I have been remiss in posting here of late. There are no excuses other than life taking up a lot of room in my head. Plus, a new computer distracting me, a work-in-progress I’m trying to finalize and a bunch of other (fairly major) things worthy of their own posts. More to come soon, juré, crâché. (That’s French for ‘I swear’…)
Plus, most importantly, November. My most-detested month is now behind us. It was mercifully short due to everything else going on. Now, December has come in with a bang in Central Switzerland as it has in much of the northern hemisphere. With a mood-boosting ton of snow. Schnee! Neige!
For us November ended on a rather astonishing event. You may remember that we moved last year from a house in France to an apartment in Switzerland. At that time we decided to downsize the pet population. I did not post much about this at the time as I wasn’t particularly proud of it. Basically, we decided to rehome our two cats as we were moving into a space with no direct access to the outside. My excuse was that they were outdoor cats and that surely we would find loving homes for two sweet, if senior, cats? The real reason was that I couldn’t face the idea of all that hair and being a full-time cat caretaker. Mea culpa.
A very kind friend who lives in a neighbouring town offered to have the cats at her place for the interim. Within weeks, we had found an adoptive family for the elder male cat and other other, a female, had run away. Guilt-racked, we posted notices all around the village, called the local animal shelters and went out looking. But as anyone who has ever known a feline will attest, cats do not come when called. And when they’ve decided to go into hiding, they cannot be found.
The winter was cold last year with a ton of snow. I sometimes pictured Bianca having graced herself into a new home, or alternatively I imagined her hanging out in a barn with a whole herd of cats. At worst I assumed she’d been hit by a car. Sometimes I dreamed about her, feeling like I’d abandoned a child. After several months, I gave up worrying. We got rid of all the cat accoutrements.
You feel it coming, right? Out of the blue last week I got a call from a German-speaking woman, who fortunately also spoke English.
“Mrs. Lewis? This is the Tierheim Allenwinden. We found your cat.”
Shock. Silence. Brain scrambles. “Which one?”
“You do have a cat?”
“Yes. I mean no. That is, I did have a cat, two in fact. The female ran away over a year ago.”
“A year? That’s amazing. When are you coming to get her?”
I went that afternoon. She was dirty and matted but in pretty good shape, all things considered. We decided somebody in the area must have been feeding her. She had been turned in by a woman who apparently found her just a block away from where she disappeared.
The vet shaved a big wide stripe down her back to remove the worst of the mats. They were amazed at how well she had survived as a feral cat all those 14 months.
She has forgiven us and we have decided she deserves to stay. How’s that for redemption?
Update January 2022: We ended up contacting the woman who had turned in Bianca to the shelter to thank her. It turned out she was the granddaughter of a 90-year-old woman who had been feeding our cat for the better part of last year. As the grandmother had to move into a nursing home, she had not wanted to just abandon Bianca. We sent her a bouquet of white roses and a photo of Bianca just before Christmas. Yesterday we heard that the grandmother sadly passed away. 💔
This is me. Actually it is not me but our cat, Léo, lolling around after a night on the town. But it is how I feel. J’ai la flemme.
‘La flemme’ is when you feel lazy. When your bed beckons well after the time you should have left it. Or the TV remote tantalizes you from across the room. It’s when you just can’t be bothered to do something, no matter how much you know you should.
To have la flemme is very French. Not that the French are lazy, pas du tout. It’s just that they alternate periods of extreme activity with moments of pure paresse. Relaxation, holidays or just lounging around. It’s what saves their sanity.
I am this way by nature, and living in France for so long has certainly made it worse. Most days I get up and kick myself in the butt, have a military approach to sticking to schedules and deadlines all in order to avoid the encroaching flemme that wants to take over and subvert me into a life of sloth.
Perhaps it is fitting that I write of low energy and a lack of motivation today. It is the last day of November, a month that always makes me feel like death. December 1st will bring the promise of pristine slopes, the year-end holidays and a new start in 2018.
So just for today, like the cat, I’ll stretch out and enjoy a few moments of blissful laziness.
Let me share with you a day in the life of our little ménagerie. The word finds its roots in ménage, which means household, so perhaps it’s normal that a collection of animals is part of ours.
I am a dog person. There is no translation for this expression in French. You can say you like dogs, or that you are ‘plus chien que chat.’ You can choose to like neither although you will not be typical of the French who love their pets and generally have one or the other.
Which is to say I am not a cat person. My daughter is a cat person. We got her a kitten for her fourth birthday. Over the years the feline population in our household expanded to two. Madeline moved away to attend university a few years ago and we kept the cats.
Bianca and Leo hanging out
The current pair (I’m tempted to say culprits but let’s keep this polite) are Bianca and Leo. Leo was foisted upon us by a former cleaner who saw a window of opportunity when we were momentarily down one. These cat people stick together. He had been rejected by his mother, she explained in a poignant tale of woe, and she’d tried to place him once already but after a week the woman had changed her mind. That person clearly was smarter harder hearted than I. Leo came to stay, although he almost got ejected after doing his business on my bed.
His younger cohort in crime is Bianca. A bit of a princess is our little girl. Or perhaps a white supremacist. In any case, she does not like to mingle with any Tom, Dick or Harry. So she hangs around the house a lot, requiring two litter boxes and frequent displays of worship.
I’m not sure what possessed me to agree to add two puppies to our ménage after the kids left home – put it down to empty-nest syndrome. Our last dog had died in tragic circumstances a few years before and we were feeling, well….outnumbered by the cats. So it really is all the cats’ fault.
My husband and I have always been suckers for dogs. Our preferred breed was chosen before we married, when we met our first French bulldog at a friend’s home in Normandy. A snorting, smelly, impertinent fellow he was – proving the breed to be well deserving of its name. We got our first Frenchie a couple of years later, then a second shortly after. Edouard and Dorothée were our first children. They taught us that, yes, we were capable of taking care of beings other than ourselves, going for walks, picking up poops. We passed our first caretaker tests with flying colors.
Sadly, the dynamic duo did not live long, whether due to problems of the breed or medical back luck. A few years (and one failed adoption of a stray) later, a third Frenchie came to stay. By then our own children were center stage (or almost, as they will tell you.) Mooqs was with us for ten years or so, until he became blind and stumbled into the swimming pool. Frenchies are not good swimmers.
H&H snore fest
Higgins and Humphrey now rule the roost. They are adorable dictators, who have me flying out of bed in the wee hours in the hopes that they will not have weed theirs. I let them out in the backyard first thing, while keeping a close eye on Higgins, who likes to search for truffles (left by the cats) while pretending to relieve himself. I also check the mat in front of the door to make sure that Leo hasn’t left one of his trophies – frequent offerings of mice and bird remains that the dogs are only too happy to devour as an apéritif.
Then it’s breakfast for the dogs while I go down to the basement and let the cats in to the laundry room where their food and litter boxes are kept. Let’s be very clear: cats are nocturnal beings and I am not. We live in the country so the cats are out at night (both are chipped and sterilized, so we are good citizens).
Should any cat people be about to protest: the cats have access to shelter in the cellar via a cat flap with a chip reader. This innovation has paid for itself in that we do not now feed half of the neighborhood cat population when we go away and leave their food out.
Then begins the daily ballet of my life as a cat and dog concierge. Imagine these scenes being played to the music ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ from The Nutcracker.
Take the dogs for their morning walk. Stoop and scoop on as-needs basis (i.e., if on sidewalk, private property or when someone’s looking…). Return home, wipe their feet before letting them in (2 dogs X 4 legs = 8 feet). Make coffee. Leo pussyfoots by kitchen door indicating a desire to go back out. Open door, let cat out.
Take coffee upstairs to office. Remove dogs’ bed from workspace as Higgins snores so loudly I cannot hear myself think, never mind hear clients on the phone.
Bianca then comes by for a cuddle. Give her a scrub and close the door. Start in on work. Urgent mewing from downstairs. Open door and remove dead mouse from doormat. Leo comes in. Bianca goes out. Return to work. Ten minutes later, faint mewing from basement where Bianca has come in through cat flap but now wants in to the house proper. She can wait, I tell myself. Focus on work for ten more minutes.
Strange hacking and gagging sound comes from next door. Humphrey has just vomited his breakfast, along with several other unidentifiable objects. Curse, cover nose and clean it up before Higgins does. Return to work. Mewing becomes more intense. Go to basement, let one cat up as other goes out. Make another coffee. Return to work.
Flash forward to late afternoon, several door openings later. Dogs begin to circle in growing impatience as the time for their second walk gets closer. Go lie down, I order. Click click click, toenails on the floor. Grumble. Groan. Snort. Snore. Snore. Snore. Then click click click. Two pairs of feet, two wet noses. Take H & H for second walk. Clean eight feet again.
Refresh water bowl. Feed dogs. Leo circles impatiently by the stairs. Go down to basement, replenish already half-full cat food. Bianca watches from upstairs.
Evening settles in and it’s time to let dogs out for final utility run. Cats nowhere in sight. Get ready for bed and hear mewing from below stairs. Go down and let Leo out. Bianca nowhere to be seen. Come back upstairs and look for her. Check under beds, behind curtains, no cat. Settle in to bed with book. Eyes grow heavy. Begin to nod off. Plaintive cat call from basement. Go downstairs and let her out.
There are moments when I feel less like a concierge and more like a happy pet owner. When Bianca nestles in beside me and goes into ecstasy as I stroke her. When I look deep into those Frenchie eyes and see love.
The dogs sleep in the upstairs bathroom. There are several practical reasons for this. Our house is open plan and does not have many rooms with doors that close. Once I left them the run of the house and they got into their food. Came down in the morning to find two sausages about to split their casings. What followed was a purging session (both ends) that lasted 24 hours and almost made me split mine. Never again, I swore.
The French bulldog is an uppity breed with delusions of humanity. Basically it does not accept the notion that it is a dog. Therefore, any attempt to house them in inferior accommodation will result in a trashing of the premises that is simply not worth it. Also the bathroom is tiled which is easier to clean.
Finally, in one of those lovely synchronicities of translation: the word ‘pet’ means fart in French. ‘Nuff said.
How about you? Do you have any pets – or pet peeves?