If you are already massively bored with my cats, Cateat Emptor! I have fallen so cravenly low that (I can hardly believe it) I am writing a blog about their progress after a visit to the vet. Once I wished to be a world beating author, then I was glad to settle for being published and selling a few copies, but never in my wildest dreams did I know that I would end up no more and no less than the commonest Cat Bore in the Creation. But surely, these faces are some reason? When acting was proposed at Mansfield Park, Mr. Crawford said, "Be it only half a play, an act, a scene; what should prevent us? Not these countenances, I am sure,” looking towards the Miss Bertrams. And surely these cat countenances are some excuse for my dizzy plunge into cat besottedness.
Eating in Company, a Companionable Tail
So I brought the Mesdemoiselles to the Vet. They are such good sweet angels they didn't even mind going. They got shoved into the carry case, but they only purred. Once in the car they mewed a little, but I talked to them and the sound of my voice soothed them. At the vet, I was absolutely astounded to learn that since their last visit, only two weeks ago, they have each gained A POUND!! Martial is a Five Pound Cat now. Catullus the 3 pound runt is now up to 4.3! The vets couldn't make enough fuss over them and said they are Thriving and are some of the happiest, most darling kittens they've ever seen. They also fussed over me for rescuing them from the shelter, and I said we were so lucky they turned out to be such sweet cats, but the vet said, the cats were the lucky ones, to have such an obviously loving home! They had their nails trimmed, and poor little Catullus and Martial had their narsty vaccinations and were pronounced in super health.
Pindar is still sick, and the vets say the upper respiratory infection can linger a long time, and she'll have to be on antibiotics, interferon, and lysene, until the cold is completely gone, however long it takes - could be many weeks. But they say she's fine, in no danger, very bouncy and eating well. I like these vets. Even though they're the clinic the shelter uses and you don't have an appointment but have to wait, I don't mind. I got to talk to other people who've recently adopted cats from the same shelter, who are also sick with this cold. (I even recognized their cats.) The clinic is inexpensive, they only charged for Pindar, and the visit including the two injections and all the new meds, came to $100, which seemed very reasonable. All three cats got full attention and advice (to which they did not listen) and I took them home and they collapsed in three little furry splayed heaps, utterly exhausted by their great adventure which I believe that, on the whole, they cheerfully enjoyed. And I sat down to write about it. Such a somnolent tale, it would make a good bedtime story, would it not? "The Three Little Kittens go to the Vet." Oh, what has become of me!
Incredibly, the book they're fighting over is...The Great Cat Massacre! Click to enlarge if you don't believe me!
On Christmas Day, we went to the annual party at the Novel Cafe. The Novel is a used bookshop/coffeehouse in Santa Monica where my family and I have been regular habituees for...17 years now. I know because Paul moved back to Los Angeles from Chicago (where he'd gone to the University of Chicago and lived after college) in the early 1990s; he was 27 then and he's 44 now. We found the Novel that year, and it's been our coffeehouse, our home away from home, all these years! It's been my workplace, in particular; I've done a good deal of my work there, both writing and story analysis, though somewhat less in recent years, as the place has declined since its heyday.
Me and Peter dancing
It's still a comfortable place to work; I like to sit at my counter with a cappuccino and my laptop, for at least a couple of hours every day. No one bothers you while you're working, and for someone who works at home, it's nice to get out for awhile. And even though I don't engage with people much, it's good for people-watching of a sort I probably wouldn't get to do otherwise: there's an interesting mix of professionals and homeless, students and screenwriters and neighborhood people. Homelessness has long been an enormous problem in Santa Monica, and it's always been difficult for the management, to keep the welcoming bohemian feeling and yet not be entirely taken over by street people so as to make customers uncomfortable.
On Christmas Day, however, the Novel opens to all for a party in the early evening, and the mood is warm and cheerful. I think this year wasn't as joyous as last year, when there seemed to be more of what Emma calls a "dancing, singing, exclaiming" spirit; I don't want to be so banal as to say maybe it's the general economic mood, but it did feel just exactly like that. Nobody seemed to be feeling very blithe or exalted. Still, people were clearly enjoying the food and the music, the fact that dogs were allowed inside for once, and everyone was saying "Merry" Christmas to each other with nice smiles.
Paul at the Novel
Jennifer, me and Peter
And where were the three little kittens? At home, dreaming of sugar plums...We had our Christmas turkey later, with friends Andy, Jennifer, and Lee. Pindar, Catullus, and Martial were little angels and stepped neither upon the turkey nor upon the pie...
Professor Kay Young of UC Santa Barbara, and me, speakers at the JASNA-SW Christmas event
"The Courtship of Mrs. Elton"
Our JASNA-SW (Jane Austen Society-Southwest) winter meeting was a great success; about 90 people at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, which is more elegant than it sounds. The morning speaker, Professor Kay Young of UC Santa Barbara, spoke on Emma and the imagination, and after lunch I gave my talk on Mrs. Elton: The Bride from Bristol, which explores the implications of Mrs. Elton's origins and how Austen used this character as a foil for Emma. In fact, the day was rather like a quote from Emma: "For ten minutes she could hear nothing but herself." Only it was a lot longer than ten minutes, and I was drained!
Me and Paul acting
Lunch at the Los Angeles Athletic Club
Then there was a reading of my playlet The Courtship of Mrs. Elton. Readings have been given, to date, in Vancouver, New York, Edmonton (twice), Calgary, St. Louis, Florida, and Arizona. This one went over gratifyingly well, and for me it was special because I had prevailed upon Paul to play the part of Mr. Bird, the Puppy. This he did with enormous skill and brio, playing him as a kind of simpering Mr. Fezziwig, and rendering his poetic lines with all the ridiculousness they deserve. Very special. There were other special moments, as when my friend Natasha Zwick, playing Miss Milman, spontaneously threw her stuffed kitty across the room - just like I do Martial when she gets into my study. Or maybe you had to be there...
I'm thinking I should change the name of my blog to Cat Bore pretty soon! Still, it's not every day a petless family adopts triplet kittens, and the combined tyrannic earthquake and hurricane only happened two days ago; so I think I have some excuse for monopolizing my blog with cat mewsings.
So here are a few more Portraits of the Queens. Today I'm doing my talk and my playlet at the Jane Austen Society-Southwest's winter meeting, so perhaps that will distract my mind from things Cat. (Jane Austen has not one single cat in her novels.) For the story of the invasion and total rout of the Birchall family, please read yesterday's post.
I've always said that I would never, ever stoop to writing in a blog about my cats. When blogs first became popular I was repelled by them; the many fine literary and book reviewing blogs, the blogs that take you into English gardens and show you different scenes of Venice every day, had not yet appeared, and they all seemed to be horrible diaries that people had narcissistically and with poor judgment put on line, writing torrential accounts of stupefyingly dull daily activities, always interspersed (it seemed) by pictures of their cats. That, I swore, I would never do. But here I am, on the first day of the Rule of the Cat Queens era, introducing my newly acquired, charming trio to the world!
Me with Cats
We are Three
We are Naughty
I went to the Santa Monica Cat Shelter to finally adopt the cats of my choice, the striped Bengal tabby I already thought of as Pindar, and one of its two soft black, red and brown siblings, to be named Catullus: a Greek poet and a Roman one, names chosen by Peter, who had a preference for boy cats. An alternate name was Martial, for the Epigrammatist, but in the event, Peter was slated to be in for a slight shock: all the cats were girls.
I thought it was a shame to break up the three litter mates, as they were obviously very attached; every time I saw them they were hopping all over each other, one wriggling heap of fur. But I couldn't imagine a house crawling with three cats, so I chose my two, and went to do the paperwork as the clerk put them into a cardboard carrier. I had a hair appointment, so quickly stopped at the pet store to buy two litter boxes and some litter, and then drove the cats home, giggling at the little "mews" coming from the back seat. At home, I opened the box, and first one kitty, then the other, poked up their heads and after a cautious moment or two, hopped out of the box. They then proceeded to act as all visiting cats do in our book-and-object filled home, and went running around everywhere sniffing. I set up the litter boxes on the terrace and left the kitties to get acquainted with their new home, while I went out for an hour.
The Box I Came In
Pindar in Freedom
When I returned, I saw a dark black and brown cat streak by, and then another...and then the first again. And I realized to my horror, that the clerk had given me the two dark siblings, and kept back the very cat of my desire, the striped Bengal tabby! What to do? In chat, I consulted briefly with two friends, Sandy and Lynne, who intimated that certain things were "meant," and I called to consult Paul, who was at the library. The kittens' grandfather human, Peter, was asleep and did not know the Solomonic Choice that was occurring at that moment. But rather than bring back one of the dark sisters (which?), I called the shelter and told them what happened, and that I'd be coming by for the striped one. Fortunately it's the evening they're open late, and I picked up Paul and we went over together. And what a sad sight met our eyes, the poor Bengal Pindar all alone in her prison-like cage, looking intensely forlorn and waifish. It was impossible to resist that face, and the clerk sold her to me for half price, a family rate for three. She is, like the others, not a Bengal after all but a Tortie (Tortoiseshell Tortie or Torbie. Like calicos they're a genetic anomaly that's almost always female). She mewed all the way home, unaware that she was to join her sisters; and when she came out of the box she was hesitant and sniffing for about five minutes, but was soon Pindar, the Queen of the Litter, streaking around the house in circles, galloping and leaping with unfettered abandon. Not one of them had so much as a single instant of fear: our large and object-stuffed house was clearly, after the jail cell, pure Paradise.
A House Full of Things
Within an hour Paul and I, and our cat-struck neighbors whom we invited over for an enchanted look, were thoroughly acquainted with the new Queens, and calling them unerringly by their right names at all times. Never did three cats have such differing personalities, which they established immediately. Catullus is the smallest, and very affectionate; she will climb all over you, a soft little black ball of fluff, and wants to be cuddled. I gave her black twin the Martial moniker, because she is a crazy streaking thing, running races with herself, stalking the others, never holding still. And Pindar the beautiful is at once dignified, cuddly like Catullus, and also active like Martial - a creature of regal balance.
Paul with Cats
Our lives, of course, have been turned completely upside down; going from zero cats to three in a few hours is transformative, to say the least. These hectic kitties wore us out but didn't subside to cat naps in various chairs until midnight. They're sweet cats though, and well behaved; used their litter boxes first try, ate nicely, and although a little too attracted to my shawls and scarves (which will be put away), they've destroyed nothing. Later, I woke Peter and told him when he got up to be careful. "Oh, the cats," he said. "Are there one or two?" "Well - three actually," I said. He came out to look and was immediately beguiled, grinning ear to ear. We none of us seem to be doing anything but watching cats; certainly life will be interesting in this the Pindaric Era, of which this is Day One.
The annual dinner meeting of The Samuel Johnson Society of Southern California was held on Sunday night, November 23, at the Huntington Library. It was the 25th meeting of the Society, and I think I’ve been to most of them: there are no, or few, member interactions during the year, but I look forward to the annual dinner as a reassuring and very pleasant part of the holiday season. It’s like making friends in stop action sequence, however, with each episode a year apart. I’ve watched the same people grow older (and they me) over a quarter of a century while regarding them through a haze of benign holiday spirit, but without knowing most of them very well!
As I always do, I drove Bob Klein, owner/proprietor of the legendary Sam Johnson’s Bookshop and my friend Sheila to the dinner. “Our own especial set,” as our late Johnsonian friend Gloria used to call it, was further represented by reading group members Richard and Magda, and others. During the social hour preceding the dinner, I talked with the visiting Australian John Byrne, a major Johnsonian collector who somehow combines being a Governor of Dr. Johnson’s House, London, and a director of Johnson’s House in Lichfield, with being a barrister in Perth.
Lichfield in Johnson's Day
He spends a good deal of time on airplanes, and came to this meeting especially to get to know members of the Society of which he will take his turn serving as President next year, when he gives the annual Daniel G. Blum Lecture. He was a most approachable and genial gentleman, and I greatly enjoyed chatting him up, and looking at the exhibit of books and prints he had brought and laid out. I was most struck by a fine old map of London in Johnson’s time, and some particularly crisp and beautiful Hogarth prints. One curiosity was the first Chinese translation of Rasselas, which looked oddly like one of my grandmother Onoto Watanna’s books!
This is the tercentenary year of Johnson’s birth, and so there are plenty of celebrations in the works – here in Southern California, the events I’m looking forward to the most are the exhibition “Samuel Johnson, Professional Author,” arranged by O M “Skip” Brack, which will be at the Huntington from June through September. He will also give a lecture on May 27, and Richard Wendorf, author of Sir Joshua Reynolds: The Painter in Society will lecture on the Portraits on June 8, while Paul Ruxin, a major Johnson-and-Boswell collector, will talk about Johnson and Boswell on September 15. So I’ll have reason to drive out to the Huntington a few times.
The "Blinking Sam" portrait, donated to the Huntington by Loren Rothschild
Tonight, though, was a particularly friendly and jolly affair. I was lucky enough to sit with antiquarian book dealer Robert Allen, and his wife Brownie, whom I’ve known as Johnsonians and Janeites for years, and I also chatted with his book partner and his wife, with whom I have many friends in common, and who share my new love for Northern Ontario – they visit Manitoulin Island often, and told me all about new places to explore!
We settled down to dinner, which centered around roast prime rib with cracked black pepper and whole roasted garlic, Yukon gold and fennel puree and green peas with fresh mint. At our places were the traditional gift, in this case a replica of a Catalogue of Choice Books by Michael Johnson of Lichfield, edited by Robert deMaria, Jr. Dinner was followed by the lecture, “Johnson’s London: London’s Johnson,” by Michael Buntock, a barrister specializing in maritime law, who is editor of The New Rambler, a governor of Johnson’s House, and working on a life of Francis Barber (I wish I’d had a chance to talk to him about that). He showed slides of the Rambler old and new, of Johnson’s scrofula medal, and a particularly beautiful engraving of London showing how St. Paul’s and the city’s churches dominated the skyline in Johnson’s day. Also some statues of Johnson, including a particularly hideous one that people say, truly enough, looks like a figure of a retired gladiator meditating on a wasted life.
Johnson as Gladiator
Buntock’s talk was liberally laced with suitable Johnsonian quotes, beginning with “One of the disadvantages of wine is that it makes a man mistake words for thought,” and then wording one of the most famous quotes as, “By seeing London you have seen as much as life can afford.”
After this visit to a conjured-up 18th century London, we drove back to Santa Monica feeling very much cheered.
Statue of Johnson's cat Hodge, sitting on the Dictionary