Paris, 27 april 2014, 10:10 am.
“There are no ordinary cats.” If the writer Colette says so, we can trust it. These are two other feline experts with whom we will share a morning coffee near the Luxembourg Gardens over their book “Parisian Cats“, just recently published by Flammarion. Let’s be clear, we’re not here to chat with two cat-ladies obsessed with fur balls. The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Newsweek … Their business cards are impressive. Olivia is a veteran journalist, and Nadia, when she isn’t lost in the safari like photo-shoots of cats in their (almost) natural habitats, covers conflict zones. In short, the cat here is a serious subject. Lol-cat lovers please move along!
In opening the door of Rostand, we look for our three drôles de dames. Olivia and Nadia welcome us with big warm smiles, though there is no sign of Roxane, the newest neighborhood star since she posed for the cover of the book. Has she become prudish? Nadia narrows her mischievous eyes behind her glasses and confides a small professional secret: early in the morning, Roxane sits on a table and watches the street. Garçon, four coffees please.
So, how did the adventure of “Parisian Cats” start? With a dinner and a common desire to write a book together. For Olivia, cats are her daily companions. When you live on rue des Thermopyles, it is sort of inevitable. Nadia is a cat beginner. “I usually cover very serious subjects, so in my entourage when I made them guess what the theme of the book was, their reactions were very funny.” How is Roxane? “Young and very nice.” Maybe, but right now the very nice co-manager of The Café Rostand is sleeping in the back on a bench. Something tells us that our instant parisien will be no small affair.
Was the Parisian feline odyssey Homeric? A little bit at times, like this tomcat that required of Nadia 10 hours of acrobatics behind her camera. Paris’ two best cat friends traveled the city in search of only the finest specimens – prime mouse hunters in restaurants, museums, palaces and small bookstores.
They started the book by meeting the cats they knew. Then very quickly, the “cat lover” network became very active. One cat lead to another and their investigation lead to a cafe in Saint-Germain at the bottom of a sculptor’s studio. At the back in a restaurant a mischievous black cat named Narcissus had become accustomed to (not the most Catholic but very Republican) curling up on the knees of politicians who come for lunch close to their ministries.
Each cat has its particularity, its own story. Remember that there is no ordinary cat. This is Zwicky who lives in Fleux, a design shop in the Marais, where monsieur sharpens his claws on an 800 euro chair under the tender eye of his owners. And Milou, the dictator of Carillon, a boozer of the Canal Saint-Martin, who requires sliced ham every morning. Or even Pilou, majestically shown on page 56, the collection doll boutique cat, that loves putting his canines all over the boots of small dolls from the 1800’s. And when the opportunity arises, he discretely munches on their wigs. “It’s crazy what cat owners accept for love,” says Nadia. Olivia adds, “in English, we say that dog’s have a master and cat’s have servants! “(Laughs).
In the end, do they really hunt mice? At first, yes, and then with success and age they become real pashas and perk up their whiskers only when they feel inclined. “Apparently just at the smell of cats, mice flee.” Seen like this, it is an easy job. In restaurants, it’s the perfect hideout. As they have become the darling of clients, the animal is always present. A Parisian cat is so great at his job that he regularly receives gifts (edible ones) shipped from the U.S. by his enamored fans. Cats are way too cool.
Nadia, who doesn’t know cats, learns quickly from each shoot (accompanied by some clawing on the way). When it’s not the time, it’s not the time. But when these ladies and gentlemen are a fine mood and comportment, it makes for poetic clichés and a fierce desire to begin a “cat tour” of Paris. Nadia has shown a lot of patience (bravo). “We had to adapt to their schedules during the preparation of the book as some cats were in their country houses.” Real divas, we’re telling you.
The time has come to take action! Roxane here we come. We deploy are mission through the café in stealth mode to track the beast under the amused eyes of some German tourists and accustomed clients. The floor is clean: we lay flat down on the mosaic. There, under a bench, two big green eyes and dilated pupils, seem to say: ok, ok, now who are these crazies? Let’s remain calm and stay hidden.
The game of the cat and mouse begins. Hop, I jump here. Hop, I disappear there, we accelerate, and she gets scared. A sentence from Olivia ices our blood, “if it escapes into the storeroom, we’re done.” Guy de Maupassant has the right formula: “Cats are like paper, they crease very quickly.” Fortunately for Olivia, perhaps a cat trainer in her spare time has the right solution at the bottom of her pocket. A small piece of string stirred vigorously and suddenly the diva becomes a kid dancing around on the wicker chairs with the blessing of Jean-Pierre, the owner of Rostand. Ah, Parisian cat life is pretty beautiful!
The book “Parisian Cats” is available here.