Saturday, May 9, 2015

Cats in Syros

Our first week in Greece was spent on the island of the sleeping cats. They won’t say this in the guidebooks, but Syros is the land of cats. Tens, twenties, hundreds, thousands.

Do you see the sleeping cat?
At restaurants they stare into your soul with hungry eyes. Order the seafood at your own peril. It is delicious, but nothing calls the cats like fresh roasted fish. I nibbled at my anchovies, and when our waitress wasn’t looking, slipped a feminine feline delicious morsels of salty fish. How could I help it? Her eyes were half hooded, her gaze seductive. Yet, resist I should have, for a second later we were surrounded by her family. Their coats were all grey and striped, their lips all black, and they had a system. It was like something out of a how-to-not-get-pickpocketed guide book. The old uncle who was losing his hair gave directions from the back while the tough ones prowled the perimeter and made sure no one interrupted our little transaction. The curvaceous twins took front and center. They plied us with heavy petting and helped us part with the food we didn’t know we didn’t need. Meow! Try as I might, I couldn’t resist them. I ate bread and the crispy tails of the sardines, while the cats munched on the meaty filets. Curse their whiskers! I’m just happy they weren’t after my wallet.

 It’s not just the restaurants either. Everywhere we go, we see cats. In the mornings they sleep atop low, whitewashed walls, warming themselves after the cool night, and in the afternoon they move down into the shade, careful not to expend any energy. They hide in the tall flowering bushes and prowl rooftops, eager to catch a sparrow but cautious to avoid the ever screeching seagulls. A night hasn’t passed without the shrill shrieks a catfight, battling over a morsel of fish or a wounded mouse. There’s even a statue at the church of a sleeping lion. His followers catnap around him, worshipping the idol in their dreams.
Each part of the island has its own clan of cats. In Kini, it’s the grey striped family I couldn’t help but feed, in Hermopolis, they’re mostly orange. Here in Finikas, there’s a clan of cats with white fur and patches of orange and black on their faces.  There’s a mangy mother, a generation of young, sleek teenage hotties, and a bundle of kittens we can’t get enough of. We’ve woken to the sounds of mewls only to find our hosts’ daughter has wrapped up all the kittens in a towel and is parading them around the house. We’ve tried to keep the mother cat out, for she is undeniably infested with fleas, but she is always quick to sneak in when she smells food. Last night she licked our plates clean of fish clean before vanishing back into the night.

Well, not vanished. She stopped on the porch to spray filthy cat urine all over Raquel’s beach shawl. Ah, Syros, where the cats are cheap, you only pay if a piece of cloth falls from the clothes line.  No worries though, it was nothing soaking it in ocean for an hour couldn’t fix, and this1` is the price of tiny kittens. A territorial mother and stolen morsels of fish.

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