Is there a cats’ and cat lovers’ paradise on earth? Yes!.. It is Istanbul. Cats are as inherent part of the city as minarets and shish-kebob. I am not talking only about the house cats, either. The ‘house’ variety is somewhat of a minority in this town. The majority of the feline population live on the streets. They are everywhere; on park benches, inside shop windows, in front of butcher shops, beside anglers on the banks of Bosphorus, on parked vehicles, on a chair next to yours in a café, underneath a market stall, on some elderly lady’s lap and, most certainly, on sidewalks.
One may easily mistake a cat’s aloofness for indifference and even outright hostility. In reality, they have an immense capacity to give and receive affection.
There is a unique relation between the people and the cats in Istanbul. People care about and take care of these furry creatures. In summer you notice bowls of fresh water left on sidewalks to quench their thirst. Many cat lovers set up feeding stations in their neighborhoods.
Istanbulites’ affection for cats reflects even in the humor that originates in this ancient metropolis. An example is ‘Bad Cat Serafettin’ is a hilarious animated movie that came out in 2016. Serafettin is the Bad Cat, who is actually the main character in a very popular cartoon feature in a satire magazine. Here is a link to the animated feature film, Bad Cat’; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyUYNxDTEmM.
More recently a documentarr, ‘Kedi’, has been attracting an unexpected level of raves both in the USA and elsewhere in the world. This delightful piece on cats of Istanbul was shot by a young Turkish female director, Ceyda Torun.
Eric Kohn of IndieWire says; “If Grumpy Cat is the blockbuster franchise of cat videos, ‘Kedi’ is the ‘Citizen Kane’ of the documentary genre”. YouTube has liked the film so much that they signed a deal with the owners and have since made it available on the ‘YouTubeRed’ platform. Here is a link for the trailer. The words of a local inhabitant in the movie summarizes how Istanbulites feel about cats, “Without the cat, Istanbul would lose its soul”.
A few members of the cat population in Istanbul have even achieved somewhat of a celebrity status on the Internet. One of them is Gli, the ‘Obam’s cat’. It is a cross eyed grey tabby that lives inside Hagia Sophia museum. Gli’s fame peaked when she made President Obama’s acquaintance during the latter’s visit to Istanbul in April 2009.
The other Istanbulite feline of fame was Tombili. His fame expanded when a photographer saw him in very ‘human-like’ pose, laungind on the sidewalk. He quickly shot a few frames, one of which became very famous. A few months ago Tombili passed away. The local residents and shopkeepers in the area were so enamored and proud of the cat that they commissioned a sculpture of him modeled after the famous frame and placed it at the very spot where it was taken.
Many Istanbulites consider cats to be part of this city’s environment. They are woven into the fabric that make up Istanbul. When I was putting this piece together, I wondered how much of Istanbul that we, human Istanbulites, don’t know and see but the feline Istanbulites do. The nooks and crannies, the lonely attics and basements, quiet warehouses and store rooms, the inaccessible rooftops and yet unexplored ancient tunnels beneath this old town. They know them all and that is their domain. The rest of the city, they have owned it for the last ten thousand years. They just tolerate us humans and allow us to share it with them.