My just recently adopted, old, toothless partner in crime is teaching me so much about life. About pausing every now and then to appreciate what we have instead of worrying about what we don’t have. About enjoying those almost imperceptible rays of sunshine. Most of all, he teaches me about love. I guess because we know our time together is limited and can end at any moment. The vet can’t really tell how old JoJo is. Anything between 12 and 15 years is possible, he thinks. And JoJo has FIV, the feline version of HIV. It can potentially fully break out at any moment and then he’ll only have a few months left. So, I am completely aware of each second spent with this incredibly beautiful soul. I am grateful we can make each other happy for however long that may be. While I hold him in my arms and he soothes me through his gentle presence, I learn to love and let go more deeply than ever before.
Last week, I went on a 5-hour hike with a good friend of mine. Switzerland sure has beautiful corners everywhere. We walked from Schoenenberg to Sihlbrugg, along this incredibly tranquil trail. For the longest time, it felt as if we were somewhere far away in the wilderness. We barely met anyone else. Plus, following the water is one of my favorite pastimes anyways.
It felt good to be away from my laptop for a little bit. I’ve been incredibly busy these past few weeks, studying French, studying Psychology, and writing dozens of applications. I want to stay. I want to be able to fully arrive, let out a deep breath, and settle into a comfortable routine. Things have shifted massively for me. Sometimes trauma is a good thing. It has shown me more than ever before how important it is for me to belong somewhere, to have a home base. Many of my closest friends are here in Zurich. Some of us go back decades. We know practically everything about each other and no matter how long I’ve been gone in between, we always pick up right where we left off. It’s family in the truest sense of the word. It’s my happy place. My comfort zone.
Zurich is also my true birth place. It was here all the puzzle pieces fell into place thirty years ago. It was here I found myself. I guess that’s why I have returned time and time again over the years and why I have spent the majority of my time here. Seventeen years so far. No matter how much I searched for home elsewhere, life kept returning me here. It’s time to stop running and relax into this simple and quite beautiful truth: Zurich is home. In some ways, it took all the often extreme and painful life experiences of the last years for me to finally fully see and understand this.
In the end, my big hike last summer, my five months in Montpellier, and now the last three months here in Zurich have been about sorting through things, about decluttering, about spring cleaning my life, about slowing down, and about re-discovering and focusing on what is truly important.
Now to just hope things will work out…
I need to rave a bit more about this cat. It’s incredible to think that, had I not decided to hike from Switzerland to the Mediterranean Sea and, had I not spontaneously decided to stay in Montpellier for a few months, JoJo and I would never have met.
I rescued him from the streets of Montpellier when he was really sick and gave him the first real home he’s ever had. But let’s not kid ourselves here. He is not the rescue. I am.
JoJo has had a major impact on my life. He was there when I woke up from nightmares I had struggled with ever since some traumatic events two years ago had left me bewildered and breathless. He gently nuzzled my cheek and simply lay close to me, helping me to overcome, see reality, and move on. By now, the nightmares are few and far between.
Every day, as I sit at home writing articles, studying, writing CVs and searching for jobs, JoJo interrupts me several times. He hops up onto the desk and sits in front of me. If I ignore him, he gently touches my face with his paw. As I shift my attention to him, I realize how important it is to be in the moment. And to not be afraid. I don’t need to overly stress about finding a job and having a purpose. I will find a job. And I do have a purpose already. My purpose is to live fully.
JoJo is the most uncomplicated and loving cat I have ever had. He never runs away when I want some cuddles. He loves it when I use him as a pillow. In fact, he enjoys snuggling close every single time. And, since he has no more teeth at all, even his love bites are the cutest, gentlest thing I’ve ever felt. I keep his food open on the counter for refills. He never jumps up and steals anything. He only scratches the posts on the cat tree. He sits for hours on the windowsill watching sparrows pick up seeds right in front of him. Just patiently watches them and enjoys the show. He wakes me up for food but lays back down if I don’t want to get up yet. He loves binge-watching movies and series together and curls up in the crook of my arm for hours. Overall, he is so calm and Zen that a friend of mine recently said, “Next to him, even the Dalai Lama looks nervous.”
As soon as I turn off the lights to go to bed, JoJo is right next to me on the pillow, clumsily stepping all over my face until he finds just the right spot which allows him to press his body as close to my head as possible. There he stays with me all night.
A few weeks ago, he developed a really heavy bronchitis. It became almost pneumonia. Thankfully, his body, which had most likely never received antibiotics before, reacted instantly and now he is as lively and as playful as an old, toothless little puma can be. The vet isn’t sure about his age. It could be anything between 11 and 15 years. What we did find out after several blood tests at the lab unfortunately is that JoJo has FIV, which is the feline equivalent of HIV. It can break out fully at any moment, or he can be fine for quite a few more years. The vet thinks this is also the reason why he had such horrible gingivitis when I found him on the street.
I am just so glad we crossed paths and that, however long he has left, we get to spend this time together. I know he feels safe, content, and happy to have found a home with me. I’m grateful I get to be the one who gets to spoil him a bit until he needs to go.
I am just in awe of his big, kind heart and soul. Sharing moments suspended in time with this little buddy is way up there amongst the best experiences of my life.
Alright, this is it. One more sleep in Montpellier. Then, tomorrow morning, I’ll hop into a rental car and drive north, towards the Swiss border. All luggage is in the car already, so we can get a running start. All I’ll need to do at 6 am is to throw some cold water into my face, drink a coffee… and off we go.
As you can see, I am leaving with quite the little family in tow: a fish, a stingray and, most importantly, little JoJo, the sweetest old street cat in all of Montpellier. Most likely in all of France ;).
Today was a full and exciting day for JoJo and me both. In the morning, I said goodbye to yet another new friend I am grateful to have crossed paths with. We went for a walk in the old town and got my favorite donuts one last time. Sooo good. Afterwards, JoJo and I went to the veterinary to make sure his travel papers are in order. I wanted to go get a Covid test, but the line was about a mile long. After one hour, I gave up waiting. Hopefully, this won’t cause a problem tomorrow… but that’s a bridge – or rather a border – I’ll cross then. Bottom line: Cat is ready. I am not.
In the evening, I went to get a rental car, maneuvered it through all the narrow one-way streets, broke out in a cold sweat while doing so, and finally found a parking space. It’s a great little car, and I’ve already prepared lots of cozy sleeping spaces for JoJo.
A bientôt Montpellier!
As we are nearing the end of this year, I’d like to say thank you to all of my friends near and far, old and new, for their support. Thank you for believing in me. There were so many acts of kindness… ranging from that little “like” of support for one of my posts, to sending notes and messages enquiring how I am, to chatting and trusting each other with our latest news and developments, to actively lending assistance. Thank you for caring and being there.
Special thanks go to all those of you who went out of your way to help me survive and find a fresh start this year. To protect people’s privacy, I won’t name anyone, but you know who you are.
Thank you for the many messages I received with links to job offers across the globe. I applied to all of them. No luck yet, but I so appreciate all your efforts and pointers.
Thank you to all those who gave me shelter for hours, days, or even weeks and who invited me to the odd free meal. It meant a lot and I just hope one day I will be in a position again to pay it forward and be able to do the same for someone in need.
Thank you to my parents for helping me on their already tight budget with the costs of studying and staying in Montpellier.
Thank you to the wonderful team at Alliance Francaise Montpellier, who were rather friends than teachers. They chauffeured me around to buy cat provisions, kept their eyes open for job and apartment opportunities, and never gave up on me no matter how slowly my French progressed.
Thank you to my good friend and almost-room mate for being there and also for spoiling JoJo et moi with the coolest impromptu Christmas buffet ever.
Thank you to old and new friends alike for offering to help me survive financially. To that regard, I want to thank two people especially. One is one of my best and oldest friends who is struggling herself this year but still lent me part of her savings. The other is a new friend who has never even had a real face-to-face conversation with me but still entrusted me with some of her hard-earned money. I am in awe and forever grateful to you both. Thank you for your trust. And thank you for being patient with my clumsiness. I am not used to need to ask for so much help.
Thank you to so many of you around the world who contacted me and offered me shelter whenever things got a bit hairy this year. Were it not for Covid travel restrictions and now being responsible for an elderly street cat, I might haven taken some of you up on your offer.
As it so happens, I did take one of you up on your offer and want to thank you so much for your help with little old JoJo as well as for letting us come stay with you soon.
As for plan B, thank you to yet another dear friend who might have a whole house for us to take shelter in, should JoJo and I not be able to cross the border from France to Switzerland in January.
Thank you in general to the surprisingly overwhelming amount of people who were true to their word in every regard.
I apologize if I have not mentioned everyone and everything. The list of incredible kindnesses this year is a long one and will most likely fill an entire book. I will always remember.
Even the kindnesses of strangers were enchanting on a daily basis.
One memorable encounter was a cashier at the Carrefour supermarket around the corner who sent me twice to get a new box of mandarins. The second box still met her disapproval. When I looked at her, my eyes above the face mask big orbs of confusion, she opened both packages, and fished out the moldy mandarins I hadn’t seen hidden at the bottom. Then she began rearranging both boxes (with a long line of patient customers waiting behind me). I ended up with one box overflowing with Vitamin C goodness, while she kept the almost empty second box with the moldy remains. “Au revoir et bonne soirée” she said, eyes above her face mask twinkling, and sent me on my way.
One very special thank you goes to the little street cat who has chosen me as his new family. Your gentle purring at night soothed my nightmares which before you arrived disturbed my sleep so profoundly. Now, it is you disturbing my sleep, which I greatly prefer. Also, your paws trampling all over my face in the morning put a smile on my face and into my heart. You are a bit rough around the edges but you help me appreciate the things that ARE instead of mourning and feeling the loss of things that were. Thank you my little lion.
Et voilà, many hugs around the world from JoJo et moi!
After camping for a few days, we’ve now stopped for a couple days in the beautiful city of Biel. Yesterday was a lovely day of spoiling myself. I took a long, hot bath while listening to Cinemix, had a picnic dinner from Migros (awesome Swiss supermarket!), and went to the pharmacy to get some advice on why the soles of my feet are still hurting like hell…
Turns out, I have an inflammation in my feet. The pharmacist was helpful and seemed super competent. She prescribed some pills and a special ointment. I was a bit relieved to hear that, apparently, I am not especially whimpy, but this happens to rather a lot of hikers whose feet have troubles getting used to carrying the extra weight of the backpack in addition to hiking up and down through the Swiss Jura region. It doesn’t help that there are no cold creeks to hang your feet into in the evening.
Anyhow, the pharmacist recommends that I stop for at least three days to make sure the inflammation is gone, before I continue. I am gutted to be slowed down, but also immensely grateful to finally know why my feet feel like I’ve got half a dozen knives stuck in them.
Dave will continue on with his partner who is due to join us today. I’ll sadly remain behind for now. But I’m planning to continue on the trail by Monday, or Tuesday at the latest. Depends on those two rebellious feet. Fingers crossed!
Being here in Biel with time to think brings back memories. I shop in Migros, in awe at all the delicacies and realize that, while I lived in Switzerland, I probably didn’t appreciate all these little luxuries enough. Even after only one and a half weeks on the trail, my perspective is already shifting. It’s a good thing. Being more aware.
I also think back on the last few years. Life, work, travels. There was so much good. Like the best road trip of my life so far, in 2013, from Zurich to Barcelona and back… all the way along the Spanish coastline, through the South of France, through Monaco, to Cinque Terre in Italy. Then we drove straight north, over the alps, back to Zurich. Driving this entire route for the first time was like a dream. As was experiencing the FINA world championships in Barcelona or deciding spontaneously to go to the opera. Or drinking Sangria in Barcelona’s old part of town. Then we drove on, through landscapes that were ever-changing and magnificent.
I get all nostalgic thinking about life experiences like these and think about how lucky I was to be able to share it all with someone who loved it as much as I did. It’s good to hold on to these memories, to treasure them. Life moves on, forever changing, but certain things remain forever good. Like stars in our firmament, lighting the way for us in harder times.
And, every time we have another profound experience, be it on our own or when we share it with someone who matters to us, we widen our horizon a bit further. We end up adding another star to our own personal Milky Way… making it glow just that tiny bit brighter…
Can I just say how grateful I am for my dad?
I mean, I am thinking daily, “Damn, I’m stuck here in Germany in this small apartment without any privacy, camping on the couch in the middle of the room.” True. There are no doors to close, and it’s a small one-bedroom apartment. Nowhere to hide from my dad’s loud snoring (or the even louder snoring of his cat for that matter). Nowhere to hide from the clattering of dishes when my dad (almost daily I might add) decides to unload the dishwasher right next to my ears at 7am…
Yet, while I’m feeling sorry for myself, I think again, yes, I’m camping in the middle of his living room. It’s been almost two months now… with no end in sight…
But, when I ask him, “Are you ok? This is your home. I know I’m disturbing your routine and there’s never a second for you to be alone. Let me know if it gets too much, ok?”, he just smiles and says, “I don’t mind. You can stay as long as you like.”
He doesn’t ask much of me either. I go shopping for us (“the fridge is so full,” he laughs) and I cook (“oh, spicy,” he says). In return, he takes out the garbage, and takes care of that dish washer.
He doesn’t ask me to do anything else, there are no conditions attached. We are just there, together for the moment, in the living room, him on one couch, me on the other, doing our separate things.
What would I do without him letting me stay here right now? I have no home to go to and my meager savings will barely keep me afloat for a couple of months if I have to pay any rent anywhere. And who knows when I’ll find employment again. It’s funny, too. Because, I rushed over here to make sure he is safe and to help him out in this global crisis. However, at the end of the day, it’s him, sharing his tiny living space so generously with me, who is saving my ass.
That being said, even before, his door was always open. What would we have done over the past decade, my partner and I, had he not sheltered us and helped us out financially over and over again? He took us in for months at a time when we needed a place to stay and shared all he had with us. He was there for us when no one else was. He was always happy to see us. And no matter how much he did for us, he never asked for anything in return. He was open-minded. Supportive. He never judged. He was just present, with his warm smile, accepting us as we were.
I probably don’t appreciate him enough. I know I criticize him way too often. I’m too impatient. Much better than I used to be, though. For that, I am grateful to my soulmate, who helped me see him through her eyes, and helped me realize that ancient past is just that – the past.
Most likely my dad will never see this post. I’ll make sure to tell him in person though, how much I appreciate him and all he’s done so selflessly for me, for us (when there was still an us).
This is what being family is all about, isn’t it? To be a safety net for each other. To be there for each other even if paths or opinions diverge. To care. To support. Unconditionally.
Thank you, Dad, for being in my life.
Have any of you seen ‘Where’d You Go Bernadette’? I’ve wanted to watch it for a long time and finally got around to it last night. The intro really hit me , which is why I want to share it here with you:
“Have you ever heard that the brain is like a discounting mechanism? Say, someone gives you a present and it’s a diamond necklace and you open it and you love it. You’re all happy at first. Then the next day it still makes you happy. Although a bit less so. A year later you see the necklace and you think, “Oh, that old thing.”
And you know why your brain discounts things? It’s for survival. You need to be prepared for new experiences because they could signal danger.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could reset that since there aren’t a lot of saber-toothed tigers jumping out at us? Seems like a design flaw that our brain’s default settings signal danger and survival instead of something like joy or appreciation.
I think that’s what happened to my mom. She got so focused on picking up danger signals that her discounting mechanism forgot to see all the good stuff in her life. And maybe Dad had quit seeing the diamond necklace side of mom.”
I pinched the photograph from this interesting article in Architectural Digest https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/whered-you-go-bernadette-movie-production-designer-interview
Thinking of this little family today.
I found them in a pet store in Macau, in 2010. They had just been rescued from the street. A cat with three kittens. All of them were horribly sick. They had any infection you could think of… cat flu, ear infections, eye infections, ringworm, etc. One of the little ones was so tiny, he could fit in a tea cup. He looked like Gollum. Barely any fur left on him, huge eyes, and a greyish, wrinkly face. I wanted to adopt all the babies but the volunteers in the store told me honestly that Gollum wouldn’t make it. The other two stood a fighting chance. Only one of them seemed strong though. He was the largest of the babies… and the loudest… meowing non-stop. The other one didn’t look quite as bad as Gollum, but she was extremely tiny and scrawny for a five to six-week-old kitten. She had patchy, dark brown fur. What was left of it stood on end, making her look as if she had stuck her little paw into an electrical socket.
I decided to take the two healthier babies home. As we took them out of their cage, their mom crawled into my arms and didn’t seem to want to let me go. She was small for an adult cat, cuddly, with huge, expressive, green eyes. However, I had really only come for the babies. I left without her.
Arriving at home, her offspring soon crawled into every corner and jumped on every shelf. They made quick friends with the parrot I fostered at the time – a cheeky, red-lored Amazon named Cebi (short for Cebola… ‘onion’ in Portuguese. Since he was Brazilian, I had figured he needed a name reflecting his heritage at least linguistically). The first couple of days were mayhem with medicating the fur babies around the clock, plus trying to keep Cebi from pecking at their tails the entire time.
While I had my hands full with my ‘menagerie a trois’, I kept thinking about the kittens’ mom. The chances of anyone ever adopting her were slim to none. She was now together with Gollum in the cramped cage in the back of the pet store. Watching him die. It occurred to me how horribly alone and abandoned she must feel. Over the next few days, no matter how much the antics of baby cats and parrot made me laugh, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. “Screw this,” I finally thought on day five, “one more cat won’t make a difference.”
I went back to the pet store. Gollum had died already. And here was his mom. Huddled all by herself in the corner of her cage. The animal charity volunteers were more than happy to let me take her as well. I had brought a transport box with me, and off we went, to reunite her with her other two babies. As soon as we came through the door, however, her kittens didn’t welcome her. It seemed they had already made my apartment their territory. For two days straight, they hissed at their mom, and skulked around like John Wayne and Lara Croft, ready to draw their guns at any time. Thankfully, on the third day after the initial, slightly flawed homecoming, the kittens began cuddling with their mom again as if they had never been separated. One day later, she was nursing them as well. As they were massaging her tits with their paws, the babies were purring as loudly as twin tractor engines.
I named the two-year-old mom ‘Boo’, because of her big, round eyes, which made her look startled as well as inquisitive. She reminded me of Boo in the movie Monsters Inc. Boo’s little girl was fearless. Only a third the body size of her brother, she was the one who explored everything first, climbed up everywhere, and battled her illness with much courage and cheerfulness. She had a warrior spirit. I named her Lara. Her brother was easy to find a name for as well. He had never stopped meowing since the moment I had laid eyes on him and generally sounded like a mix between a goat and a squeaky door in need of WD-40. Henceforth, his name was Bocelli. My own little opera singer.
It took over a month for me to nurse them all back to good health. This not without them infecting me with ringworm first as well. We ended up being quarantined in the apartment together for four weeks, since the fungus infection was highly contagious. Thankfully, Cebi’s parrot feathers at least seemed to be resistant to fungus.
Six months later, despite all bravery, Lara lost her battle. At first, she had seemed to become healthy just as the rest of her feline family. But then, she had begun to show strange symptoms. She didn’t grow. While her brother became ever bigger, she remained so tiny, she could sit on my hand. Something seemed to be wrong with her muscles and nervous system as well. Five months in, she could barely walk anymore or lift her little head to eat from her food dish. Her muscles gave out every so often and she would just collapse on the floor. Nevertheless, she was still as cheerful as ever, snuggling in the crook of my elbow and purring her little heart out. I consulted with a veterinary and we both came to the unanimous decision that it was kinder to help Lara along and let her go.
She enjoyed one last meal with her family. Then, I carried her to the vet. I kept holding her in my arms as the injection was gently working its way through her bloodstream and putting her to sleep. I buried her in a niche high up on a rock wall along the coast of Coloane with her favorite toy, a little stuffed sun with a smiling face, pouty red lips, and blue eyelashes. Lara’s final resting place overlooked a beautiful pagoda and the South China Sea. She still rests there today and I feel more at home when I am close by, able to every so often walk past her resting place to tell her she is not forgotten.
Three years later, in 2013, I left Macau for the first time and shipped Boo and Bocelli to my dad’s place in Germany. They took to him faster than you can say “hello.” I moved on towards a more nomadic life.
Meanwhile, the cats contentedly snuggled with my dad and with each other. They still do. Boo is now twelve years old, Bocelli is ten. He still meows constantly. His mom is still as cuddly, loving, and caring towards both her son and her human companion as ever. She listens to and seems to understand every word my dad says. She licks his forehead and rubs her head on his hand. Whenever her son, Bocelli, sidles up to her in need of affection, she gently licks her son’s ears and face. Often, she lets him snuggle close. Then, of course, there are the inevitable, territorial wrestling matches when Boo needs to assert her dominance and make it clear that she can take the spot on the window sill or on top of the aquarium whenever she wants to. Bocelli usually doesn’t put up much of a fight but rather let’s her have whatever she desires.
Unless it is a box. He is passionate about his boxes.
He is a shy and anxious boy. Which is why he is also Boo’s admiring, respectful student. He watches her every move to learn and see what is safe and what isn’t. It took him five years of longingly watching Boo interact with my dad before Bocelli gathered enough courage to relax and snuggle with the tall, smiling human being, too. Now he rarely leaves his side.
My dad spends much of his days either feeding Boo and Bocelli or sitting on the couch with both cats curled up together in his lap. I am happy, I can visit them every so often. Each time, the felines are on a different diet, alternating between looking rather like furry balloons, or looking more like the little, muscular, former street cats they are. They both love snoozing in patches of sunlight. When sleeping deeply, Boo now snores as loud as a lumberjack…
I’ve gone back to Lara as well. Back home for a couple of years. Looking out over the South China Sea, remembering her, just underneath her resting place. Wondering if her little stuffed sun is still shining for her. Somehow, I am sure it is.
Come run away with me to the circus… in my article on TheatreArtLife, pondering the intricacies of life backstage…
In the words of Geraldine and Franco Knie:
“This is our life. It’s what we grew up with. We don’t know anything else. We learned from an early age that the show takes priority over anything else. You either love it or you don’t. Not everything’s always hunky dory. We’re selling emotions, so we also need to live them and share them.”
Read the full article here.