The Cats of Bagatelle

Parc de Bagatelle is one of the many gardens that graces the Bois de Boulogne, the large park on the west end of Paris. Paris is, in fact, sandwiched in between two huge wooded parks. Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes. Living in the 16th arrondissement, I am ten minutes walk from the Bois de Boulogne. Last summer, during a phone call with a friend, I learned about a formal rose garden within the boundaries of the Bois. The search for this rose garden led me to and introduced me to Parc de Bagatelle. This beautiful garden spans 59 acres (24 hectares) in the north-western part of the Bois. Hidden away, it is an idyllic and quiet place to discover, away from the noise and the crowd. Not only does it have a formal rose garden but an informal rose garden, an iris garden, a potager, and fields that are planted with bulbs and bloom with daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and most other bulbs from early February thru the end of April. May is the month of the Iris. You probably can get the idea that this garden shows off seasonal flowers. Something is blooming all year long.

There are also sentient beings in the parc. Cats. At last count I’ve found thirty of them. Depending on the day of the week and how many people are wandering around, one can see many of them…. or not. There are peacocks that talk all day long, are curious, and will walk right up to you. There are mallards that mostly stay in the ponds but on days when there aren’t many people, they wander the parc and plop themselves down wherever and make sure you understand that this is their parc and you are the guest.

I wanted to know more about the cats. There had to be a reason for all the cats–mousers, maybe? Grandchildren of a famous cat–think Hemingway’s cats. I googled and found one reference to an association “l’association La Féline Du Chlojolie” that feeds and cares for all the cats in the Bois de Boulogne. According to the association, there are about fifty in Bagatelle, another thirty at La Cascade, and the rest wander the trails and hide in the woods of the Bois.

Véronique est l’une des quatre bénévoles à s’occuper 365 jours sur 365 des 150 chats du bois de Boulogne, répartis notamment au parc de Bagatelle et à la Cascade. LP/Eric Le Mitouard.



“In 2008, Marie-France created her association La Féline du Chlojolie which has about thirty members, a few donors and four volunteers who don’t count their time devoted to these kitties.

“Every day, we prepare 10 kg of croquettes and 40 boxes of pâtés”.
Véronique (Photo above) is one of them. “Our paths have crossed. And for seven years I have been totally involved in this action”, assures this inhabitant of Clichy who comes three to four times a week to Bagatelle park, without any remuneration other than the affection of the cats that surround her. Two other people share the task at the Cascade or in the different sites of the wood.”

Photo: Eric Le Mitouard.

“Not only do we feed them, but we also monitor their health. All the cats are castrated, tattooed and followed by a veterinarian”, specifies Marie-France who herself adopted four cats, “desperate cases”, who came back to life. “It’s a colossal job,” she adds.” –le Parisien.

Marie-Claire’s personal adventure began with a walk with one of her granddaughters in Bagatelle park. “I then met Madame Dorfmann, the wife of the producer (Jacques, editor’s note), who had been taking care of the Bagatelle cats for years. Eight months before her death, she made me promise to take care of the cats in her place”… And the the rest is history.

And that’s it. That is all I found about the cats of Bagatelle. I really wanted a story, something folksy that’s passed down through families. But no, these cats are strays and if it weren’t for the good will of Marie-Claire and her volunteers, they’d be scrawny, mangy things carrying all sort of insects on them. The peacocks, mallards, and people would be keeping a great distance. As it is, people smile when they see the cats. They stop and watch them. Sometimes, they will walk up and pet them. I’ve walked by and seen a cat fast asleep on the lap of someone reading and relaxing. Something fascinating is that these beings seem to have territories. When I am walking towards the east end of the park, the cats all stay on the path or in the brush to the right. The peacocks all stay to the left of the path. Very few exceptions.

photo: Martine Combes

A bientôt,

Sara

It’s never too late and you’re never too old

About half a mile south walking distance on La Petite Ceinture, is one of those “free libraries” boxes that seem to be popping up all over the world. It’s a box with a two door glass front up on stilts where people leave books and are encouraged to take a book. This wonderful invention is just becoming popular in France. I find them in the most remarkable places. “My” free library has both French and English language books. I’ve found a 1937 beautifully printed book of Baudelaire poems and, in the same trip, a Harry Bosch detective thriller.

My little “free library” with buildings from Blvd de Montmorency reflected off the glass doors.

I walk down there two or three times a week and just peruse through the offerings as if I were at a regular library. I never expect much but am sometimes refreshingly surprised. As I was last week when I found Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr. Ms. Doerr was seventy-four years old when Stones was published in 1984. I know this because someone I knew well back then had been in a writing class with her. When I complained that I was getting too old to write a book (I was thirty-seven at the time), Ms. Doerr was held up as an example to me that you can never be too old. I immediately bought the book and read it. As I said I was thirty-seven years old. Since I don’t remember much of the story except that it took place in a small village in Mexico, I’m hypothesising that I didn’t read books the same way I do now. Of course, I still read so fast that I often worry that I don’t retain anything. I think that back then, and especially with Ms. Doerr’s book, I read it competitively and negatively. ‘What does she have that I don’t have?’ Well, for one thing, she knew how to put a sentence together using a spare amount of words but had a big punch.

I wrote about La Petite Ceinture four and a half years ago when I first moved to the 16ème.

When I saw Stones for Ibarra in that little free library on La Petite Ceinture in the 16ème, it was like being struck in the head with a 2 x 4. A wake up call? Maybe. Of course, I grabbed it as if it were a precious jewel. As soon as I got home, I started to read it. It’s a beautiful little novel. Her language is sparse, engaging, and poetic. I immediately googled her and learned that she’d thought about writing as a young girl (she was born in 1910). She met her husband to be in her teens and eventually left Stanford University to marry him. It was after his death, when she was in her mid-60s, that one of her sons encouraged her to go back to college and get her Bachelors degree. She graduated from Stanford in 1977. She began writing while at Stanford, earned a Stegner Fellowship in 1979, and soon began publishing short stories. One of her writing professors got her into the Post-Graduate Writing program. And at the age of 74, she published her first book.

Three days ago, I got an e-mail from the Stanford Continuing Education Writing Certificate program. I was being invited to an informational Zoom meeting about their two-year writing program. I’m seventy-four.

I wrote a first book. It was published when I was seventy-two. I wasn’t writing the great American novel though I did hope it would sell better than it did. I wrote the book to let people suffering with a debilitating eating disorder know that there was hope and that I’d found a solution that worked long-term for me and many others.

Writing a book is hard work. And they say that writing a second book is even harder than writing a first book. I decided I wouldn’t do it. That I was too old. That I didn’t have the energy. But I couldn’t help writing chapters anyway and telling myself it was just for me because I like to write.

Then I found Stones for Ibarra. Then I get the e-mail from Stanford. Nobody I know believes in coincidences. It’s just what you do with them. I have an idea. That’s always a good start! I also have limited energy. So…. well, between writing the first paragraph of this blog and this last sentence, I accepted the invitation to go to the informational meeting. That’s called one step at a time and also called no commitments. I can always change my mind—about everything! But, it is true that I, and you, are never too old.

In case anyone is wondering how very cold it is here in Paris, here is a photo I took of the snow outside my window on Saturday.

We had no summer last year, it was so cold and everyone is crossing fingers for a warmer summer this year. This is not a good start!

For those of you who are visiting France soon or entertaining a visit, here is a blog by David Lebovitz. He usually writes about food but this has a lot of information about requirements and what’s happening here. https://davidlebovitz.substack.com/p/covid-update-for-visiting-france?s=r

A bientôt,

Sara