December 2020

Baba the Cat

Baba in her own words
Interview by
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The purported author of A Cat’s Tale deigned to answer a few of our most pressing questions about history, feline representation and the importance of wet food.

Baba, while you address your readers in a personal tone, your book is well researched and even, dare I say, a touch academic. Suitably, your byline identifies you as a Very Learned Cat. Where did you come by your credentials?
You're not the only one who has wondered about that credential. I have also. Doesn't it seem redundant to call a cat "very learned"? We all are! Have you ever known of a cat who did not quickly learn how to get what it wants, how to get to where it wants to go, who doesn't slink away into places it's not allowed or expertly hunt small prey without a single lesson? One and all, we cats are outstanding learners. So I don't mind the compliment, but it's unnecessary and I suspect a marketing ploy.

You were assisted on this project by Paul Koudounaris. Would you be willing to tell your readers the story of how you first met Paul?
I had been deposited rather unceremoniously in an animal shelter in Los Angeles. I was but a couple months old and turned in as "unwanted," a ridiculous designation you humans see fit to apply to animals, even though in this day and age you would never consider applying it to another person. I don't mean to complain too loudly, however, because this was not really a plight but more a bump in the path of my destiny running its course. Paul had come in with the intention of taking a different cat. But I explained that it was me he was there to adopt. He at that time had another cat at home, so at night he placed me in a back room with a tall screen over the doorway, lest the other feline and I got into a territorial dispute. I climbed to the top of the screen, forced my way over, jumped down and found him on his bed. He woke to find me curled up in a ball on his chest, and at that point he understood things as I did, that we were meant to be together.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our interview with Baba's companion and co-writer, Paul Koudounaris.

If you could share a fillet with any cat from history, whom would you choose, and why?
It's not very feline to share food, you know! I guess you could call it the Law of the Bowl, but we tend to keep our food to ourselves and swat away any that intrude. So to split a fillet would take a very special circumstance indeed. I suppose I might make the sacrifice for one of those dashing sailor cats. Simon, who helped save the HMS Amethyst, was easily the finest naval cat in history. Or Trim, the great navigating cat who mapped Australia with Matthew Flinders and then circumnavigated the world. I would be willing to share with a cat like that, if for no other reason than to hear their tales of derring-do on the high seas. Oh, and both of them are tuxedo cats. Hmm, sounds like I have a type, eh?

As you demonstrate in your book, cats and other animals have swayed many historical events. In these tumultuous times, what can humans learn from the cat community?
That's an excellent question. To speak frankly, you humans are having a hard go of things nowadays, so indeed maybe it's time you looked to us as a model. I can certainly tell you one example feline society could set for you: We are completely devoid of discrimination and prejudice. When it comes to humans, we do not judge the color of skin or social status. And the same is true among ourselves. The decision to like or dislike another cat is based on character and experience rather than coat color, breed or whether they have a pedigree as long as their tail—or no tail at all. To look beyond superficialities is nature's way, and how humans mucked it up so badly, I haven't a clue.

Baba, what is your daily writing practice? Do you have one?
For better or worse (better for me, worse for the reading public), nowadays there isn't much writing to be done. Being an author was never more than a dalliance, and with the book finished I have resumed my original career of simply being a cat. I don't intend to pursue writing further. No more claws dipped in ink or scratch-marked edits for this girl.

"History, as an appreciation of the continuity between past and present, is something that appeals to the feline temperament."

What first sparked your love of feline history?
I think we cats by our nature are more interested in history than humans are. With humans, everything is about progress, the next great step, what you're going to do tomorrow or a year from now. But we cats value tradition. We're pretty resistant to change, if you haven't noticed, and we like being around the same person, staying in the same house, we prefer the same meals, and so on. It doesn't mean we're scaredy cats, afraid of the future—far from it. As the book has pointed out, we can be as bold as we need to be! But in general, I would say that history, as an appreciation of the continuity between past and present, is something that appeals to the feline temperament.

What inspired you to write the story of cats throughout the annals of time?
A fair question, since in my previous answer I discussed history primarily on an individual level. I thought it was time one of us finally spoke up on behalf of the species. It's a different age among humans. You are now soliciting voices that had previously been silenced and seeking enlightenment about what long-overlooked people have accomplished. And I felt, in that spirit, that you might wish to listen to voices beyond your species as well. Perhaps some among you are finally willing give an ear to a mew of feline history.

You appear in period dress throughout the book. Was there a particular outfit that became a favorite?
The devil outfit, without a doubt. I've taken more photos in it than in any other costume; in fact, I may have taken more photos in the devil suit than all the rest of the costumes combined. It's comfortable and has plenty of room for the ears, but there's something more to it. There is a certain effect the devil costume has on people. For instance, my human has taken me to the veterinarian's office wearing it, and with good results, since the vet is put off enough by a cat showing up as the devil that she touches me less and tends to wrap things up quicker.

Would you describe a typical day in the life of Baba?
I wake up between 5 and 6 a.m. I then inform my human that I am awake by attempting to wake him in turn. He will initially ignore me and continue sleeping. This makes the early part of the day the most difficult, since I must continue attempting to wake him, jumping about and crying out, until his resistance is overcome. Only then can I get my breakfast. After this early struggle, the day can proceed in a more decorous fashion. It's false to say, as many humans do, that a cat spends most of the day doing nothing. You tend to count only dramatic events as "somethings," but a cat's attention is drawn to infinite subtleties and small details. A cloud may appear in one part of the sky and moments later move to another. Shadows flit about the floor constantly. From the window, various creatures might be seen, from birds to lizards to other cats. So what to humans appears to be a day of nothing is, to a keen eye, a day filled with endless possibilities and fascinations.

"Cats who prefer wet food are cats who do things with immediacy, those with a zest for life and a love of spontaneity."

Wet or dry?
Wet. There is an immediacy to it. One must eat wet food quickly; to leave it out too long is to risk it spoiling. The choice between wet and dry becomes not so much about food but about attitude. Do you eat the wet, gobble it down and move on to the next adventure, or spend your day nibbling the dry? Cats who prefer wet food are cats who do things with immediacy, those with a zest for life and a love of spontaneity.


Baba portraits © Paul Koudounaris

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