In any town or city, there are always plenty of reminders that we humans are not the only inhabitants. This is particularly true in Cairo, thanks in great part to cats, who seem to pad and paw their way everywhere. And they have been doing this in Egypt since Pharaonic times, when they were mummified and solemnly interred by the thousands, and the goddess Bastet was depicted first as a lioness and, later, as a domestic cat. Cats have appeared in Egyptian iconography, poetry and literature for millennia, up to modern times.

This tabby, who frequented a tourist shop near Fishawi’s Café, a favorite of Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz, acted like she knew all this history by heart. As she pranced over the souvenir sphinxes, Nefertitis and Tuts, I could sense her almost demanding her portrait be taken. I complied. She stared down the camera as if she had been studying the stone faces around her all her life.

—Lorraine Chittock