Pet Travel Thursday
NOTE: After you read this, be sure to see the Pet Travel Book Club entry at Something Wagging This Way Comes to learn more about pet travel and these books. VMB
Destinations: France, Italy, Spain, United States
Book(s): The Cat Who Went to Paris (1992); A Cat Abroad:The Further Adventures of Norton, The Cat Who Went to Paris and His Human (1994); and The Cat Who’ll Live Forever: The Final Adventures of Norton, the Perfect Cat, and His Imperfect Human (2002) by Peter Gethers.
By Pamela Douglas Webster
If you’ve dined in Paris, the scene is familiar.
At the next table sits a patron accompanied by his furry companion, contentedly waiting for a morsel. But wait. That’s not a dog. It’s a cat.
At least that’s the vision that greeted people dining beside Peter Gethers and his traveling cat, Norton.
Love at First Sight
Peter Gethers didn’t have time for a dog. Working as a publisher, scriptwriter, and novelist left little time to care for a canine.
And he hated cats. Or at least he thought he did. Until one day, his then-girlfriend placed a six week old, Scottish Fold kitten in the palm of his hand. And that’s how we meet Norton in The Cat Who Went to Paris.
In the first book of the trilogy, Gethers shares how he became smitten and then amazed by the savoir faire of this remarkable cat. Unwilling to leave Norton alone, he’d tuck the kitten into his pocket while running errands in Manhattan. Constant exposure to new places and things gave Norton confidence and a worldly air.
Weekend trips to Fire Island taught Gethers that Norton would follow him on foot. If Gethers had to go somewhere Norton couldn’t accompany him, he’d release the cat into some nearby bushes. When he returned to the spot, Gethers had only to call Norton who would immediately return to his side, as if saying, “What took you so long?”
The Cat Goes to Paris
Several cross-country trips with Norton teach Gethers how to keep his cat comfortable when traveling. He packs fewer shirts to make room for disposable cardboard litter boxes. He only takes Norton on a long flight if he knows they’ll be staying for at least a week. And he learns that the most cat-friendly hotel in Los Angeles is the Four Seasons.
So when filmmaker Roman Polanski asks Gethers to fly to Paris to collaborate on a script, Norton comes along.
Once there, Norton learns what pet-friendly really means as he is welcomed unquestioningly into every shop, hotel, and restaurant they visit. Everyone in Paris loves Norton. Except for Harrison Ford. But you’ll have to read the book to learn why.
More Travels with Norton
The popular success of The Cat Who Went to Paris made a sequel inevitable. And as a travelogue, A Cat Abroad, most inspires the urge to travel—with or without a cat.
The book covers the year Gethers, his partner Janis, and Norton spent living in the Luberon region of Provence.
Don’t read it on an empty stomach. The detailed descriptions of artichoke tarts and truffle omelets are drool-inducing. And in French, even the cat food flavors sound appealing. Anyone hungry for a little Au Foie et Volaille (liver and poultry) or Délice de Colin (Delight of Hake)?
Descriptions of charming mountaintop villages where dogs and cats outnumber people, and where meals still take hours to eat instead of minutes, remind us that some pockets in the West continue to resist “progress” and that it’s a very good thing.
Of the three books, I read The Cat Who’ll Live Forever first. Yes, I knew it would be sad. But for me, it was the best of the trilogy.
Because of Peter Gethers work as a screenwriter and being the son of a Hollywood producer, his Norton stories are peppered with anecdotes about famous people: Marcello Mastroianni, Anthony Hopkins, Wolfgang Puck, and Lauren Bacall to name a few.
The name-dropping didn’t appeal to me much. But I’m a freak. I still can’t see the appeal of Dancing with the Stars fourteen seasons in (why anyone would watch mediocre dancers just because they know their name from some other endeavor is beyond me).
But when Gethers opened up with real emotion, I responded. I loved reading about the man who came to love a cat in ways he never expected. I was touched that Gethers was open to learning how Norton experienced the world and that he wanted to give his friend the most stimulating and best life possible. And I think Gethers admired his cat for the wisdom and grace with which he lived.
As Norton aged, Gethers reflected on ways the cat touched people that he never could. He asked himself if he was selfish for not adopting a friend for Norton, instead, preferring to be the sole focus of the cat’s attention (this from the man who bought two pieces of real estate to satisfy his cat’s love of a particular dog park and exploring a sleepy beach town). And he learned cat nursing.
Anyone who has ever loved an animal will relate to the anxiety that accompanies making end-of-life decisions for the creatures in our care. We find ourselves doing things we would have sworn we could not do. All for the love of a suffering animal.
It was fun accompanying Peter and Norton to Paris, exploring the Mediterranean, and vicariously dining in gourmet restaurants. I loved seeing how nonplussed Gethers was to find himself invisible at book signings because everyone wanted to meet Norton.
But I related most to Gethers when he dealt with grief. Norton comforted Gethers after his father’s death in the first book. And in the final book of the trilogy, Gethers said goodbye to Norton.
For me, Gethers’ honesty about his grief elevated the tales of Norton above a mere compilation of cute and clever anecdotes about a cat’s remarkable aplomb with international travel. And it goes to show that even people who can afford expensive, New York real estate and who hobnob with famous directors and actors are fully and devastatingly human when it comes to losing someone they love.
I’ve illustrated this post with photos from Flickr used under the Creative Commons license. Click on the picture to learn more about the photographer and the image. The book illustration at the top and book titles are links to allow you to buy them at Amazon. Although it won’t cost you any more, we will get a small commission to help cover its costs.