The Cats on Chartres St. / by Heather

I think one of the many magical things about travel is how as time passes after a trip, the memory of it slowly breaks down into fragments of vivid moments. The images that were burned into your mind, the people that moved you, the way you felt standing there….in that one special spot. I always come away from a trip with several of these moments that I like to savour and mull around in my head long after. This is one that I would like to share with you just because it stuck with me so.

Walking down Chartres St in the French Quarter of New Orleans, my ever-wandering photographic eye caught the silhouette of a black cat sitting in the window of a small loom shop. I bent over to take a take a picture of the scene and was admiring the simple sweetness of it, when I noticed beyond the first cat, there was another, sitting on one of the looms. And beyond it…another! I was pointing out all the cats to my travel companion, when a woman in the shop standing by one the looms, turned around, saw us, smiled, and enthusiastically gestured us in. My companion and I looked at each other, a little unsure of whether to go inside or not. It was a small shop with no other people inside besides the woman and we were not exactly in the market for a large rug straight off a loom.

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But we went in and the woman, whose name was Ronda, welcomed us and simply said, “You’ll get better shots in here.” We looked around and saw even more cats, nonchalantly sitting on looms and slinking in between the wooden mechanisms. I was pleasantly surprised, as generally in an area as overvisited as the French Quarter, locals tend to be jaded and discouraging towards tourists with cameras. But Ronda was more than happy to have us inside her shop taking pictures while she told us all about her cats. She was obviously in love with her pets and described each one’s personality to us and even how the big brown one, Foster, had been feeling ill lately. As I looked around, I noticed a stand filled with homemade postcards for sale, each one featuring one of her cats.

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 I loved the enthusiasm of Ronda’s care for her cats and in hindsight, I wish I had gotten a picture of her, as she stood, cradling one in her arms in front of the looms. But I still struggle with the feeling as a photographer, that I am already taking something from my subjects and intruding on their intimate space, so I couldn’t bring myself to take that extra step. But her presence was so warm and friendly that it filled the entire shop. I asked her for one of her business cards so I could email her the pictures I had taken. She happily obliged and once we had pet each cat, we set back out on our way, with her kindly wishing us well. Perhaps it was simply a case of southern hospitality, or just a really strong love of cats, but I was touched by Ronda’s willingness to share a small part of her life with a couple of strangers and ask for nothing in exchange. It was a simple moment in time, but one that brought an extra glow to our evening.

I did email her the pictures once I returned home and she was very happy to receive them. She wrote, “Come on back and see us, you hear?”

Oh, and Foster is doing much better.

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You can learn more about Ronda and her husband’s shop, Lousiana Loom Works, at customragrugs.com.