The Hammam or public bath takes a central place in the feline community. The bath was and in some countries still is, the gathering place of all cats and kittens. A place to luxuriate, relax and bring the mind back to its peaceful self.
This cat bath allows one to move gradually from cool to the exquisitely hot rooms, fluffing fur, relaxing tired bones, bringing a smile to fraught kitty lips --- even presidential candidates.
A special feature of the feline bath is the Tellak, elder queens that bath patrons with their curiously coarse tongues. During these baths, all but the soft rasping of these sand papery tongues on fur can be heard. These bathing rooms are dimly lit and allow the bather to withdraw from society and return to the kitten state.
Off a little alleyway on Lincoln Street in Calistoga the lovely Pink Tongue, a true haven for the stressed feline, lies behind a rustic red door. Little is there to distinguish this old bath, perhaps the oldest in existence. There is no sign, no sound emitted from the establishment to let the casual passerby know what treasures lay within.
Every feline that attends is discreet and circumspect, waits until the coast is clear and claws the door for entrance. Inside the entry hall is ornate. The rooms are all pink marble with brown veins. The lighting is provided by tiny windows. The light from these windows is guided to the floor by a series of arches that stretch to infinity. At the very end of the infinite is a hole in the ceiling that allows the sun's rays to strike a checkerboard floor of red and orange marble. Traditionally, a pile of calicos stretch out here to dry after bathing.
In an alcove nearby, one can purchase heavy cream, tuna juice, scraps of liver or a delicious ice cream (particularly delectable after a hot session on the belly stone).
For those who still hold the old practices close, this establishment is a true delight.
During my visit, I was thrilled to find that the room called 'Ocean of Milk' was empty. I took my spot in the middle of a large warm pool of heavy cream and let it soak my soft, white under skin. The feeling was indescribable. Soon I was lolling sleepily, my body threatening to sink to the bottom beneath the layer of fat. I hummed a little tune and longed to prolong the endless silence and light touch of the liquid lapping at my eyebrows.
I lapsed into sleep for a while and woke to hear the purr of another nearby. I was instantly alert and annoyed. I had nothing to say to anyone. I felt tired of the proximity of others. I did not even want to share the room with my campaign manager. I had come to this refuge for quiet and relaxation. I did not want to rub shoulders, no matter how soft, with any cat. In short, I was irritated. My tail flapped causing me to sink beneath the cream. I inhaled a great deal of milk down the wrong tube and stood up coughing.
At the surface I encountered a pure white face, large green eyes and a quizzical expression. The Fatah al Felidae had been curiously quiet lately. There had been no mention in the press of their activities and their leader The Great White Hope had disappeared. Kitties had stopped blowing themselves up on the doorsteps of cat killing dogs.
Suddenly, I knew what had happened (check out the slide show at the bottom of the page). The Great White Hope had experienced a sex reassignment. He no longer had the swagger of an unneutered tom. He had the sleek look of the metrosexual kitty, although he still retained his deep, bone vibrating hum.
"MMMMMMMMMMMM," he said and then chuckled at me. "You look silly with milk dripping out of your nose."
I turned my back to him and pushed off the bottom to the other side of the pool. I lie back once again in the warm milk and let my mind drift. Periodically I heard him whispering to himself. Slowly the whispering became louder and louder.
"O Great Cat speak in my favor as your devotee," he sang in a high, sing-song voice. "O you who are foremost among cats, who is the origin of cat. You, who are the best healer, annihilate the visible enemies of mine such as dogs, stripy Siamese cats and other vicious animals."
My tail smashed into the warm liquid. Suddenly the whole pool rocked with my anger. I stood up and shouted:
"He is my Great Cat!"
The White Hope ignored me and kept singing.
"O Great Cat, salutations to your anger! Let that anger go towards our enemies not towards me! Also, salutations be your arrow. And also salutations be to your bow. Also salutations be to your two paws which hold the bow and arrow. Let all these (the anger, blow and arrow, paws) be active in destroying enemies, like that angry stripy Siamese cat."
I swam over to the idiot to let him have a piece of my mind.
But before I could reach him, a pillar thrust up out of the center of the pool. The pillar was hard to focus on with my eyes. It held so much energy it blurred with its vibration. Flames surrounded it and I could feel the intensity of its heat and vibration. My ears boomed. My skin tightened with the heat. The Great White Hope's hair stood on end.
"What the hell is that?" he asked me.
As if in answer the Great Cat walked out of the center of the pillar covered in ashes.
"I have no purpose, no desire, nor freedom, no virtue, no vice, no pleasure or pain, no fear, nor death, nor breed distinction, no father, no mother, no friend or relation, nor master or disciple. I am the Great Cat and Not! I am formless, attributeless, and omnipresent." The air thrummed with the words. My heart was filled with fear. My heart filled with joy to be in his presence.
He wore a garland of pearls, small animal skulls and snakes. The snakes entwined in a tiara he wore on his head. A tiger skin was wrapped around his waist. Through his eyes, he could see the three forms of time -- past, present and future. He could see the whole of my life and beyond. I knew he offered me the hope of transcending my own death. Through him I could become one with his eternal formlessness and never perish.
"This is the symbol of my power and supremacy," he gestured at the pillar. "I am potent and not, intact and not. I am the supreme ascetic!"
Suddenly I was filled with such an erotic rush. I convulsed with an orgasm. My mind went blank. Great clarity seized me and I saw the whole of the universe as my body and knew without a doubt there was something greater. I rested quietly.
When I woke, I felt rested, calm. My friend the Great White Hope was waiting for me on the pool edge with a smile on his face.
"Brother," he patted me on the back. "Is it true?"
"Yes apparently, " I said as we walked out to the alcove for a cool drink. "You are to be my vice presidential candidate. In a few weeks we are off to Cartagena for the Feline Party of God Convention."
"We have serious work to do," he took out a notebook and began writing. "I'll work on our health care reform proposal. You put together our Iraq withdrawal plan."
I could see the two of us could work together, but it would be difficult. I could see the shape of the future. I could hear our stump speeches. I could see the inauguration. My hand on the mighty book The Song of the Great Cat as I took my oath. My challenge to the decency laws to legalize, once and for all, the lap dance -- a true art form. I could also see that eventually the Great White Hope would drive me nuts.
"Brother," I said when he had finished his drink. "Let's shape the future of the United States together. Let's build a new day for all cats, young and old, large and small, purebred and not, neutered and not. Let's build a nation for them all. A place where they all can thrive."