heard the story, he seemed interested in the concept.  Did he see himself walking through the crowds, carrying a statue in his paws?  As crowds of people lined the streets and waved?

The elegant city gate the Garibaldi and his volunteers wearing red shirts marched thru to unify Italy

We left the church and made our way to Porta Garibaldi, walking along Via Garibaldi, through the elegant city gate, which was constructed in 1685 (one of three which enclosed the city) and named after Garibaldi after he made his entrance into the city through the gates in 1860.  To honor Garibaldi, his picture was hung on the gate, because Italians will never forget the part he played in making Italy a country. 

Close-up of Garibaldi in all his glory
We then crossed the city and decided to visit the Pellegrino factory, where they manufacture not only the Pellegrino water, which we know so well in the United States and drink incessantly, but also the Marsala wine.  

The Pellegrino Factory in Marsala

Finally, Chuck looked like he wanted to be there.  He began to eagerly listen to our guide, who spoke perfect English.  She explained the history of Marsala wine and the process of manufacturing it.  

Inside peek of the Pellegrino factory in Marsala, Sicily

And then it happened.  It all became clear.  Why Chuck had been so eager to come to Marsala.  It wasn’t for the wine.  It wasn’t for the water.  It wasn’t for the paper mache statues, and it certainly wasn’t to see a photo of Garibaldi and walk through the gates. 
Chuck’s a baseball fan.  He loves the Yankees. He loves to sprawl out in our Rec Room and gaze up at the screen and watch the guys in their uniforms swing at that tiny ball as it comes whizzing by.  

Mickey Mantle, famed NY Yankees baseball player, signed the cask in 1977

It seems that Mickey Mantle had been to Marsala and signed a wine cask and Chuckie is such a fan, such a groupie, he wanted to touch that cask, and, of course, SNIFF around it.  For Chuck, the rascal cat, it was a thrill just to be where the Mick had been . . . once upon a time. 
       The mystery was solved!
Chuck is such a CAT!
       To read more about Chuck and his adventures, log onto www.katelutter.com 
       My paranormal romance, Wild Point Island, is now available in ebook format and mass market paperback at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Chuck Almost Slips into Salt Marshes in Trapani

Our first sight of the windmills and the marshlands--perfect together


        I’m not sure why Chuck, the rascal cat, wanted to visit Trapani on the west coast of Sicily.  Did he want to see the beautiful windmills that were set up only a few kilometers from the center of the town, or was he more interested in the salt marshes themselves? 
Windmills in Sicily?
Salt marshes?
Yes.  You heard me correctly.  
Sicily has been in the business of making salt for centuries.  The flat marshlands of the Trapani coast, combined with the long dry Sicilian summers were perfect for the evaporation process that was initially used by first the Greeks, and then the Romans centuries ago.  

Visitor sign

Well, who can ever tell what a cat is thinking? 
As for me, I am a salt addict so the chance to go to the place where salt is collected from water was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.
That morning we hired a car and drove to Trapani, eager to see what the guide books described as some of the oldest salt marshes in Europe.  

The marshlands where the water is pumped in, later to be pumped out

And we weren’t disappointed.   
The windmills that were used centuries ago to drain the water from the salt (which, as you can imagine, is a very slow process) were sandstone structures with bright red roofs.  When the wind blew, and it seemed to be perpetually windy near the water, the blades twirled around.  And it was the sight of those twirling blades against the blue of the sky and water that caught your eye.  

It is here where the salt is collected from the water

Many think of Sicily as being hot and dry, and yet here, as far as the eye can see, surrounded by water, you are reminded that Sicily is an island, after all.   And Trapani became a popular seaport town when sea salt became popular with cooks.  It was exported as far away as Norway and Russia. 

The windmill

      As I read the guide book aloud to Chuck, I watched the expression on his face.  Was he impressed?  Did he even care that he was looking at a piece of ancient history preserved?
Not at all.
Instead he seemed more interested in prancing along the stony shore, sniffing everything in sight.  The various plants.  The signs posted for visitors.  Once or twice he stopped on the shore and gazed longingly across the channel at one windmill in particular, and I could tell he wanted to go inside a windmill and explore. 

A shot of the windmill that Chuck had his eye on

He was appreciating the sun on his fur and the wind through this whiskers.  He trotted along, and I began to get a sickening feeling in my stomach.  A day like this--so bright and sunny--usually threw Chuckie over the edge, so to speak.              He is a naturally rambunctious cat, anyway, and his excitement reached a fever pitch. 
The steady trot became a run.  
He was having too good a time.
We were the only vistors in sight so I hated to reign him in, but what if the kid got too close to the edge, lost his balance and . . .
What if he spotted something in the water and scampered over to it a bit too fast and slipped and . . .
Suddenly, I was beset with all the worst case scenarios. 
A salt marsh filled with water didn’t necessarily mean that Chuckie would float (ie, as if he were in the Dead Sea) if he tumbled into the water.
And I wasn’t even sure if Chuck knew how to swim.
That final thought pushed me to take action.

Here you can see the wonderful red tops of the windmills

I opened my smart bag and extracted my ultimate weapon - a bag of Temptations.
All I had to to--in truth--was rattle the bag.
Even though Chuck was a tiny orange and white speck in the distance, he heard the rattle and knew instantly what it was, what it meant.  
The kid scampered back.  He was safely in my arms in seconds.  
He had his snack.  All was well.  No one slipped into the marshlands that day.  Phew! 

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

         My paranormal romance, Wild Point Island, is now available in ebook and mass market paperback from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.