Among the many cats we see in the garden, one who is friendly with us, allowing us to touch him and to pick him up, is Rachmaninou. We have known him from very young which has worked in our favour. I first met him by surprise when cutting down with the garden shears a jungle of tall weeds under a rose bush. Suddenly there was a rustle in the luxuriant, I’m afraid, undergrowth and no doubt attracted by the movement of the tool in the vegetation which he must have watched unbeknown to me, Rachmaninou came dashing forward and right onto the shears. I got a shock, for I could have easily cut into his velvety paws. However, now I knew he was around and watched out. What a charming little fellow whom I hadn’t seen before: tame, playful, enjoying company, bouncing around or slyly creeping up here and there and everywhere, of a light ginger colour, almost sandy, which gave him away as a male, a neutered one, we later learnt. Next time I saw him in Rose’s cherry-trees and thought he was hers. Then I came across him in our meadow and made a big fuss of him, picking him up, sitting down with him, fooling around in general, all this for the benefit of Rose who would see from her window that I was nice to her cat and also that her cat liked me! However, I was mistaken. Not Rose’s cat, but Neth’s, the young neighbour’s on the other side, away from us, I learnt from Alaïs, and his name was one describing his colour, ‘Caramel’, a boring name, I felt, uninteresting, no juice in it compared to the one I had chosen for him following the translation of a text about a certain composer Serge Rachmaninov17Rachmaninov at Ivanovka (fr, en, de) by Claude d’Esplas – Ubersetzung : Dagmar Coward Kushke – adgparis.com.

Rachmaninou knows both his names. I saw a cat’s silhouette halfway up a fir-tree a little distance from my window, the tree the magpies frequent. Great! It could only be Rachmaninou. I went outside and called him. Something came rushing down the tree and ran towards me. I was allowed to pick him up for a second or two, he’s getting older and more suspicious. When he was younger his mistress occasionally came to our entrance and called him by the other name and he would pay attention to that, too. As a youngster Rachmaninou had a lot of time for us and for our house and garden. He adored company and suddenly jumped forward from nowhere when we came to spend time in the garden. I was doing my job while he nearby had fun among the trees and bushes, alarming the birds, not least the clan of magpies which, for having kept quiet, had escaped my notice so far. I went elsewhere and he would follow, finding his own entertainment for sure. One day I saw him climb over Bridget’s wire fence and then promptly got into trouble, his trespass not being appreciated by the resident big tom. Cries from animals and humans, Bridget and family dashing out to see what on earth was the matter. Later a visitor’s dog kept on barking at something inaccessible under the swimming pool, Rachmaninou in hiding? I didn’t see him again that day, but next day he was there unscathed and in one piece. On my garden-calendar, I came across the quotation ‘To be happy is to pour oneself out in creative work…’ by Zenta Maurina18Zenta Maurina (1897-1978) was a Latvian writer, essayist and researcher in philology. She also wrote in German and from 1966 on lived in Bad Krozingen whose honorary citizen she was.. I’d never heard this name before and looked it up:
A Latvian author who spent her final years in … Bad Krozingen of which she is an honorary citizen. I was thunderstruck. The small town where my parents lived for thirty-five years and the happiest memories of many holidays spent there, it came so suddenly – it made me cry. I had to go out into the garden and there was Rachmaninou to distract me…

Rachmaninou thinks it’s great to have all this company and more or less discreetly follows us around, ready to play with strings and sticks as proposed by Stephan who calls him Minou, whereas I once said Ninou quite by accident. It’s not only the garden he is interested in – any open door and the uncharted territory behind it is attractive, he’ll slip in before one knows. He’s been into the house through the front door at the top of the stairs and also through the downstairs door on the south side. He even uses a third access via the balcony! We wondered just how he managed to get there and he showed us: a first jump onto the rainwater tub on the corner of the workshop whose roof is leaning against the house wall, at a lesser height than the house itself and accessible from the kitchen window. Once on the tub he performs a vertical jump onto the workshop roof whose south side is near the balcony, but separated from it by a vertiginous, it seems to me, gap, no foothold at all and narrow rails to squeeze through on the other side, it must be done with impetus and not a foot put wrong…
If he’s lucky, the balcony door is open and the living-room to be explored first of all. It makes Steve angry: one can’t leave the door open! And he won’t have a wretched cat which isn’t even ours in the living-room! However, Rachmaninou provides entertainment for our visitors, also by turning up on the workshop roof outside the kitchen window, thus causing excitement and the window to be opened, accepting to be stroked and to have his photograph taken – Steve will have to bear it until the visitors have left again.
And how does the dear get back down? Only in extremity will he make a straightforward jump from the balcony. He prefers to gingerly thread his way back, making use of the rough render on the wall and the plastic drainpipe perhaps not made to carry a cat, he’s getting big and Steve wouldn’t have to see that, before strolling away indifferently.

Once he turned up at the kitchen window when I was cooking fish. I wondered whether it was the smell that had attracted him, cats do like fish, and against my principle not to feed him I took a fish head downstairs, only to have it scoffed at! The other day he was around when I was burying some ham rinds. I had to hurry up, he might well have had those. Another time Steve told me with disgust that he had found Rachmaninou in his bedroom!
I was in the garden then and he still upstairs after lunch. The weather was fine, the balcony door open and that’s where pussycat must have come in. He easily makes it to the balcony and proceeded from there, nobody in the living-room to stop him. It made me laugh, but not Steve who protested that he didn’t ‘like strange cats in the house’. Poor Rachmaninou, a ‘strange cat’! Steve had shooed him out of his bedroom and reckoned that he left in a hurry the most direct way. I learnt that he had also been inside downstairs, slipping in as Steve was coming out. Some strong hand-clapping was needed to make him leave again.
It must have been soon after these events that I saw Rachmaninou in the garden, visibly on his way home, not lingering long in spite of my friendly calls. I would say he is semi-familiar with me, sometimes suffering to be touched, sometimes not, frequently approaching when called. Years ago, our own Minou, a name the Farmer’s wife who didn’t know any French called very ‘fitting’, was deeper in colour and handled also by Steve who liked him not a little. Didn’t he bring him up to my bedroom one night at eleven o’clock when he had finally returned after a prolonged absence, covered in insects of all kinds, greeted enthusiastically by all of us and next day lovingly cleaned up by Disti?!

Rachmaninou has brilliant teeth and Rose and her man, too, don’t they make a fuss when finally they do have to have a crown, their first one, my age… Rachmaninou makes us feel his teeth when we play with him, sharp and pointed, causing a fright to little Charlie when he felt them, no blood drawn, but I demonstrated that all you have to do is to stop moving, leave your hand with him, in his mouth even and he won’t bite at all because he’s not interested in eating but in playing! It’s the movement he likes, any, hands or leaves or small animals, anything, stop moving and he will stop, too, but move and he’ll be after, wanting to keep his toy by using teeth and claws. Charlie did not cry and goes on stroking the young fellow.
Later, I found out that my theory which may or may not work with a dog certainly does not apply to cats who will try to prompt movement by tightening the grip of their teeth… That’s what he does with his victims, mice or birds which, held in his mouth or sitting on the ground, are wary of moving, he will make them move and he knows how! Why otherwise did the little bird in his mouth start shrieking terribly all of a sudden? Lyn and I were able to get hold of pussy cat, I had to strangle him a bit to cause him to open that mouth, enabling his catch to get away into the thicket, hopefully surviving. This really is the great downside to all the pleasure, these long drawn-out proceedings for the benefit of cat-enjoyment, no different from the old Romans and others. Poor Rachmaninou, it’s not your, but nature’s doing, is it not? We can’t help being the way we are, can we?
Two pussycats miowing all day around the gardens here and there, it drove Mr Pink-Villa who was harvesting cherries crazy, but all his threats couldn’t stop them from coming again, a deep-red one, almost a fox, and the white-and-ginger bully nobody likes. Round and round, following in each other’s tracks, what did they have to sort out?
Early this morning miowing under my window. I saw a multi coloured cat with a strikingly black head, big, and there was also the foxy one sitting on our steps where he was then joined by the other. Some friendly pawing before the other left. Rachmaninou keeps a distance from these ruffians, takes it easy, he has a comfortable home nearby and no want of food.

Dagmar Coward Kuschke

  • 17
    Rachmaninov at Ivanovka (fr, en, de) by Claude d’Esplas – Ubersetzung : Dagmar Coward Kushke – adgparis.com
  • 18
    Zenta Maurina (1897-1978) was a Latvian writer, essayist and researcher in philology. She also wrote in German and from 1966 on lived in Bad Krozingen whose honorary citizen she was.