Featuring eighteen separate stories about a flock of felines whom I photographed in various parts of Greece, it’s much more than just another book of cat photos. It’s also an introduction to the country of Greece and its heroes, myths, traditions, cuisine and holidays—told through the perspective of the country’s clever cats like Michaela the Monastery Cat, Bijou the Easter Cat and Antigone the Wedding Cat.
“The Secret Life of Greek Cats” isn’t just for children. People seem to buy it as often for their adult friends, who love the humor in the cats’ tales, as for their children who may be studying Greek myths and culture.
Below I’m introducing two of my favorite felines from “The Secret Life of Greek Cats”: Vasili, who longs to be a sailor and knows exactly what to say to a mermaid, and Dionysos, the barstool cat from Paros who is exhausted from all the music and dancing every night but is proud to be named for the Greek god of wine.
If you would like to buy a copy of “The Secret Life of Greek Cats”, you can find it on Amazon or just click on the book cover at right to preview it and order a copy from my web site (www.GreekCats.com.) If you’re interested in multiple copies—say for a Greek church festival or a carload of cat lovers—contact me at JoanPGage@yahoo.com to learn about multiple copy discounts.
VASILI THE SAILOR
Vasili is a tawny tabby cat who longs for the day he’ll hop on a boat and sail away to see the world beyond the harbor of Hydra. Daily he watches them come and go: huge cruise ships with crowds of tourists, ferryboats chugging from island to island, streamlined yachts and tiny fishing boats that sail out before dawn.
More than anything, Vasili would like to become a ship’s cat aboard a vessel with high masts and billowing sails. He would climb up the rigging to sit just above the blue-and-white Greek flag. From there he would be the first to see dolphins, flying fish, whales, sea monsters, even mermaids. If he sees the giant mermaid called the Gorgona, Vasili knows exactly what to say.
According to legend, the Greek king Alexander the Great (who conquered most of the ancient world by the time he died in 323 BC) wanted to live forever, so he killed the dragon who guarded the water of immortality. Exhausted, Alexander brought the magic water home and fell asleep. His sister saw the water and took a swallow. Then she poured the rest on the plants! When Alexander the Great woke up, he got so mad at his sister that he cursed her, turning her into Gorgona, a giant mermaid with a double tail who can lift a ship in one hand.
Whenever Gorgona sees a passing ship, she calls out “What news of Alexander the Great?” If a foolish sailor tells her the truth—Alexander’s long dead--the mermaid becomes so angry that she stirs up towering waves to wreck the ship and drown the crew. So every Greek sailor knows to tell the Gorgona: “Alexander the Great lives and reigns!”
Hearing that, the giant mermaid will smile and perfumed winds fill the sails, speeding Vasili’s ship on to exotic places far beyond the horizon.
DIONYSOS, THE BAR STOOL CAT
If Dionysos looks tired, it’s because he was up late last night partying with the college students who like to stay at the inexpensive hotel on Paros where he lives. It’s not that he drinks wine, or ouzo, or raki or tsipouro (those last two are moonshine made from the leftover grape skins.) Cats are much too sensible to do that. But Dionysos likes to join in with the fun and dancing and the music of the clarinet and the bouzouki when the kefi (high spirits) begins to rise.
He likes to watch the dancers, all holding hands in a line, dance the tsamiko or “handkerchief dance” as the leader, holding tight to the handkerchief, leaps and bounds and even does flips. (Dionysos is careful to stay on top of his bar stool, to avoid any unfortunate accident to his tail.) The zeibekiko or eagle dance is performed by two people, face to face, circling and moving as if in a trance. Sometimes a dancer will even pick up a table in his teeth to show how strong he is!
If the dancers and the music are outstanding, the onlookers express their admiration and kefi by shouting “Opa!” Or hissing. They may throw money for the musicians on the floor. In the old days, people would sometimes show their kefi by smashing plates on the floor. Dionysos is glad that it’s now illegal, because the noise was very hard on his nerves.
Dionysos knows that he’s named for the ancient Greek god of wine, and that, since the very earliest times, this god was celebrated with dancing, music and drinking. Dionysos the cat would never take part in the misbehavior he has seen from his barstool in the wee hours of the night, but he does like to think of himself as a party animal.