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14.6.05

The Cats of Rome

Although we have two dearly loved cats that deign to allow us to share their house with them, I have so far resisted the inevitable urge toward catblogging, but I have enjoyed such feline posts from Alex Ross, Jessica Duchen, Sarah Noble, and others. I am definitely a cat person, and just as definitely not a CAT PERSON. However, I was interested in a brief article by Elisabetta Povoledo (The cats, and cat ladies, of Rome, June 10) for the International Herald Tribune:

The director Michael Hunt knows a thing or two about temperamental actors. "He once got so violent he ripped a boom mike off its stand," Hunt said, recalling a day’s shoot with Scaldasole, one of several felines that star in Hunt’s documentary "Cats of Rome." Scaldasole was so ornery he had to be knocked out with tranquilizers to clean him up and make him presentable for his close up. "He actually got adopted in Germany, which was quite surprising," said the 35-year-old filmmaker from Newbury, England, who has spent the better part of the last three years documenting the not-always-so dolce vita of Roman cats. Last week, Hunt’s documentary was screened at the eighth annual benefit gala for the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, a downtown shelter that each year takes in hundreds of Rome’s long-standing autochthonous residents. The documentary is also a snapshot portrait of another indigenous Roman species: the "gattare," or cat ladies, who care for some of the estimated 180,000 stray cats prowling the city’s streets. Dragging small shopping carts heavy with cat food tins over bumpy cobblestones, the gattare describe lives made up of considerable sacrifices — both monetary and temporal — and small gratifications. "I’ve sold everything, my rings, my gold, everything, but unfortunately I can’t abandon them, what can I do," said Giovanna Fiorentini, a Roman matron who has been feeding cats for two decades.
In the interest of equal time for the other animal, Romans love dogs, too, as anyone who has seen Vittorio De Sica's film Umberto D. (1952) can attest. The Italian version of Hunt's documentary is only 33 minutes long, but he is working on using a little more of the 68 hours (!) of film he shot for a longer version in English, intended to be shown on television. The Torre Argentina cat shelter is one of the more famous quirky sites in Rome, founded by Lia Dequel and Silvia Viviani 13 years ago:
"You could make a ‘Gone With the Wind’ with everything that happens at a cat sanctuary," [Dequel] said one afternoon in the cool recess of the shelter, which abuts an open air archaeological site consisting of four Republican era Roman temples five meters below street level in downtown Rome. Cats have prowled these temples from the time that Julius Caeser was stabbed by Brutus here in 44 B.C.
Actress Anna Magnani was apparently a "devoted gattara," who lived not far from the shelter and cared for many cats.

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