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Chillin’

December 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Emma, one year ago

Things have been a little too quiet here at Ron’s View. Sorry about that. I had some grading to do this past week, and although that didn’t occupy every waking minute of my days, it did interfere with regular blog posting. At 4:00 PM yesterday, with just an hour to spare, I got my grades submitted. Time to relax!

Except it doesn’t seem to be working out that way. Not yet. It didn’t help that I did something really dumb right after submitting the grades. I wanted to clean up both the physical and electronic documents for the course, clearing my real and virtual desktops in preparation for my course next quarter. My last step was to move my grading spreadsheet into the course folder on the computer. When I did so, I found that some strange file had appeared in the folder, and when I went to delete the unwanted file, I managed to delete the entire folder instead. That wasn’t good, all the more because I intended to use some of the now-deleted files as templates for next quarter’s course. After writing an embarrassing confession to our computer support staff, I headed home, imagining the worst. I never did relax last night and enjoy the quarter’s work being done.

At 7:00 this morning I opened my email to the happy news that the staff had restored the files. Time to relax at last. I thought. I let Emma (the cat) out, went about my business, looked forward to catching up on assorted tasks. Then, maybe an hour later, I heard outside the window that screeching cat sound that always makes me worry that Emma is being attacked. I opened the window, then the front door, then the back door, then ran upstairs to see if maybe Emma were actually sitting in her usual daytime locations, which she wasn’t, then came back down and opened the side door off the kitchen, then the garage door, then went out to look for her. Not in front. Not in the side yard where she sometimes hides if she’s uncomfortable. As I came around to the backyard, I saw two cats, seeming mirror images, facing off about three feet apart on our back patio. I couldn’t tell which one was Emma, whether the interloper was between her and the house or whether she was keeping the interloper away. As I approached, the cat farther from the house ran toward the bushes and the other (now revealed to be Emma) ran to the back door. When I came closer, she raced through the door, faster than I’ve seen her run in years. I followed her in and watched her disappear down the basement stairway. I reached the stairway and she was a few steps down looking up, but when she caught sight of me she turned and ran again, down I imagined to her usual remote safety zone, the guest bedroom.

Which brings me to the next part of the story. I need to note that a week ago we had some of the heaviest rains in decades here in Seattle, what’s called a Pineapple Express, when a warm weather system comes straight in from Hawaii and dumps inches of rain. I was afraid to go down to the basement, lest I discover some flooding. Not that there has been flooding lately. None since October 2003, the last and worst of our many basement floods, after which we finally re-did the whole drainage system outside, where the drainage contractor could. One area couldn’t be reached. But that’s okay. It was by the basement bedroom, which in 17 years has never flooded.

Well, when I finally did head down to look for water last week, with Joel beside me since I didn’t dare do it alone, I found no water in any of the old bad spots. The guest bedroom though I wasn’t sure about. No standing water or anything, but a sense of dampness. I told Gail, thought we’d check again on Friday when our contractor was going to swing by to deal with a different issue, but when Friday came I completely forgot.

So now it’s Tuesday morning, a week after the Pineapple Express, and Emma draws Gail and me down to the bedroom. The carpeting still didn’t feel obviously wet, but the odor suggested that it surely was. Two hours later, our friend Bert (longstanding employee of the contractor) came over from another job, pulled up some of the carpeting, and the pad was soaked. Another two hours later and two more members of the contractor team pulled out all the carpeting and pad. We have a pretty good guess where the water came in and why, but more diagnostic work needs to be done. A dehumidifier is hard at work. With the pad gone, the odor will disappear in due course.

Sigh. This isn’t how I wanted my break to begin. I don’t feel relaxed at all. And there are all the blog posts I have to write. Better get to work.

Categories: Cats, House, Life

Les Chats de Paris

November 28, 2010 Leave a comment

In my last post, on Thanksgiving morning, I presented the photo above and asked where it was taken. Readers could choose from a list of a dozen cities. It’s time to reveal the answer.

Those cats are Parisians. (They have that look, don’t they?) My sister took the photo Thursday morning on Avenue Rapp in the 7th arrondissement. If you know Paris even a little, you may be familiar with the Pont de l’Alma, the bridge across the Seine that connects the 7th and 8th arrondissements and is the departure point for the bateaux mouches. Were you to walk toward the Seine from the Champs-Elysées along Avenue George V, you would be led directly over the Pont de l’Alma. On reaching the other side, you would find that the road splits, with Avenue Bosquet heading south-southeast to the École Militaire metro stop and Avenue Rapp heading south-southwest to the Champs de Mars, just south of the Eiffel Tower.

When my sister and her family first moved to Paris from Clermont-Ferrand in 1983, they lived on a small street that runs between Avenues Bosquet and Rapp, just three blocks off the Seine. A few years later, they moved to the far side of Avenue Rapp, near the Champs de Mars. She finds herself walking on Avenue Rapp essentially daily, but she hadn’t seen the cats until Thursday. Once she sent the photo to me, I couldn’t resist posting it.

Below you can see a photo Gail took when we were in Paris a year ago of a famous building on Avenue Rapp.

Categories: Architecture, Cats, Family

Thanksgiving Contest

November 25, 2010 1 comment

I received the photo above from a regular correspondent and blog reader, who took it with her iPhone. When I showed the photo to Gail, she said you could tell that the cats were [some specific geographic identifier goes here] cats. I’m skeptical. She had the advantage of knowing who the photographer was and where the photo was taken, so she wasn’t guessing from the cats’ facial expressions or head shapes that they were from [some particular place]. Rather, she knew the place and was reading real-or-imagined geographic identifiers into the photo after the fact.

So let’s see if there really are visual clues identifying the place. Can you tell where this photo was taken? If you think so submit an answer to the poll below. Or just make a guess. For the more ambitious among you, use the comments to suggest a particular neighborhood within a city.

Categories: Cats, World

Cats

April 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Emma, one year ago

Earlier this week I mentioned the article in the current New York Review on Grigory Perelman, but failed to point out the issue’s two items of feline fun, having not yet stumbled (pounced?) on them. Let me fill in the gap. I’ll take the opportunity as well to add a few words about our resident feline.

Tim Flannery reviews four books on animal behavior. All four sound superb, but of particular interest for us here is Flannery’s discussion of Temple Grandin’s latest book (with Catherine Johnson), Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals. Commenting on the cat chapter, Flannery writes:

Cats are a big part of my life, so I read Grandin’s chapter on felines with unusual concentration. I was a little dismayed, therefore, to discover that “animal behaviorists and ethologists don’t know as much about cats and their emotions as we do about other domestic animals.” I thought I knew my cats pretty well, but Grandin surprised me by having much of great interest to say about these superbly sensual, mysterious creatures. One bare fact that had hitherto escaped me is that there are two basic cat personalities—bold and shy—which are associated with coat color. Black cats, it turns out, are usually laid-back, while tortoiseshells are the typical “scaredy cats.” I live with a black and a tortoiseshell cat (known respectively as the Captain and Bernadette), who could be models for this: the Captain is as solid as a rock, his aura of calm spreading far and wide, while Bernadette has been known to take fright at her own tail. Both, incidentally, had identical upbringings from kittenhood.

This hit home. Our own tortoiseshell, Emma, turns 14 next week. Her sister and fellow tortie, Goldie, who disappeared a few years ago, was the classic scaredy cat. However much she accepted us, however willing she might be to sit on our laps or flop for petting, if she were walking down the hall and saw or heard us coming, she’d run the other way. If company were around, she made herself invisible. But in her final years, her desire for chicken, beef, and fish overcame her fear. She would be drawn to the dining table, however many strangers were there, stopping at each chair to see if food were forthcoming.

Emma, though never as skittish, wouldn’t dream of coming to the dining table if strangers were about. She trusted no one, at least until a year ago, when she found an unexpectedly new level of calm. In response to our months-long remodel, she came to accept the constant comings and goings of assorted craftsmen, even allowing Bert, our carpenter/project-manager/friend, to pet her. However, since Joel’s return home in December, simultaneous with the end of the remodel, she has regressed. Initially, she didn’t quite trust that he was back for real. But by the end of January, after Gail and I came home from our third trip of the month, she had re-attached herself to him, like a barnacle to a ship. No longer does she come downstairs to the main floor in the morning to go outside when I get up. She’ll stay on Joel’s bed until he wakes up, and if he wakes up late enough, she might just stay on the bed for the day. The disturbing aspect of all this is that in treating Joel as a quasi-sibling, she has become a scaredy tortie cat.

The latest twist is that Joel took off two nights ago on a road trip — riding shotgun for his friend Michael on his drive back to Boston — and suddenly I’m back in Emma’s life. She woke me up this morning as the birds started tweeting. I ignored her, but an hour later I got up to let her out, and an hour after that she insisted on licking me for five minutes. I haven’t merited such treatment in months. Not that I missed it.

Enough about Emma. The current New York Review has another piece entirely about cats, Pounce, an essay by the late English writer Rebecca West that will appear next month in The Essential Rebecca West: Uncollected Prose. Unfortunately, the full article is not available to non-subscribers, but if you love cats, be sure to find it. Pounce came to live with West as a kitten during World War II. Here’s an excerpt:

Then suddenly a disquieting fact was brought to my notice. We lived on the top floor of the apartment house, and outside our windows a cornice ran round the four sides of the building. This Pounce used as a playground, to take the air and exercise his sense of power by ordering the pigeons he found there to take off into the empyrean, and we used to watch him complacently. But it now appeared that he had been using the cornice for other and odious purposes. He had been visiting a neighbor of ours. Not all our neighbors, only one. He had walked past the window of hosts who would have been glad to entertain him, who cried “Pussy, pussy,” as he went by, imagining him to be innocent and playful like themselves, and he went round two sides of the building to the apartment furthest from ours, to call on Mr. Gubbins: the one person among our neighbors who belonged to the same unhappy race as my mother, who feared cats.

The abominable genius of Pounce not only led him to this victim but indicated to him the moments when he was alone and most vulnerable. The poor man suffered from the fear of cats in an even more intense form than my mother. When he saw a cat he became paralyzed. Pounce used to visit him when he was having a bath. Mr. Gubbins was not favored by nature. He was an industrialist who looked like a Communist cartoonist’s victim of a wicked capitalist: a tall and flabby man, with pouches under his pale eyes and drooping cheeks and chins and paunch, and the unpleasant peculiarity that his wispy mustache and strands of hair combed across his bald scalp were bright gold like the yolk of an egg. When Pounce dropped into his bathroom and sat down on his haunches and looked at Mr. Gubbins the poor man’s deplorable and pendulous nakedness was then congealed. He could not get to his bath towel, to his bell, to his door, he could only utter loud wordless groans for help. If his door was locked, he had to stay where he was until his manservant crawled out on the cornice and released him. And Pounce had always left before the manservant arrived.

Categories: Cats, Writing