Anyone who knows me well will immediately suspect something amiss with this blog title. I am allergic to the touch of cats, and they usually don’t show any interest in me anyway, unless they are up-to-no-good. But not in Iraq.
Here is a love story: In the summer of 2011 I made my third trip to Erbil, Iraq to teach ivory preservation at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage. As usual, I arrived exhausted after a 13 hour overnight journey. As I entered Jessie’s (the academic director’s) house where I always stay, I discovered to my horror that a cat had taken up residence. Even though cats and I have never gotten along, I have always admired their mesmerizing beauty. But this cat was painfully thin except for its belly that was swollen with a protruding angry red seam laced with large dark stitches. I was determined to stay as far away as possible. And I did. But the next day Jessie asked if I would accompany her to the vet so the cat could get its stitches removed. What could I say? The cat was boxed up, we climbed into a taxi and headed for the vet.
This was an experience I will never forget! The vet’s “office” was a tiny, narrow garage open to the dusty street. When we arrived, the vet, wearing flip-flops and Bermuda shorts stood up and put on a white coat—a sort of conversion from mild-mannered Kurd to “SuperVet”. Jessie and I both became vet assistants, securing the wildly protesting cat during the procedure (I, of course wearing protective gloves). The cat received a nice water bowl from the vet for being such a good patient. I really think Jessie and I deserved a prize too. I was frazzled and unnerved by this experience, but much to my surprise, I also discovered that through our mutual adversity, Bree (pronounced like the soft white cheese) and I had bonded. For the rest of my stay, Bree watched over me, lying next to the computer on the table where I worked every evening.
I have just now returned from my fifth visit to Erbil. Bree has recovered remarkably through Jessie’s nurturing and is now as beautiful as a cat should be (I think more beautiful). I still can’t touch her, but Bree seems to understand that we have a special relationship. She will always be my first cat.
Our chief conservator, Terry Drayman-Weisser, has returned from Iraq. She is the director of conservation and technical research, at the Walters Art Museum, and travels to Iraq to assist with conservation efforts there.