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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Comrade Kitten Gives Housemate Mushrooms

It wasn't the gummy plates in the cupboard, the shared bathroom or the mysteriously constant aroma of fried fish that finally drove me out of the kommunalka where I lived near the Peter and Paul Fortress. It was, as things turned out, mushrooms.

The tale begins with Marquise, a sweet little furball of a kitten who, despite his regal name, always looked as though he just came through a high-heat dryer cycle. Well-meaning friends had given him to the family with whom I was sharing a communal apartment. "He's a mouser, our little comrade," said Lyudmila, the matriarch of the house. "There'll be no mice in this apartment while he's around."

Mice there were not, but when three inflamed red spots appeared on my skin I began to realize that there may be worse things in life than a few little furry mice scampering about the kitchen. Off I trundled to Skin Clinic No. 1 in the Petrogradskaya area to find out what ailed me.

"Micro-spores," announced the doctor, after looking at specimens of skin scraped away with a flame-sterilized, carbon-encrusted scalpel.

"Fungi. Or, colloquially, mushrooms." Easily treated, he continued, first with iodine ("to burn it out") and then a variety of creams and ointments.

"And then, you just need to wash everything that's touched these spots in hot water, pour boiling water over them to rinse, and then iron them on the highest possible setting. And don't touch that cat again."

Or, alternatively, never touch my clothes again and pour boiling water on the cat. But then, of course, we'd have mice in addition to everything.

I was ready to heal, ready to equip myself with a battery of exotic creams and ointments. Then, in an impetuous blending of Western pragmatism with Russian folk wisdom, I got a second opinion, one from a doctor friend of Lyudmila's, who said, "Why buy all those creams? Just rub fresh cranberries on those spots. They'll clear right up."

Just what I needed -- a simple, traditional cure! But the cranberries experiment, unfortunately, did not last long. It's not that I doubt folk wisdom and traditional healing, it's that the cranberries spread on my arm, leg and neck looked like gore from a gunshot wound, stung like hell and didn't seem to be healing anything.

In the end I was forced to bow to modern medicine, which finally flouted the fecund fungi, restoring me to health.

So beware, citizens. St. Petersburg is a city of cats, those denizens of the courtyards and watchful guards of shops and restaurants. Next time you're tempted to pet that feline stretched across the counter at the milk store, put gloves on first. Then pour boiling water on them when you get home.