Venice's oldest cat?
A tribute to Neno on his 22nd birthday
Archived Article (2000)
No one can say for sure that Neno is Venice's oldest cat, but Juli Van Zyverden, an American who lives in the Cannaregio neighborhood, believes that her feline companion since 1976 is a good candidate for the title.
Neno celebrated his 22st birthday on Sunday, April 25, 1999--which also happened to be St. Mark's Day, honoring the patron saint of Venice. To commemorate Neno's birthday, I interviewed Juli about the first of her cat's nine lives.
I'd been in Venice about a year when I decided this was home, and for me no home is complete without a cat. I was introduced to Neno, whose parents were two Soriani, the traditional tiger-striped Venetian cats. He was just six weeks old, and his eyes were barely open. He fit in the palm of my hand. It was love at first sight.
Neno is a traditional diminutive for "Eugene" or "Eugenio." My husband named him--after one of his uncles, I think.
Neno was the biggest of his litter. This isn't just a question of size, but also of leadership.
He grew up in an apartment, but I didn't want him to be a timid cat, so I carried him everywhere with me when he was little. Then I'd put him down and let him follow me home. This way, he learned his way around the city, and he also got used to the smells of other cats, dogs, rats, birds, whatever moved on the streets of Venice.
The only cat Neno got along with was his mate, a female Siamese. As for the street cats, not one dares to walk past our door when he's out.
One day, a tomcat wandered into our neighborhood and tried to walk past the door. He sensed Neno from a ways off, but he really wanted to get to the other end of the street, so he walked as close to the edge of the canal as he could. Neno watched him approach. The second the tom was in front of our door, Neno rushed him and pushed him into the canal.
I saw the whole scene from my window and rushed down to help the hapless victim, but before I could get downstairs, the streetwise tom had climbed a pole and was racing down the street dripping wet.
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