Tails of meows in Milan

November 24, 2019

This is a tale of a spontaneous trip to Italy and cats that nonchalantly inhabit the neighbourhoods ther

Cat in the ruins of Rome

It was my last night in Milan when I saw him. Walking through the vast grounds of Parco Sempione, being drawn further in by the sound of a live band. A song remembered from my teenage years. And the unexpected discovery of a pensioner’s tea dance.

Crouched on the ground, as if imagining the shrouded comfort of an invisibility cloak. All the better to safeguard against the toy dog that was paying him absolutely no attention whatsoever. I noticed the leash first. Then the tyres. Nestling at the front of the wheelchair. Before I could help myself, I waved and said hello. Only his owner turned to smile.

Finally. A cat.

Having spent two weeks in Italy, it was only my second sighting. The first being in Rome when a black cat had darted in front of us as it made its way from one restaurant to the next along the small courtyard in Trastevere; the city’s bohemian district located on the west bank of the River Tiber. Despite my wandering around Largo di Torre Argentina, which housed four temples as well as the remains of Pompey’s Theatre where Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC.

Castello Sforzesco cats.

That is the beauty of Rome. Ancient ruins appear at almost every turn. Or, at least so it seemed. Though in this case, I was more interested in spotting a cat or 10. Especially after hearing about how volunteers feed up to 150 strays daily. Unfortunately, I did not learn about Colonia Felina di Torre Argenti (Cat Sanctuary) until we left the city. Next time. Paws crossed.

This blow was partially softened by all the dogs I met along the way, which meant lots of pats and nose ponking. Oftentimes tiny little things that took one step forward before being picked up and carried two steps back. I was still smiling to myself as I happened upon the Biblioteca Parco Sempione. Climbing the few steps up towards it, a couple of tables and chairs were placed outside. A young man sat at one, entirely engrossed in the book he was reading. This was sufficient to propel me inside. One of the things I miss most, since moving from London to Lahore, is the lack of public libraries.

Upon entering, I felt eyes on me. Just to the right stood a small white dog of some sort; rather similar to a Scottish terrier. I said hello and it immediately rushed up to greet me. The very best kind of book ambassador. Inside the space was compact. Though it boasted fully functioning Wi-Fi and access to e-books as well. Thoroughly wonderful use of space.

Castello Sforzesco

Having reached the park gates on the other side, I decided to turn around and head back towards Castello Sforzesco; dating back to the 15th century. That’s when I saw him for the second time. Sitting on his owner’s lap. Taking this as a sign, I ambled up to them both and introduced myself as a crazy cat woman far from home. The lady explained that Toto — all white fluff splattered with apricot and black — was just around eight-months-old. And slightly shell-shocked from his outing. Yet demonstrating immense grace, a gentle tickle under the chin was permitted. As I lauded his courage while also appreciating his taking time out from his worries to accept cuddles. Before bidding them farewell, I showed off photos of my very own two feline furpots: the infamous Wahg and Tiara.

Making my way across what would have been the castle’s moat. Pausing to look at the grass below. And then a gasp of sheer delight. For lounging, there was a tabby cat — not entirely dissimilar to my little Wahg — basking in the late afternoon sun. I whispered salutations and asked why it was all alone. Then, moving to the other side of the drawbridge, I saw it had company in the shape of a ginger cat. Also nonchalantly stretched out; as if reminding everyone that they were the star attractions.

Once inside the castle grounds, my plan was to hurry through to the main entrance before venturing towards Duomo di Milano; completed after almost six centuries. The cathedral could be spotted looming up at the last moment from the midst of a heavily commercial avenue. That it looked somewhat out of place on the approach rendered it all the more impressive. To me, at least. And I found it rivalling Notre-Dame de Paris in my mind’s eye. But I ended up taking a slight detour. Of sorts. Because as I neared one of the small museums that Castello Sforzesco housed, I spotted another cat.

Black and white and plush; sort of what my minx Tiara might look like if she ever adopted a more rock n’ roll fur-style. Sitting just in front of a below-ground-level grated window. Eyes searching for someone. My first thought was that it must be trying to locate a missing feline companion. Just then, a lady approached him; speaking in reassuring tones. Carrying a small tray of raw meat. She put it down and wished him, buon appetito! As he tucked in, I found myself perching on a nearby bench with other tourists. Thought my only mission was to watch the cat eat his dinner; as if he had got the cream. No sooner had he washed his plate clean than did he disappear through the looking-glass once more.

That was my cue to get going. Exiting the castle along another drawbridge. Joking to myself that there might yet be more furpots to meow-and-greet. What I saw next surpassed any flights of fancy. Lazing on the grass about four or five cats. A couple were sprawled out. The others curled up and snoozing soundly. All of them openly revelling in cold-shouldering prying eyes. An almost identical scene played out on the other side. The only real difference being that there were more. Including some kittens playing with one another. And a pigeon or two strutting among them. Without fear.

Sighing, I silently wished each and every one of them well before sitting down for a few moments on a stone bench opposite. In my heart of hearts, I fancied that Wahg and Tiara had sent the cats to me. As an acknowledgement that I would soon be homeward bound. Back to their furry embrace.

It really was the purrfect end to a fantastically spontaneous trip that saw me reconnect with an old classmate whom I had not seen in nearly 20 years. Though that is a story for another time, and one where dogs take centre-stage. Woof woof!

The author is a writer and journalist based in Lahore. She can be reached at

mirandahusain@me.com and tweets @humeiwei

Meeting cats of the world: Tails of meows in Milan