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

Entries in cats (12)


Sex and Surrealism, America and France


Life is surreal. Oh yes, it is.

In a state close to dream last night, I finished Henry Miller’s “Quiet Days in Clichy,” his alter-ego, Joey’s, rambunctious accounts of sex with prostitutes and a 15-year-old girl whom his equally goatish roommate, Carl, picks up wandering the streets of Paris.

Joey comes home one night to find Carl with Colette, whose virginity he has just plucked from her as casually as the god, Hades, plucked the girl, Kore, from a meadow (where she was herself plucking flowers), and took her down into the underworld with him.

The homeless girl turns out to be so sexually ravenous that Carl begs Joey to help him sate her appetite on nights when Carl is away at work in a newspaper office.

But Colette, whom the two men agree is “dumb,” is not Joey’s type. He prefers women who have something interesting to say. Besides, they could be thrown in jail for having sex with a minor. (Though sex is legal in France at the age of 15, or at least is today, the two men at first believe that the girl is 14.)



Joey begs Carl to find Colette something to wear beside the transparent Japanese shift he’s provided for her, or he may find himself raping the girl against his will.

One day, Colette disappears. The next day at noon, when Carl and Joey are both home, someone knocks on the door. It’s the police, with the girl’s parents.



The mother is so beautiful that both men wish they’d found her first. “The mother! says Carl later. “Did you have a good look at her? She was not only beautiful, she was divine.” But the mother is mostly quiet while the police and the father, who looks like a barrister, question the two men about the girl’s missing watch.

When the mother examines a stack of books on Carl’s work table, Faust, Blake, Lawrence, Shakespeare—good literature—and hands the last volume of Proust’s great work to her husband, the man looks at Carl with new eyes. Carl then discusses the essay he’s writing on the relation between Proust’s metaphysical vision and the occult tradition, and Joey is revealed to be a famous writer. The attitude of the parents changes from accusatory to respectful.

(This was first written in New York City in 1940, and rewritten in Big Sur in 1956.)

It is fascinating to read this account of untrammeled male sexuality by an American artist, a writer, in Paris, pre-Women’s Liberation.

The only woman in Henry’s accounts of his sexual adventures who seems offended by what some might see as insensitivity to a woman’s inner life is a beautiful young Danish woman. But that’s after she and Joey and Carl and an acrobat named Corinne have a four-way sexual romp after dinner at the men’s apartment.

Those Viking babes can be so difficult!





The next morning, Marley and I read The New York Times over breakfast. The big news: Anthony D. Weiner (really, that’s his name?) was caught sending snapshots of parts of his body to various young women over the Internet. He had excellent pecs that must have taken many hours over many months at the gym to develop, so you can hardly blame him for wanting to show them off.

I didn’t get the opportunity to see the shot of him in his boxers, though it seems to me that he might be confusing what turns women on with men’s love of viewing body parts. But what do I know?



What knocked me out was the photo of him in bed with… Marley! Really. It was our cat, white with fawn ears, sleeping soundly beside him, so I knew immediately that Anthony, though not, perhaps, a man of good judgment, was certainly a man of good taste.

(A little aside here: Richard came home the other day from l’Alliance Francaise and told me that his French teacher had informed the class that they must not pronounce the “t” at the end of “chat,” when referring to a cat. Just as in English, in French, a pussy may refer to a cat. Or it may refer to a woman.)

Anthony, too, uses the two words interchangeably, calling this photo, “Me and the pussys.”  



But then I read that not only is Anthony married, but he’s been married less than a year. His wife happens to be a personal aide to Hillary Clinton, which perhaps suggested to Anthony that if Hillary accepted Bill’s indiscretions, her aide might do the same for him.

Furthermore, Anthony seemed a likely candidate to replace Michael Bloomberg, the current mayor of NYC. And those political hopes, it seems, have now been extinguished.

I watched a video in which Anthony confessed that yes, he had sent texts of photos of his body, along with flirtatious messages to several young women on the Internet. At several points he broke down in tears.

What has happened in our world between Henry Miller’s lusty joyous relish of sex with prostitutes, 15-year-olds and indignant Danish beauties (who nevertheless, surrender to his desires), and the sexual scandals that have erupted lately in the news?

The contrast between these two New Yorkers, Henry Miller and Anthony Weiner, seems to me to be utterly surreal.

Perhaps it’s the difference between what is permitted an artist (or rather, what an artist permits himself to do) and a politician.

Perhaps it’s a difference in space, of geography, between France and the U.S.A. (The parents of the 15-year-old shifted their attitude entirely when they learned that they were addressing a famous writer. Writers are that deeply respected in France.)



Perhaps it’s a difference in time, that certain changes that occurred in the 1960s—the birth control pill, sexual freedom, books such as Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” and Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” and the rise of feminism—changed what women accept, and thus, what the culture condones.

However, I think another element is at play here.

There was a brief time in history in which one generation (in America, at least) was free to experiment and live out our sexual fantasies completely. There was a period after the birth control pill and before AIDS, when men and women could live as freely as they chose without fear of getting pregnant or catching a deadly disease.

Not everyone participated. But those of us who did had a rocking good time.

And listening to Anthony Weiner talk, I thought, Poor guy, he just wasn’t born at the right time. He didn’t get to live out his sexual fantasies before getting married, and this can be a big problem for highly-sexed (but repressed) people.

Artists and libertines have been sexually expressive at all times in history. But for other folks, who are socially or religiously programmed, sex may be a guilty pleasure that must be alternately repressed or furtively engaged in.



And yet, it’s the very essence of the life force. As the philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said, “The degree and kind of a man's sexuality reach up into the ultimate pinnacle of his spirit.” 

In Henry Miller’s writing, he often gives the impression that he’s oblivious to the effect he’s having on the women with whom he has sex, whereas Anthony Weiner’s tears of regret at hurting his wife (as well as his more political concern about disappointing his constituents) seemed to me to be genuine.

This seems like a cultural advance, a man caring (at least in retrospect) about his effect on the woman to whom he’s married.

Yet all that magnificent lusty life force that Henry had! What I love about Henry Miller, what Nietzsche himself would have admired, was the way that Miller’s sexuality and spirit were not divided. It was all of one piece, in all its lustiness as well as crudeness and lack of sensitivity.

What seems sad to me about Anthony Weiner is how divided his spirit is from his sexuality. That seems to be the inheritance of Judeo-Christianity—the body divided from the spirit. And what a sad and tortured story that creates.






A Cat May Look at a King

Chanoir is a graffiti artist based in Barcelona, Spain, who began his career in Paris. Click photo for his website.

Here in Paris, Marley and I watched the royal wedding in London Friday. We approached the event from an anthropological perspective, curious about how the Brits do royalty in 2011.

I asked him whether he preferred to watch it in French or English and he just looked at me as if to say, Do I care?

I stretched out on the couch and surfed the channels, while he stretched out on my chest.

I stopped at the Luxe channel to listen to various commentators wax eloquent on the bride’s dress.

“This one?” I asked him.

He yawned and began to purr.

Kate Middleton’s dress was designed by Sarah Burton of the house of Alexander McQueen. It was white.



“Did you know that Queen Victoria started the white-dress-for-your-wedding tradition?” Marley asked me.

“Really,” I said. “Where did you hear that?”

 Marley closed his eyes.

 The dress had a full creamy skirt, nipped in at the waist with lace sleeves and bodice. Kate wore a tiara that King George VI, the one who stammered, had given his bride, Elizabeth, in 1936; attached to it was a simple veil.

Marley said, “I like the way she covers all her bases: hair up (in front), loose (in back); dress revealing (strapless corset beneath) and covered up (high-necked, long-sleeved lace bodice on top, incorporating hand-cut embroidered flowers, the rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock and made of English Cluny lace); expression open (warm smile) and closed (modest glance downwards).”

“I hadn’t noticed that,” I said.

“Yes,” he said, “and another thing (the cameras were now inside Westminster Abbey), would you look at those hats!”

“What is it with the Brits and hats?” I said.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it,” Marley went on. “In what other country would you dare leave the house wearing that thing on your head?”

“I know,” I said, “it looks like Athena’s Medusa shield with lethal snakes looped around it.”

“I think that’s Fergie’s daughter,” said Marley.

“How would you know that?” I asked.

“You know how I love a good show,” he said. “I pay attention to these things. Oh! Oh! Look at that hat—two pheasant feathers! I’d love to get my paws on that!”



“And look at the chocolate cake hat!”

“That’s nothing compared to that licorice flying saucer. And the DNA spirals dangling off the dove-colored hat that Victoria Beckham is wearing.”

“Okay. I know you love the visuals, but are you listening to the words?”

“Not really,” he said, smiling.

“This cardinal or bishop or archbishop with a voice to die for just said, 'Be who God intended you to be and you will set the world on fire.'”

“He just made that up?”

“No, he’s quoting St. Catherine of Siena. He’s telling the bride and groom that marriage is meant to help a man and woman (or let’s be fair, a woman and woman, or a man and a man) inspire each other to become what they are meant to be.”

“I wouldn’t know about that,” Marley said.

“No, but I think that’s right. Now the Bishop of London is saying, “Every wedding is a royal wedding. Every bride and groom a king and queen.”


Olivia, sculpture by Jane Kitchell. Click photo for her website.

“Who needs a queen to be king,” said Marley, turning his noble profile to best advantage.

“You’re the prince,” I said (pronouncing it the way the French do, prance). “Richard’s the king in this house.”

Marley turned sulkily away.

“Don’t pout now,” I said. “Listen to this!”

“‘There must be no coercion if the spirit is to flow. Each must give the other space and freedom,’ the bishop said, and quoted Chaucer, "When mastery cometh, the god of love anon beateth his wings and farewell he is gone."

“Why can’t he speak plain English? That just sounds affected.”

“Imagine thatChaucer was telling us in the 14th century that the minute one person dominates another, love flies out the door. Magnificent! One of the greatest writers of all time. A quintessentially exuberant English writer!”

The tenor and baritone voices of the men in the choir, soared in harmony with the sopranos of the boys.



“That just hurts my ears,” Marley said.

“It’s exquisite harmony,” I said. “Do you want me to plug in my earbuds?”

“No, no, then you can’t hear moi purring.


“Our Father, which art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come...”



“This brings me back to chapel at The Bishop’s School for Girls,” I said.

“I don’t remember that,” said Marley.

“You weren’t born yet. I hadn’t met Richard yet. That was in the future.”

Marley squinted his eyes. “Future?”

“It’s too complicated to explain. Anyway, I like your gift for living in the present.”

Marley closed his eyes and stretched a paw up to my chin.

“Wait!” I said. “Wake up!” Now they’re singing a song with words by William Blake, another exuberant English poet.

Bring me my bow of burning gold!

Bring me my arrows of desire!

Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!

Bring me my chariot of fire.

Marley opened his eyes a slit. “The queen’s dress—it’s duckling yellow. And look at that white eggbeater hat! And the mauve one with steak knives fanned out on its brim! You just want to swat them ‘til they clatter to the floor, then bat them around like a soccer ball.”

“Well, maybe not today,” I said. “Just look at that cathedral! The long red carpet that leads up to the altar, the diamond checkerboard floor.”

“I like the young green trees inside,” said Marley. “You could chew on their leaves.”

“Yes, and the gold and blue row of mini-cathedrals along the lower walls, the high silvery arches and the stained glass windows above!”

“And the red and gold of William’s Irish Guards uniform. Even the choir boys have little red beefeater jackets on!”

We were on a roll.

“Marley, you know what this makes me think of?”

“No,” he said, closing his eyes again.

“The Rolling Stones. No one puts on a better show than the Stones. All that prancing and dancing.”



“I don’t see anyone prancing or dancing in Westminster Cathedral,” said Marley.

“No, I mean the pomp and circumstance, the pageantry. Everyone putting on a good show, having fun, enjoying being British.”

“Putting on a good show—that’s the genius of the Brits,” said Marley. “I like to think it’s mine, too.” He dipped his head modestly and I thought of Catherine’s similar gesture.

“And the poetry,” I said. “Don’t forget the poetry. Now the choir is singing a song with the words of Milton! They could all hang out in that cathedral for ten years and never run out of great literary quotes. Great British quotes. And no one’s even mentioned Shakespeare yet.”



Marley jumped off my stomach. “Just looking at that duckling yellow dress makes me hungry,” he said, and sauntered off to the kitchen to rustle up a meal. 




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