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With this exceptionally enlightened attitude towards other animal species, it is not surprising that in his time Leonardo was almost alone in taking the trouble to catch so perfectly the moods and movements, postures and actions of the humble house cats of his day. No other old master seems to have enjoyed the direct observation of feline behavior in the way that Leonardo did.

Both were born in the middle of the fifteenth century, and both died early in the sixteenth.


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Neither left us many paintings—Leonardo fifteen, Bosch twenty-five—but those they did leave were masterpieces. There was one big difference between them: Leonardo gave us reality, Bosch gave us fantasy. It is a gray cat with black spots, black feet, a sharply pointed tail, and a long, thin spike sprouting from its forehead. It also has prominent genitals, very large black eyes, and a strange piece of cloth draped over its head.

Walking behind it is another cat, also with a naked man on its back. This man is holding a large fish that he is pointing forwards, as if firing a gun; this cat is plain brown in color. This animal has a brown coat, again covered in black spots, but this time there is a separate patch of white spots on its belly and chest. This form of coloration is unknown among cats and seems to have been invented randomly by the artist to make his cat look strange.

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The animal also has a pronounced downward arch to its back. In a horse, this hollowed back would be called a swayback or saddleback; the technical term for it is lordosis. A fourth Bosch cat, in The Temptation of Saint Anthony , is reaching out from underneath a red curtain to grab a large dead fish. Watched by a naked woman, it turns its head towards her and threatens her with an open mouth. Its long, pointed ears curve slightly so that they start to look like horns.

Animals are not capable of this. That is why it is so much easier to love an animal. Ezekial loved animals; he was never cruel with them. Every time he entered the house, he greeted each of our cats with a special touch. Even the shy one, Tina, liked him and let him touch her. Caesar on the other hand was rough and disrespectful — and yet he wanted the cats to like him.

On the third day in Florence I called Martha — the sister I later scolded for being hysterical about a cat — and asked for help.

10 great films featuring cats

She said she would communicate psychically with Gattino. She said I needed to do it too. I know how foolish this sounds. I know how foolish it is. But I needed to reach for something with a loving touch. I needed to reach even if nothing was physically there within my grasp. I needed to reach even if I touched darkness and sorrow. And so I did it. I asked Peter to do it too. We would go to churches and kneel on pews and pray for Gattino.


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We were not alone; the pews were always full of people, old, young, rich and poor, of every nationality, all of them reaching, even if nothing was physically there. Ezekial was a little boy in an impossible situation he had no desire to be in, and who could only make it bearable by manipulating and trying to hurt anyone around him. He was also a little boy used to rough treatment, and my attempts at caring only made me a sucker in his eyes.

Caesar was used to rough treatment too — but he was still looking for good treatment. When I went to visit him at his new host house, I expected him to be angry at me. He was in the pool when I came and as soon as he saw me, he began splashing towards me, shouting my name. I had bought him a life jacket so he would be more safe in the pool and he was thrilled by it; kind treatment did not make me a sucker in his eyes.

He had too strong a heart for that. Apparently he called her a bitch and threatened to cut her. I had someone translate it into Spanish for me, and then I copied it onto a card and sent it with some pictures I had taken of Caesar swimming. Other people thought so too. They thought I was acting out of guilt and I was. But I was acting out of something else too. I missed the little boy.

I missed his deep eyes, his clumsiness, his generosity, his sweetness. I called the Fresh Air Fund. The next person gave me an address in East New York; she gave me a phone number too. I sent the letter again. I prayed the same way I did later for Gattino: Have mercy on this little person. When Peter and I returned to the veterinary hospital to claim Gattino he purred at the sight of us. When we went back to Santa Maddalena, his little body tensed with recognition when he saw the room we had lived in together; then he relaxed and walked through it as if returning to a lost kingdom.

My body relaxed too; I felt safe. I felt as if I had come through a kind of danger, or at least a kind of complex maze, and that I had discovered how to make sense of it. The next day we went home.

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The trip was a two hour ride to Florence, a flight to Milano, a layover, an eight-hour Atlantic flight, then another two hour drive. At Florence Peter was told that because of an impossible bureaucratic problem with his ticket, he had to leave the terminal in Florence, get his bag and re-check it for the flight to Milano. And Gattino was intrepid. He settled in patiently, his slender forepaws stretched out regally before him, watching me with a calm, confidently up-raised head. He either napped in his carrier or sat in my lap, playing with me, with the person sitting next to me, with the little girl sitting across from me.


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The first time I called Caesar, he asked about Bitey; he asked about his life jacket. We talked about those things for awhile. Then I told him that I was sad when he left. I asked to talk to his mother; I had someone with me who could speak to her in Spanish, to ask her for permission to have contact with her son.

I also spoke to his sister Natalia. Even before I met her, I could hear her beauty in her voice — curious, vibrant, expansive in its warmth and longing. I talked more to Natalia than to her brother; he was too young to talk for long on the phone. She reached out to me with her voice as if with her hand, and I held it. We talked about her trouble at school, her fears of the new neighborhood and the movies she liked, which were mostly about girls becoming princesses.

When Caesar talked to me, it was half-coherent stuff about cartoons and fantasies. But he could be suddenly very mature. I wanted to meet their mother; I very much wanted to see Caesar and meet his sister. Peter was reluctant because he considered the relationship inappropriate — but he was willing to do it for me.

We went to East New York with a Spanish-speaking friend. We brought board games and cookies. Their mother kissed us on both cheeks and gave us candles. She said they could come to visit for Holy Week — Easter. I was so excited I was nearly afraid.

Cat Totem, Spirit Animal

When Peter and I went into Manhattan to meet them at Penn Station, it seemed a miracle to see them there. As soon as we got to our house Caesar threw a tantrum on the stairs — the scene of his humiliation. But this time I could keep him, calm him and comfort him. I could make it okay, better than okay. Most of the visit was lovely. We have pictures in our photo album of the kids riding their bikes down the street on a beautiful spring day and painting Easter eggs; we have a picture of Natalia getting ready to mount a horse with an expression of mortal challenge on her face; we have another picture of her sitting atop the horse in a posture of utter triumph.

Urvashi Butalia on the life of transgender Mona Ahmed and her search for a feminine identity. They called it Specialised Life Skills for Girls. Rachel Cusk on motherhood, marriage and separation. You pinch your nipples harder. Then harder and harder still. You dare them to say Mercy. You stare into your own eyes that are watching you from the mirror. This caused me to give up writing diary entries. The copyright to all contents of this site is held either by Granta or by the individual authors, and none of the material may be used elsewhere without written permission.

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Use film and TV in my classroom. Read research data and market intelligence. Breakfast at Tiffany's Stanley Kubrick was also a loving companion, allowing his cats into his editing room, and reportedly quenching their thirst with Evian water. Elusive filmmaker Chris Marker circulated the same picture of a cat when journalists asked him for a publicity shot.

Each of the recommendations included here is available to view in the UK. In front of the camera though, cats are rarely given the roles of a lifetime. Those are mostly handed to dogs, who, like actors, are good at following directions and generally seek to please. Still, cats have stolen many a scene and have served as irreplaceable narrative devices. They often make loyal companions Harry and Tonto , They act as agents of the supernatural The Black Cat , and provide endless inspiration to animators The Cat Returns , Cats may not dominate the film world the same way they do the internet, where cat videos and images are a phenomenon generating billions of views, but their on-screen presence demands our attention like the best stars of cinema.

The premise is simple: Within seconds, the kitty is cured and the young duo congratulate themselves with a triumphant handshake. The film was made by pioneer G. Smith , who was clearly one of the earliest to identify the disarming screen presence of the domesticated cat. Will it keep its grip or fly into the water? The scene is hair-raising and funny in equal measure. Avant-garde artist Alexander Hammid was married to pioneering filmmaker Maya Deren when he made this silent, black-and-white short about their New York cats venturing into parenthood.

With thoughtful and humorous editing, and a few intertitles placed here and there, Hammid creates a simple narrative for us to follow. Soon enough, the kittens take their first steps and they gradually become fluffier and more daring.