Rosita Boland: I wondered if the cat I encountered in Florence was trying to emulate Taylor Swift’s feline

Walking to the Uffizi, I reflected on my first and only other visit to the city when, in my 20s, I came across an item that remains a mystery to this day

I saw a lot of angels recently. They were all in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence; wings extended, wings folded, wings in animated flight. Painted wings. Wings made of marble. It is many years since I was in one of Italy’s most famous treasure houses. I was meant to be there two Easters ago, but someone very close to me grew their own wings and flew away the day before that planned trip to Florence.

Walking that morning to the Uffizi along the banks of the Arno, I became vaguely aware of a woman walking in front of me. She was stylishly dressed, as so many Italian people are, in skirt and black jacket and cool boots, with a large black leather bag slung over her right shoulder.

It appeared at first that this woman was like any other, walking along with a bag over her shoulder, as indeed I also was doing. Her bag, however, contained more than pens and diary and phone and water bottle and keys, as mine did. This woman’s bag also contained a very large ginger cat. The cat literally came out of the bag and then wrapped itself across the woman’s shoulders. I wondered if the cat had been listening in on the international cat-chatter, and was trying to emulate Benjamin Button.

You may recall Taylor Swift was photographed for Time Magazine Person of the Year with a cat draped around her shoulders. It spawned countless er, copy-cat attempts on social media, of people trying to turn their own cats into the effortless feline boa that Swift had transformed her own cat into. The Time Magazine-featured cat was one of three she has, and God help me, I know all their names. Olivia, Meredith and Benjamin Button. I do not even like cats.


I looked at the cat, the cat looked at me, and the woman whose cat it was looked across the Arno. Then it slithered down from her shoulders and into her arms. We continued to walk towards the Uffizi, and the cat stared back at me, stretching his neck around to check I was still following. It was a plump, well-fed cat. I wondered if it was a hunter, but given its method of getting around Florence – transported by arms in a type of human sedan, instead of on its own four paws – this seemed perhaps unlikely. It looked to me like a cat with no job.

As it happens, as I walked, I had been reflecting on my first and only other visit to the city, which took place during the decade I was in my 20s. On that occasion, I was staying at a youth hostel in an old villa that was far enough outside the city that it necessitated a bus ride.

I was standing with my rucksack waiting for this bus to show up in a street from where I could see the famous Duomo, the cathedral in the centre of Florence. The stop was outside a shop. Florence has many beautiful hand-crafted things for sale. There are all manner of leather goods: bags and belts and sandals; and my favourite, the leather tooled blank notebooks in different colours I desired greatly. There is hand-marbled paper, and all kinds of stationery, and astonishingly large jewelled necklaces.

As I waited for my bus, I turned to peruse the contents of the shop window. It was a very fancy shop, of the kind you have to ring a bell to gain entrance to. It was not a shop to be going into with a rucksack on your back and a bed awaiting you at a youth hostel. But looking is free, as the saying goes, and so I looked.

I thought again with fascination of that silver rat trap. Its existence will forever remain a conundrum and a mystery

There were more of the gorgeous hand-tooled leather notebooks displayed on the glass shelves. There were some silver bowls of different sizes, and large silver spoons. I spent a while staring at the leather notebooks, and then my gaze moved to another of the glass shelves.

On this shelf, there was just the one item. I looked at it with first curiosity, then amazement and then utter disbelief. The object had a beautifully polished large base of oak. The rest of it was silver. The hallmarks were prominent. The price tag was high; many thousands of Italian lira, as the currency was then.

It was a silver rat trap. I was well familiar with farms, and I knew what a rat trap looked like. The questions I had were so many. Why would anyone make this? Who was meant to buy it? If you had the money to buy it, surely you would not have vermin on your property? Was it meant to be a piece of art? Why did it then look like it was in full working order, springs and all?

My bus came, and I reluctantly got on, afire with unanswered questions. To this day, I regret not going into the shop to try to find out more.

Looking at the plump ginger cat that eyed me unblinkingly as it was being carried along the Arno – a cat that was being brought out for a stroll, while not even strolling, in one of the busiest parts of Florence – I thought again with fascination of that silver rat trap. Its existence will forever remain a conundrum and a mystery.

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