Last week, while taking my walk, I decided to zoom around inside the Castello Sforzesco to see what was up. I often go through it, imagining what court life must have been like confined, as it was, so rigidly to a small finite space defined by high walls, enclosed gardens, and that almost featureless broad expanse in the middle, while pestilence, war and poverty raged on all sides. At least that’s how I imagine it. Was boredom rampant? Depression? Was finery enough to keep everyone in their right mind? I seriously doubt it. Intrigues and conspiracies had to have sprung from a high degree of boredom.
But nobility is thankfully a thing of the past. There are no brocade skirts sweeping along the Castle’s paths. No armored knights clanking here and there. Just flocks of tourists, the occasional artisanal event (weather permitting), fields of poppies and an ever-growing population of stray cats.
I’m allergic to cats and have always given them wide berth. But I love to look at them, and I feel an affinity with their solitary, self-indulgent ways. I respect their independent minds, their shifting moods, their unpredictable twists and turns. I love their ability to ignore me completely, and to keep their balance when the odds are against it.
The Castle Cats rule the grounds, yet they keep to themselves in the areas that seem to suit them best. They hunt and sunbathe inside the now empty moat. They hide under the bushes, taking shade. They walk along decrepit beams and appropriately named catwalks left over from the Middle Ages, remnants of the systems that operated the drawbridges and accessed the higher reaches of the towers.
They sleep in and amongst the old stone caskets that are strewn in one corner of the castle. Someone, a “woman of a certain age”—I’ve seen her once—comes to feed them. And I believe it is she who has constructed little houses for them out of vegetable crates covered with impermeable black garbage bags to protect them from the rain.
I wonder what it is about older women and cats. When does that love between them become a driving force? When does a woman decide that she’s better off with cats than with the company of other human beings? When does she start to speak their language and they hers? Like a witch with her familiars, this woman wanders among her feline friends, whispering to them in their own language. They rub against her legs, eager to be close to her. From me and my camera, they only run away.
I once knew a cat who “adopted” me. Her name was Delia. At least that’s what I called her. When she first wandered into my yard, she was young and slightly underfed. I fed her. We understood each other somehow. We always stayed outdoors where the fresh air did away with my allergic reactions, and she weaved in and out of my legs, mewing and rubbing her check against my jeans. Her visits were brief and loving, but she came to visit me almost every day after our first encounter. Then I moved away. I miss her.
It’s a strange and meaningful experience to be chosen by an animal. Beautiful. I couldn’t resist it. Even though I’d never been a cat lover, Delia made me love her. I wonder, in the case of the Castle Cats, if the Woman who cares for them chose them, or if they chose her. You might say it’s all about the food, but I don’t think so. There’s something else going on there. I don’t suppose it matters much. They have each other. And that’s the way they all like it.
Many of you have animals in your homes and farms. I’ll be very interested to hear what you have to say about it all.
Have a lovely day wherever you are.