Photography,  Places

Istanbul’s otherworldly inhabitants.

I sometimes wish it was possible to interview cats. What things they must have seen — and if they could talk, I’m sure they’d have a rich oral history. Unless they adapt their claws to dip in an inkwell … they’d probably be talented calligraphers. Okay, so I’m letting my imagination run away with me here. Regardless, whether you like or dislike cats, Istanbul neighborhoods would not be what they are without their feline inhabitants. The street dogs are something special too, but in my opinion they exist solely based on the good nature of the city’s gentle inhabitants.

Cats are subtle creatures and I’m told that this city’s felines have flourished since Ottoman times thanks to the Prophet’s particular love of the animal. It’s said that he loved animals in general, but that once he cut off his own sleeve rather than disrupt a feline friend’s sleep.

In more recent times Barack Obama paused in Istanbul to scratch a tabby behind the ear, while Hilary Clinton paused during an interview when interrupted by two noisy cats. Perhaps they were saying, “one minute, one minute … ” Who knows? So even if we can’t understand them, their voices are heard by no less than some of the world’s most prominent leaders.

They are the true survivors, adaptable, aloof and otherworldly, and yet integral to the functioning of this city. They are a subculture of fighters, beggars, scavengers, hunters and seekers, even if all they seek is a warm lap. Without cats, Istanbul would not be what it is. Worse, our rodent problem would probably rival Mumbai’s. We’d be plagued — literally.

What do you think of cats? Friend or foe? Neighbor or nuisance?