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They Call Me MR. Spritz: A Venetian Cat Tale

Nan McElroy (venexiananan)

As most Venetian devotees are aware, the Spritz is the official cocktail of Venice and, as I read in the Gazzettino just a few days ago, it's also becoming the aperitivo preferito in the rest of Italy.

Spritz, popular drink in Venice

A Spritz is composed of white wine, fizzy water, and either the iridescent orange-red aperol (sweeter), SanBitter or Campari (dryer), or Select (pronounced select; right in-between). Sometimes Prosecco is substituted for the wine and fizzy water - sort of a shortcut, I suppose. In any case, although I find them extremely attractive as photographic subjects, I rarely drink them anymore; first of all because I've become an insufferably pretentious wine snob, and secondly, if you drink one every time you're in compania, you'll soon notice your clothing is starting to become a teeny bit snug, e come mai?

Mr. Spritz, cat in Venice

There's another Spritz though, that I simply can't get enough of. It's furry, this one, weighs several kili, and has four legs. I was not happy when I had to move again in the fall of 2005 (the second move in as many years), but one of the positive aspects of the move turned out to be this Spritz; Spritz the Cat.

Or Spriss, I should say. "Spriss" is the Venetian pronunciation, and what Claudio (his owner, my across-the-hall neighbor who heads the kitchen at the famous trattoria and cicchetto bar Alla Vedova) has inscribed on the cat's name tag.

Beo Spriss! Spriss-otto! Spriss-a-to-ne! The signore from the floor above greets the Spritz-meister in precisely this way each time he passes him in the calle, in the entryway, on the fondamenta. Similarly effusive greetings are issued by each of the sorelle from upstairs (the sisters with whom I cannot enter into a single conversion without being instructed on how to do something better or in a different way than I am currently doing it), one of whom created a gushy poesia translated from Baudelaire that hangs above Spritz's winter entryway bed.

Spritz the Cat regards us all equally, and in his customary way: as favored members of his adoring pubblico. And an adoring public, you might imagine, is what Spritz-o-rama has enjoyed dall'inizio, from the beginning. When I asked him, Claudio was more than happy to recount just a little of his cat's Spris-story.

Claudio and Spritz only recently moved to their current home (which Claudio bought and renovated) in a private calle off the Fondamenta Ormesini. Prior to that, they'd lived above the Vedova (home of some of the best polpetti in town, and still a standard on any bàcaro tour), where he was when Spritz came to live with him. Spritz, by the way, was the offspring of one Pacco and Lucinda, the former being another illustrious gattone who reigns to this day over the Calle della Raccheta, just around the corner and up from the Irish pub. Should you happen that way, heading up toward the bookstore on the way to the Fondamente Nove, be on the lookout for a big, white, slightly-smug tom. You'll have little trouble spotting the family resemblance.

Mr. Spritz, cat in Venice

Like most cats, Spritz spent the days of his childhood getting into things, literally. In luggage, in sacks, in the cupboard, in drawers, in the pantry, behind the videos, contorting himself into whatever position the situation required. Once he was old enough, he and Claudio would leave the house together: Spritz going his way, Claudio alla Vedova. Spritz would return from his escapades to the Vedova then, 7-ish, and wait for Claudio to finish, when then they'd head upstairs together. In no time at all, Spritz became ben conosciuto, quite well-known, throughout the sestiere and beyond.

A cat's life, accompanied by the inescapable curiosity, can be quite adventuresome here in Venice. For example, there was the time when Spritz located what he thought was the purr-fect spot to curl up for a nice long nap, away from nosey, prodding passersby. He didn't realize until he was startled by the ignition of the motor that he'd chosen a topo boat of a fruttivendolo, and as a result would be conveyed across the lagoon to the merchant's home on Sant'Erasmo. The fruit seller discovered Spritz once they arrived, called Claudio at the number on the name tag, who then hopped in his own boat and went to retrieve his cat.

Mr. Spritz, cat in Venice

There was also the time Claudio got a ring from the proprietor of the gracious Palazzo Abbadessa. She had just welcomed some rather important guests and escorted them to their luxury suite, when they noticed a rather sizable bulge in the middle of the brocade bedspread. Further investigation revealed not a poorly made bed, but a blob of an orange-and-white kitty, comfortably snoozin' away. Prego, signore. The proprietor was amused, fortunately, as were the guests (how could you not be), and were actually quite impressed at Spritz's ingenuity. (It's not actually your cat, then?)

Claudio didn't always have to go and retrieve Spritz; on occasion he was hand-delivered. The proprietor of store that sells some of the best vino sfuso around, just down the calle from the Irish Pub, appeared at the door of the Vedova one evening, holding a still-soaked Spritz wrapped in a big bath towel. She recounted that she was filling a customer's bottle with a refosco sfuso, when she was suddenly startled by a reddish-orange streak swishing by her door. She went back to filling, but was again interrupted almost immediately by a big black streak along with some rather serious barking. Putting orange and black together, she and the customer bolted out the door, joining the chase, just in time to see Spritz sail off the fondamenta and into the drink. She and the customer managed to shoo off the Big Black Monster-dog, rescue Spritz, wrap him in a towel to begin the drying process, and deliver him once again into the safety of the Vedova fold.

Mr. Spritz, cat in Venice

In the summer months, Spritz comes to visit me only when he needs a drink of water or a cool place to nap, both of which may be accommodated quite nicely by the bidet. In the less-temperate months, Spritz spends a great deal more time hanging about, keeping an eye on life in my tiny cortile, or taking a snooze either on my sofa or non-brocade bedspread.

Once, after he’d dropped in for afternoon, I had to leave quickly and couldn't locate him anywhere to put him out; when I returned, I learned that he indeed had gotten locked out in the cortile, demanding nonstop to be let back in the entire time I was gone; the neighbors made Claudio climb the wall and remove both him and the considerable ruckus he was making. (I apologized profusely, but ... where was he, dammit?)

I think, though, that Spritz may have encountered his very first adversary. The lady who owns the dress shop next door popped out of her open door as Spritz accompanied me out onto the fondamenta one morning. Non lo fa uscire, Signora! Deve rimanere in calle, che fa casino da me. Lascia il suo pelo dappertutto, su tutto i vestiti, non posso supportarlo. Don't let him out here, please. He comes in my store and makes a big mess, leaves hair everywhere, over all my dresses. I can't have it.

These days, you'd have little trouble locating the Spritz-ster. He's likely lounging in our shady calle (just off Fondamenta Ormesini, behind the gate facing the wooden bridge), or has snuck out either to make his rounds, corral some unsuspecting, young tom thinking of claiming a bit of local territory, or simply to perch on top of the fondamenta wall, soaking in the afternoon rays, graciously making his irresistible self available for a coccolo or photo by the endless stream of charmed passersby.

Oops, you'll have to excuse me, I think I hear a familiar mau in the calle…

Nan McElroy lives in Venice and is the author of Italy: Instructions for Use: the practical, pocket guide which launched the Instructions for Use Travel Series (now including France: Instructions for Use, and Greece in the works). http://europeinstructions.com. Read more on her Living Venice Blog.

© Nan McElroy, 2007

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