In a bookstore with a humongous reputation, there once lived a small cat...
Have you ever had a wonderful travel memory that started off on the wrong foot, literally? In the summer of 2003, I spent an extended weekend in Paris. Eager to prove my sophistication, I made my first (and, subsequently, my last) foray into the world of travelling with high heels. After all, what are $39.99 sales racks at Sears for if not for strutting across the city of love?
But camel coloured pleather kitten heels and Parisian heat waves don’t mix. By the time I arrived at my destination, the legendary Shakespeare and Company bookstore, I was a hot mess of sweat, dust, and half a dozen pulsating blisters, the smallest measuring in at an inch in diameter. My plans for a quick visit were quickly revised to spend as much time as possible perched among the cooling books. Little did I suspect a cat would cross my path and leave paw prints on my heart.
As the undulating blisters continued to throb, I delayed my return trip as long as I could. Browsing turned to lingering and then to flat out eavesdropping and people watching and I was privy to the boorish observations of a man who clearly fancied himself an intellectual - and a casanova. But his attempts to gain the affection, or even the attention, of proprietor Sylvia Whitman herself were falling flat. Spotting the residence bookstore cat, he thought found a way in.
“What’s the cat’s name?” he cooed, more at Sylvia Whitman than at the cat itself. “It’s Kitty” came the terse reply. “Oh, like kitty cat!” exclaimed Mr. Boorish. Kitty glanced up and cast a look of disdain over the entire scene. “No”, sighed Sylvia. “Kitty's the name of the diary in the Diary of Anne Frank”. “Oh!” cried Mr. Boorish, clearly confused. He rubbed an unwelcome finger down Kitty’s spine. With a swish of the tail, Kitty turned an arched back to the scene and settled among a pile of papers. Clearly the life of a Parisian bookstore cat was not without its challenges.
It was plain to see that Mr. B not only hadn’t heard of Kitty’s name sake, but the notion of Anne Frank herself was foreign as well. My eyes met Sylvia's for a second, the kind of swift glimpse that only two women can give each other to instantly confirm the other is thinking the same thing about the man in question. He was tail-swish worthy indeed.
I was so saddened to hear that Kitty had recently passed away. While I did not know her well, I imagine Kitty to be representative of the best of the feline species, content to spend most of the day in sunny patches. Occasionally looking up to give an “ask me if I care” glance at the world through heavy lids; occasionally getting far too worked up over nothing – a moth, a chair scraping back, a crumpled receipt falling to the ground. I picture Kitty as a connoisseur of the finer things in life – perhaps lapping up salmon pate from a chipped china saucer – yet would never turn down life's simpler pleasures.
While passing years have a way of adding a layer of rosy retrospective to travel memories, no filter is ever needed for a summer in Paris. A naive gal, a big city, a hot day, a frosty exchange, some sore feet, a very warm heart. And a bookstore with a humongous reputation that was home to one small cat. And a very fine one at that. Kitty, you will be missed.
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