I apologise for the long absence. I have been flying back and forth from Paris to New Jersey in order to be of support to my Uncle Stan and my cousin, Joan. I say support because Joan has done the lion’s share of the work to get Stan moved into Skilled Nursing and packing up, cleaning out and closing up his 2 bedroom apartment. I was there for the final week of closing down the apartment. Anyone who flies a lot across the ‘pond’ knows that going up and down, crossing time zones really does take a lot out of you. So although I’ve had many ideas for my blog, I just didn’t have the energy to do anything with my ideas.
Until last night. When Bijou disappeared for about four hours. As the old Joni Mitchell song goes: “You don’t know what you have till it’s gone,” I thought my heart would stop a couple of times.
So I’ll back up. The sun has been shining in Paris. The temperature has gone up. For three days, it has felt Spring like–although many of us feel too superstitious to actually say Spring has come to Paris. As I’ve reported in an earlier blog, I have a huge terrace. It is a third room that is mostly accessible in warm weather. There are two large sliding glass doors in both the Living Room and the Bedroom. That is my access to my terrace. Yesterday, I had both doors completely open and was inspecting all the plants that I’d put on the terrace last summer and fall. Bijou followed me in and out. She is a very social cat and likes to be around people. Where I go she goes and makes herself comfortable. If there happen to be pigeons or other flying objects near the terrace, she will sit on the couch or perch herself on the outside table and chatter away as only a cat can do. This is not meowing for you non-cat people. This is a true chatter. The sound is like a far away typewriter going at full speed.
After six plus months in this apartment, Bijou knows not to jump up on the terrace guardrail. When we first moved here, she would jump up and discovering it was six inches across, go walking along happy as can be. She would visit the next door neighbour’s terrace and come running back when she heard the fear in my voice as I called for her.
I don’t want her on the terrace guardrail. I don’t trust in her sense of balance and assume there is a reason for the saying “A cat has nine lives.” When I can’t find her, the first thing I do is look down eight flights to the courtyard below to see if there is cat splatted on the concrete.
Last night, I was catching up on e-mails (for some reason, I think it is actually possible to catch up! Silly me). I suddenly realised I hadn’t seen Bijou in an hour or two. I closed the living room doors and went from room to room looking for her. I couldn’t find her in any of her preferred sleeping places. I stood outside on the terrace and called her name. She usually comes running when I call her. She is under the impression I might feed her. Nothing, no sign of her. I told myself to calm down, she would show up. I turned on the TV and watched a BBC mystery in hopes that my mind would not obsess on where she wasn’t.
Thirty minutes went by. I did my rounds of the apartment again and stood on the terrace again calling her name. Nothing. I watched another half hour of TV. Did the rounds again, this time, I pulled out some wet food that she absolutely adores. I don’t give it to her as a rule because she then will go on strike and not eat her regular dry food. As I tore open the envelope of food, the smell seemed to fill the apartment and the terrace. I walked to the dividing wall between me and my neighbour, calling her name and holding the smelly wet food towards his terrace. Nothing.
I looked down into the courtyard again. It was dark. So I took the elevator to the RDC, went out into the courtyard, climbed up into the garden and called her name. Maybe it’s true. That cats can fall and land on their feet. I was walking on dirt not concrete so I guess anything is possible. Nothing. I peered into the next door courtyard trying to catch a glimpse of the concrete to see if there was a cat. Nothing.
Up the elevator I went trying not to cry. I was sure this time I had really lost her. Anyone who has followed the escapades of Bijou knows she was especially precocious as a kitten. When she turned 18 months old, she turned from her “monster” self into a very sweet kitten. When she stayed with my friend, Melinda, during my California trip and surgery, she gave that family some heart stopping moments. I haven’t had to worry about her since it turned cold in November and I have had the doors only cracked open for air.
I opened and shut every closet door calling her name. I closed all my bureau drawers, found my flashlight and looked three and four times in the exact same place. There are just moments when the mind will not take in information. I find myself repeating an action over and over until finally acceptance moves me to some other action.
Three hours went by while I tried not to give in to the thought that this time was really it. I had really lost her. While I tried to get interested in something else and give my mind a rest from it’s end of the world scenarios.
Around 11:30pm, I was stepping out onto the terrace from my bedroom when I heard a tiny ‘meow’ from far away. I ran to the dividing wall calling her name. Nothing. I came back to the doors one foot in and one foot out on the terrace. Where was the ‘meow’ coming from? Was I going to have to wake up a neighbour I’ve never met because somehow Bijou managed to get herself into another apartment. I heard the ‘meow’ again.
I pulled open one of the bureau drawers that I’d slammed shut while I was so nerve wracked. I saw a tail. I called her name but nothing happened. I took everything out of the drawer and out came Bijou. She didn’t even have the grace to look embarrassed. She had gotten stuck behind the chest of drawers when I shut the drawer. I was so happy to see her I gave her the entire envelope of wet food.
When a tourist comes to Paris, one of the first things they see are the millions of postcards, greeting cards, trinkets, etc of cats on Parisian roofs, cats in front of beautiful doors, cats with their tails wound into a heart. Parisian cats! It’s almost as emblematic as the Eiffel Tower. If I really wanted to scare myself, I could spend some time wondering how those cats got on the roofs, whose cat exactly is in front of the door. But I won’t do that. I do think I’m in for a long Spring/Summer wondering how many escapades I’m going to be dealing with as Bijou drums up more things for me to write about.
While I was in the United States, January through May, Bijou was living the life of Riley. She stayed with a friend who has quite a large apartment, consisting of three large bedrooms, a living room plus and a dining room plus. Bijou had the run of the place. And she literally could run in a circle going through almost every room. She loved hiding under my friend’s bed, she would go to sleep on the kids’ book bags, she would sit on the back of a sofa for hours making those funny kitty noises every time she saw a bird and she made herself at home wherever she could. She knew she was only a guest and never jumped up on a table or workspace as she did at my apartment.
Once Spring came, things started to get a bit dicey. The apartment is on the 6th floor. Each room has a minimum of two ceiling almost to the floor windows. And every window had a little balcony where healthy plants were waiting for the sun. The windows would be thrown open and Bijou, with tons of cat curiosity, would go exploring. Just sitting on the little balcony was not enough. She would jump up on the railing and when any of the family walked by, she would just look innocent. While the family member had a small heart attack terrified Bijou would fall to the pavement and use up all her nine lives at once.
One very hot in July night, my friend decided to leave all the windows open. She could see that Bijou was near the balcony but opted for taking care of herself first. The next morning, when she called Bijou, Bijou was nowhere to be found. She went looking everywhere and, after an hour, she was formulating a conversation with me to tell me that Bijou had disappeared. Just as she picked up her phone, she saw Bijou looking pathetic outside her son’s window. That window was not open the night before. Neither of us even wanted to think how Bijou managed to get to that balcony from the opposite side.
When I finally moved into my own apartment in early August, I came and got Bijou and, for the first time in eight months, we were living together. I have a large terrace with a railing. The top of the railing is 4″/10cm thick. I’m on the 7th floor. Each room has glass doors that open up on the south side of my building and it is necessary in warm weather to have them open. Bijou loves the terrace and spends a lot of her time there. At first, she would jump up on the railing and I was the one having a heart attack. If I screamed or did something panicky, I was afraid I would scare her and she’d fall. I would clap my hands very loud which has always been my signal to her that said “No”. She would jump down. As soon as I went inside, she’d jump up again and nonchalantly go walking over to the next door neighbor’s apartment.
Bijou always comes when I call her. She is basically a very good cat. She is learning not to jump up on the railing and does it rarely now. I’m still too nervous to leave the doors to the balcony open in the night when I’m sleeping or when I leave the apartment. I don’t know why. I truly don’t think anything would happen to her. Cats have such an innate sense of balance and perspective of distance. But……I don’t ever want to be in the position of saying “If only…..If only I’d done the right thing” So doors stay closed at night, open during the day. Sara, the police, periodically wanders the apartment looking for any cat trouble Bijou may have gotten in.
Bijou, who was bought off the streets of Paris 2 1/2 years ago, has grown into a sweet cat. I’m completely aware that the catcapades she gets into are completely in line with her job description. She also likes to be in the same room as people. She likes to sleep at the foot of the bed. When she was very little she discovered a teddy bear of mine and to this day treats the bear like the mother she never had. She will walk up slowly, sniff it then realizing it is mama bear, she will start kneeding the bear and collapse in pleasure while her front paws go in and out of the bears tummy. I’m always so grateful it’s not my tummy. My friend, Fatiha, adores Bijou and makes her toys out of whatever she finds lying around. She gets Bijou to jump 4 feet high then teases her by pretending to throw a ball. Bijou doesn’t care. She adores Fatiha back and if Fatiha wants to play, that’s what Bijou will do.
And now you are caught up with the adventures of the fur ball living with me!!!
I am leaving Paris for two weeks. I’m going to California where I lived for most of my adult life. It is a beautiful day today. The sky is blue, the Seine is peaceful, sparkling and the Bateaux Mouches have begun their daily trips up and down the river showing tourists the sights along the banks.
I have been grumbling about the weather most of the Fall. It seemed that we went from summer to winter without passing Autumn. In fact, we have had a couple of beautiful Indian Summer days and this seems to be turning into one of them. I’ve turned the heat off in the apartment and I’m looking forward to a walk. My iPhone says that the next week will be sunny and much much warmer than it has been.
However, I’m leaving for Charles de Gaulle airport before the sun comes up tomorrow morning. And like most of my “last days before the trip” Paris seems lovelier. I seem to see it all much more clearly. I look around my apartment as if I will never see it again. I held Bijou, the cat, so close trying to make a physical memory of her furriness, her sweetness, the way she will suddenly look up at me with loving eyes that completely melt my heart. I don’t feel this way about going anywhere else in Europe. But California and another life seems worlds away from Paris and this life.
Last January, when I took my trip to California, terrorists had just bombed the Brussels airport. We had heard, though it hadn’t been confirmed, that the Brussels airport was second choice to Paris. I had no idea what to expect. I felt very matter of fact about it. I called my lawyer and asked if I wrote out a makeshift will in pencil about all my belongings in Paris, would it be considered legal. He said yes then added to please not worry, nothing was going to happen to me. He couldn’t possibly know. The truth is, a place where terrorists have just hit is probably one of the safest places in the world.
I’m not worrying about terrorists. I look forward to these long flights to California (but not to the jet lag). Once I get to the airport, get my bags checked, get through border control, I’m in No Man’s Land. Soon my phone won’t ring at all, I won’t be able to receive any texts. No one can bother me or demand anything of me. I can watch five movies in a row and not feel guilty or lazy. I can daydream or read a book or write.
But that’s tomorrow. Today, I’m walking around looking at everything as if it’s the first time and the last time. I don’t feel anxious. I don’t have a word for it. It’s a feeling I’m sure everyone gets at some time or another. Of wanting to imprint something in my memory that is stronger than just a memory. I want to be able to touch it, feel it, take it with me. When I’m sitting in my living room in Oakland, I don’t want Paris to feel so incredibly far away. The memory I always default to is sitting in my armchair that I have facing the window. The window that looks out on Quai des Grands Augustins, the Pont Neuf and the river Seine. It’s an amazing view of one of the most beautiful parts of Paris that I look at every day.