The Hermitage Museum, in St. Petersburg, has a staff of hundreds of specialists, in painting, sculpture, history. But in the lower levels of the museum, there are specialists of a different kind… the four-legged kind.
Cats have been working for the museum since the 18th century. The drafty hallways of the palace of the time were being overrun by rats and mice. As a solution, Empress Elizabeth ordered to import a carriage with cats, in 1747… and they have been on the duty to keep the Hermitage rodent free ever since. Currently, there are over seventy cats residing in the Hermitage, with their own headquarters in the basement, where they are fed and taken care of… (I bet the Louvre doesn’t have cats, or does it?) These masters of the labyrinth tunnels have their own personalities, just like people. Some are sweeter, some colder, as stated by a woman working at the Hermitage. According to her, the Siberian cats don’t like being held… while others, like the Russian Blue cat, ask to be cuddled *cute*
Although the cats are supposed to stay on the ground and patrol the basement, some sneaky felines sneak into the galleries. Who knows, perhaps those cats have acquired a peculiar taste in art throughout their two centuries working for the museum!? I like to think of them as art connoisseurs at a meowseum.
Russia occupies the third place in pet cat population, according to a chart I found on the web. I must admit that I was quite surprised we didn’t get first place… but, oh well. It is no big secret that Russians adore cats. Even the former president, Medvedev, adores his cat Dorofey so much, that when he went missing, it became a twitter sensation! Yup, such cat lovers we are.
The next cat story will be a touching one, or so I hope. Did anyone know that Leonid Brezhnev, former leader of the Soviet Union, had a cat? Yes, a cat named Lama, in honor of Dalai Lama. Why? Well, because upon Brezhnev’s visit to India, he was introduced to Dalai Lama, whom immediately sympathized with Leonid Ilyich. As the men shook hands and talked, the Tibetan spiritual leader sensed that Brezhnev’s life was surrounded by peril. He then decided to gift Brezhnev a cat, supposedly possessing extraordinary foresight, able to foresee and impede all dangers to his master’s life. In addition, however eerie this may sound, Dalai Lama warned that the death of the cat would herald the death of his master.
And so it was, Brezhnev took the cat, and they lived happily ever after. Wait… it can’t end like that! What happened to the part where Lama saves Brezhnev’s life? Okay… here it goes.
A cold winter day of ’69 Brezhnev was heading to the Kremlin to welcome four Russian cosmonauts, back from a successful mission in space. All morning, Lama was feeling unusually nervous, meowing piteously, staring at Brezhnev with his almond shaped yellow eyes, and even holding on with his teeth to his master’s trousers. Recognizing this as a sign of alarm, Brezhnev asked his escort to pull his car back to the rear of the motorcade and allow the cosmonauts to enter the Kremlin before him, just in time to see an assailant fire 14 bullets into the car carrying the cosmonauts – one of them taking the bullets that were meant for Brezhnev.
To make a long story short, this wasn’t the only time when Lama showed himself to be a true hero. There was a second time, where yet again, Lama managed to save Brezhnev’s life. I don’t know whether to think of this as a mere coincidence… but my gut feeling tells me that he was undeniably special… a true loyal friend.
Such is Russia to me. There are cats everywhere. Everyone in my family owns a cat; both my grandparents and my aunt. I also suspect that Russia is the only country that has a theatre of cats, called the Kuklachev Cat Theatre. At this unusual theatre, acrobatic cats do all kinds of stunts for the audience’s delight! Director Yury Kuklachev says, “We do not use the word train here because it implies forcing an animal to do something, and you cannot force cats to do anything they don’t want to. We play with the cats.”
And with this photograph, I will say