What would Italy be like without cats? When I was little, I was amazed that everyone in Grotte had a cat and that they were all named Ciccia. Yes, Ciccia used to be the most common name for a cat and happens to be one of the variations on the name Francesca! This time, the cats’ names varied a bit, though I did notice that all the black cats were named Nero (Black), or Nerolino (little black one), or Neroluzzo (sweet little black cat). In keeping with the same cat naming pattern, the white ones were named Bianco, Biancolino, or Biancuzzo. The good news is that people are more imaginative with their dogs’ names.
And it seems that when people like cats, they have so many that they lose count of how many they have. My dad’s cousin and best friend, Baldassaro (pictured in the first collage below), is like that. When I asked him how many cats he has, he looked at his wife in that familiar perplexed way and she answered for him, “Oh, seven or eight. But really, Fra, who counts their cats?” She laughed and proudly added, “They are beautiful, aren’t they?”
One more cat story: One day, Nora and I were walking in Grotte with my uncle. He stopped to visit a friend and they were deep in a conversation, totally ignoring us, so we excused ourselves and went out for a walk. Usually, my uncle is very protective of us and has to accompany us everywhere, but this time he didn’t care at all. He said, “Just don’t get lost!”
The streets in the old section of the village were carved out in medieval times, so Nora and I were walking in something that looks like a North African Casbah. Suddenly, I saw the Madonna delle Catane, a tiny sanctuary devoted to the Madonna in Chains. It always creeped me out to see the Madonna in Chains when I was a child and it is still disturbing to see. When I was a child, my mom explained to me that the Madonna is in chains because she suffered the miserable ghastly death of her only child. “She carries the chains of eternal suffering. Eh, that’s just the way it is.” That explanation only made the sanctuary more disturbing for me. I was surprised to see that it still had the power to cast that gloomy spell over me! The sanctuary is just seconds away from my grandmother’s house and around the corner from my 93 year-old Zia Maria’s house. We were looking for Zia Maria’s house when I spotted some cats sunning themselves just outside someone’s house. I started snapping away when suddenly a man peeped out his window, saw me, and quickly opened his door to asked, “Tu, cu si?” Who are you? So I explained who my parents were and that we are the nieces of Maria Licata. He smiled and replied, “Allura, li Americani ca sunu!” (Ah, so the Americans have arrived!, a reference to the American Armed Forces arriving in Italy in the 40’s.) and he went back into his house. Soon afterwards, we found auntie’s house and had a lovely visit with her….See what happens when you photograph cats in Sicily?
I put these TWO collages together. Don’t forget to scroll down for the second collage! After all the photos appear, you can click on any photo and enlarge it.
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