Although I’m told that Russians love their cats, you couldn’t prove it by me. In my ten days in St. Petersburg, I saw exactly one living felid: a feral cat in the park at the Peterhof, Peter the Great’s summer palace 45 minutes from the city. And I only glimpsed the black cat (which, by the way, ran across my path) for a moment:
My personal observation, then, supports the hypothesis that the city of St. Petersburg harbors no cats. However, there are monuments to felids in the city. One striking one was in the gardens of St. Petersburg State University. I was told at first that it was a monument to the cats studied by Pavlov (who worked there), but ultimately found out that this was an urban legend. The truth, however, is just as interesting. During the Soviet era, there were lots of dire experiments conducted on cats at the University. Supposedly some of them got loose, and ran around the grounds with electrodes protruding from their heads. Regardless, one of the physiology professors collected money to put up a monument in honor of the cats who gave their lives for these experiments.
this is the only picture I asked to have taken of me in the city:
There are two other statues of cats in the city. One memorializes Yelisei the Cat, a hero of the siege of Leningrad in World War II:
If you don’t know the story of the seige, it’s heartbreaking, and a testament to the fortitude of the Russian people. The city was cut off and bombarded by the Germans for 872 days—from August, 1941 through January, 1944. Over a million people are said to have died, many from starvation, and for much of the time there was no outside supply of food. The statue to Yelisei seen above (not my photo) supposedly memorializes the prowess of this cat at catching rats, which became an endemic health problem after many cats either died or were eaten during the blockade. Yelisei was supposedly one of many outside cats brought into the city to control the rats.
Here’s another cat statue from St. Petersburg, and again this is not my photo. I’m not sure what it commemorates; perhaps a reader can tell us.
I’ve previously posted on the basement cats of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, whose job is to keep the palace and art collection free of rodents.
Although I spent a lot of time in art museums, I saw only one painting that included a cat. But it is quite a famous one, Merchant’s Wife at Tea (1918), by Boris Kustodiev. It’s at the Russian Museum, and I sneaked this picture because I hadn’t bought an expensive pass to photograph the art:
The museum shop did sell expensive Russian lacquered boxes with images of kittehs. I didn’t buy any, but here’s a photo:
Finally, I am always curious to see what the locals feed their cats. I went into Lend, a fancy supermarket, and after diligent searching found the cat food section. Most of it appears to be imported, though with Cyrillic characters. Here are some cans:
But the most amusing thing was the variety of bagged cat food for cats of different temperaments and ages. These include the following varieties:
- Food for “specially demanding” or “sensitive” cats
- Food for “senior” cats who are “young at heart”
- Food for “fluffy homebodies,” or “in-home” cats
- Food for “tireless adventurers,” or “active” cats
- Food for “little explorers,” or “junior” cats
I almost expected to see an empty bag for “dearly departed” or “dead” cats.