Living in Provence: Centigrade

Living in Provence: Centigrade
Around three weeks ago, a young couple came by asking if I’d seen their orange cat. He was easy to spot; he had a solid white front leg. Someone had told them L’Americaine on the Rue Balzac looked after stray cats. No, I hadn’t seen their cat, who’d been missing for more than a week. However, there was a cute kitten living in my cave (cellar) who needed a home. They were still holding out for the return of their cat. I promised to be on the lookout and gave them addresses of several other people here in the Old Town who look out for strays. The couple came by daily. No sign of their cat, but I kept pushing this kitten I’d named Natasha–she was decidedly Russian in appearance, something to do with the sable-like nature of her fur. I explained I couldn’t take her. I already have six cats, having just taken in Little Nell, a tiny black-and-white five-month-old foundling. Plus Mr. Robbie Jackson, who is not my cat but seems to live inside my house, not to mention Pip and Alice, the Nyons street kittens who arrived last Spring, as well as Jane and Tiny Tim, my cats from New York and Emily, my Westie. No more animals in the house! And that’s not even getting into Rouckay and Zola, who live outdoors and are cared for by me and Françoise-Marie, my next-door neighbor. In cold weather they live in her cave, which is heated, something mine is not. Over time, the couple realized their cat was lost. They agreed to take Natasha. I would catch her, get her used to indoor living, then they’d take her to live with them. All would be well. Naturally, the minute Little Nell joined us, I got out my digital toy to photo record her every moment. (Friends subjected to my e-mail photos keep saying, “Enough with the cats! We want to see PROVENCE!”) The little digital toy appeared to be dead. The batteries were not the problem. I left it off at the local photo store, assuming the five-year international guarantee I’d purchased in New York three years ago along with the camera would cover the repairs. They said the repair job might take a month. I said I’m a journalist and must have my camera to illustrate my weekly stories. Time was of the essence. (Saying I wanted to take daily photos of my latest adorable kitten somehow didn’t carry the same weight.) The woman penciled in on the order–TRES URGENT! JOURNALISTE! That night the temperature went down to minus five degrees Centigrade. The Pontias, the Nyons wind that blows from midnight to 10 A.M., was fierce. Little Natasha took refuge in Françoise-Marie’s cave. Unfortunately she chose Rouckay’s favorite spot–a thick piece of sheepskin in the middle of a flat heating pipe near the ceiling. He kicked her out. Around 1 A.M., I heard her cries, ran outside in my pink flannel Kewpie-doll-patterned pj’s and bare feet, caught her and brought her into the house. She promptly hit the croquette (kibble) dish and water bowl, then settled in for the night amidst some throw pillows on a chair in the kitchen. The next day, for the first time in a week, the young couple did not come by. We were now a seven-cat, one-dog, one-person household. After three days, I reassured myself the couple had simply gone away for a long weekend and would soon return. The photo shop called. The five-year international guarantee was good for only two years outside the United States. The repair would cost more than a new camera. I spent a number of hours researching digital toys on the Internet and decided on a Canon A85 Sure Shot. Just before noon, when Emily and I returned along the Passage du Petit Cladon from the river bank, a cat began to howl as we walked by the green wooden door leading to the antiquaire’s walled garden behind his shop. They were sharp unhappy cries, but I didn’t think much of it because I know the garden is home to ten stray cats the antiquaire feeds and cares for. Late that night, Robbie Jackson accompanied Emily and me on our last walk by the river. Again, as we passed the little green door, the cat started to howl. Clearly something was wrong. I yanked the iron rod of the old bell outside the carved wooden door of the antiquaire’s house. Inside, I could hear the house coming to life. The antiquaire and his wife were screaming at each other. She opened the door and and I explained about the cat. “Chat” is not the antiquaire’s wife’s favorite word. She immediately launched into her problems with her husband, the antiquaire, and the ten cats he keeps in the garden. Surely it was one of HIS cats, as her two cats were inside her part of the house. The antiquaire arrived, mouthing obscenities at his wife. She hissed at me he was going to die soon from Parkinson’s and other diseases and leave her with ten cats she didn’t want. They continued their fight. I reminded them about the cat. She and I went out to try the green wooden door. It was locked and apparently led to a shed, or stairway, or basement (dungeon?), something to which only the antiquaire had the key….
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