animals

Quote of the Day

You never feed me.
Perhaps I’ll sleep on your face.
That will sure show you.

The rule for today:
Touch my tail, I shred your hand.
New rule tomorrow.

Terrible battle.
I fought for hours. Come and see!
What’s a ‘term paper?’

Wanna go outside.
Oh, poop! Help! I got outside!
Let me back inside!

Litter box not here.
You must have moved it again.
I’ll go in the sink.

Want to trim my claws?
Don’t even think about it!
My cries will wake dead.

Kedi

This enchanting, leisurely and good-natured documentary combines two of my favourite things in the world: cats and the city of Istanbul. Some places are dog countries, and some are cat countries; from my three visits to Turkey and Istanbul in particular, it definitely appeared a dominion of cats of all shapes and colours. Kedi captures the indolent grace and resilience of the city’s free-roaming felines, as well as the heartfelt and loving testimonies of the people who look after them.

The cats are everywhere in Istanbul, hanging out at the markets, restaurants, fishing piers, sitting on the roofs, benches and car hoods (my own favourite cat memory from visiting Istanbul was a tabby curled up asleep in a don’t-give-a-damn fashion on a heap of embroidered cushion covers is a souvenir store I wandered into). Kedi singles out a few individual cats, following their habits and daily routines, which couldn’t have been an easy task since cats are not exactly known for their willingness to cooperate. There’s even a night-vision sequence of a cat hunting mice in a pipe. While there are a few cute and amusing moments, the overall mood is matter-of-fact and without excessive tweeness. Most striking are the long close-ups of the feline faces, which truly bring home the beauty, inscrutable mystery and the sheer exotic allure of these amazing creatures.

Kedi is also a portrait of Istanbul, with the stunning aerial shots of the Bosphorus and the city harbour alternating with the decidedly unglamorous footage of the working city, fish guts and all. It interviews a number of people who let the proudly independent four-legged vagabonds into their lives, and movingly describe the joy and comfort the cats bring. Some say that the cats absorb the negative energy, and that caring for the cats helped them overcome their own personal issues. One woman, an artist, says that it’s hard to be a female in Istanbul, and that the grace of the cats reminds her of what’s good about being feminine. They describe the cats’ personalities and quirks, likes and dislikes (every cat owner knows that every cat is weird in its own unique way). They express concern over the knocking down of the old neighbourhoods to make room for the new highrises, and what will happen to the cats in this gentrified world order.

Moving at a gentle pace and helped by good choices of music, including a few Turkish pop songs, Kedi is thoughtful, gorgeous and a must for any cat lover.

Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey

I’ve always loved short stories and this collection certainly has a unique premise. Each of the ten short stories is narrated by a soul of a different animal caught up in the human conflicts of the last century, and ends with the tale of their deaths. Among them is a female cat surviving in the trenches of World War I, who reminisces about her life with her bohemian actress owner; a bear slowly starving to death in the zoo of the war-torn Sarajevo; a tortoise who crosses paths with several literary geniuses and dreams of travelling to space; a young mussel who goes on a road trip Kerouac-style.

I confess, it took me some time to get used to the concept of the book and read it on the author’s terms, because initially the idea struck me as painfully contrived. I’ve read a few from-the-animal’s-point-of-view books before, but Dovey’s stories ask you to accept her animals as incredibly self-aware, articulate and literate creatures who care about the beauty of a piano and the poetry of Sylvia Plath. As such they felt to me more like human consciousness forced into an animal shape, and the words coming out of their mouths came off as very unnatural. It’s not really a book to make me think about the humans’ treatment of the real-life animals when they’re anthropomorphised beyond recognition.

However, once I finished a couple more stories and got over this contrivance, Only the Animals turned out to be a beautifully written, original, inventive and empathetic treasure trove of a book that’s completely devoid of excessive sentimentality or cutesiness animal stories can sometimes fall into. The book is also not preachy in some sort of overt “animals = good humans = baaaaad” kind of way. The animals remark on the humans around them in a frank, matter-of-fact manner; sometimes they’re bemused by them, sometimes they’re horrified, and quite often they’re sympathetic.

Since every story ends with the death of its main character, they’re inevitably poignant and tragic, but they also can be quite playful and witty; the story of the mussel in particular comes closest to the outright parody and feels slightly different in tone to the others, in a good way. What binds the stories, other than the themes of violence and human cruelty, is the literary connections: famous writers like Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf and George Orwell sometimes appear in a story as the background figures, or it’s their work that has inspired the animals in some way; or the author uses an existing work (such as Kafka’s A Report to an Academy) as a jumping off point for her own story. I’ve probably missed out on some of the references and homages to past writers, but I don’t think this knowledge is necessary to enjoy the stories on their own.