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

Entries in cats (12)


Le Café des Chats


On Saturday, we heard a third mention of Le Café des Chats from yet another friend. 

What else could we do but go there on Sunday?

A café where you can eat, drink and talk to cats: the idea originated in Taiwan in 1998, and quickly spread to Tokyo, where there are now over fifty cat cafés. Weeks ago Le Café des Chats opened in the third arrondissement in Paris.

We walked from Shakespeare and Company where we were compelled to find one or two or eight essential books, then on to 16 rue Michel Le Compte in the Marais.

Standing in front of the window, you could see cats nestled in cat tree nests, and one curled up beside a young woman on a couch.

At the reception desk we were instructed to use an antiseptic lotion, to protect the cats from our germs. But since the cats were adopted, some abandoned, what was protecting us from germs they’d picked up in the streets?

We found one open table at the back of the room, and watched as young felines wandered here and there and down the stairs to the cave below.



I popped downstairs to see the cat situation there. Two French women sat in a room at the back, one stroking a white kitten with orange and buff splashes, on her lap, and a tortoise shell grooming himself on a third seat at their table.

We chatted. The two women lived in apartments too small for cats, but loved them, bien sûr. They beamed with joy, and the cats looked content. 

A Japanese girl expertly captured the attention of a mature black cat in the top nest of a cat tree with red feathered lure attached to the end of a supple pole. The cat had the head of the Egyptian goddess Bastet.

Back upstairs, Richard and I had a salade italienne and a tarte aux épinards et chèvre avec salade. Good!

A tiger cat wandered over and seemed to be asking for something. I picked her up and felt her heart beating so fast, I quickly put her down. Some of these felines may want to be held, but some might just be looking for food, or escape. This one jumped up on a ledge behind us and gazed longingly out the window. A dense screen stopped her from leaping out.


At the next table were three Italian couples from Bari. They spoke no French, but a few knew some English.

We talked a bit about our respective crazy governments. Berlusconi and Boehner—both nuts.

Were they all cat lovers? No, only one of the women who’d brought the other five along. Two of the men and one woman had dogs, one woman had a parrot, and one man, a rabbit. All animal lovers, they respected this woman’s need for a cat hit, even on vacation.

And why were we there? Need you ask? We miss Marley, whose meow we still hear months after his death. After being out in Paris, we come home and listen for his paws padding across the old oak floor, his voice raised in complaint that we had left him, even for a short time, and we can’t quite believe that he is gone.

Judging by the number of people stopping enchanted at the window, and the full tables, we are certain that this café will soon need to move to a larger space.


Le café des Chats
Open every day from Noon to 10 p.m.
16 rue Michel Le Compte 75003 Paris
Metro Rambuteau     09 73 53 35 81






Pussy Riot and the Power of Myth

Distressed at the notion that the three female punk rockers from the six-member group, Pussy Riot, were being slapped down way too hard for their anti-Putin protest in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral on February 21, we joined 300 other Parisians this broiling noon hour (Friday, the 17th) in a demonstration of solidarity at the famous Niki St. Phalle fountain next to the Pompidou Museum. (That's the fountain in our masthead, above.) 

As the world knows, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and her band-mates Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina, wearing knitted balaclavas, burst into the Orthodox church with three other band members (who are currently in hiding) and performed a song beseeching the Virgin Mary to oust the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, who was standing for re-election.



The choice of venue, and of the Virgin, were a protest against the way the church has become, in the eyes of the band and other Russians, an arm of the Putin State during his twelve years in power.



Pussy Riot specializes in sudden, often illegal public performances, of the kind associated with flash mobs, including one in Moscow's Red Square. In a freer tradition, Pussy Riot would be recognized as the honored form of Trickster we call the court jester, the holy fool whose job/art it is to tell truth to power. 

The State was not amused.



The women, all in their twenties, were arrested and charged with "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred," because their performance was called, by the government, a hate crime against the church. Pussy Riot called it free speech.

We call it myth. You don't have to believe in myth; it unfolds all around you, whether or not you believe in it.



In these last few days of Leo, with the Sun and Moon both in the sign, we've noticed many cat posts on Facebook. We're spending a lot of time with Marley, just admiring his feline beauty. And today, we're in a public square awaiting the verdict on Pussy Riot. 

I've been re-reading Candide. Just imagine what Voltaire would have to say about this miserable witch-burning still going on in Russia. Enlightened Eighteenth Century philosophers, writers and politicians in England, the U.S. and France, were clear about the need to keep church and state separate, and to allow free speech, without repressive repercussions from religion or the government.



In an earlier age, the band, Pussy Riot, would have been burned as witches. There is a reason why cats and witches are connected. Cats are creatures of mystery. They are beautiful, not utilitarian. You don't see cats out herding cattle and sheep.



Zoologist Desmond Morris said, "Cats are artists, dogs are soldiers." Soldiers of the state like Putin don't understand artists or witches. Witches were probably early feminists, equally versed in magic and nature. They wanted to transform the world, as artists do. As these singers did, appealing to the Virgin Mary to stop Putin. 



On a mythical level, the Virgin Mary is the goddess, Demeter. She is an earth goddess. In earlier times, women addressed the goddesses with such protests, and no man would dream of silencing them. 

Despite worldwide protests, and appeals for leniency by creative artists ranging from Danny De Vito to Yoko Ono to Paul McCartney, the women, who were jailed for the five months awaiting trial, faced up to seven years in prison.


Our Paris demonstration, as well as others across Europe, were held at the time the court was to release its verdict. Organized by the French chapter of Amnesty International, aided by the International Federation for Human Rights, this Paris iteration attracted a cross-section of Parisians, including members of the local Federation of Anarchists.  They carried black flags, and didn't mix much.



Despite the lack of shade, and an eighty-eight degree Fahrenheit temperature (31 Celsius), the fashion for the day was the balaclava, in spandex, leopard, or you-name-it, with or without slogans.



While the length of sentence was not handed down before the demonstration ended, the crowd was told by the event's Amnesty International host, who was monitoring the Internet on his iPhone, that the members of Pussy Riot were found guilty, expected information that was met with a chorus of boos.



Later Friday, the judge, Marina Sirovaya, sentenced the trio to two years in prison.

Astrology is just the time dimension, the seasonal aspect of myth. And today, as Leo draws to a close, the pussy cats are rioting.





Surrealist Café #2, Les Animaux

He stands on the chair beside me, nuzzling my writing arm. He is so glad to be released from his overnight stay in the kitchen. In spite of his soft bed, fresh water and food, his litter box in the petit coin, he’d much rather sleep on our faces. But we need sleep, too.

He sounds like a little fire. I put down my pen, pick up the pink brush, and comb his white and gold fur. He lifts his face so I can get at the thick Elizabethan ruff beneath his chin. Marley, Marley.

When he’s happy, the fur puffs up around his face, and he reminds me of a bumblebee, drunk on pollen.

It’s too cold now in Paris to leave the windows open. And anyway, Marley’s not as interested in prowling on the ledge since the Tourterelles were evicted.




One morning, shortly after the first egg was hatched, we opened the curtains to see if their second egg had hatched. The older chick had been gobbling food for days.

The nest was gone. Gone. Our neighbors’ grimy window had been “cleaned,” that is, someone had opened it and rubbed a rag in careless circles, leaving swirls of dirt on the glass.

What had they done with the nest? Swept it out of the geranium box? Madame and Monsieur Tourterelle might have flown away, but the three-day-old chick could not have survived, and the egg would surely have smashed.

This was the first and only video we had of that chick.

We wanted to go down to their apartment and bang on the door. But the building is one adjacent to us, and we don’t have the entry code.

What kind of people, we wondered, cannot wait two weeks for two baby doves to gain the strength to fly, before sweeping aside a nest?

Had they seen Richard’s camera pointed at their window, and felt paranoid? No, he’d made sure there were no humans around when he photographed the doves.

So hard-hearted; they were hard-hearted. Can anyone be callous towards animals and birds, and tender towards humans?

What do you think?

To celebrate the life of the Tourterelles, and to kick off a second Surrealist Café event, in which you readers participate in Paris Play, we ask the following: 

On Saturday, October 29th, at 1 p.m. in your time zone, go to your favorite café, and write or photograph or draw or compose a tune about an animal, or fish, or bird you see that day, or one who is dear to you, or an imaginary beast, or your totem animal. Write or photograph or paint from a human perspective, or from the animal’s point of view. Don’t be intimidated if you’re not an artist. Last Surrealist Café, every contribution was imaginative.

Send it to us by e-mail the following Wednesday, November 2 (absolute drop-dead deadline), and we’ll post the best work on Paris Play Saturday, November 5th.

Marley just leapt back on the chair, nudged my arm, and started purring like a bonfire, like a champion Swiss yodeler.



Terroir or Terror

Something odd happened at Kitty’s party, afterwards too, but first things first:
It was the second night of the Loire Valley wedding weekend. We hitched a thirty-minute ride with Alfonso and Gigi from Chinon to Bréhémont, the tiny village where Porter’s mother, Kitty, was giving a party for the wedding guests. 
Alfonso had flown in the day before from China. Seven time zones away. No jet lag, he said. Not if you’re in your late 20s, there’s not. Alfonso’s job takes him all over the world.
I sat in back with his girlfriend, Gigi, who looks like a French Gigi should look: young, fresh and full of zest. The element of beauty is often the anomaly, and in Gigi, it’s her slightly Asian eyes in a classical French face.


We described our ecstatic cheese experience at La Cave Voltaire. Gigi exclaimed that she had studied cheese-making in France for years, in college, no less. She had just returned from a year in Wisconsin as a cheese marketer, teaching cheese makers the concept of terroir. Terroir, she said, was both an agricultural region, and a practice of combining wines, cheese and other foods from the same earth that “go together” harmoniously.
I ask her if she knows the concept of synchronicity. Terroir sounds like the sensual counterpart to synchronicity, I say. No, she doesn’t, but when I describe it, we both agree that it’s somehow analogous to terroir, one emphasizing what goes together in space, the other in time.
Gigi was surprised at how excellent the Wisconsin cheeses were. She loved the United States, and wants to return there to live. Next time, try California, I suggest.
Kitty lives right next door to the bride and groom. She and Porter’s late father bought a house in Bréhémont.  After he died, Porter bought the house next door.

At Kitty’s house, Porter stands in the courtyard in a barbeque apron, greeting friends, radiating his native Birmingham, Alabama charm. Louise is in the living room in a sleeveless, low-cut long dress, bright flowers against a black background, pale Irish skin, orange hair tied in a chignon, looking more beautiful than I’ve ever seen her. Nothing like a wedding to bring forth Aphroditean splendor.
Kitty stands in peach shirt and white pants in front of the fireplace of her fine old stone house. At the opposite end of the room, a boar’s head is mounted on the wall, with a gold hunting horn above it. Kitty describes how she found it in a Paris brocante shop and carried it home on her lap in the Métro. How people did stare! You can see where Porter got his charm. The French kings used to hunt boars in the forests around here.

I talk for a while with David, Porter’s oldest friend at the party, an Andover classmate. David, in black tee-shirt and jeans, a red bandanna around his forehead, has a strong nose and a way of getting straight to the truth. He had made a short film while he and Porter were in boarding school, based on Crime and Punishment. Porter had played the part of the policeman, and he was very good.
David and his wife and children live in NYC, where both work in theater. David began by writing original plays, then discovered that his true talent lay in adapting others’ stories for the stage.  Next fall, Natasha begins four years at the High School of Music & Art/Performing Arts in NYC. “Flashdance,” David says.
Richard and I gravitate towards the big stone fireplace. David introduces us to his Greek-American wife, Erana, and their daughter, Natasha. Erana is as open and friendly as her daughter is closed and sullen. Nothing her parents say or do is right. Richard says later, “She’s a typical 14-year-old.” But judging from the sample pictures Erana shows on her iPhone of her daughter’s work, she has a true gift for painting.

The four of us talk about a possible swap with their apartment in Manhattan. Do they like cats? We can’t swap places with anyone who doesn’t want to live with Marley. They have three cats. 
Erana shows us pictures. Perfect. And after the kids have grown they’re thinking about moving to Paris.
Soon we meet another couple, Richard and Margarita. Both have sculpted Nureyev faces, high cheekbones, are lean and good-looking. They live in Sligo, Ireland, Yeats country, our favorite part of Ireland. Richard’s family have been merchants there for years, and knew Yeats. Margarita is a Russian mathematician. When they marry, it will be a second marriage for each.
They have recently bought and renovated, with Porter’s help, an apartment in Paris. Margarita is ready to move here; Richard, not yet. “You must help me persuade Richard to move to Paris,” she says to me in the deepest voice I’ve ever heard in a woman.
We file around the buffet spread, then all bring our plates to the low table in front of the fireplace.


Mora and Ludovic join us. They’ve just driven from Paris to Bréhémont. Ludovic is a tall slender Frenchman; Mora is Venezuelan, refreshingly ample-bodied after all the skinny minnies in Paris.
Mora is an architect who’s helping Porter renovate a client’s recently purchased apartment in the sixième arrondissement.
Mora, in black with a star-scattered scarf, dark eyes and gleam, tells us how she came to live in Paris. She attended the Sorbonne for college, continued on for a Master’s in architecture, then went on for a PhD.
From time to time, she’d go home to Venezuela and feel depressed, homesick for Paris. She realized she was getting one degree after another mainly in order to stay in Paris.

We wax eloquent about our love for this city. The first six new people we’ve met at this party, by some quirk, all gathered by the fireplace—from NYC and Greece, Ireland and Russia, Venezuela and France—all have a passion in common, a conviction that there’s no better place on earth to live than Paris.
After we’ve eaten, and stacked our plates in the kitchen, the “play” begins. The bride’s Irish family and friends set the tone. Nicola, one of Louise’s bridesmaids and former schoolmate at Trinity College in Dublin, recites a poem about a girl who sits on a porcupine, and has to be taken to the dentist and upended to have the quills removed from her bare bottom. The dentist has taken “things” out of these regions before.

Louise does a dramatic reading about tooth decay in the persona of an ancient hag, folding her lips over her teeth to create the impression of empty gums.
Richard and I had each brought a poem of ours to read to the bride and groom, but quickly discover that the spirit tonight is one of broad humor, Irish humor, which our poems don’t match. We sit back on the couch and admire the Irish genius for memorizing long stories and poems, one after the other.
On the ride home, Alfonso suddenly stops the car. There is a spiny creature waddling across the middle of the road. A porcupine? Or more likely in these parts, a hedgehog. Alfonso shines a flashlight into its eyes, hoping to inspire the little guy to scoot over to the side of the road. But the hedgehog is now terrified, and curls up into a ball.
Is this terror or terroir? Comedy or synchronicity? Coincidence in time or space or both? It is odd right after the long poem about a porcupine.
What to do? Alfonso returns to the car.
Gigi says, “You can’t touch him; he probably has mites.”
Alfonso returns and gently, gently with the toe of his shoe nudges the hedgehog to the side of the road.
We drive back to the Lion d’Or, and dream about porcupines and hedgehogs, terror and terroir, Kitty’s house and Paris, Porter and Louise, and new friends from around the world.


The Weave of Friendship

Tuesday was blazing hot, almost Arizona hot, but in Paris, you simply wait ten minutes and the weather will change. We didn’t know if we’d need sweaters, but we carried them just in case for dinner on Mort and Jeannette’s boat on the Seine.

We did know that we needed to bring a very good chocolate dessert, since this couple leads chocolate tours of Paris.

As we walk from the Concorde Métro to the Seine, other boats float through my imagination:

The barge where I lived on the Thames as a student in Oxford.

The schooner on which I crossed the Pacific from Honolulu to Marina del Rey, and on which I lived for two years while we renovated the ship.

The bateau mouche we took with my niece and her boyfriend the previous weekend. We’d pointed out Mort and Jeannette’s boat as we motored by.



Rivers are the circulatory system of the earth’s body, boats and their cargo the cells carrying nourishment and oxygen and ferrying toxins away.

We cross the larger boat to which Mort and Jeannette’s boat is moored, and see four old friends. Tonight, every cell that surrounds us promises to be nourishing.

Mort, a combat reporter who is the former editor of The International Herald Tribune, and writer of numerous books on food, the Seine, journalism and travel, wears wonderful round tortoise shell glasses and looks fresh and rested in spite of having just finished co-leading a ten-day tour of Paris. 

We talk of Obama, our hopes and our disappointment.



Phil has just co-led the tour of Paris, and right before that, gave lectures on a Mediterranean cruise. Though he’s still standing, he seems paused at a point of stillness, between breaths, gathering energy for his next Sisyphean task.

Porter is overflowing with good spirits. He and his wife, Louise, have just found a magnificent apartment for a well-known novelist in a chic part of Paris a block from Catherine Deneuve, and he and Louise are about to renew their wedding vows in a second ceremony in the Loire Valley.

The boat has a canvas canopy, open to the sides, and the table is set in Jeannette’s usual charming fashion.

Jillie, Mort and Jeannette’s neighbor in this houseboat village, steps on board. I recall meeting her on this boat several years ago. We had talked of my joining her on one of Jeannette’s labyrinth walks in Chartres Cathedral.



Jeannette brings up dinner from the galley. Garlic buds, cherry tomatoes, and marinated endive. Wine and hard cider. A curried fish stew with vegetables and rice and fresh bread, followed by a salad, and two cheeses, Roquefort and Camembert with a baguette.

Our interwoven stories began on Richard’s 1983 trip to Paris, when he met Porter, a Beaux Arts painting student who financed his studies by importing and selling “Louisiana” pecans. The French love Louisiana. Instead of returning home to Birmingham, Porter stayed in Paris and began to buy, renovate and manage apartments as rentals.

In 1984, Richard met Phil in Marin County, where Phil was teaching Myth, Dreams and the Movies, inspired by his encounters with Joseph Campbell, whom he would later celebrate in a documentary and book.

In 1986, Richard and Phil covered the Cannes Film Festival, then both helped Porter renovate a flat in Paris.

In 1988, Jeannette, a top-notch San Francisco travel agent who had helped Phil organize a tour that featured Mort as a speaker, met Mort in Paris and stayed. Richard and his stepmother were here for that tour and witnessed the burgeoning romance.

And in 1994, on this very date, Richard and I met at a poetry reading in Santa Monica, and so I joined this web of friendships and stories.

In 2006, Porter helped us remodel our Paris apartment.

The weaving is intricate and full of refrains: Two of us grew up in Arizona. Three have roots in San Francisco. Four of us are writers. Six of us are American. And six of us, not the same six, live in Paris. Four of us lead tours of Paris. Four of us have lived on boats. Four of us are obsessed with myth. And all seven of us loved Woody Allen’s newest film, “Midnight in Paris.”



I ask Jeannette what is in the stew. In her usual low-key, self-effacing tone, she says, “Just fish; and I threw in all the vegetables in the fridge.”

Jillie tells a story of her cat awakening her with a paw on her face, just before dawn. She heard a noise, came out of the bedroom in her tattered nightgown, and into the salon, to see a man standing there.

She gently and calmly talked him into moving up on deck, as skillfully as Athena, weaving peace where another might incite a dangerous battle.



Her neighbor on the next boat spotted the man and yelled at him. Instantly, the stranger’s aggression flared. Jillie pantomimed behind the man’s back, “Should I call the police?”

Her neighbor nodded yes. In three minutes the police were there, and took the man away.

I’m impressed by the cool-headed savvy with which Jillie handled the break-in. 



Mort tells the story of their cat not waking them up several days later when intruders walked across the deck of their boat, though they heard the footsteps and scared the men away.

Porter tells how his father, facing a diagnosis of terminal cancer, gained seven more years by researching and writing a book about his grandfather, who commanded a battalion of “buffalo soldiers” after the Civil War.

I tell a story of driving cross-country to Key West, and stopping for water at a 7-11 in Georgia. Startled by the enormous amount of ammunition on the shelves, I asked the woman clerk what it was for.

“Why, for killin’ things!” she said, as if I were the oddest human she’d ever met. “Squirrels and deer and such.”



Phil tells how this most recent tour overlapped with the fortieth anniversary of Jim Morrison’s death in Paris, and how the throngs gathered at the rock singer’s Père-Lachaise grave wanted to touch him, like some holy relic, when they found out he had co-authored The Doors’ drummer, John Densmore’s, autobiography.

The bateaux mouches pass by, ablaze with light. We turn to wave, and Richard points out, on the opposite bank, the narrowest building in Paris.

Wind comes up and lashing rain; we dash below deck to fetch our sweaters and jackets, and the wine and stories flow on. And, thank the gods, everyone loves the chocolate cake from the best pâtisserie in our neighborhood.

This continuing weaving of stories and lives has been alchemized by Jeannette. By inviting us all here, setting a beautiful table, “throwing together” a meal—by creating this ambience, she is Demeter, goddess of the harvest. And Penelope, who invites the weaving of stories, while her husband still travels to war zones to cover breaking news.