František PON.: Kočky mluví ze spaní



(excerpt from the book)

Latent Michelangelo

One should always bring home something from one’s travels, at least a little souvenir. We brought back two little souvenirs. A plastic bag full of bay leaves which we had gathered in the park overgrown with laurel bushes just behind the hotel; and a cat. A kitten, in fact.

I don’t know how they do it, but cats can always spot a friendly face at first glance. There we were, standing in the middle of a teeming crowd of tourists in front of Michelangelo’s famous statue of David in Florence. The square was so jam-packed that it didn’t seem possible for a small kitten to wind its way through the maze of careless legs without injuring itself. But it did manage to get through and it made a bee-line for us. It rubbed itself against my calf and, with unceasing, heart-rending miaowing, it fixed its pleading blue eyes on me. We couldn’t just leave it there on the paving stones and pretend it wasn’t there, and the kitten knew this very well. And when Jitka bent down and took it in her arms, it began to purr, relentlessly, like a spinning wheel.

Compassion and love for cats is one thing; what to do with a cat in the middle of a foreign country is quite another. But when you’ve got a clearly abandoned, purring cat in your arms, you have no choice. “You remain forever answerable for what you have bound to yourself”, says the fox to the little prince in the famous book by Antoine de Saint Exupery. And this applies doubly for cats. So the kitten got into the car with us and off we went together. It was a tomcat with thick tortoiseshell fur, and since he came from Florence, we started calling him Michelangelo.

It was clear to us that we would have to smuggle Michelangelo to Prague, since we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do all that running around, trying to get all the correct papers for him. We even had a new mistress for him in mind who lived in a luxury flat in Vinohrady, but we had to get him over to her first and we didn’t know how. When we got to Perugia, the first thing we did was buy a cat carrier in which we discreetly brought him into the hotel, and we also bought him some dinner – two small containers of cat food, which he almost ate together with the packaging. And then we thought long and hard how to convey this contraband as safely and as inconspicuously as possible across the borders, of which there were several.

A carrier would have been the best thing for such a journey, but a cat in a cage would have immediately caught the attention of the customs officials, and we really didn’t want to risk Michelangelo being sent to some cat shelter on the border. In the end, we found the answer in a gingerbread house. We discovered one in the toy department of a local shopping centre called Standa. It was a monstrous plastic affair designed for small children without much imagination. Children could climb in there, stick their fingers through the little window or door and pretend to be Hansel and Gretel or the wicked witch. It was brightly coloured, its roof was covered with little gingerbread pieces, and the little red windows had garish plastic curtains. In short, an appalling toy which would have horrified any normal child. However, the important thing was that it didn’t have a bottom and could thus be used as an inconspicuously conspicuous opening for a cat transporter. It seemed better to risk the customs officials writing us off as crazies, than jeopardise Michelangelo’s safe passage to Prague.

In a way, the little tomcat was very fortunate. He had picked us up just two days before our departure, and one day before we bumped our car. He spent two nights in a hotel, carefully hidden behind a sign saying “Do not disturb” which we’d hung on the door and, later, we managed successfully to cover up his illegal transit across the border with a dented car and a gingerbread house.

But things are never as simple as they look. Michelangelo had to spend more than twenty hours in his “cage” because, during our frequent stops to put water in the radiator, we didn’t dare let him out for a walk. But he had a royal ride all the same. We kept on feeding him, not only because we wanted to make his imprisonment as pleasant as possible, but mainly so that he would stuff himself and sleep it off. We were afraid that, just at the worst moment, when the customs officer was checking our passports, Michelangelo would start miaowing. Luckily this didn’t happen and we transported the gingerbread house across all the borders without incident. Well, almost.

Our little cat was an appreciative gourmet, he ate almost everything given to him and, exactly as anticipated, he slept through most of the journey. But, before he met us, he was probably eking out a living on the streets in any way possible. His little body wasn’t used to the luxury of tins of cat food, and it responded accordingly. What went in had to come out, thus the very first passport control on the Italian border was performed as speedily as possible. We just rolled down the window, the customs man merely glanced at us, stamped our passports, gave a swift wave of his hand urging us to move off, and then gave a deep sigh of relief.

It took about twenty-four hours to get to Prague; the most unpleasant experience of the entire journey was our first coffee on the Austrian border. It was undrinkable, and not even the feeling that, having arrived in Austria, we were, in fact, practically home, could drive away the disgusting taste. Michelangelo slept all the way from the Austro-Italian border and, despite protests from our cats, he spent the night with us and, the next day, his new mistress came to fetch him.

The first thing to come out in spring are the white pussy willows.

Excerpt from the book Cats Know Better
Excerpt from the book Cats Like the Taste of Caviar