In Ocean Springs, Mississippi, the 38th annual Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival is taking place this weekend. It’s fun. I was there this morning with Harold and son John, taking in the sights, buying a hat. I managed to take a few pictures.
I was thinking about cats today. It’s hard to get away from them if you spend much time on Facebook. But the cats on Facebook are like the babies on Facebook. They represent a sort of generic charm and adorableness, rather than the unique qualities of a particular cat.
I have not been without a cat in the house since before I was three. A few months ago I lost Shadow, probably my last cat, seventeenth in an unbroken line of feline house pets, a small beloved animal with soft, dense black fur like seal fur and a host of horrible habits. I miss her sorely, but I can’t bring myself to replace her. It’s nice to be able to control the way the house smells.
Strangely, I don’t remember the cats of my childhood causing anyone the least amount of trouble. My mother must have taken care of all the cat grief. Okay, there was the time that Haile Selassie took a dump in one of my father’s shoes, and my father chased his furry posterior around and around the house until he got tired and lost the urge to kill. But that sort of thing hardly ever came to my attention. The cats were for petting, as far as we were concerned.
Every one of the seventeen cats was a unique personality. Even Pansy’s kittens. What happened to Pansy and her kittens was too sad to write about, so I’ll just slide over that and tell you about Richard the Chicken-Hearted. Richard came with the house we bought when we moved to Crystal Lake, Illinois, in 1947. He was supposed to be good for the mice, but when my mother put him in the basement he ran away from them.
Haile was our next cat after Richard. I chose him from a litter that was born to the cat next door. He was all black, silky and soft, and when he was grown to adult cathood his fur was long as an angora cat’s. A handsome creature. We took him with us when we moved to North Plainfield, New Jersey, where he escaped death many times. He was never fixed, so he would roam the neighborhood and get in fights with bigger and tougher cats. The vet bills were so high that my father tried to take him off on his income tax as a dependent.
“I don’t understand,” the IRS auditor said to my father. “Do you raise cats for a living?”
“No, he’s a member of the family,” my father said.
“I’m sorry, sir, you can’t deduct his medical expenses.”
Since Haile Selassie all the cats I’ve had have been rescues or volunteers. We found Persephone in a tree, out in the country. She was mewling so loudly that the neighbors thought she was a catbird. Someone or something had cut off her tail. She became our little child substitute until John was born, and then she had to take a back seat, which put her nose out of joint considerably.
Rex, who would become John’s cat, appeared at the top of our cellar stairs in Lambertville, having got over the joists from the row house next door in hopes of better food than his master was giving him. A young single fellow, our neighbor had the kitten inflicted on him by a girlfriend. When he moved he pretended to take Rex with him, but—surprise!—little Rex got loose and came to stay at our house.
It almost seems strange to me that no cat has come to my door begging to be let in or fed since the demise of Shadow. The neighbors’ cat sleeps on our porch, where she is perfectly welcome. But when we took off for the Southland for three weeks we left no cat behind to be taken care of, and when we returned the house still smelled good. So I’m conflicted. I’d like to have a cat to pet, but I’d like to be free to travel.
Don’t call me and tell me you have a kitten for me.
The main reason we went to New Orleans was to attend Bouchercon, the premier conference for mystery readers and writers in the USA. Since Harold was with me, though, what we mostly did in that astonishing city was to hang out in the streets and be tourists. It was hot. It was humid. Sometimes it rained. Here are a few pictures we took.Jackson Square, the heart of the French Quarter. The newspapers said that some group was planning to ambush the statue of Andrew Jackson and pull it down for some political reason or other. I would hate that. Whatever you think of Jackson’s treatment of the Cherokee, he did keep the British out of New Orleans. Anyway tearing down that statue would be disrespectful to the horse.
The French Quarter is full of charming alleyways and streets.
One of the things I like best about New Orleans is the shops, fusty, dignified, relics of a bygone age. We visited one where antique guns and collectible superhero figures were displayed in glass cases like fine jewelry.
Others had what I guess must be Mardi Gras wear displayed in the windows. Or Hallowe’en costumes.It rained off and on, but never the frog-stranglers we had experienced the last time we were in New Orleans, years ago, when the water rose to our ankles. This time it was good weather for walking around and seeing the sights.
A feature of city life these days is the mimes. I guess you call them mimes, although they don’t move around, but dress up in strange clothes and hold poses. Here’s one outside the Cabildo. I loved his hat, but his boots were truly remarkable.
Last week Harold and I traveled from New York to New Orleans on the fabled Southern Crescent, now called simply the Crescent by Amtrak. Wanting to lie flat down and sleep through the night, we engaged a roomette in one of the sleeping cars, an experience I haven’t had since I was seven. Come to find out this entitles passengers to first class treatment. From the time we arrived at Penn Station in New York to the time we got off in New Orleans we were treated like royalty.
First of all the lady behind the counter at the entrance to the Amtrak passenger lounge, upon glancing at our ticket, cheerfully told us we were in the wrong place. “You want the first class lounge. It’s on the other side of the waiting room, through the gold doors.” Gold doors! Yes!
The first class lounge receptionist told us to find seats and wait for the escort to take us to the train. Comfortable chairs! Free refreshments! The escort showed us right onto the train and steered us to our “room,” a cubicle with just enough space, taller than it was wide. A little table folded out between our seats with a chessboard on it. Sadly, we hadn’t brought chess pieces. Harold read, I knitted. The scenery in the East is not as inspiring as the scenery you can see from the western railroad trains, they say, but it was pleasant enough.
Robert, the porter for our car, a tall young man with amazing dreadlocks, stopped by to tell us he would be back and make up the beds when we were ready to go to sleep. After awhile he strolled through the car announcing the first call to dinner in a booming voice. A real dining car! Waitress Tanya was pleasant and charming. The food was tasty.
Robert made up the beds by flipping the seats around for the bottom berth, putting a three-inch mattress down, lowering the top berth from its place near the ceiling, and presenting us with blankets. Harold chivalrously took the top bunk and closed his curtains. I left mine open so as to experience night on the railroad. Lights from oncoming trains woke me sometimes but it was all good. At two in the morning the train stopped at Greensboro. (My iPhone told me it was two o’clock and we were in Greensboro.) I was charmed by the way the station looked, all empty, and took a picture.
And so it went. Robert called us to breakfast. I like being summoned to eat food. While we were eating he put the beds back into seating. The day passed in watching Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi go by the windows. We were late getting into New Orleans, but being on time wasn’t the point.
Was it like it used to be? Was it like the last trip I took with my mother and sister from Philadelphia to Bangor, in 1947? Was it like in the movies, Twentieth Century Limited, Some Like it Hot?
Not exactly. I remember our old roomette having more room. The old bathroom was separate, for one thing, whereas the potty in the current roomette is kind of an emergency convenience under a fold-down shelf which is used to step up into the upper berth, as is the shelf under the fold-down sink. It’s rather a climb. There is certainly not enough room in the roomette for Carole Lombard to throw a good tantrum, or enough room in the bunk for two, even if they were very thin, except maybe two small children sleeping foot-to-foot.
I recommend it, though, train travel, certainly over modern air travel. It may not be quite what it was, but what is? I thought it was great, the whole trip.