Saturday, June 28, 2008

AND CATS DESERVE EQUAL TIME

Yesterday’s blog about dogs engendered some protest in the hearts of cat lovers who believe that the “felis domestica” also deserve to be touted on a blog. My daughter Stephanie, who owns the eight cats I mentioned yesterday, would have been the first to become enraged about all this attentiveness to dogs. Readers need to know that I immortalized a former Persian cat in my book, SOPHIE’S SOJOURN IN PERSIA, and also in a column I once wrote for the “Daily Iberian” in New Iberia, Louisiana. You will remember I mentioned that excerpts from “Cherchez la femme” would appear in this blog from time to time. For all you cat lovers, here’s equal space for a column about our house pet, Roya the Persian cat, that appeared in “Cherchez.”

“I’ve been thinking about all the traumas that Roya, our Persian immigrant cat, went through after we purchased her for 2400 rials (about $35 at the time we lived in Iran) from a peddler reeking of wine on a crowded backstreet in Abadan, Iran. Most people surmise that an oriental cat is a cherished house pet… indeed, Mohammed cut off the sleeve of his robe rather than disturb his favorite cat, Muessa. But when I lived in Persia, Iranians weren’t so fond of poor “khanoum” cat. Animals were threats to survival.

Our Roya was not a pure-bred Persian, but she did have queenly bearing and refined taste in food. In fact, we thought that, like Don Marquis’ Mehitabel (the alley cat who thought she was Cleopatra reincarnated), Roya felt she was born to grace an Oriental carpet, and we suspected that she fancied herself to be a former Empress of Iran. Like Mehitabel, Roya felt she had a rough time becoming a liberated female, particularly when she lived in a country where someone was more likely to kick a cat wandering on the street than to stroke her into a purr.

Mehitabel once sang: “The life of a female artist is continually hampered. What in h---have I done to deserve all these kittens? I look back on my life and it seems to me to be just one darn kitten after another. Am I never to be allowed to live my own life?” Roya must have felt keenly the last two lines of Mehitabel’s verses when she resided in Iran. We kept her behind locked doors and would’ve veiled her if we had thought it would keep her from pining for the skinny toms who scratched at her window when she looked out at the monotonous tan desert.

In the region of Iran in which we lived, veterinarians who operated on small animals were scarce, so Roya never got “fixed” while we resided in Ahwaz. Also, we refused to bring home to America an entire brood of Persian cats, so Roya was kept imprisoned in our Melli Rah home for almost two years, except for short walks in my daughter’s arms in the threatening outdoors. She screamed, wailed, clawed, and sang choruses from Mehitabel under her breath: “It isn’t fair, arch…it isn’t fair…these darn tom cats have all…the fun and freedom.”

A beautiful orange, black, and white female, Roya would have been a sensation in the city of Paris, which we visited en route home…if we had let her out of our room at the Intercontinental Hotel and onto the Left Bank, or if we had allowed her to walk down the street to the Tuilleries Gardens. But she lolled in a corner of the room, peered at the Francoise Villons of the Paris streets and waited…

Roya traveled to America in a small, rickety crate constructed by Irani craftsmen and labeled “Persian Express.” She arrived at Miami International Airport in a state of wild terror. After unloading eleven pieces of luggage, unaided, and throwing them in line at Customs, I asked for my terrified cat. A laconic animal inspector brought her out, waved aside her papers and said: “I don’t need no papers. Has she had a shot?” I nodded. “One cat passed,’ he wrote on a slip of paper. And Roya became an American citizen. Ah, liberated at last, she must have purred. When we arrived in New Orleans, the cargo loaders told us that she had broken out of her crate and roamed up and down in the luggage section all the way from Miami to New Orleans.

Roya never knew the joy of Mehitabel’s motherhood (“what if providence in her wisdom removed my kittens; they are living just now in an abandoned garbage can just behind a made-over stable in Greenwich village, and if it rains into the can before I can get back and resume them I am afraid the little dears might drown,” sang sardonic Mehitabel).

As soon as Roya arrived in Teche country, she was bustled off to the vet, underwent an operation, and was granted freedom to roam the Acadian woodlands. It was a joy to watch this liberated woman. We thought she sincerely believed she had ascended to cat heaven. She cavorted with butterflies, chased birds, sniffed flowers, and rolled in the long green grass daily. Many nights she took moonlight walks all night, and a stringy gray tom next door wailed a Romeo aria to her each morning. Some mornings when I let Roya out to pasture in the backyard after she spent an “off nights” indoors, she made a leap into the air, and I just know she was shrieking Mehitabel’s boast: “There’s a dance in the old dame yet.”

Two years after we returned to New Iberia, Roya disappeared when we went away for a week-end at Grand Isle, Louisiana. I just know she eloped with a Francoise Villon of the lower Teche region. In our family, no one can resist a good line of poetry…”
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