"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in cats (12)


Elements of Ecstasy, a Five Year Update



Take a big question of your life: Why are my sleep hours so crazy? Bring it to a specialist.

You love everything about her: her strong nose, her mood balanced between caring and taking care of business, her beaded scarf on black jacket, the sparkle of Arabian Nights in the consultation room.   

You have one hour to tell her your entire psychological and medical history, and you do so in French. She gives you a recipe for change.

You join your adored husband on Boulevard du Montparnasse where he’s taking photos near La Closerie des Lilas.


Arm in arm you walk through the curving paths, the sheltering trees, the thwock of tennis balls, the elegance of chess in the Jardin du Luxembourg.

“Have you ever given up something you were good at?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say. “Have you?”

“Chess,” he says.


“I was pretty good when I was six years old. But my mother brought me late to an important city tournament. Now I don’t remember how to play.”

“Oh, my darling, my lateness must drive you nuts.”

“It’s better now,” he says. “Ten minutes, that's Paris time…. How about you?”


Street art © 2016 by Pole Ka

“I was good at reading Tarot,” I say. “But I didn’t like the way some people projected guru nonsense on me.”

We walk across Paris to Simrane. The January sales! We each have a throw pillow cover in our bags, shredded by our chatons. We want the jewel colors (van Gogh), not the milky impressionist ones (Monet), or the newer fluorescents. We find replacements.

At Le Pré Aux Clercs, we take an alcove table. I glance in the mirror. Where did that lost girl go who was so besieged by men she could barely think? She’s now a woman (mostly) at home in her body and soul, no longer pursued, but captured, captivated by this man across from her, a man who knows how to listen, a man who is thrilled by many of the same things that thrill her, and who himself thrills her still, who, like her, appreciates the waiter, attentive but reserved, unobtrusive but present, and who brings to this intimate nook perfectly cooked saumon et légumes for her, and salade de tomates et Mozzarella et soupe a l’oignon for him.

Paris waiters

It’s the five-year anniversary of our living in Paris. We click our cafes crèmes, talk of how the refugee crisis is affecting Europe, and what we can do to help. Let’s ask friends on Facebook, that world-wide forum of brilliance and idiocy.

Down rue Jacob we go. The waiter flies after us with a glove one of us dropped. I’m dizzy with the beauty of the displays in every vitrine. Remember Jung’s words about the Door to the Divine for us intuitive types: sensory beauty. Oh yes it is. Here is a shop I’ve never seen with Navajo and Mexican-printed patterns of sweaters and skirts.

I dart in, find the scarf I’ve been looking for, but he’s waiting on the sidewalk, I don’t want to hold him up.

Street art © 2016 by Konny Steding 

We meander up rue de Seine. There on the corner of rue de Buci is a new street art paste-up. He stops to take a photo. “I know you hate to backtrack,” I say, “but we’re here & the sales are on & I hate to shop & may not want to come back & I’d really like to try on this scarf & you say yes or no.” I don’t need his permission, but he knows what suits me. Back we go. “Yes,” he says. And it’s half off.

Down rue Saint-André-des-Arts to Starbucks for beans. An unhappy French girl at the counter. I see why when her male colleague orders her around, micromanaging her.

We switch him over from English to French, and chat with the girl. By the time we leave, she’s cheerful.


At our favorite Alice in Wonderland bookstore, I buy The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins, and Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, a novel that helped me get accepted early to college, when I wrote an essay about A Book I Hated.

I wonder why at age 17 I hated it so. Will re-reading it bring back the time, for a fictional story I’m writing?

At home les chatons greet us, with vomit on the rug and purrs. Lift it off, soak it with bubbly water. Move our two couches close together facing each other to create a square enclosure and, voila! le cratère de l’amour

We lie together (no, not “lay,” you writers who keep posting variations of “I was laying on the bed”) against pillows, reading. Ethan Frome: the first chapter is clotted prose. Then the characters of Ethan, Zeena and Mattie in a small village in western Massachusetts envelop me with their tragic tale.



It is grim. Hopeless. And rather unimaginative. Sometimes the dialogue between Ethan and Mattie seems melodramatic. I wonder how much experience of love Edith Wharton had. “Oh Mattie.” “Oh, oh, Ethan.” “Oh, oh, oh, Mattie.” “Oh, oh, oh, oh, Ethan.” 

And then they try to kill themselves.

Surely even these stunted lives have a few moments of joy besides the first blush of falling in love. But man, can she write about weather. 

In an essay at the back of the book, Lorna Sage writes, “Edith Wharton got to know the kind of dead-alive New England hamlets she is describing by taking excursions in her chauffeur-driven motor car.… One should dwell a little on this image of Wharton touring the territory of her tragedy – a woman of enormous energy, wealth and creative curiosity finding her subject in the ‘insanity, incest and slow mental and moral starvation’ of the near-extinct inhabitants she observed on her travels. The contrast between Wharton and her subject could not be more striking.” 

She wrote this novella in French while living in Paris, then with ease, a second time, in English. That might explain that first congested chapter. 

In A Backward Glance, Wharton wrote, “From the first I know exactly what is going to happen to every one of them; their fate is settled beyond rescue, and I have but to watch and record.” Control freak much? Don’t her characters ever surprise her?


Pollux (top) and Castor 

Les chatons nestle against us, Pollux on Richard’s head, giving him a tongue shampoo, Castor burrowed close to my feet. Hyper-active Pollux has been taking a natural tranquillizer given him by our vet, and it’s making him mellow enough to lay lie down with us, calmly at times.

Later, I check e-mail and find on Poem-a-Day a poem by our friend and mentor, David St. John. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/alexandr-blok  Yes, there it is: the ecstatic sensibility I’ve always loved in his poems. The passion for subtle intellect and sensual beauty that Paris embodies. It’s why we love his poems, and him. And why we love this city.







My birthday gift from Richard this year was to be a cat. But on May 27 (in Gemini), no cat had appeared, despite our extensive search.

We didn’t know that the next day (May 28, still Gemini) two brothers were born in a family of five.

We didn't know how we would ever replace our affectionate, talkative Turkish Angora, Marley, who had moved with us to Paris.

We didn’t know that a Turkish Angoran mother was nursing five kittens as we searched.

We didn’t know that ten weeks later, we’d board a train to the town of Boissy-St-Léger, half an hour south of Paris.

We didn’t know that two of the five brothers were so bonded that we couldn’t adopt one without the other.

We didn’t know we’d board the train back to Paris with two kittens not yet named.

We didn’t know for a week what their names were.

We watched as they boxed and galloped around the kitchen and foyer, and thought of the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, of Greek myth.

These twins, a tamer of horses and a boxer, were so close that they were later placed in the sky by Zeus as the constellation Gemini.

What else could we call them but Castor and Pollux?






What Fresh Hell Is This?



Yes, he said, yes, he said yes!

We were at dinner at Anahuacalli, our favorite Mexican restaurant in Paris, and he asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year. 

A cat! I said.


Seriously? You mean it?

Sure. If that’s what you really want. It's your birthday.



We’ve been having a certain dialogue for two years, since Marley died in July 2013. Still grieving, we both agreed that no cat could ever replace our white and gold wedding cake cat. But then I started yearning for, not a replacement, but a Marley brother or sister.

But we want to travel, Richard said, that's one reason we're in Europe. Although… if a cat came to our door the way Marley did in Venice in 1997 and asked to join this family, I’d say yes.

But what cat can wander in through our Paris courtyard, unlock the door to the building and find his way to the fifth floor and knock?

Right, said Richard.



We stopped at our veterinarian’s on Blvd. Saint-Germain for the first time since that summer, to ask if he knew any cats who needed a home.

Doctor McCarthy (who revealed to us once that he was really a cat) wasn’t in, but in the waiting room, a woman in army fatigues with a cocker spaniel suggested we go to the SPA weekend offering at Bastille that weekend, a once-a-year event (by the French equivalent of the SPCA). What timing! What a stroke of luck! 

Saturday, we walked over two Seine bridges the twenty minutes to Place Bastille to find a temporary exhibition hall set up under white tents. The canvas cages, with plexiglas windows, were set cheek-by-jowl on top of rows of tables, the cats hunched inside. From the next room, came a staccato cacophony of dogs. We walked through the rows. The first cat I saw was a white beauty who looked like Marley. But no, we couldn’t duplicate him—why even try?

We looked at tiger-striped and calico cats, and various-colored kitten siblings. But the kittens were all sick with coryza, a common shelter cold that comes from close living with other cats, which can be serious.



We chose three cats who appealed to us. But petting them, you could see that they weren’t that affectionate. We returned to the white cat. He’d been adopted two minutes before. I offered to give the woman adopting my card in case the cat wasn’t compatible with a cat she had at home. Oh, no, she said, she would never give up a cat once adopted. Bien sûr, neither would we.

We decided to come back earlier the next day, since a new batch of chats et chiens was arriving. Sunday morning we felt lazy, didn’t want to get out of bed.

Let’s just hop in a cab and go over there and see, Richard said. And so we did. We had a plan. He would start at one end, and I at the other. We each noted a cat that appealed to us, then checked out each other’s choice. No, no. Then went back to look at a tortoiseshell female, three years old, a bomb-shell beauty, with black, red and white patches.

I had the thought that she was like our friend Edith who recently died, who only wore black, red and white. Her papers said she could live in either a pavillon (a house with grounds) or appartement, but advised she needed to be the sole cat in the place, and that we shouldn’t have a child or dog.

I unzipped the cage and cautiously held out my hand. The cat, Jade, came over and lowered her head, asking to be petted. She was sweet and câlin as the French say. A cuddler.

What do you think, Richard?

He put his hand in her cage and she moseyed over to him for more petting.


We asked the woman in the orange vest if we could hold her. Yes, she said, and turned the cage around to unzip and free her. Richard picked her up. She was câlin, then balked, and scratched his hand. Natural for a cat caged and surrounded by chaos, we figured.

We glanced at each other. Yes?


Signed the ream of French paperwork, showed our identity cards, paid 90 euros, got a certificate that she’d been sterilized and received all her shots.

We stood on the curb and tried to flag a taxi. None stopped, though many were free. A French couple on a nearby bench railed about the rude cab drivers in Paris. 

One finally stopped, but seeing the cat in our carrier, said, Not in the car, in the trunk.


No, we said, we can’t do that to this cat, we just rescued her from prison at la Bastille.

He relented and as we headed home, told us he adored cats, but was allergic to them, was so sad to have no cat in his life. But if you’d told us that, we’d have understood, we said.

At a stoplight, he turned around in his seat to get a closer look at Jade. Oh la la, qu’elle est belle! he exclaimed.

At home, we put out food, water, and lined with a trash bag a temporary litter tray cut from a cardboard box. We’d walk the next day to get another litter box at the department store near city hall, having thrown Marley’s away.  

We sat at our oak table and watched Jade pad along the edges of the living room, and then every room in the apartment, sniffing, investigating. And then she settled on the couch, looking regal and quite content. We’ll let her come to us, we decided. Let her determine when she wants contact.


That night, I stretched out on the couch to read All the Light We Cannot See. She approached me gingerly, hopped up and walked across the blanket from my feet to my hand. She butted up against it, looking for affection. I stroked her head, and she ronronnait. (You know what that means.) Then suddenly, no warning from ears or tail or viper mouth, she bit and scratched my hand, hard. It hurt.

It was probably a sign she’d been traumatized with all those dogs and other cats and humans, and being in a cage, and so we’d be patient.

Later that evening, she approached Richard in his office and bowed her head to be petted. Then turned on him and slashed his hand, with no warning.


We went to sleep uneasy. Something felt wrong about this creature. She did not speak, only squeaked as if she’d never been to meowing school.

The next day, the scratches and bites were worse. For both of us. We were now on guard when Jade approached. It was the same pattern; ask for affection, then attack without warning.

That night she bit me so hard that she raised a lemon-sized bump on my right hand that began to turn half-purple. Now I was feeling more than uneasy. I was beginning to be afraid of her. She did the same thing with Richard, biting his finger and drawing a drop of blood.


The next morning, she awakened us with a crash. She’d knocked a sculpture my sister, Jane, made of a bumble-bee bird from the mantel to the floor. Its wing was damaged at the tip.

I had a feeling that morning that I’ve never had about a cat: hatred. Her eyes were not golden, they were urine-yellow like a goat’s. She didn’t cover her shit, had never learned to do so. Was clearly a wild cat. My hand hurt, and I was worried about infection. I said to myself, I cannot live with this cat. I will never love this cat. But I’m married to a man who lived in and out of foster homes from the age of 12 to 14. To bring a cat back to the SPA, how traumatic for the cat. Unthinkable.

I had appointments that day, including a visit to my doctor. She examined my hand and said, I’m sure it’s okay, just bruising. But returning home, I felt a deepening dread of this demon cat and the decision we had to make.


Later that night Jade raked Richard’s hand so badly the wound looked like a red zipper. He called it his Heidelberg dueling scar.

With leaden hearts, we made the decision to return her to the pound. Richard made the call. After 13 weeks of study at the Sorbonne, he was able to navigate a phone conversation in French, describe the adoption, the cat behavior, find out where we could take her back that required no car. 


Street art © 2013 by JAZ

And that is how my birthday began: we rounded her up, cornered in the kitchen, hissing (she knew!), lifted her wrapped in a towel to immobilize her razor-sharp claws, got her into Marley’s old carrier, and boarded the RER train for an hour ride to the nearest shelter at suburban Gennevilliers.

The first French woman we spoke to at the shelter was skeptical and thuggish. No, they could not take the cat there because she didn’t come from this pound. Richard explained that the central SPA office, hearing that we didn’t have a car to drive to the cat’s shelter of origin several hours outside of Paris, had given us permission to bring the cat here. 

She shook her head in that French fashion that says, I will find a way to obstruct this, that is why I exist.


The second, third, and fourth employees were sympathetic. Oui, they said, they would take her, though it wasn’t the center from which she came. 

In our interview, we learned some French as it applies to cats. Câlin, we knew. Pavillon ou appartement? We’d thought it was a rather snobbish way of saying, Certain cats must have estates in Paris, with grounds.

Mais non. Pavillon means: This cat is so wild, so unsuited for living with not just dogs, other cats, and children, but even adults who worship cats. She can only be adopted by humans who have their own private jungle where jaguars can roam.


Street Art © 2014 by Toc Toc

Elle n’est pas une écaille de tortue, this is not a tortoise shell, said one young woman, Morgan, named after the sorceress in the medieval King Arthur’s tales. It’s a tricolore. They are always female, and they’re known for having caractère

Caractère translates in French to bitch. (Our cat-whisperer friend, Lisa Fimiani, told us, “Male cats are supposedly more friendly—females can be bitches, however it all comes down to the cat's personality and their interaction with you.”)

Égratigner means to shred the skin of a human.

Mordu means bitten to the bone.

They looked at our hands and nodded gravely. This cat cannot live indoors.


No, we said, she’s the demon cat from hell.

(We didn’t really say that. We know that cats understand everything you say.) We walked away feeling years lighter, and said it to each other. 


Street art © 2015 by M. Chat

* Footnote: A line attributed to American author/critic/poet and wit Dorothy Parker, who is reported to have exclaimed, "What fresh hell is this?" when her train of thought was interrupted by a telephone. She then started using it in place of "hello" when answering the phone or a knock at her door.









A Day of Mourning in Paris  


Walking home from a delightful feline evening with three women friends at Le Café des Chats, the café where cats have free rein, Anna and Sion turned left at rue de Rivoli, and Rachel and I headed to the Place de Parvis Notre Dame, where she headed right and I turned left along the rue du Cloître Notre Dame on the north side of the Cathedral. The moon was directly overhead, slightly past full, shining on the gaping mouths of the gargoyles. They looked like monsters, mad dogs, straining to attack, held back by the force of the church and centuries of solid stone, radiance all around them. 

I passed over the Pont de l’Archevêché, heavy with love locks. Paris attracts romantics from around the world, and the weight of their yearning for lasting love threatens to collapse the bridge. Four young men across the street were leaning down to examine the locks. I listened, looked, scanned for danger. They spoke French (which tends to give me a sense of relief), were laughing, seemed safe.


Turning east along the Quai de la Tournelle, I headed home along the Seine, whose ruffled surface mirrored a fractured moon.

Another four men advanced toward me, heavy-set, middle-aged, talking amongst themselves.

I stood waiting for traffic to pass, alert again to possible danger. Out of the side of my eye, I monitored how close they were, before crossing the street.

And I had two thoughts: after years of living in Los Angeles, and before that, Santa Fe, New York City, Boulder, and Cambridge—after attacks by men in Berkeley, Cambridge and New Orleans, all averted by a weapon I hadn’t know I had, my voice—screaming in one case, talking calmly in two others—I still have the habit of scanning for threatening men. 

And once again, I felt happy to be living in a city where I feel safe, where I can walk alone at night, even late, as now at 11 p.m., or even later, like returning from a favorite writing café at 2 a.m., though I’ll probably never lose the habit of scanning for danger. It seems to be an intrinsic part of being a woman.



The following day came the shocking news of the murder of twelve journalists and staff at the office of the satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, by two terrorists with Kalashnikov rifles.

Horror. Grief. Sorrow. One state of mind bled into another. Richard and I cried, talked, and read newspaper articles online, many from links on Facebook. What a stunning locus/web of community and news. Friends in the U.S. and beyond sent moving messages of empathy, many wishing us safety.

We watched French news stations, and BBC. We heard President Obama and John Kerry extend their sympathy and support of democratic ideals to the French (Kerry in passable French—bravo, Monsieur Secretary of State!). French journalists and intellectuals discussed the events with nuanced intelligence, the absence of hysteria, and invited Muslim imams to voice their condemnation of the terrorist acts. President François Hollande declared the following three days to be days of mourning.


At the Place de la République, we gathered spontaneously with fifteen thousand other Parisians, lit candles, stood in solidarity with the victims. “Je Suis Charlie,” said the signs. I am Charlie. Such a respectful gathering of grievers. Standing in silence, then the waves of applause, and the chant, Char-lie, Char-lie, Char-lie. Then silence, then repeating the clapping and chant. No speeches, no politicians; the police present only to direct traffic, not in their Robocop outfits. 

That first day we heard no anti-Muslim sentiment expressed, just deep gravitas, grief, and a sense of unity. One French Muslim woman interviewed on TV wept, Ceci n’est pas Islam! Je suis Française! Je suis Française! (This is not Islam. I am French.)

On Thursday, I awakened feeling flattened by sadness. Over the course of the day, I found myself circling through the stages of loss and grief again. In reading the news and Facebook posts, I saw a few of bitter hatred, ones that urged killing the terrorists, that kind of thing. 


That seems to me to be a far greater danger than another terrorist attack in Paris—the massing of hatred, the backlash, the rise of anti-Muslim scapegoating, fueling more terrorism in a murderous feedback loop. In this decade, we’re already seeing a mirroring of the reactionary xenophobic spirit and crimes of the 1950s—the McCarthyism that had a devastating effect on so many artists and intellectuals, including the career of a writer relative of mine, and his actress wife.

So what is needed? For one thing, understanding. How does a lively young French man of Algerian descent descend into such barbarity? Look at Chèrif Kouachi, the younger of the two brothers, in this video, a 2005 investigative documentary about jihadism. 

Chèrif Kouachi might have gone in another direction. Like so many young men growing up in a western culture, he liked rap music and pretty girls. Like so many young people, he had no sense of direction, but was searching for guidance. He met a teacher, Farid Benyettou, who told him that, “The scriptures showed the virtue of suicide attacks. It’s written in the scriptures that it’s good to die as a martyr.” Farid “gave me a justification for my coming death.”


His doubts vanished. He was trained in the use of Kalashnikovs, was on his way to Syria in 2005, hoping to go to Iraq, when he was arrested by police, along with Farid Benyettou, and spent time in prison. When he was released in 2008, he apparently convinced others that he’d put all that behind him.

At the Café des Chats on Tuesday night, I’d taken off my feather necklace, and dangled it in front of two sleepy cats. The small tortoiseshell leapt to the game, following the feathers with her marble eyes, batted them, snatched the leather cord and trapped that bird beneath her paws. 

The big gray cat seemed indifferent, even contemptuous. After Anna and I played birdie with the small cat for another few minutes, the big cat suddenly whacked the tortoiseshell hard across her cheek, shocking her into stillness. 

“Woah!” we exclaimed. A second later he sank his claws into my index finger, breaking the skin. Game over. 

I had the thought today that these two Kouachi brothers somewhere along the line had turned into cobras. Deadly, hooded serpents who, when provoked, killed. 

What turns a young man into a cobra?

Let’s take a break here, and return to this subject in our next Paris Play.


Artwork (and stencil) © 2014 C215


Cats, Gods and Fiction


 Artwork © 2014 M. Chat

Character: it fascinates me. It’s the chief thing I look for in fiction, a profound understanding of human character at the level of depth of Anton Chekhov’s, or Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, or Virginia Woolf’s, or Marcel Proust’s fiction. 

I recently re-read Chekhov’s My Life and Other Stories. These stories are not so much about plot or language as they are about character, deeply felt and seen.



Character: it is as distinct, as particular in animals as in humans. We have a Dostoyevsky character staying with us for a while. He is dark, silent, taciturn. If you were to describe him as a god, he’d be the panther god, Dionysus. His name is Streak. 

We are fascinated by how different he is in nature from our late cat, Marley. Marley was light, talkative, affectionate. He didn’t favor either of us—he simply wanted to be as close to one or the other as he could get. When we had friends over, he wanted to be one of the guests, was happiest when we set out a chair for him at the table.



If you were to compare Marley to a character in fiction, he’d be Samoylenko in Chekhov’s story, “The Duel.” If he were a Greek god, he’d be Apollo; he inspired poems from both of us.

I’ve been thinking lately that I’d like to see more stories that include not just human characters but animals and gods. Guess I’ll have to write some.


Artwork © 2014 Miss-Tic