Cat in the bell tower

Cat in the bell tower

If you ask senior natives of surrounding settlements on Brač, even nearby islands and coastal areas, what makes Sutivan on the island of Brač special, the majority will answer that Sutivan has “a cat in the bell tower“!

That is usually followed by an add-on “Neither is an octopus a fish, nor is a person from Brač a human!“ but we will forget about that for now and remember the octopus which is important to our story about the “cat“.

But what do the cat and the octopus have to do with Sutivan and Sutivan’s beautiful bell tower? Here’s how the story goes:

There was a man fishing, but instead of fish he pulled an octopus out of the sea. Nothing wrong with that, some prefer octopus over fish and so did our fisherman so he returned to the port happy and brought his catch back to his wife in the small stone house near the church to prepare the way only she knows how. The fisherman went to the fish market to see how others fared and the wife put the lid over the octopus in a big pot and hurried to the store to get onions, and as everybody knows, there is no real sauce without onions.

Meanwhile, the octopus, who is a genuine “specialist of the sea“, removed the weighted lid off the pot, sneaked out of the kitchen and headed straight back for the sea since an octopus always knows where the sea is regardless of its location in the world. And so, half the way to being safe from becoming a nice fisherman’s lunch it slid down the pebbled alley towards the sea but immediately stopped in its tracks, for a cat blocked its path! Not just any cat, but a real “cat of the port“!

“Cat of the port“ is a special kind of cat which gained its vast survival experience in the most dynamic part of the town where various things can befall a cat while developing great partiality for seafood which it would often times steal from the fishermen’s baskets!

In any case, you don’t mess around with such a cat and our terrified octopus knew that so it started climbing the nearest wall (since octopuses are excellent climbers) and that very wall belonged to our slender bell tower. The cat was dumbfounded by the octopus’s reaction and it feared that it would lose this surprise meal but since cats are especially smart creatures when taking care of their meals, the cat slips through the bell tower door, scaring the parish priest in the vestry in the process and climbs the bell tower stairs to ambush the octopus. Arriving at the location of the big bells it peeks (now being considerably hungry) through the balustrade but realizes that it doesn’t know which side the octopus is going to come from so it jumps on top and circles the bell tower to spot it on time.

Chance would have it that at that very moment the “steamboat“ (a ship which no longer runs on steam but our people still call it that) which ran on the Split – Sutivan – Milna line was docking into the Sutivan harbour. A few people admiring the view of the Sutivan bell tower saw a cat running on the balustrade circling the bell and peeking over the edge faster and faster and soon all the ship was looking at this peculiar sight and then someone (somewhat mockingly) shouted : “Sutivaners! There is a cat in your bell tower!”

As the Sutivaners arriving on that ship and the others waiting for them on the bridge didn’t know themselves what was that cat doing on the bell tower, they were left slightly off guard which made the rest of the passengers all the happier and they proceeded to shout and laugh:”A cat in the bell tower! Hahahaha! Sutivaners, there is a cat in your bell tower!”

Some Sutivaners laughed, some were left surprised, some might have gotten a little angry because what’s so funny about that. And so the ship untied and left for Milna. And everything could have ended there. But it didn’t.

Chance or destiny would have it that on the next day, exactly when the ship untied and departed the bridge someone again shouted “Sutivaners! There is a cat in the bell tower!” But there was no cat in the bell tower on that day. And the passengers continued laughing. And the people of Sutivan got a bit more angry more because what’s the point of bringing it up again since the cat is not running in the bell tower any longer?

And so, day by day, there was more laughter coming from one side and more anger from the other because someone would shout the abhorred cry out of the blue and the tensions would rise which culminated in (historically recorded) stoning of the innocent “steamboat” which had its salon windows broken and, some say, a few of the passengers’ heads. Such an act appalled the public, so even the famous journalist Miljenko Smoje called upon the people of Sutivan and other participants of the unfortunate event to ease the tensions and not act like seagulls over uncaught fish.

Years and years had passed and the tensions subsided with just an occasional burst here and there and the incident of the “cat in the bell tower” fell into oblivion. But then, quietly and inconspicuously, twenty years had passed (it is now 2019), the cat has once more appeared in the Sutivan bell tower!

This time it is not a living cat, but a stone one, white and calm, its gaze fixed upon the Sutivan waterfront and the roofs. It’s hard to believe, but even then the cat’s appearance roused various emotions in the hearts of Sutivaners. While some welcomed it with affection and joy, in others it awoke memories of mockery of many years and that abhorred cry which caused their fathers’ and their grandfathers’ temples to pulsate.

The cat realised that it was not yet the right time to reveal itself so it once more withdrew not to raise tensions once more and waited until few years ago to climb the bell tower once again.

And it remains there to this day. White, quiet and calm, finally accepted by its town and it is no longer an object of ridicule and laughter but it has managed to make modern Sutivaners proud. For there is only one place in the world that has “a cat in the bell tower”!

 

And what happened to the octopus, you wonder? It probably, clever as it is, realised that there was doom waiting on the top of the bell tower and headed back down the alley and down to the sea. It had a long and full underwater life, had lots of baby octopuses which to this day swim about and crawl inside the holes on the bottom of the clear sea surrounding our island. Maybe some day someone will have an idea to build a monument for it as well, because if it wasn’t for the octopus, there wouldn’t be the Sutivan cat in the bell tower!

Franjo Mlinac

Sutivan, march 29th 2019