I entered a café at 10 ulitsa Yakubovicha in St. Petersburg, Russia. I said “hello” to declare my poor grasp of the Russian language. I was greeted by a tiny person whom I took for an adolescent boy. He explained that this was not an ordinary café. It was the Cats Republic. This person turned out to be an adorable young woman with a short haircut and a Carrie Brownstein sense of style. She seemed appropriate, given cats’ defiance of human gender roles. I thought of Krazy Kat. I compare most people to Krazy Kat (I have a tattoo of Krazy Kat somewhere on my body. You may guess where.), but this was the first positive match I’ve encountered. An average person will take Krazy for a male, possibly because male is default. A cartoon non-human female needs lipstick or a bow as a gender marker. When I explained the basic plot of Krazy Kat as a creature who loves someone who hates them and throws bricks at their head, a female friend of mine said, “That sounds like a guy.” Krazy Kat fans tend to think of Krazy as a girl. Indeed, Krazy is referred to as “she” more often than not. In actuality, the Kat doesn’t have a gender. Kat Kreator George Harriman said of the subject, “I don’t know. I fooled around with it once; began to think the Kat is a girl—even drew up some strips with her being pregnant. It wasn’t the Kat any longer, too much concerned with her own problems—like a soap opera. Know what I mean? Then I realized Krazy was something like a sprite, an elf. They have no sex.”
The Cats Republic’s menu of rich, chocolaty coffee and desserts was loaded with feline puns in Russian and English. Note the powder drawing on the “cat-uccino”.
There were no cats allowed in the same room with food served to humans (health code?). At one point a cat darted in from under a wardrobe. The cute pixie-woman stamped her foot and pointed back at the wardrobe. The cat returned from whence it came. I finished my sugary dishes and it was time to enter the republic of cats. This was to be a Narnia-style trip. I stepped into that wardrobe and knocked on the back of it. The wall magically opened to reveal a room full of carpeted cat furniture and one or two dozen cats. The pixie with the admirable command of English introduced all the resident cats. Several had previously lived at the Hermitage. They were named after artists or artists’ muses, such as Dali’s “Gala” and Neruda’s “Chascona”. A few hopped about and played. Most were quite bored with being handled by people. The eye-catcher of the group was a hairless Donskoy. It radiated heat from its wrinkled body. When trying to pet it, the would-be petter’s hands stick to the bare skin. Said a fellow visitor to the Cats Republic, “It looks painful just to be alive.”
Some of the visitors had a funny way of playing with the cats. Instead of using sticks to dangle fuzzy balls before the cats, they would hold the toys by the fuzzy ball end and tease the cats with the sticks. Some used the handle of the lint rollers. It was close to being a Yakof Smirnoff bit.
This cat sat in a giant chair and stared at the window. He paid no attention if strangers fondled him—proof that cats are not distaff.
A few were more interactive. I took a shine to this one who would climb on my shoulders and chew my hair.
I kept my visa to the Cats Republic. Surely I will return someday.