Ailsa’s Travel Theme this week is Secret Places. She wrote about a secret place in the midst of Time Square. How fascinating! I’ve been to Times Square too many times to count and tend to avoid it if I can when in Manhattan — the crowds, chaos and flashing neon lights are just a bit too much for me; once you’ve seen it, there doesn’t seem to me much reason to go there unless you have a specific purpose. After reading Ailsa’s post and learning about her secret place, I will have such a reason next time I’m in New York.
As soon as I learned what the theme was this week, I knew exactly the photo that I should post, but it’s taken me a few days to find it. My son looked at me like I was crazier than usual when I told him that I was looking for a specific picture taken in May, 1980.
You remember taking that? he asked.
Yep, I replied as I dug through boxes of old photos in the basement. There’s a story. I took it in Rome. I always remember the photos when there’s a story.
It was the 17th day of a 22 day bus tour of Western Europe, with a group of students with whom I had just completed a semester of study in London. Although I loved the places we were seeing and was not looking forward to the end of my time abroad in less than a week, any patience I had once had for most of the people in that group had been nearly depleted over the preceding months and the close quarters of the bus were fraying my last nerve. In Venice I told my friends that I wanted to spend the day alone and took off to see how many bridges I could wander over. It was a lovely day, well spent.
I thought that afternoon had restored my good humor, but the bus trip to Rome, followed by several group activities, some scheduled tromps through the Vatican galleries and Roman ruins, a crazy drunken escapade the first night in Rome and a run-in with a motor scooter (a subject for another post!) had made me crave solitude by the third day in the Eternal City. I ditched my friends once again and wandered through Rome without a care in the world. I probably didn’t have too many lira in my pocket either. Just enough for a glass of wine and a bite to eat at a little neighborhood cafe.
I don’t remember everywhere I went that day, but eventually I found myself wandering along the banks of the Tiber. I thought I was such an odd girl for not wanting to join with the big group, for not finding much to laugh about with the girls who wanted to shop, for thinking that the perfect way to spend the middle of the afternoon on a free day in Rome was to wander along the banks of the river with my camera. I didn’t mind though; I was happy.
At some point during my walk, I looked up to see a cat. I had noticed the feral cats throughout Italy, but this cat seemed different from the others. He appeared calm, rather than prowling for any morsel of food. He sat perched in a little alcove on a wall along the river. He seemed to pick out one person from the crowd on the opposite bank and slowly turn his head to follow as they walked down the street. When the person had passed by, the cat chose another person. He didn’t seem interested in leaving his perch to following behind them, nor did he seem to notice other cats that walked nearby. He was cozy in his spot, perfectly content to people watch. He liked his secret place — and so did I. His secret place became my secret place for those few minutes while I watched him and those he watched.
A few months later, after we were back in school, we had a picture viewing party. As we were looking through each other’s photos and reminiscing about our time in abroad, I spotted a photograph by one of my fellow travelers. At first I thought it was mine and then I realized that it was taken from the opposite bank. But it was the same place on the river. And the same cat.
Maybe I wasn’t the only person who decided that day to snap a picture of a cat in his secret place, but he still represents a secret moment to me. Secret places can be any where, or just a moment in time or memory. To me, even after more than 30 years, a photo quickly snapped of a quiet cat still seems the epitome of a terrific afternoon exploring a strange city by myself, seeing what small secrets the city might reveal.