Reading and writing

Posted in Biographical, Cats at 20:26


I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been busy, working both at the office, and at home and at the university library on my Masters thesis. Above is a photo of the pile of books currently at the foot of my sofa – several others I’m also using are sprinkled judiciously throughout my apartment. This pile actually has 15 books in it, and there are another three around the corner, not quite in the picture. The fall semester of my Masters degree had three courses, two of which I’ve received grades for, and I’m happy to say it went very well, with grades (“notes” in French) of 16/20 and 17/20. In the humanities, it’s practically unheard of to get 20/20; a grade of 19/20 is extremely rare, 18/20 is quite rare, and 17/20 is, well, very good! When I was in the fourth year of my bachelor’s degree as an exchange student in Lyon, I had an average of 14/20, which was already very respectable for a non-French student, and good for a French student too. I honestly didn’t expect I’d do better than that in this Masters program, so it’s a very pleasant surprise, and has definitely motivated me to work even more carefully on my thesis.

Kanoko checks in on me from time to time, poking his head in the open French doors to remind me that there’s a life outside, and by the way, if I could refill his treat bowl with tuna, that would be mighty fine. Recently I decided to stop giving him pre-made wet cat food as treats, and instead buy canned fish, which is healthier. (He already eats good “carnivore” dry food, mainly Orijen and Acana.) As a result, I bought one can of every type of plain, non-seasoned fish at the supermarket and did a week-long taste test, one at a time. He disliked mackerel, found sardines only mildly acceptable, liked salmon, and, naturally, adored tuna. So now he gets tuna and salmon during the week, for his evening treat. (For info, cats shouldn’t be fed a tuna-only diet since it lacks taurine, which is essential to feline health. Kanoko’s dry food gives him everything he needs, and the fish is a perk.) It’s fun to watch him eat it because he’s very methodical: first he licks the fish dry, without eating any of the meat, then he saunters outside to enjoy some fresh air and watch birds. An hour or so later, he comes back inside to eat half the fish. Another hour later, he comes in to finish it off, and has a sip of water. Just a few days ago, he then began crouching over his empty treat bowl to meow at me weakly and sorrowfully, as if to say that without a refill of fish, he might faint. I call him a silly cat, he looks at me, nonplussed, and returns outside, his weakness suddenly gone.

Poisson chat d’avril

Posted in Cats at 17:17

Kanoko recharging

Kanoko recharges his retinal laser beams with this customized charging station (it also doubles as an ADSL modem).

More seriously, about a month ago he discovered that the modem gets nice and warm, so he decided to use it as a regular napping spot. His preferred napping spot is on my valet stand by the entry, after I’ve taken my coat and purse for the workday. Once I get back home, he’s always laying there with a bleary “just woke up” expression, which soon changes to his usual excited greeting. His second favorite spot is on the back of the couch, looking out the window to the patio. And his third spot, where he doesn’t stay more than an hour, is on top of the modem.

In less fishy news, I had my cérémonie d’accueil dans la nationalité française today. I’ll post about it tomorrow.

Wriggly cat

Posted in Cats at 13:46

Kanoko wriggling

It’s exceptionally warm for February in Nice today, at 15°C (about 60°F). I took advantage of it and cleaned my rain-dirtied shutters while Kanoko explored the terrace. At one point he started wriggling around, stopping occasionally, so I grabbed my camera to try and get a good shot of his furry stomach. He responded to my standing over him by wriggling even more, but silly human that I am, I kept trying to take photos anyway.

I ended up with a series of blurry furry Maine Coon wriggles. It’s fun to see which parts of him stay still and are in focus, and which others move into blurs. This one is my favorite, with his tongue darting out and the contrasts between his beautiful fur colors — he’s a brown mackerel tabby. There’s a detailed online guide to housecat coat colors and patterns here.

Bonne année 2011 !

Posted in Cats, Journal, La France at 19:28

Treats, and cat

Kanoko, as you’ve often seen, likes to stick his curious self into otherwise-still lifes. These are some of the treats I’ll be having to ring in the New Year, with egg and pine cone added for symbolism (the New Year being associated with rebirth). Pine cones are also neat for their math: their scales are arranged in Fibonacci number sequences, as are shell spirals and many other things. As for Kanoko, I’m pretty sure his mathematical basis is most closely related to chaos theory.

When not nerding out over snail shells and pine cones while drinking French wine, I’ve been playing my new digital piano (it’s as nice as I’d hoped) and writing a paper for one of my Masters courses. Once it and a second paper are finished, the first three-fourths of 2011 will be spent focused on my thesis. (As a reminder, I’m working on a Masters in comparative literature.) My initial research has been going well, in spite of, and even thanks to, a few setbacks, because they piqued my curiosity and incited me to look places I wouldn’t have otherwise. My advisor is great as well, and has recommended works I was unfamiliar with, that are a huge boon. It’s a good foundation, and working on these two smaller papers has helped develop ideas I’ll use in my thesis too, so I’m looking forward to the challenge. Yes, I am speaking in generalities on purpose — the topics involved are things that people often feel strongly about, whether they’ve analyzed them or not, so I prioritize my own peace of mind over attracting readers to my site with something more piquant.

That said, Kanoko is quite piquant. (In French, piquant can mean “pointy; sharp” in addition to “spicy; provocative; stimulating”.)

Happy New Year to everyone, all the best for 2011!

After the storm

Posted in Cats at 14:48

Sleepeh kitteh tummeh

An hour before I returned to the vet for the last time on Thursday, Nice was hit with a hail and rain storm; our first rainfall since the end of May. It lasted up until a few minutes after Grey’s passing, and hasn’t rained since. Kanoko was puzzled when I came home without Grey, pawing at the empty cat carrier and looking at it from every angle, then meowing at me. The next day, Kanoko was much worse; when I got home from work, he had strewn placemats and napkins around the apartment, and had rubbed his face raw on one side during the day. He’d never done any of that before. While I was home, he obsessively searched the apartment for hours, especially re-checking Grey’s favorite spots on the cat tree and kitchen bar. When he’d exhausted himself from all the walking, Kanoko sat and licked his fur for another hour, occasionally stopping to meow-wail — it was not a meow I’d ever heard before.

Saturday (yesterday) went better, although Kanoko still took time to search the apartment occasionally. He snuggled with me much more than usual, and finally, in the evening, relaxed enough to sprawl out as shown above. Today he’s mainly been sadly peeking into Grey’s spots, again; the most heart-breaking was when he even checked under the living room chairs, then sat listlessly, head drooped for several minutes, just staring at the floor.

I want to thank everyone who’s written — I’ve read all your comments and been touched by them. Like Kanoko, I too keep looking at Grey’s spots out of habit, since he always had his head toward me, the only exception being when he was watching birds outside. But when there were no pigeons at which to gaze, he’d sit on his white chair and meow or sigh happily when he saw me go by. I’d usually go out and give him an ear scritch.

I most miss his “discoveries”, which he’d always share. Slugs were the funniest. This winter was very wet, and my patio would often get the slimy visitors in evenings. One evening, I heard Grey give a long, insistent meow. I wondered if something were wrong, so checked on the cats from the patio door. Grey was sitting on his hind legs in the middle of the patio, Kanoko was napping on the composter, nothing looked amiss. “Meeeeeoooowww!!!!” Grey repeated. “What, dear?” I asked. “Maw!” Grey replied, keeping still in his spot. “What? What is it?” I asked him. He looked down, did a cute little dance on his front paws, and happily said “Meow, meowmeowmeow!” then looked up at me expectantly. I went out to look at what was fascinating him. “Moww!!!” he danced again on his front paws, looked down, said “meeeeeow!” and looked up to say a soft “maw”. I burst out laughing: the object of his curiosity was a little brown slug. “Yes dear, that’s called a slug,” I told him. It moved, ever so slightly. “Maaaaawwww!!!” he said to it, cocking his head to one side. “Yes dear, they’re very slow,” I chuckled, and patted his head. He purred and gave another soft “maw”.

His gentle spirit is very missed. I am, however, experiencing a different sort of grief than for Malo’s more traumatic passing (just after I’d moved in to my then-new apartment, he had escaped through a window that wouldn’t close properly and been hit by a car). Although Kanoko and I miss him very much, and wish that Grey had had more time in good health, remembering his trust and purring happiness while in my arms at the end makes it much, much easier to bear.

Watering cats and growing pumpkins

Posted in Cats, Gardening, Home improvement at 15:53

Two weeks ago, I removed the glass shower door in my bathroom. The surrounding floor and walls were starting to rot, and I knew the door blocked much of the airflow needed to dry out the rest of the shower properly, so I decided to just take it out myself and put in a shower curtain and rod. While taking out the door, I discovered that the previous owners hadn’t waterproofed any of the seams… which is mainly why things had been rotting. However, it did make it much easier to remove the door, since all I had to do was unscrew it from one wall and pull it out of the other (it hadn’t been bolted in on both sides). As a reminder, they hadn’t waterproofed the floor beneath the tile shower they installed either. Every time I discover something like this, I’m glad I bargained down the price on my place — I had been very hard-nosed about it since some of the electrical work they’d done was borderline dangerous, which I suspected meant the rest of their “improvements” might be similar. Score one for intuition.

Putting in a curtain really improved the airflow, along with letting in a good deal more light… and a certain water-loving Maine Coon mutt! The video above shows Kanoko playing with the falling water this morning. I could keep him out by shutting the bathroom door, but his never-ending delight brings a lot of joy into my day, and so some old hand towels have now become Kanoko’s shower towels, and he’s happy as pie with the arrangement. When we finish showering, he saunters out alongside me, purrs while being towelled, then contentedly preens while I get ready for the day.

I mentioned some surprise seeds all sprouting in the last post — my pumpkin patch is growing well. All four are still healthy, those two are the largest. And they’re still just young’uns!

How to Shower a Cat

Posted in Cats at 13:36

Grey after his shower

Today I gave Grey a shower! Being the sweet cat he is, he complained merely by wailing pitifully and trying to get away from the shower head, but he would still purr when I lathered him and petted him. He never tried to scratch me.

I’ve noticed a real difference in temperament in these two cats that I’ve raised on my own. With unbroken consistency — having a cat with someone who doesn’t understand the importance of consistency can ruin that — and only positive reinforcement (though I do occasionally yell when they do something dangerous), they’ve both become very happy, well-behaved and trusting cats. They’ve never reacted in fear to me. Kanoko has the bad habit of dashing around underfoot, but even when I accidentally step on or kick him (oh, the guilt when that happens!), he won’t claw at my legs like other cats have. He just flips his ears back and puts himself out of harm’s way. Minus a bit of fur that’s stuck under my feet sometimes…

Grey’s coat had never quite recovered from his month or so on the streets; it was stringy, greasy and dandruffy. Although he’s eaten excellent food (Acana and Orijen) ever since arriving, and has regular brushings, his fur didn’t show much improvement. Thus his shower today. Grey’s fur looked much better even when it was damp, as in this photo, and now that it’s dry, it’s definitely nicer!

Domesticated lions

Posted in Cats at 15:04

Here birdy birdy...
A year and a week ago (on 25 July 2008), Kanoko came into my life. His whiskers had been cut off by his abandoners, apparently a common tactic to further disorient cats. A year later, they’re now long and luxurious! Kanoko is a delight, very affectionate and creative, although he does love to play with (read: destroy) my plants and can be a bit too energetic when tackling his “big brother” Grey.

Grey is starting his fourth month with us, still a calm and very matter-of-fact cat. He loves nothing more than to be petted and cuddled, with a deep motorboat purr that starts as soon as he knows he’s going to get affection. He patiently allows Kanoko to pounce on his back and his tail, and gives a harmless but firm swat or two when he’s had enough. His favorite activity is stretching out on the terrace and napping in the filtered sunlight.


Posted in Cats at 11:57


The new cat is here, and already with Kanoko — I was given no choice in the matter, the three women who brought him let him out in my living room before I could say anything. It’s going well though, they’ve both got their ears perked forward when they watch each other, even when they hiss and growl. Grey needs antibiotics; I had to use a towel to hold him steady for his pill and he’s chosen that towel to nap on. One of the ladies brought Feliway, so perhaps that’s one reason they’re both at ease.

As I mentioned yesterday, Grey got pretty badly beaten up. I learned more of his story today: he’s originally from Le Cannet (just north of Cannes), and people there knew him and his owner. They saw his owner, a woman, put him out on the streets, and asked her what she was doing — “I don’t want him any more, I’m moving” was the answer. When he was found this Monday, he had a 42°C (108°F) fever and was at risk of death from blood poisoning. He was brought to the vet by a lady who rescues cats, checked for any and all diseases etc., and is fine apart from his infections (being treated with the antibiotics).

Grey is very thin and bony, and his fur is rough due to being on the streets for a while. Le Cannet residents said it’s been about a month or two, rather than the week we first thought. Despite having been abandoned and on the streets, Grey is indeed very gentle and affectionate. He’s already let me brush him and showed me his stomach for petting, and has a lovely deep purr. He’s shown no aggression whatsoever other than the occasional hiss at Kanoko, but even those are rare. I’m looking forward to seeing his transformation as he regains his health!

(As for his name, “Grey” may very well stick with him since he is indeed a striking grey, even his eyes. I had a list of other possible names, Grey not being among them! None of the others fit, though. Update: I’m going to stick with Grey, using “Earl Grey” as his full name. Not terribly original, but most French people recognize it better than just “Grey”!)

A second feline friend

Posted in Cats, Nice at 17:57

New bed

I’m back to write about adopting a second cat, since I learned quite a lot about animal adoption agencies other than regular refuges (animal shelters) in France. Two weeks ago I asked a few friends and colleagues whether they had or knew of any kittens available, and also asked my kind neighbor, “Francine” (name changed for privacy), the same lady who gave me Kanoko. By “kitten” I meant aged 3 months to one year, hoping for a cat near Kanoko’s age to be a companion for him. Kanoko is well-behaved and careful with his claws, but unlike Malo (my previous cat), who had been able to go outside and find other friends for playful cat tussles, Kanoko can’t. Francine checked with a friend who works for an adoption agency that rescues cats found on city streets and puts them with foster families until adoptive families can be found. I had no idea such associations existed before. If something like this would interest you, ask around since it works best by word of mouth. It’s cheaper than going to a refuge as well, since donations are “optional” (you should donate), and smaller amounts (40-100 euros) are fine. Refuges here ask for anywhere from 400 to 800 euros for a cat. (When donating, do be sure to take into account whether they’ve had to vaccinate, operate, etc.! Vaccinations for a cat cost about 50 euros, males are about 60-80 to operate, and females are 100-150.)

The association lady set an appointment to visit my apartment and meet Kanoko, since she wanted to be sure my place was cat-friendly and that any cat she found would be a good match for Kanoko’s personality. Without me saying a word about Kanoko, she noticed he is indeed very affectionate, gentle and intelligent, so she assured me she wouldn’t set me up with a hyperactive or aggressive cat. There was a black, seven-month-old female kitten available for Saturday, so I agreed.

However, it turned out that the black kitten’s foster family had a small girl, who had fallen in love with the kitten and didn’t want to be separated from it! The adoption lady said that there was a female calico kitten she could give me on Sunday, though. “Great, I love calico cats!” I said. Sunday she phoned to say that it had been given to someone else, but no worries, there was a black and white male she’d try and have that afternoon. Sure enough, it happened again; the black and white kitten was given to another person by a different member of the adoption agency.

The lady handling my case was so unnerved with the other agency members that she had Francine phone me to explain: like many adoption shelters and associations (in many countries), some members gave cats to the first willing person to come along, without checking up on them or notifying other members trying to place cats. Francine’s friend was, clearly, of the sort who prefers to go forward carefully, so that each cat is placed with trustworthy people who are the best fit for its personality. Francine said her friend would phone veterinarians the next morning to check for adoptable cats and call me once she had any leads.

Monday morning she phoned to say that she had indeed found a cat who needed a home, and that he was very sweet. There was a small catch — he was five years old. Now, if you know much at all about animal adoptions, you know that adult animals can be nearly impossible to place, and once abandoned, often spend the remainder of their lives in shelters, if not worse, when in reality they can be great pets since they’re out of their rambunctious stage and are happy to have a real home. So, knowing he was a gentle cat, I agreed. This was when I was very happy to have a face-to-face relationship with the person in question, since it made all the difference: had I not trusted the adoption lady’s judgment, I would have feared the older male be more aggressive and take over Kanoko’s place.

The adoption lady continued the poor cat’s story: last week he’d been put out on the street by his previous owner, “since she was moving” (quoting her excuse). He’d been fixed and had spent his life as a single apartment cat, so he had no idea how to defend himself against other street cats, and promptly got beaten up by them. Since he’d also been vaccinated and ID’d, when he was found by an agency member who rushed him to the vet, they were able to contact the previous owner and get the cat’s back story. The previous owner confirmed she was abandoning him, and hung up. (I’m pretty sure her heartlessness goes without saying.)

Apparently he’s a beautiful semi-longhair, light blue (grey) tabby who charmed the vet and his rescuer with his gentleness, despite being in rough shape. (Cats are not usually gentle when injured.) He’s been under observation since Monday, and will come to join Kanoko and me tomorrow (Wednesday) morning. I’ll have to give him antibiotics for the first week he’s with us. He probably has a known name already, since he was registered, so I’m waiting to see what it is before deciding whether to rename him or not. It could go either way, since if he already has an identity that fits, it would be good to keep it, I think, but then again, the poor dear was abandoned cruelly by the person who gave him his name… it might be nice to have a new name to commemorate his “rebirth” into a new life. We’ll see tomorrow — I’ll also post photos here!