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Marley Goes to Paris: Parts Two & Three

Part Two: In Which the King is Humbled

Life # 5: Four years later after Marley came to live with us in Venice, we bought a house in Playa del Rey.

Marley roamed the neighborhood freely, just as he’d done in Venice. But here in the suburbs, it was a jungle, at least for cats. Bands of feral cats were fed by several neighbors.

Marley, king of the block in Venice, didn’t stand a chance with this rough trade. He came home with puncture wounds in his neck. His most magnificent feature, a full Elizabethan ruff, had to be shaved halfway off. For weeks he wore a cone around his neck, and the $1300 vet bill came out of his allowance.

When the same thing happened a second time that year, the vet told us we’d have to keep him indoors now. She told us not to worry: “In six months, he’ll lose the desire to go outside.”

Marley never lost it. In the nine years we lived in this house, Marley would streak out any door left open, and disappear. We’d find him a few hours later sniffing leaves in the front yard, or getting good and greasy under the car, and we'd carry him into the house. Eventually, as he got older and slower, we realized that our courtyard was secure enough for him to go outside to get a dose of chlorophyll and bask in the sun.
Part Three: The Four Elements; The Alchemical Trials by Which a Cat Achieves Wholeness

Life # 6: Oh, but the next life, that was the biggest change. In 2011, we sold our house in order to move to Paris.

Marley had been through trials by Fire (the Malibu fire), by Water (the indignity of being shampooed in the bathtub after his rolls beneath the car), and Earth (attacked by feral cats with no manners, no boundaries, on his own turf). But the trial by Air remained.

The French require that various tests be passed before a cat is permitted to be a resident of France.

Back and forth Richard went, three times, from our vet in Santa Monica to the United States Department of Agriculture office (which certifies for the French that the cat has had the necessary shots and tests) in Hawthorne. Twice the vet filled out his complicated French paperwork wrong; the office in Hawthorne closed early. Fees were due, and fees were paid.

During the week between closing the sale of the house and boarding the plane, we stayed in a motel suite with kitchen in Manhattan Beach. David, a friend who had once lived in a house with eight cats and now had seven cats (all outdoors), offered to board Marley in his own suite for the week. This is how a friend becomes a very good friend.

The morning of the plane flight, friend David, and organizer/packer friend, Robi, met up and drove Marley, in a metal cage, to meet us four hours before our flight was to take off, as required by the airline.

For an hour in the freight office, his paper work was completed, he was placed on a giant scale and weighed, and then we said goodbye. He was one and a half pounds over the weight limit that would have allowed him to ride with us in the cabin. From his cage, he’d barely look at us, this most affectionate and straightforward of felines.

Cargo is less climate-controlled than cabin. If it’s too cold in the city of departure or destination, the cat can’t travel that day. No worries in L.A., but Paris? Luckily, there was no cold spell that January day. Bonne chance; the next few days were in the twenties, and RICHARD caught cold from hours of wandering happily and taking frozen-fingered pictures.

The flight was non-stop and only eleven hours, but because of the nine-hour time difference, we left L.A. at noon on Friday and arrived in Paris at eight a.m. Saturday.

At the Charles de Gaulle airport, we gathered up our eight bags at the carousel and wheeled two carts to the entrance of the cargo room. Surfboards emerged. Big boxes with mysterious contents. Package after package. But no Marley.

At last we asked for help from an airport official in a navy blue blazer, a coffee-colored man who had what sounded like an African accent; a good-natured, intelligent man with sparkling eyes. He made phone calls, one after another in musical French. Finally, he tracked down the office where we were to go. “Frêt Quatre.” Fret? Yes, we are fretting about Marley. “Oh! Freight Four.”

We sent out a wish for a taxi driver who was friendly, strong and drove a large van.

And there he was!

A Chinese-French man about 40 with a big smile and vigorous energy. He swung our bags into the back of his cab, and drove us to Frêt Quatre, but which building? He stopped to ask directions from a smiling man. We drove to the building and Richard went in. Wrong building. The taxi driver took us to another building. Richard filled out some papers, paid a hefty fee, and we returned to the first building.

I chatted with our taxi driver for 15 minutes. He told me that the French “don’t like to work. Not like in Hong Kong, where people got things done quickly and efficiently.”

“Well,” I said, “I think the French have another kind of gift. They know how to live. And sometimes efficiency and living well are mutually exclusive. At least that’s been my experience.”

The taxi driver said he intended to work in Paris another twenty years, then move with his family back to Hong Kong. What he missed most was the food!

Richard emerged holding the Marley cage, which contained a miffed white cat. We placed the cage between us on the floor in the back seat of the taxi. We cooed and stroked his fur, unlocking the front cage gate to do so. Marley wouldn’t look at us. He had almost no water left, so I poured the rest of mine from my plastic bottle. He lapped it up in one long gulp. Still wouldn’t look at us. The most talkative cat in the world barely made a peep the whole half-hour drive into Paris.

Finally, the cab pulled up in front of the big green doors that lead to the courtyard of our apartment building. We paid the driver, and I asked him his name.

“Hawk,” he said. Though it was probably spelled Hoc. It seemed a good omen. (But that’s another story.)

Up in the apartment, we released Marley from his cage. He trotted around the edges of every room, sniffing former inhabitants, getting to know the place. Four times he circumambulated. And then he flopped down on the Chinese red rug in the living room, and began to purr. Life # 6 had begun.


We slept in today. Marley padded up to our chins, planted himself between us and started up his well-tuned Harley motor. We watched the clouds drift over the ivied wall and zinc roofs across the courtyard. Already, in the space of fifteen minutes, it had rained, the sun had shone, and now the sky was silver and white. We scratched Marley’s ears.

“Look,” said Richard, “he’s a unicorn.”

From our perspective the gray spire of the Bibliothèque Généalogique formed a horn jutting right out of Marley’s head. As a friend told us, we’re in the land of the fabulous now.

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Reader Comments (6)

wonderful adventure for Marley -- I can tell he forgave you right away !!
Saturday, February 26, 2011 at 18:02 | Unregistered CommenterBetsy
Oh my, what a wonderful story! Love, adventure, sus-pans (trying to pronounce it like a Frenchie), redemption....it has everything!

Too bad Marley can't roam the streets of Paris. I want to know his every move.
Saturday, February 26, 2011 at 18:32 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

Yes, Marley just needed to touch ground again, and see his new home. He likes it more here every day!

Kaaren and Richard
Saturday, February 26, 2011 at 22:42 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren Kitchell

Thank you, thank you! This is music to our ears.

I'd like to take Marley out on a leash, if he'd agree to it. I think he'd make a better guide to Paris than we. We'll try that out and let you know...

We're also taking your suggestion to include one of Richard's photos of the apartment--in next week's blog.

Kaaren and Richard
Saturday, February 26, 2011 at 22:49 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren Kitchell
Marley! So thrilled to hear the rest of your tale... and yes, that handsome boy *is* a [feline] unicorn ~ there is no other like him.

btw, I love that graffiti image... so peculiar! "neither god, nor master, nor... croquettes?" do you know the story behind this one? So curious!

{And Hawk/Hoc... of course! Always, watching out for you...}

Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 7:43 | Unregistered Commenterdawna
Hi, Dawna,

Marley sends love to you. He's feeling pretty fabulous lately.

Isn't that a great image? Richard says "croquettes" means "dog biscuits." So I guess it's just one graffiti artist's "bumper sticker" capturing the intransigence of cats.

YOU know what being ferried into Paris by a man named Hawk means to us.

Our writing group continues on by Skype between Paris and Los Angeles. I love it! Hope to see you next time, and that what we are predicting for you comes true.

Kaaren and RIchard
Monday, March 7, 2011 at 22:52 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren Kitchell

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