Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gigi and Issam



I was driving to my office last weekend, turning off the boulevard in front of the Arch, when I saw a man crossing the street with a cat on his shoulders. Skrreeeecchh, over to the curb and who cares if it's a no parking zone, it's Saturday and I can't pass this up. Out of the car, introduce myself, hi, I'm not professional, don't sell pictures, I have this blog about St. Louis, etc., etc., and would it be okay if I took a picture of you and your cat? (I will never stop thanking the superb Bobbi Lane for teaching me how to approach people like this.)

The man told me that his name is Issam Haidar but he is sometimes called Osam. He is Iraqi and fled Saddam Hussein's regime years ago, ending up in Lebanon. He spent years there, living in refugee camps and eventually in a cave outside of Beirut. He has many criticisms of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, from which he got the name of his web site, www.unhcr.info. Read his story in his own words there. He refers to himself as Osam Altaee on the site. I didn't get to talk to him long enough to learn about the different names or, particularly, what brought him to St. Louis. I've emailed him offering to send him his picture and asking if I can meet him again.

Gigi is the cat he adopted in a refugee camp in Lebanon. When I got out my camera bag I asked Issam if the flash would bother her. He said, "No, she is blind." Then I noticed her face. I'm puzzled about how Gigi got into the United States with Issam - that's one of the things I'd like to talk to him about.

After our brief conversation I welcomed Issam and Gigi to our community. If I hear back from Issam there may be more in this blog.

STL DAILY PHOTO BLOG IN THE NEWS: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch interviewed me about my views on Anheuser-Busch's sale to InBev. We are losing the corporate headquarters of our iconic beer, Budweiser. The reporter found my February 1 theme post, "When People Think of St. Louis, They Think of...", featuring an icy can of Bud under the Arch. The article appears in today's newspaper. Scroll down to the end. And by the way, there's a good article in today"s New York Times about the sale and the City of St. Louis' regeneration

WHAT I'M READING: Carpe Diem: Put a Little Latin In Your Life by Harry Mount
TOMORROW: Thursday Arch Series (and actually on Thursday this time)

15 comments:

D said...

Aw, poor kitty. Great picture of them both smiling, though. Interesting story as well.
I enjoyed my visit to your blog.

Steffe said...

This is an excellent post. Nice to meet Osam and cool cat, and hear about his story, just like my 100 Strangers project if I can plug my own blog a little!

Knoxville Girl said...

Great portrait - Issam looks very relaxed, and Gigi looks like she knows way more that she's ever going to tell you.

Kate said...

Love the photo and the story. Your blog has been developing into a great one, and I'm enjoying my visits. Hope to hear more about Osam.

Jilly said...

Oh, fabulous portrait of Issam, Strangetastes. And a great story. Lucky cat and what a happy looking guy - such a wonderfully open look to his face - and think what this man has been through. I've perused his website, his blog, some of his photos. He really is quite a guy. thanks so much for all this. I know he'll love your photo and your tribute today. I do.

Thanks also for the link to Bobbi Lane. Plan on taking a longer look at this.

Great post and much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I love the fact that Issam is wearing a fish shirt.

Olivier said...

un portrait surprenant, le chat va peut ĂȘtre manger les poissons sur la chemise.
a portrait being surprising, the cat goes can be to eat fish on the shirt.

Virginia said...

Great portrait of Gigi and Issam. Thanks for including the articles. This is a one in a million. Glad you were there to capture it.

Maggie said...

This is an awesome photo! I love the expressions on both. I can't wait to learn more about both of them. :)

Ming the Merciless said...

I've been waiting to see this photo since you mentioned it in the blog a couple days ago. And wow, what an amazing photo and even more, what an interesting story of Issam and Gigi.

If you find out more about them, let us know.

BTW, congratulations on the mentioned in the newspaper. So are you now the talking head of St. Louis?

Abu Dhabi/UAE Daily Photo said...

What a brilliant shot! The cat's mouth is even open-couldn't ask for a better opportunity.

jill said...

Wonderful story. It sure pays to keep an eye out for opportunities. How many times do we pass by such interesting individuals without notice. I must visit Bobbi Lane and learn some techniques. Fascinating stories -- Osam's, and your interview re: Bud. So glad I stopped by today.

CrazyCow said...

Love the story. Well done to him for his efforts, and to you for stopping for the photo.

Bibi said...

Well, this is one GREAT photo and a lovely shot of kitty and Osam. I think I will practice your "May I take your photo?" technique.

babooshka said...

Superb portrait. Animals take the most natural images as you cannot guide them. Interesting to read the story behind the man too. Well done on the mention in the paper, and I have a learnt from you about approaching people.