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, March 24, 2013
Chuck is Lured in By the Curse of Messina, Sicily
Curiosity drove Chuck, my rascal cat, and I to Messina, Sicily.
We heard stories. The city had a terrible history of destruction which spanned the centuries, and it was a tribute to this city that it was still standing.
On the bright side, this port city was known for its lemons, mandarin oranges, and olives -- all of which played an important part in Italian and Greek cuisine. In fact, it was founded in 8th century B.C. by Greek colonists.
However, it was seized in 288 B.C. by the Mamertines who went on to kill its men and take its women for their wives. Years later, the city was free and became an ally of Rome, but this peace was short lived when the Messina harbor became the gateway for the Black Death to enter Europe.
Yes, you heard me right!
In 1908 Messina was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake and a tsunami which killed over 60,000 people.
Was this city under some kind of curse?
There was no denying our nerves were on edge.
We decided it was best to be in and out of Messina in a day. We wanted to see only two things.
One - there was a Cathedral from the 12th century which held the remains of King Conrad, ruler of Germany and Sicily in the 13th century. After the earthquake and after the fire (triggered by the Allied bombings from World War II) this church had to be almost completely rebuilt. Of course. The original Norman structure of the Church was now only visible in the spsidal area only.
We also wanted to see the bell tower which held one of the largest astronomical clocks in the world. The belfry mechanically animated statues, which illustrated civil and religious historical events, came alive every day at noon. But that was only half of the amazing part. In the background, the figures moved to the music of Ave Maria.
Can you imagine?
For me, I hear that lovely music mostly sung at funerals.
So, here we were, standing in the square, our eyes glued to the bell tower. It was one minute before noon, and we waited for the spectacle to begin.
All would have been purrfect if it weren’t for a certain street vendor.
Suddenly, the most delicious smell wafted by.
Chickpea fritters. Street food. An irresistible temptation for my now starving Chuck who hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast at the hotel.
The almost largest astronomical clock didn’t matter anymore.
I thought I could trust Chuck to wait by my side, but he took off in the direction of the delicious aroma.
I spotted the street vendor, dishing out his “fritella di ceci” to a few of his customers standing by. The fritters are made in the shape of squares, deep fried, hot to the touch, deliciously crunchy.
“Chuck,” I shouted, “Wait.” I tried to grab him by the tail, but the belly boy was too quick for me. He trotted off toward the vendor.
And what did he think he was going to do. Meow for his fritter?
I raced after him, counting down the seconds in my head, knowing that my chasing after this recalcitrant cat while the lovely figures danced around the bell tower could be the ruin of the moment.
I reached the vendor, just as Chuck came to a sudden halt next to him.
“Meow,” Chuck said.
The vendor guy, a nice Messina gentleman, smiled. “Il suo gatto?” (Your cat?) he asked me.
“Il mio gatto affamato.” (My hungry cat.)
Then I heard it. Ave Maria.
My heart gave a little jump. I was dealing with the vendor guy while my eyes should have been glued to the bell tower!
The vendor handed me a fritter.
I reached into my smart bag for money to pay him.
He waved his hand aside. “Mi piacciono i gatti.” (I like cats. )
I picked up Chuck and held him in my arms. We ate the fritter together while the mechanical statues rotated around the bell tower while the beautiful Ave Maria drifted around us.
“Messina isn’t so bad after all,” I said to Chuck. Then I turned back to the vendor and held up what was left of the fritter. “Squisito.” Which in Italian means delicious.