The Cat Man

From the terrace you can see a house - just the top storey and the terracotta roof tiles jutting out of the woods on the side of the ravine that slopes down towards the town. It’s puzzled us ever since we moved in because there isn’t a road, or even a track that could lead to it.
Viewed from above it looks derelict - loose pantiles on the roof, flaking stucco, window shutters broken. But sometimes, late at night, we've seen a light glimmering through the trees.

Both Neil and I love walking and have been exploring alternative ways of getting to Pietrasanta without taking the car down the winding, suicidal road that connects the village to the town - spiralling up 900 feet in just three kilometres. Yesterday we decided to attempt to find the old pony track down to the town which was originally used by the workers in the marble yards. A man in the village assured us it was still there - very overgrown and possibly obstructed in places. ‘People build new houses,’ he told us, ‘and they put up signs that say “Proprieta Privata”.’
We followed several paths through the woods, many ending in a terraced olive grove with no way out, but on our fourth attempt, pushing through tangled shrubs and brambles we emerged into a clearing and there was the house in front of us. It looked almost as ruinous as it had seemed from a distance, surrounded by discarded rubbish and the rubble of a lean to that had leaned too far. But we could hear the sound of a strimmer and as we walked round the end of the house we could see a sturdy figure in protective clothing strimming the long grass under the olive trees below.

An old garden table standing outside was piled high with empty dog food cans. There was a plate and a beer glass beside them. All around were plastic sacks of refuse and supermarket carriers, but an old shallow sink stood under a stand-pipe with two pot plants in it. A broken door, propped open, revealed a room full of the plastic baskets they use for the olive harvest, a plastic chair, an old television and a stained mattress. A sky satellite dish had been tied to the window shutter with wire.
On the patchy grass that still seemed to remember being a lawn, a colony of cats lay in the sun, but as soon as we appeared they shot off into a bramble thicket, where seven pairs of eyes watched us carefully.
The man looked up, stopped strimming, pushed up his visor and smiled at us, calling ‘Buona sera’ as he wiped the sweat from his face with his sleeve.
‘Sera,’ we replied.
‘Questa casa,’ I gestured towards the house, ‘e occupata?’
‘Si, signora.’ He grinned broadly. ‘I sleep there. And the cats.’
I looked at all the cans of dog food, but no sign of a dog anywhere and thought ‘Does he feed it to the cats?’
‘Is there a path to Pietrasanta anywhere here?’ Neil asked.
‘Si. Basso.’ He pointed down through the olive grove, and then we could see a flight of old stone steps, very overgrown, but heading in the right direction.

We parted with friendly greetings, though I didn’t have the courage to ask him his name, but I’m sure we will be meeting our nearest neighbour again, since we have to walk through his garden when we want to walk into town. And now I know where the wild cats - who sometimes appear on my terrace - come from.
She would like to come in!
One of them has appeared regularly since we moved in. She will eat from a plate when we are there, but doesn’t tolerate any close contact. A sudden movement and she’s gone in a flash. I’m happy to feed her - I just hope she doesn’t bring all her brothers and sisters.

Pleasure at being here rather overshadowed by the weekend news from Norway. There are two Norwegian sculptors working here in Pietrasanta, one currently in Oslo and we hope that she, and her family, are safe.


  1. A lovely tale.
    How terrible for your Norwegian acquaintances.
    Norway is such a small community it must hit them very hard.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts