Saturday, January 03, 2009

Names of Cats

Eastside Road, Healdsburg, January 3, 2009
THE FRENCH NOVELIST Georges Perec always named his current cat Duchat, I read in Harry Mathews's touching "The Orchard," a garland of short paragraphs each recounting a recollection of Perec, written one a day for a number of weeks following Perec's untimely death. (It is available in the collection The Way Home: Selected Longer Prose [London: Atlas Press, 1999].)

David Bellos describes the inception of this custom:
Once they had settled into their new flat in the summer of 1966 and acquired their first cat, called Duchat (or Duchat-Labelle, or Madame Duchat née Trump'hai or Troomp-faye or Troump-faille)…
Georges Perec: A Life in Words (Boston: David R. Godine, 1993), p. 340
Five years later, in August 1971,
At Saint-Félix Perec renewed his acquaintance with Duchat, out of Duduche, by Ducat I, the first of Perec's feline friends…

I like cats; it's only because we travel so much, and would have to leave her to her own devices, that we don't have a current cat. We've been without a cat for ten years at least, since Blanche went to sleep for the last time underneath one of Lindsey's rosebushes. We'd had her almost twenty years; she and her brother Joe descended from sweet Sally, who I found among an abandoned litter in the Berkeley Hills. They were mostly outdoor cats: but if we ever stop traveling I will want an indoor cat. I agree with Guillaume Apollinaire:
Je souhaite dans ma maison:
Une femme ayant sa raison,
Un chat passant parmi les livres,
Des amis en toute saison
Sans lesquels je ne peux pas vivre.

[These things I want within my walls:
A woman who knows why she's there,
A cat who strolls among the books,
Friends on rainy days and fair,
Without them I can't live at all.]
—Bestiaire, ou, la parade d'Orphée (1911)

Giovanna's family has a new cat, and there was the question of naming him. I hadn't realized the full import of this, and when I saw the other day that Francesca was now grinning elk my first thought, having bought elk liver to cook while visiting them in Portland, that grinning was some new kitchen technique. I wrote her that I myself had never gran elk, and she replied
I don't think I have ever gran an elk before either... grinning elk is just the name my family has given me instead of naming the cat Roaring Thunder. Grace is talkative moss, mom is baking reindeer, dad is roasting oyster, and simon is cartwheeling rabbit.
So you see where cat-naming can get you (we won't even consider cat baptizing). Anyhow I'm glad the cat evaded Roaring Thunder: somehow the name seems more appropriate to a Kern County family. I'm not sure about any of these names, really, though Grace's and Simon's are apt.
There are other things to say about cats, but I'll leave you with just three words: Carl Van Vechten.

Oh. And an ultimate Duchat clawed poor Perec a few days before he died (though not of the scratches); just as the composer Robert Erickson succumbed, after years with a debilitating disease, apparently to consequences of treatment for a serious scratch from his cat, whose name I can't recall at the moment…

1 comment:

Charles Shere said...

But just now, nearly five years later, December 4, 2013, Erickson's cat's name suddenly comes to mind : Trouble. How could I have forgotten?