Interview of Simone Poirier by Gisele Barnay

Translation of pages 15-21 of Les Secrets du Chat Sacre de Birmanie
Published by Pierre Tournon Editions, copyright 1987 by Editions Bornemann
(Thanks for finding this Penny!)

[The following are the first five pages of an english translation of pages 15-21 of Les Secrets du Chat Sacre de Birmanie. It is an interview of Simone Poirier by Gisele Barnay. I am attempting to get permission to post as much of this interview as possible. webmaster@birman.org]

Chapter One

The Mystery of its Beginnings

Gisele Barnay. When did you hear of the Sacred Cat of Burma for the first time?

Simone Poirier: That's quite a story. I lost my husband in February, 1952. We felt ourselves very alone, my daughter and me, and we had the feeling to have a cat. But not just any cat: a Siamese. I didnít know where to find one, and at the beginning of the Summer I was walking along the banks of the Seine.. looking at the animals for sale on the banks by small vendors. I saw many poor, sad little cats, but not one Siamese. I went back home...

I lived at that time in the 17th Arrondssernent of Paris, on rue St.Ferdinand. In passing the rue des Acacias, I went into a dog grooming salon. I asked among the clients if anyone raised Siamese cats. The owner responded that she didnít know of any one of her clientel who raised them, but she had seen this breed at the Cat Club Show-they were superb! She gave me the address of the Countess of Maubou, who had left her card with her.

Barnay: Who was the Countess of Maubou?

Poirier: This was an actress of the Twenties, Yahne Lambray, who had married the Count of Maubou. One day I went to her place, on the rue de Riboli. I saw three beautiful cats of semi-long hair, cream colored with brown markings similar to a siamese and little white "slippers" on their feet: a male, Agni, and two females, Aicha and Addy de Kaabaa, with several kittens, all seal points. The Countess had purchased them from a Mlle. Boyer, one of the first breeders of the breed. These three cats were the offspring of Xenia and Urloff de Kaabaa, two descendants of the first Birmans. Orloff had survived the war of 1940.

GB: Were you bowled over?

SP: Completely. When I saw the look of the Sacred Cat, its eyes so deeply blue, I was fascinated. But when the Countess told me that a female was valued at 18,000 Ancien French Francs, I really felt badly.

GB: 18,000 francs in 1952, thats expensive!! And?

SP: And, of course, I didnít make an offer to buy. The Countess suggested that for 6000 francs I could have Yago, a fat siamese without pedigree, and a small hybrid queen, Brinbelle. She was a daughter of Yago and a siamese sealpoint queen, but she had semi-long hair. She was adorable: she had a round head, and very deep blue eyes. Her coat was beige, very clean in color, with brown points. She had somewhat the same look as Yago. The male of siamese type had very short hair, but Brinbelleís was more the texture of "angora" - however, without the white gloves of the Sacred Cat of Burma.

GB: The siamese had the same round head?

SP: Absolutely. And the same round very blue eyes. Yago, he was a true "force of nature". He was big, in perfect condition, and he strutted everywhere. He was a little fatiguing. In 1952, the Siamese was not a fragile animal... in any case, mine surely was not, being a hybrid.

GB: Were you happy with the siamese?

SP: Of course, yes. They got along well, and they played together. Brinbelle was about six months old: she was born on June 22, 1952/ And she had grown...at that time, I had not much thought of breeding her -- but Madame de Maubou had encouraged me greatly to breed Brinbelle with Agni her Birman male.

GB: What transpired?

SP: He had somewhat the structure of a siamese of the period, heavier, with big feet: all of the feet were gloved in white, but not perfectly. His eyes were extremely blue. I finally decided to matethem together. Agni sired one kitten on Brinbelle: one female, who raised well. She had lovely fur, a nice ruff and the eyes of saphire blue. But not any white feet at all. I gave her to a friend not long afterward, who had her spayed.

GB: Were you discouraged?

SP: Somewhat. I had kept Brinbelle as a breeding cat. I would have started breeding Birmans one year earlier.

GB: Now its 1953. Were you interested at all in Cat shows?

SP: Not really. I was not ready, without doubt. Of course, my Siamese were registered with the Cat Club, but I had not put them in the shows. I just didnít go. I really had pet cats actually...

GB: But you kept your relationship with the Countess of Maubou...

SP: She invited me often to her "teas" and she read me her peotry that she had written. We spoke of many things, especially her poetry, and painting -- not really of cats. She had planted the idea of breeding cats in my head--but she was patient. She was letting me "cogitate". She desperately wished to sell me a Sacred Cat of Burma. At that time, the summer of 1953--I still resisted the idea, but not for long!!

GB: Did the Countess know the origins of the breed? Did this have any bearing on her breeding practice?

SP: I donít think so. It was more poetic than technical. She had often spoken of the famous legend of the Sacred Cat of Burmanie, known since 1926, at that time for more than 25 years. This legend, which states that the first Birmans seen in France had been taken from a Burman temple after the First World War, was of course, very fascinating. I didnít really believe it, but she "stuck" perfectly to the enigmatic Sacred Catís origins. I must have had the reason to dream... I didít ask any more questions. I would ask them quite a bit but I would not find any answers.

GB: It's true that its appearance in the cat shows, this cat was presented in a "romanesque" fashion. I was still shocked to find portions of this legend in a doctoral thesis for a veterinarian: the thesis on the breeds of cats submitted by Philipppe Jumaud at the Faculty of Medicine of Lyon on March 25, 1925.

There is presented among the other breeds, the Cat of Birmanie "As the Siamese, this breed is from the Far East. These cats of Birmanie, raised in the temples, are closely guarded and their removal is forbidden. Nevertheless in a few years Mr. Vanderbilt was able to acquire a pair, from which issue the subjects have served as the basis of our observations."

In an article of "Vie dela Cmapagne" (Life in the Country) of October, 1926, Mr. Jumaud wrote that the pair was imported by Madame Thadde-Hadish. And in another article, in December, 1925, he cites the "rare Sacred Cats of Burman, without additional comment.

SP: Thatís probably because this was very mixed up and mysterious that in 1953 I had not looked very far. In any case, the history of the Birman as told to me by Countess de Maubou, thats the one told in the books and in several magazine articles.

If my memory serves, the Dr. Jumaud published a book in 1926-27; there was also another by a Swiss cleric, Marcel Reney, in 1947. And the articles of Baodouin-Crevoisier, one of the breeders of the breed at the end of the Twenties, went along the same lines: I found them much later in magazines after the war.

GB: The breeders maintained the mystery. I have read all that, and it comes off a bit like a police novel or an adventure story. One finds this mythical temple, Lao-Tsun, a strange major in the Indian army, an American millionaire, Mr. Vanderbilt, and two adventuresers of high thievery: Mrs. Thadde-Hadish, a Viennese and Mrs. Leotardi, a woman from Nice apparently. Poupee, according to Marcel Baudouin-Crevoisier, the grandmother of all our Birmans, was born in Nice.

SP: More or less a certainty. The Sacred Cat of Burma was bred in the Midi of France around 1923-24.

GB: That corresponds perfectly to the thesis of Jumaud, vet of St. Raphael. He wrote in March, 1925: "The breeding of these subjects which we have observed is especially difficult. Madame Leotardi, who has raised several litters, confirms that she has not been able to raise more than one in six." He confirms this difficulty in his artlce of October, 1926.

SP: One can make several hypotheses concerning the breeding of the Birman. For example, that the breeders were part hybrid, a white-footed Siamese crossed with a queen with long hair. Or, that they were part of a hybrid siamese angora bred with a cat which had small white feet. And that they kept for their crossings one kitten in ten, that which had siamese markings, long hair and white feet.

GB: The first crossing appears to not have been voluntary. I read in the July issue (1927) of 'Life in the Country' a harsh "putting on notice" to the breeders of cats in general: 'You admit, for them, with rare exception, all of the mongrels which are born from their multiple matings, which are accidental..."

SP: If this was accidental, the mysterious Madame Leotardi had a very good idea how to breed the accident. In any event, our hypotheses are possible; there was in France during the Twenties some breeders of siamese and some breeders of persians. In any case, the first real result seems to have been the famous Poupee de Madalpour, the star of the Paris show in 1926. Poupee had transmitted her gloving to many of her offpsring.. One kept the kittens which were more or less well drawn, but this characteristic was transmitted from generation to generation. The breed existed then, and the foundation stock of Madalpour makes mention of her...

GB: And yes! The showing of Poupee was orchestrated. She had "good press" as we would say today!!

SP: Dr. Jumaud was Secretary general of the first feline club in France, the Cat Club of France and Belgium, which was founded in 1913. It was he who organised the first cat shows, before the first world war.

GB: From the magazines of the Twnenties, one discerns there were shows in the province--in Nice and Cannes since 1912, and at Aix-les Baines in 1914. They were begun rather timidly after the war, notably at Cannes in 1923. But the International Show in Paris in 1926 was the first of its "genre". In the history of showing purebred cats, that is the date that counts.

SP: I understand there was a problem getting the show going in January of 1926.

GB; The January show was cancelled, because of cold and the difficulty of exposing cats to such temperatures. Three hundred cats roughly were presented at the May 14-15 show, especially some beautiful siamese and persians. The catalogueís cover was designed by Jacques Nam, a painter and poet of cats.

SP: In this large show, the Sacred Cat of Burma was an event...

GB: I have found some interesting exerpts: "We have marveled with much pleasure the interested taken in the persian, and in the Birman, so rare, thiat the one the public admired at Paris was perhaps the only speciman known" Three Birmans only were shown, but certainly Poupee was the most remarked about. Another comment was "the subjects of this breed are rare, but those shown were very pretty, in particular Poupee de Madalpour, belonging to Madame Leotardi, a female representing all the characteristics of the breed".

(interview continues for several more chapters...)

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