The Walters Art Museum

« List All Articles

My Iraqi Cat

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.