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CYCLADIAN CATS
October 31, 2007
 
I have never been a photographer; I much prefer the other side of the camera. But now that my cell phone is a camera, I have come to appreciate the convenience of being able to document my days in this visual way. Now I photograph flowers in the garden, funny window signs, dinner partners in restaurants, Q in the characteristic activities of his daily routine.

We did not bring his fancy camera to Greece: it is heavy, bulky, old and ailing. Besides, it uses actual film, which people have come to regard as quaint, but a nuisance, now that digital cameras are smaller than a pack of cigarettes and can hold a thousand shots on a chip the size of your fingernail.

Thus the torch was passed, to me and my cell phone. I thought we rose to the challenge magnificently, for a pair of amateurs: we shot the moon over the Aegean at night, the ruins of temples and agoras, enormous ancient water vessels and the body parts of statues, ladies in beautiful embroidered aprons, resigned donkeys laden with bags of meal. We shot mosaic floors, a broom leaning against an old doorsill, a line of brightly-painted fishing boats. We shot frescoes and columns, domestic items -- an ancient stove, just like the stainless steel one I want in my kitchen, except made of clay, complete with oven, three burners and a grill -- and an ancient seatless chair for toilet-training a toddler, with a little removable chamber pot underneath it. And, almost as soon as a photo was taken, it was in Debbie's inbox, ready for posting in the HodgePodge. Not bad.

As an essayist, I have long believed that my purpose in writing is not so much to enable the reader to see me as to see what I see. Large themes are most honestly approached by examining small ones. Someone else can write the history of an era; I will write its moments. And so, everywhere we went in Greece, I photographed cats: a nice yellow cat who lives in the acropolis at Lindos, a pair of marching cats dozing in the sun after lunch on Santorini, a big grey-and-white fellow, asleep on a rug in an old chair in an antiques shop -- and a row of Santorini dogs, just for balance, dozing in a line against a whitewashed wall. An extended family of cats seems to be fed communally by the tiny village of Olympos on Karpathos, and they are none the worse for it -- except for one tiny one, the runt of the litter: half the size of his siblings, plainly ill, his fur dull and unkempt. He mewed constantly, imploring someone to come and help him. The cat lovers in our group ached for his plight, longed to take him home to our expensive veterinarians -- we know that there are few things in a modern kitten's life that six or seven hundred dollars can't fix. But we were not at home. Nature's economy is a stern one, we remembered, and it is red in tooth and claw: he'll either make it or he won't.

It was time to walk down the hill; the ship would leave in an hour. The other cats lounged on the tops of walls, on windowsills, on chairs. The kitten called miserably after us, but we were soon out of range.

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Tomorrow, November 1st, 12 noon: The Geranium Journey with Barbara Crafton continues, this one to beautiful Christ Church in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Bring a bag lunch (Christ Church will provide beverage and dessert) and settle in a for an hour or so of conversation with some very good people. Tomorrow -- All Saints' Day -- we'll talk about the people whose lives continue to inspire us, long after they are gone. Oyster Bay is an easy train ride from NYC Penn Station. Call the church at (516) 922-6377 or visit http://www.christchurchobay.org/directions2.htm for directions.
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Yesterday, I mentioned Monmouth University's upcoming conference "Our Daughters, Our Sons, Ourselves" and omitted the date. It is November 16th. Visit http://www.monmouth.edu/newswire/default.asp?iNewsID=4525 or telephone 732-263-5648 for more information and registration. This is a one-day conference, on a Friday. The nearest airport is Newark Liberty, from which a train takes you right to Long Branch. Amtrak connections are also good, with one easy change to NJ Transit's North Jersey Coast Line in Newark.
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Several readers have emailed to ask me when Madeleine l'Engle's funeral is. It's on November 28 at 4pm, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York.
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