Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cats in New York City / Arthur Avenue, Bronx

Arthur Avenue, The Bronx

This is a free chapter from Travels with George: New York, a story about the cats' visit to New York's real Little Italy, Arthur Avenue in The Bronx.

One day, they put Billy and me in our carriers in the back seat of the car.

“Sorry, boys,” the man said when he was getting out our carriers, “but there’s no good way to take you there on the subway.”

From Travels with George: New York
“There” was Arthur Avenue, what our people kept calling “the real Little Italy.”

Although I tried not to let Billy know, I was a little worried – “Bronx” sounded to me like a place full of dogs. Most dogs are okay, but in a big bunch, like at the shelter where I stayed before she brought me home, there was always at least one bad dog barking and jumping at the cats, and his friends always went along with him. It was about the only time I liked being inside a cage. The barking and growling dogs could not get in.

We don’t take rides in the car often. I can’t remember one other time when it wasn’t for taking us to the vet. I don’t like the car. We’re jailed in our carriers, not allowed to look around and check the new smells that come to us through the bars.

The man drove, and she turned back to wiggle her fingers inside the carriers. 

“We’ll be there soon,” she promised.

Not soon enough, I thought, but it was still better than staying alone at home. We still had this economy to thank for that.

“You get a ticket from the meter. I’ll find us a spot.”

We were finally in the The Bronx, and I hadn’t heard or smelled a single dog. 

“George, Billy, you guys can walk for a little while here, if you want. There might be some big feet around, so be careful. We’ll bring your bags. We can pick you up if it gets dangerous. 

I liked Arthur Avenue right away. The smells were richer, and all the cars and people were slower. I noticed that the buildings were smaller, and more sun leaked through the trees to shine on us. Along the sidewalks, there were tiny gardens with green plants that smelled like things the woman brought home in bags for the kitchen. 

Our people changed here too. They let Billy and me walk right into the tiny gardens and smell the dirt and plants. 

“Just don’t eat anything, Billy,” the man warned. “People won’t like you eating their herbs.”

“Gow,” Billy mewed, but for once, he did as he was told. 

“Next block, we’ll stop for lunch. They have a courtyard in back. It’s such a nice day, we can eat outside, and they won’t mind if we bring you with us. You can have something too, okay?”

She didn’t wait for an answer, but there was too much to consider anyway, especially not knowing what a “courtyard” was. Eating outside had been good so far, though.

On Arthur Avenue, we didn’t have to hide under a table by the sidewalk like we did when they ate Turkish food. Now, we went inside and through a dark passageway before they carried us out into a sunny place with walls all around and no traffic from cars, trucks or buses.

This must be a “courtyard.” It was quiet and sunny with lots of interesting shadows.

“Okay if we let the cats out under the table?”

“Okay with us, if it’s okay with them,” an unfamiliar voice said. “You brought your cats for lunch?”

“They don’t get out much,” our man said. “So, we decided to let them have a vacation, too.”

“Molto bene. Your menus.”

“That went pretty well,” the woman said. “I didn’t want to get stuck with takeout, not on Arthur Avenue.”

“Italians love cats,” the man said. “They were all over the place in Rome and Florence."

“Everybody loves cats,” she corrected him.

She gave me a rub when she let me out.

“Stay under there now, you guys. No trouble.”

After we had some water, it was a perfect time to doze off. We were in the cool shade, but a nice slice of sunlight lit the floor beside me. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. 

When I woke up, I saw that Billy was already awake and sitting in the sun beside the table. His black fur was shiny and warm. No grass to eat in sight, he was happily absorbing the courtyard. Other groups of people without cats were eating. The shadows and light mixed with tasty aromas. It was easy to see what our people liked about being here. 

They walked us back out to the street. The sounds and smells of the city rushed back. I hesitated a little, to adjust. It was nicer and quieter than the places they took us on the subway where it was usually too dangerous to walk.

We went in and out of stores, and nobody seemed to mind. It was unusual too because the people, including ours, were too busy to make a fuss over cats. In one place that the woman called “a cheese shop,” we even saw another cat that nobody was bothering with. He was watching from the top of a counter, guarding his territory. He blinked at us.

He also seemed to be guarding some cheese, but he let our people have some. Billy and I both asked to share. It smelled so good. 

“We’ll save some for you,” the woman promised but they can’t let you eat here. We’d all get in
Travels with George: New York & Paris
trouble.”

The Arthur Avenue shop cat blinked at us as we left. He seemed nice. But we had to go and buy, “the best vegetables I’ve seen all year.”

The kept filling up bags at every stop. I was keeping track, trying to learn new things. After the vegetables, we got “pastries” and fresh bread. 

“Look at this fresh pasta,” the woman said. “We have to get some and have it tonight. It’ll be wonderful to eat at home, even if we’re on vacation.”


The fish store made me swoon. It was my favorite stop. There were so many smells filling and blending in the air, it felt like being in the water. Billy looked like he’d just swallowed a handful of catnip.


Story by David Stone
Illustrations by Deborah Julian