It was the perfect day for an afternoon walk… and, please, don’t ask me what day: we have already been through that and it is clear that I have no idea on what day I did what and that is the reason I can never, never figure out WHICH day was the one I actually LOST. Anyway, I do remember important things, such as the condition of the afternoon, which had the sun already sloping towards the West, meaning it was rather late afternoon, nearing what I call the Rembrandt hour, that time when the sun is low enough in the sky to produce the indirect golden glow that one finds over everything in Rembrandt’s paintings (and, you notice, that if one says this sort of thing about Rembrandt’s paintings with enough aplomb, the average reader will immediately presume one is a great connoisseur of painting or at least of Rembrandt, so it lends certain prestige to the article being written that it would otherwise lack). Anyway, it was that time of day which being August would have made it around 7-to-8ish. Salomé and I had walked for a while through streets of Salies that we had not travelled before without finding anything of interest that might awaken our curiosity or regale the eye with the pleasantness of the unexpected, when we came upon a sort of driveway that was announced, with the usual sign, as a dead end. It was long and I, for one, could not see the end, so we entered. Actually, the gravel (as it turned out) driveway did not come to a dead end but rather curved around upon itself, ran a ways parallel and then ended a few meters down the way from where we had entered, so it was a dead-loop not “end”.
Anyway, as we rounded the curve in the gravel drive way, I spotted a black and white cat stretched lazily out in the middle of the road, apparently asleep. My steps seemed to awaken the animal and it raised its head. I was interested to see what Salomé’s reaction to the cat would be. She had spotted it already and stopped in her tracks, ears perked. Salomé’s previous experiences with cats have not been happy ones, at least for her. It was in Portugal, a Buddhist retreat called Karuna where I was taking a workshop on gratitude where she had her first encounter with a cat. It actually was a kitten, a pearl grey kitten that was half-way to being a cat, therefore not actually small any more, but neither the size of a full grown puss. When Salomé spotted the other, she stopped dead in her tracks and then proceeded to cautiously draw closer, one paw at a time. The small cat stood its ground looking her straight in the eye and when she got close enough so that she probably could now smell the other, it went PSSSSST in a very loud and menacing hiss and struck at her with both front paws. She was not near enough to receive the blow, but she had no doubts about the threat and rapidly turned tail and ran. It was a shameful experience no doubt for her and the rest of the time we spent at Karuna, she avoided coming within 10 meters of the enemy.
At any rate, this time I hoped the animal would run and she would get a short chase at least to have a taste of what dogs are supposed to do when faced with a cat. As we stood there, the cat turned its head towards us, saw Salomé and got to its feet. It was about four or five meters away. It stood there and we stood there. Then I took a step forward and so did Salomé, staying –I must point out- carefully behind me. The step we took had been a very cautious step, by no means meant to be menacing, but the cat was having none of it and the shekels on its back went up immediately, its tail rose, I swear even its whiskers seemed to grow. The threatening arch of the spine, which turned an otherwise soft looking frame into a loaded weapon, was so pronounced as to make it an unequivocal declaration of war. Salomé and I took a step backwards and the cat, much to my surprise, advanced several paces towards us without dropping its “gun” so to speak. I had the uncomfortable feeling of being faced by an enemy who had judged, tried and condemned me without hearing my side of the story, as we stood there for our part wondering what the cat actually had in mind. It didn’t take us long to figure it out as he or she (I didn’t get to ask) took another two or three menacing strides towards us. This cat not only was not going to run, it was actually not going to let us go by or even take more steps in its direction. I decided that the best remedy was a dignified retreat and saying –in my bravest voice- “Come on Salomé, we didn’t want to go that way anyway”, I turned my back on the enemy and began walking away, with Salomé this time leading.
However, no sooner had I turned my back on the ferocious animal than that cat dropped its arched defense mode, and raced towards Salomé with the definite intention of attacking. I turned and yelled; the cat was unshaken but did stop without taking its eyes off of Salomé. I yelled in my most frightening voice and took two menacing steps towards the –now undoubtedly declared- enemy. The cat did not cringe, but taking a wider berth, again took rapid steps in Salome’s direction. I sprang at the animal, that then arched its back and threatened me. Looking around I spotted a good sized stone, picked it up and threatened the cat again. Most dogs, with that gesture, would have turned tail and ran. The cat just looked in Salome’s direction apparently trying to decide if it could rush her or not. I threw the stone; it passed near the cat’s head and stopped the animal in it tracks. By this time, I was scared of what the cat would do if allowed to come within reach of Salomé: I could feel myself shaking inside and my stomach tightening into a ball of what unmistakably was fear. Once the cat had stopped, I turned again and began walking in the other direction. Again the cat charged. I swung around, yelled as loud as I could and made several loud stomps in the cat’s direction. Each time I did this, the cat arched its back at me and I could only imagine its claws and teeth being sunken into my legs and toes (unfortunately I was wearing sandals, not my usual walking boots, because the walk had been mainly within the town). All the time the cat and I were having this stand-off, Salomé was a safe distance behind me presumably watching. I couldn’t really tell because there was no way I would take my eyes off the cat.
The act of walking away and the cat running to attack Salomé was repeated several times till I finally armed myself with a handful of rocks and began throwing them one after another at the enraged animal. Finally, a stone bounced close enough to it to convincingly announce my solid intentions of defending the cringing animal behind me, if necessary, with my life and the cat backed off some steps. Nonetheless I proceeded to walk BACKWARDS, stones in hand and eyes on cat until we had put enough distance to allow us to exit from the drive way without suffering an attack from behind. The whole time we were “backing” out, the cat continued to make forays in Salome’s direction. By the time we reached the paved street, my heart was beating and my palms were definitely sweating all over the stones. Finally, seeing the enemy had retreated, I dropped the stones, turned and walked straight away with whatever dignity I had left.
And I had thought that French waiters could be aggressive: I had never met a French cat. As dogs probably do not experience any form of shame (they are much too intelligent to spend energy on such a useless emotion) I assumed the humilliation for both of us of having been chased from our chosen path by none other than a black and white French cat. We were definitely the defeated army marching home, and if Salomé had had an inkling of the nature of the victorious “army” and its actual size, she too probably would have hung her head in shame.