A Cat’s Tale Part Two

Part Two: Thwarted

Mr Beans

At Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, I found my luggage waiting for me and went to find Garbanzo. A blonde woman looked at my collect slip, made a telephone call, and told me to wait. Five or ten minutes later I was reunited with Garbanzo, who was alive and well in his box, and didn’t seem especially worse for the wear. I gave him some water but he wasn’t even all that thirsty. I then waltzed right through French customs, without even declaring him.

We were in France.

I made a call to Nick, my man in France, but there was no one home. I called Mark Lawn (God Game, Beauty Fool) in England and told him I was going to try and go directly to England on the Eurostar (train), which leaves from Gare du Nord and arrives at Waterloo. I would call him when I knew for sure, so he could meet me in London. I found out there was a train leaving in just over an hour, bought my ticket and a metro pass for Gare du Nord, and headed off.

My wheeler bag was incredibly heavy and it was no easy feet using the underground. I reached Gare du Nord and went to check in for the journey. I was not expecting any heavy security checks, nor did it occur to me that animals might be forbidden on the trains. After Mexico, however, I took the precaution of covering Garbanzo’s box with a shirt, a rather lame effort, because it was still palpably obvious that I was carrying something unusual. Sure enough, as I was showing my ticket, several female Eurostar people gathered around me and I knew I was sunk. Cats are not allowed on the Eurostar.

It was plainly hopeless to argue, and I made no more than a token effort. I could see the security up ahead and what looked like an X-ray machine, so even if I’d had the foresight to put Garbanzo’s box inside a bag, it seemed doubtful I would have made it. Even so, I felt intensely disappointed with myself for not foreseeing this. A young guy behind the desk suggested I take a bus to England, confident animals were allowed. Everybody was very friendly and apologetic, feeling bad for me, but it didn’t help.

I took a long metro trek to Gallieni, where Euro Lines is. I realized as I got there that my ex-partner and I had come here once and got lost, lugging even more baggage than I had now. It had been a nightmarish time. I went to a Euro Lines window and was told that no animals were allowed on the buses. Wasted trip. The ferry was my only possible remaining option.

By now I’d had enough for one day however, and decided to call it quits till the next day. I headed for St. Michel, Shakespeare & Co, the bookshop-library, run by the ancient wizard George, where I lived for a few weeks back in 1992/3. At least there I could take a break, find refuge, and gather my forces for the next step.

As I reached the bookshop they were just opening up (it was around noon), and the first thing I noticed was a black cat. The next thing was a blonde girl who seemed to be in charge. Although she spoke good French, it turned out she was English, and her name was Silvia (which is perhaps partly why George hired her, since Shakespeare & Co used to be called the Silvia Beach library, decades ago when he first took it over). Silvia told me the shop was pretty full, so I asked if I could at least leave my baggage and my cat there. She and another girl, Gemma, were curious about the cat, and Silvia said I could use the studio for a while, as the woman who lived there (a writer) was away for the day.

I left the heavy bag downstairs and Silvia showed me to the studio, a little self-contained place (desk, bed, kitchen, no toilet) with a view of Notre Dame. Silvia then went to check with George. I asked her to remind him about Matrix Warrior, which I sent him a few years back.

George and I got fairly close back when I lived here (so far as anyone gets close to George, which is not very), but he sees so many people in a single month that the odds of him remembering me were slim. I hoped he might recall the book at least. Silvia came back and said George remembered the book but didn’t recall where he put it. She repeated that the place was totally full and that there were even people sleeping up in George’s apartment, which seemed incredible to me (George is not one for intimacy). She added that they no longer liked to let people sleep on the floor, because it broke fire regulations, or some such, and they could get in trouble with the police. I believed her, since I had no reason not to.

I chatted with Silvia for a short while and she was friendly but cool. She left me in the studio (without a key) and I took Garbanzo out to a small park nearby so he could stretch his legs and see Paris. He was too disturbed by his strange surroundings to do much stretching, however, so I put him back in the box and headed back, passing the other black cat in the park. I left Garbanzo in the studio and headed off to find a vet to see if there was a way to do this legally. The first one I found was closed, the second away till the following day, and the third was due back at four that afternoon. I left Garbanzo’s paperwork there and went to try and find out about ferries. It proved impossible, since none of the numbers I called answered, and no travel agents had any info. I called Mark again and we discussed the idea of renting a car. I looked into it at my end and found it was absurdly expensive to pick up car in France and drop it off in UK, but that it was moot anyway, as they don’t rent to anyone who doesn’t have a personal credit card (I don’t).

I returned to the studio, ate some noodles and chatted with another of the Shakespeare moochers, a Philip K. Dick fan. At five, I went back to the vet’s and was told that the only way to take Garbanzo to England legally was to wait six months in France, following his rabies check (presumably because rabies can be dormant for that amount of time). So that was that. The legal route was forever closed to me. I had no choice but to find another one.

Plainly I was here in Paris for at least a night, so I started looking for a hotel. Checked out several in the area that were recommended to me, prices between 30 and 60 euro, but they were all full up. (I had about $300 left after buying my Eurostar ticket, which was refundable, but not immediately.) Silvia was gone for the day so I asked Gemma about staying in the shop, pointing out that the alternate might entail my sleeping on the street with a three-legged cat, and that George might be willing to stretch the rules this one time. Gemma told me George no longer really ran the place, spending most of his time sleeping, and that Silvia was now pretty much in charge. I was somewhat suspicious, hearing this, since Silvia had given the distinct  impression that it was George’s and not her decision.

As a last possibility, Gemma mentioned some old lady she knew who rented out rooms sometimes, and went to look for the number. I went to the studio to see Garbanzo, then lay down on the bed and fell asleep.  I woke up a couple of hours later, unsure how late it was. I was able to peer out a small window and see the bookshop was still open, so my guess was that it was around ten o’ clock (the shop always stayed up till around midnight before). I sat for a while. If the writer in residence came back, I was screwed, and might even end up on the street (though I could at least leave Garbanzo there). I read a while, waiting. The shop closed up, my hopes slowly increased. Every sound I heard below seemed to portend the arrival of the writer and my expulsion into a chilly cloud of misery. Finally, it was late enough to be fairly sure she wasn’t coming, so I dropped another valium and slept.

I slept all the way through to eleven the next morning. So much for an early start. I knocked on the door to the bookshop and went to use the toilet. When I got back I found I had locked myself out of the studio, Garbanzo still inside. Silvia wasn’t there, and no one had the key except George. Fortunately, George is an early riser and it was probably the best time to catch him awake. I went up and found him in his apartment. He was in a disheveled white shirt, his hair long and wild. He didn’t look any older than he did fifteen years ago, but then, he looked over a hundred back then. According to Silvia, George is 92. Rumor has it he took a hundred years off his age, however, to conceal the truth—that he made a pact with dark forces. I have personally confirmed the possible truth to these rumors, but this is not the place to go into that.

I tried to remind George who I was but there was no way to know if he recognized me, since he would never show it anyway. At first he thought I was looking for a place to stay, so I admitted that I already stayed last night in the studio. He said that was OK. Since I was a writer (i.e., a published one), he said I could stay there maybe a week! So much for Silvia. I told him I was actually on my way out, and just needed to get in for my cat. George laughed when he realized I was locked out. He didn’t remember my sending Matrix Warrior, and when I mentioned what Silvia said, he called her a pathological liar. Somebody sure is.

He gave me the key, I went down and opened the studio, then took my very last (US) copy of Matrix Warrior up and inscribed it for George. He wanted me to write something about how I wrote it at Shakespeare, or at least got the idea there; I told him there was no need to make anything up, that truth was far stranger. Instead I wrote thanking him for teaching me about sorcery.

I told George I hoped he’d still be there next time I came through, said goodbye, went down to the studio, and found the door all the way open and Garbanzo gone! I finally tracked him down in the bookshop, on the ground floor, facing off with the other black cat and about to get into a fight. I grabbed him, took him back to the studio and put him in his box, then tried to get the box inside a black shoulder bag I had brought for just this purpose. Mark gave me the bag years back because it resembled the one Neo uses (to hide guns in) in the first Matrix. I was just able to close the bag with the box inside it. It was a perfect fit.

I left Shakespeare and found a taxi, telling the driver I needed a train to Calais (where the ferries leave for Dover, UK). He took me to the wrong place, however, all the way back to Euro Lines, in what turned out to be a complete waste of time and money. I took the metro back to Gare du Nord, arriving at 12:45. There was a Eurostar leaving at 13:04 but I didn’t mess with that, instead bought a ticket for Calais on a regular train, leaving at 2:28, with one change en route. I bought some water and sat down at a café. A young handsome chap, Tom, half English and half-French, came up to talk to me. He was doing a survey on train station cafés for the franchise company, and he helped me pass the time. He was very curious about matrix warrior philosophy.

At the changeover station, I endured a hellish ordeal getting my baggage to the right platform,. As I got on the train I saw a lady with a dog, so I let Garbanzo out for a while. We arrived at Calais just after five and I took a taxi straight to the dock and bought a ticket on Sea France for the next ferry, leaving at 18:30. Things were looking and feeling good. Then, as I headed towards the check-in, my heart sank to my toes: an x-ray device! I was back to square one.

It was time once again to consider my options. I could either tell them about the cat and hope Garbanzo’s paperwork was good enough for them to let us through (even though I knew it wasn’t good enough to get him into UK at the other end). Or I could try and smuggle him on. I was leaning towards the latter option, but before deciding, I went and checked with the ticket lady.

She looked concerned and told me animals were not allowed on the ferry with foot passengers, only in vehicles. She warned me that if I got caught with my cat, she didn’t know what would happen but they might kill him! I thanked her and decided to take my chances.

I knew it was an impossibly long shot — but maybe the angels would blind the x-ray guy the moment Garbanzo passed through i, and he would fail to notice the animal stashed in my bag?! Right now only a miracle would do it.

I kept up my inner prayer as I checked through security, apparently without a care in the world. I was moving on the belief that if I could cast a spell by sheer will alone, it might cancel out the rules of physics and I could somehow accomplish the impossible. I didn’t. The security folk noticed and came to ask me if the animal was alive or dead. (It’s OK to bring dead animals over, I found out later.) I told them it was my cat and he was alive. They gently reprimanded me for not telling them about it, saying that the x-rays were not good for animals. I exaggerated my surprise and concern, and they reassured me. They were very friendly, and I gradually realized that they weren’t actually telling me I couldn’t take the cat on board, just that I should have told them about it.

For a short while, everything appeared to be going my way. I was careful not to hurry as I gathered my things and headed towards passport control. While I was having my passport checked, however, the security people discussed the cat incident and realized that something might not be right. The spell was broken. They came over and asked me to wait while they double-checked with Sea France that it was OK. I was sunk again. I sat down and continued praying. At least security were on my side!

Five minutes later, the biggest of the security guys came and told me that, apparently, it was not possible to travel on Sea France ferries with a cat, but that I could simply get a refund for my ticket (15 euro) and buy one with P & O, the other boat company, who he seemed sure did allow it. Incredibly, it seemed like I was going to get through! Then a guy from Sea France showed up and ruined everything. Trying to be helpful, he took my case in hand, looked over Garbanzo’s paperwork, then took it all to P & O with me in tow. I left Garbanzo and my baggage at the passport control and we went back into the ticket area.

The woman at P & O looked over the paperwork and told me it was no good, that the rabies tests needed to be six months ago, etc, etc. The Sea France guy had left by now, so I immediately decided to improvise. I told the lady it was OK, that I had thought this might happen and that someone was waiting outside to take the cat back if necessary. I asked for ticket anyway. She sold me one, and I headed straight back through security, telling them with a happy smile that it had worked out fine, adding a jovial gripe that the ticket was more expensive with P & O, then heading for my stuff. They waved me happily on.

There was a different, older guy at passport control, however. He took my passport but I could see he was not happy about something. He made some remark about the cat to another woman there, and I felt a dark vibe descending. The man let me through with all my stuff, but as soon as I passed I saw him head out, past security, and I knew, once again, that I was sunk.

I went and sat down and began to pray. What else could I do? A few minutes later, the huge security guard and a blonde lady from P & O showed up, standing ominously before me. Oh ye gods, what a dire and dreadful feeling!

The lady told me I could not take the cat on the ferry: either I had to leave him behind or forget about the ferry. I was now beyond any words, much less argument. It was all I could do not to wail and moan and break down and weep. (If I had thought it would have helped, I would have done it.) But nothing could help now. The only good side to all this was that everyone was being very friendly, sympathetic and understanding. It was not like I was a terrorist, after all, or even a drug smuggler. Just a guy with his cat.

The lady said I could take an hour to think about it. I wondered if I should accept this so they might leave me alone and forget about me and give me another chance to get on that boat. But I knew that was not going to happen. There was nothing left to think about, so I told her I needed to make a call. It was time to contact Mark and see if there was any hope left at all.

They told me to bring my stuff out, and I knew then that it was all over for the ferry.

As I passed the passport guy he avoided my eyes, so I said to him a bitter ‘Thank you.” He muttered something about it being his job, and customs at the other end, etc, etc. I told him, without emotion, “You have ruined my life.” It actually seemed true at that moment. The poor man just looked at the ground and continued to mumble.

The blonde P & O lady was so sympathetic to my cause she told me I could have Mark call me on their phone, which was entirely necessary as I only had 4 minutes left on my calling card. I left Garbanzo and my baggage near the ticket office and went to find a phone booth. By the time I called Mark, I was in a terrible state, though fortunately such complete and abject despair manifests in a numb resignation rather than hysteria: an odd, black freedom from concern. A man without hope is a man without fear, and all that.

I gave Mark the telephone number and he asked if I got his email and sounded pleased that I was already in Calais. He said he was already getting ready to rent a car and come to Calais to collect me, that it was all in the email. Hearing this, I almost wept. From complete, irrevocable blackness, a tiny sliver of light, slowly growing.

My time on the card ran out, so I went back to Garbanzo to await Mark’s call. A friendly blonde guy at P & O wanted to see the cat, so I opened the box and let Garbanzo walk around a bit. Seeing him limping along with his three legs, in that place, brought home the overwhelming reality of my predicament, and I started to cry. I didn’t care who saw it. Let them know. The security guards were able to see Garbanzo too, through the glass doors. Two English women came along and admired him, saying he had a “proud face.” I held him in my arms and cried some more. The full force of the wretched predicament hit me. What else was there to do but weep? In a strange way, it felt good. Another form of surrender.

After half an hour, Mark still hadn’t called, so the P & O lady let me use their phone to call him. It turned out he’d noted the number down wrong; he called back and we discussed the pros and cons of his coming. (All pros for me, needless to say, but a few cons for Mark.) We agreed there was no need to rent a car, since Mark had several at his disposal, and Mark mentioned how he loves driving at night, saying he might come right away. The blonde P & O lady had kindly booked me a room in Calais, at the Hotel Richelieu, and I gave the address and telephone number to Mark to call me in an hour, to tell me what he’d decided.

A taxi took me straight to the hotel. I checked in and showered, lay on the bed and waited. Mark called and said he wasn’t sure about coming right away. I said it definitely wasn’t a good idea to drive straight back that night, but that if he came now, he could get a room and we could get an early start the next day. He agreed this might work and decided to come right away. Since he’d be arriving late, he wouldn’t be able to get into the hotel unless I let him in. Since my room overlooked the hotel entrance, however, and with Garbanzo’s red blanket hanging over the terrace, it would be easy for Mark to throw coins and wake me up if need be. I would also arrange for a wake-up call around the time he should be arriving. We left it at that, and I lay on the bed and wrote notes for all that had happened, so as not to forget it. That done, I left Garbanzo in the room and went out to see Calais, winding up in a bar called “Mauvais Herb,” where I had a beer and a cigarette.

After I got back, Mark called again to say he was having car trouble. The petrol cap of the Polo wouldn’t come off so he couldn’t fill her up. He had a choice then, between taking the old VW camper van or the green BMW. I said definitely the BMW, so far as getting by customs etc. Mark agreed. “We’ll go Bavarian,” he said.

I changed my wake up call for 2 am, which gave Mark about four hours to get to Calais. Hope was now renewed. Thank God for Mark! A true warrior-traveler companion, the only one I had to call upon in this unbelievably trying time.

But then, one is all you need.


End of Part Two


3 thoughts on “A Cat’s Tale Part Two

  1. Pingback: A Cat’s Tale, Part One | Auticulture

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