Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) is known as the “Father of Electricity”, most famous for helping design modern alternating current (AC) electricity. He also had 300 patents to his name. But today we’re concentrating on how he became interested in electricity through his cat. The story is from Letters of Note, which you can access by clicking on the screenshot below. The introduction:
In Washington DC in 1939, aged eighty-three and in failing health, Tesla met Pola Fotić, the daughter of the Yugoslav ambassador to the United States, and they bonded over their shared love of cats. Soon afterwards, from his home in New York City on this day in 1939, Tesla wrote to his new friend and revealed one of the reasons behind his lifelong fascination with electricity.
And an excerpt from the letter. I’ve put the electricity bit in bold, but I suggest reading the whole excerpt (or the whole letter at the link above), as it’s a wonderful missive about a boy and his beloved moggy:
July 23, 1939
My Dear Miss Fotitch,
. . . . But I was the happiest of all, the fountain of my enjoyment being our magnificent Macak—the finest of all cats in the world. I wish I could give you an adequate idea of the affection that existed between us. We lived for one another. Wherever I went, Macak followed, because of our mutual love and the desire to protect me. When such a necessity presented itself he would rise to twice his normal height, buckle his back, and with his tail as rigid as a metal bar and whiskers like steel wires, he would give vent to his rage with explosive puffs: Pfftt! Pfftt! It was a terrifying sight, and whoever had provoked him, human or animal, would beat a hasty retreat.
Every evening we would run from the house along the church wall and he would rush after me and grab me by the trousers. He tried hard to make me believe that he would bite, but the instant his needle-sharp incisors penetrated the clothing, the pressure ceased and their contact with my skin was gentle and tender as a butterfly alighting on a petal. He liked best to roll on the grass with me. While we were doing this he bit and clawed and purred in rapturous pleasure. He fascinated me so completely that I too bit and clawed and purred. We could not stop, but rolled and rolled in a delirium of delight. We indulged in this enchanting sport day by day except in rainy weather.
In respect to water, Macak was very fastidious. He would jump six feet to avoid wetting his paws. On such days we went into the house and selected a nice cozy place to play. Macak was scrupulously clean, had no fleas or bugs, shed no hair, and showed no objectionable traits. He was touchingly delicate in signifying his wish to be let out at night, and scratched the door gently for re-admittance.
Now I must tell you a strange and unforgettable experience that stayed with me all my life. Our home was about eighteen hundred feet above sea level, and as a rule we had dry weather in the winter. But sometimes a warm wind from the Adriatic would blow persistently for a long time, melting the snow, flooding the land, and causing great loss of property and life. We would witness the terrifying spectacle of a mighty, seething river carrying wreckage and tearing down everything moveable in its way. I often visualise the events of my youth, and when I think of this scene the sound of the waters fills my ears and I see, as vividly as then, the tumultuous flow and the mad dance of the wreckage. But my recollections of winter, with its dry cold and immaculate white snow, are always agreeable.
It happened that one day the cold was drier than ever before. People walking in the snow left a luminous trail behind them, and a snowball thrown against an obstacle gave a flare of light like a loaf of sugar cut with a knife. In the dusk of the evening, as I stroked Macak’s back, I saw a miracle that made me speechless with amazement. Macak’s back was a sheet of light and my hand produced a shower of sparks loud enough to be heard all over the house.
My father was a very learned man; he had an answer for every question. But this phenomenon was new even to him. “Well,” he finally remarked, “this is nothing but electricity, the same thing you see through the trees in a storm.”
My mother seemed charmed. “Stop playing with this cat,” she said. “He might start a fire.” But I was thinking abstractedly. Is nature a gigantic cat? If so, who strokes its back? It can only be God, I concluded. Here I was, only three years old and already philosophising.
However stupefying the first observation, something still more wonderful was to come. It was getting darker, and soon the candles were lighted. Macak took a few steps through the room. He shook his paws as though he were treading on wet ground. I looked at him attentively. Did I see something or was it an illusion? I strained my eyes and perceived distinctly that his body was surrounded by a halo like the aureola of a saint!
I cannot exaggerate the effect of this marvellous night on my childish imagination. Day after day I have asked myself “what is electricity?” and found no answer. Eighty years have gone by since that time and I still ask the same question, unable to answer it. Some pseudo-scientist, of whom there are only too many, may tell you that he can, but do not believe him. If any of them know what it is, I would also know, and my chances are better than any of them, for my laboratory work and practical experience are more extensive, and my life covers three generations of scientific research.
From The Dodo, we have a bittersweet video about a cat named Elie who falls in love with the neighbor down the hall and pines for him when he leaves. She loves the neighbor even more than her own staff! The neighbor moves away, leaving the cat bereft, but then the neighbor comes back for a grand reunion.
The YouTube notes, with the cat’s Instagram page:
One of Elie’s Instagram posts:
From the World’s Best site (click on screenshot below), we have a list of what are supposedly the world’s five best cat movies, but they’ve left out the very best one: Kedi (2016), a documentary about the cats of Istanbul, following a handful of cats around the city (I don’t know how they filmed at ground level). It’s a superb movie (the Rotten Tomatoes rating is 98% from critic and 85% from the audience), and it’s enjoyable even for people indifferent to cats. Here’s a trailer and a place to rent it from YouTube:
The World’s Best list is pretty lame, but I’ll give it to you and show one clip that I like:
The Rotten Tomato scores are lame, too:
a.) THE ARISTOCATS | ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 68%
b.) PUSS IN BOOTS | ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 84%
c.) OLIVER AND COMPANY | ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 44%
d.) ALICE IN WONDERLAND | ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 79%
This 1951 Disney movie is not a cat movie, but it does have an excellent cat, which I’ll show in a clip:
e.) GARFIELD | ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 15%
Do you have favorite cat movies, or want to weigh in on these? Please do so in the comments.
h/t: Fred, Ginger K.