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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

House Hunt Finds Felines, Faded Stars

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After I had served three years in the Pacific Fleet I was transferred to Leningrad for advanced training as a radar operator. I traveled to Leningrad ahead of my wife and young son to sort out housing.

I tramped around the entire city with no success. As soon as the registered residents learned that I had a small child, they lost all interest in letting their apartment to me. I called my wife in Moscow and asked her to come and help. I figured that a young, attractive woman would have a better chance of winning people over. But even she had no luck. One of my fellow officers suggested that I head out to the Old Actors' Home on Krestovsky Island.

"They all have full board and lodging, but some of them have kept their own apartments," he said. "Maybe you'll get lucky and someone will let you their rooms. I know that the widow of the famous provincial actor Pavel Orlenev lives there, and she almost certainly has a place in the city as well. Just make sure to take your wife along. The widow adores beautiful women."

We wasted no time and set off the next day for the Old Actors' Home. Madame Orleneva had already let her apartment, however, and suggested that we make the rounds of the other residents.

The doors of the apartments opened into a long, broad hallway with plush armchairs placed between the windows. We walked down the hall as though we were in a museum. The residents of the home were once the pride of the Russian theater. The name plates on their doors hung like memorial plaques. As we passed one of the doors I noticed the name of a famous ballerina who had performed with the Mariinsky Theater. No sooner had I thought how interesting it would be to meet her than the door swung open. A clutch of cats poured out followed by a very plump woman of medium height with legs like an elephant's.

"Tishka! Tishka, you scoundrel! Where have you gone to? Come back here this minute!" she called in a husky smoker's voice. When she caught sight of me, she said: "Officer, catch that gray rascal. He crawled under the sofa." The repulsive stench of cats wafted out through the open door, a smell characteristic of most entryways in Leningrad.

We submitted to the imperious command of the ex-prima donna and set about looking for her cat. He decided to have some fun with us, first crawling toward us, then disappearing back under the sofa.

I finally managed to catch the cat, which began to meow frantically, squirming and scratching.

"Young man, I am so grateful," said the former ballerina as she took her beloved cat from my arms. "If this were 1915, I would certainly have invited you to the Mariinsky to see me dance in 'Giselle.' More's the pity."

By this point my wife and I weren't interested in "Giselle" or an apartment in the Old Actors' Home. Holding our noses, we ran down the hallway and out into the fresh air.

Vladislav Schnitzer is a journalist and pensioner living in Moscow.