Mr. Chloe flew to France. He might qualify as the world's most well-traveled pet rabbit from New York.
He is a French Lop. France is his homeland, so it is no surprise he speaks fluent French. After he memorized the security code to the building, he stayed out all hours cavorting with neighborhood cats, chatting up locals at brasseries, eating Camembert, wearing a scarf with matching beret, and stuffing himself with a baguette before eating his vegetables.
One November morning, Paris news stations reported on a lop-eared "lapin" that climbed aboard a river Seine dinner-boat cruise the night before. The reports said, "Dinner guests agreed with the revolutionary who called himself Rabbit Hood." He was assisted by an entourage of four cats, three ducks, two hens, and a partridge. They demanded of the chef to only serve parsley crepes and chocolate fondue. Guests applauded in agreement. Chloe denies being involved, and I don't speak French well enough to decipher every detail from France 2.
He has yet to explain the scuba gear I found in his trunk.
The painting on this card [pictured below,] created by my friend Carole, could no better capture Paris. She grew wildly attached to Chloe during our stay. And I could not resist asking her to create this image after she shared with me her postcard paintings of cats -- her favorite subject. She is not a sidewalk artist, but studio artist, sculptor, and seamstress. Above all, she has deep devotion to her pairs of cats and birds, and a green thumb for her Mediterranean-style terrace.
|By Carole Lebourgeois c2001|
For Chloe's caricature I imagined a still of him standing upright on a blanket of snow in the foreground while he painted La Tour Eiffel. “But it rarely snows in Paris,” Carole said. “That is okay, I’ll use it as a Christmas card,” I console in return.
A portrait in charcoal or pastels, or one professionally photographed, lacks the animation of a carefully drawn face colored in by an artist who loves the craft.
Commissioning a pet portrait was an extravagant expense I could not afford. But after a roller coaster ride -- where introspection became the driving force -- this year acted the catalyst to break with norms. Reflecting upon past events that either severed trust or celebrated life, one death that scored a new measure of loss, and success that forged peaks of triumph and hope, this picture would forever become my record of time.
Weeks before my Paris assignment, I attended a Sunday barbecue in Alphabet City and left the soiree early, heading West across lower Manhattan -- still a warm afternoon for post-Labor Day. Summer ends here sometime between this one weekend and early October -- it is anyone's guess -- so it is important to enjoy the encore of summer sunshine while it lasts.
|"Forty-two hours later, this neighborhood was turned to dust or --like a dream with someone we no longer touch awakened-- it faded away."|
This neighborhood plays out Jekyll & Hyde, where weekday pressures, built-up from monster dreams of few, fade to solitude and leisure at weekend.
Hudson River pleasure boats nosing against docks after their successful weekend cruise now substitute as stationary yards with pilots and guests anticipating one more fish-bake and beer-fest on deck. Skyscraper shadows are constant, but not dark enough to prevent gardens, or to shade sidewalk cafes from profit at the base of buildings far too tall to see from below. A crowded boardwalk follows the Hudson miles up the Westside for rollerbladers, bicyclists, and strollers taking advantage of one more warm afternoon.
That walk, unconscious of its significance in time, was what I remember.
Forty-two hours later, this neighborhood was turned to dust and – as if awakened from a dream with someone we no longer touch – it faded away.
Cold rain fell on 14 September.
Surreal as were the three days before, I spent that afternoon in search of someone I did not know. His wife was on maternity leave from IBM; I’d not met her either. An e-mail distributed among friends and acquaintances engaged me to post a photograph of Sal Pepe, the IBMer's husband, at strategic locations in Manhattan.
No one had heard from Sal since morning of the 11th.
Placement of missing-persons pictures in Manhattan turned commonplace for thousands of families. These picture-posters weren't tossed like litter, nor were they thought graffiti, but their presence transformed this city into a massive rescue board. Numbed and silenced, this city of millions cliqued like intimate friends. Every face was ours. Macy's store windows, bank offices, theaters, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, lamp posts, bus stop shelters, trees, fence posts, bike racks, construction signs, newspaper stands, marble and brick stepped in as make-shift easels of hope to sheets of paper, each describing personalities once here.
Details spared no privacy; the type of undergarment, a scar, a piercing, a tattoo, recalled only in the way a lover could from their last time.
What mattered from desperate pleas was that each man and woman be identified.
The majority of the missing were businessmen, some were rescuers, most of them younger than 40. No one nationality took lead. One woman's description was handwritten by her child.
Posters lined block after block of real estate, papering the walls of buildings from sidewalk level to as high up as one could reach tiptoed. Each picture boasted its own style, and each was carefully placed as not to crowd another. Each printed shrine held equal hope that its celebrity would emerge from the dust and stench, to one day talk about how he or she was thought lost.
I printed 35 posters of Sal to distribute across the city. As I placed each with Scotch-tape to a store window, or a metal post, bemused pedestrians watched for me to step away before reading what it described -- another face.
Sal wore glasses and an oval blue-lapis surrounded by crescent-moons on his wedding ring. Unlike his photograph surrounded by boldface type, he no longer had the salt-and-pepper colored beard. He always arrived early at the World Trade Center, usually at 7:30 a.m.
At the Armory, which had turned into a clearinghouse for some 3,000 missing, two reporters approached me as I attached pictures of Sal amid flowers, flickering candles and photographs of others.
"I can't tell you anything more," I said. "He worked on the 97th floor of Tower One. I'm doing this for his wife who can't leave home at the moment." She recently gave birth to Sal Jr.
I walked from midtown Manhattan down to the Lower East Side, then across to Union Square, and to Washington Square, and finally to Greenwich Village, where I would post the two remaining pictures at St. Vincent's hospital. I passed Engine Co. No. 14 with its fire-red garage doors shut and blocked knee-high by flowers for its entire team of missing fighters.
For the better part of these four hours on foot, I could only think of this man named Sal. I wondered whether he was a Mets or Yankees fan, or if he only liked football. I wondered if he was technical or creative or both, or if he even liked his job. I wondered how he enjoyed being a new father. I wondered if he saw the plane before it hit.
This description I held to my chest wouldn’t say. I fought back what television pictures burned into my mind. Two iron sandcastles dissipated by incinerating jet fuel.
Time blurred; I preferred the escape that I took with a friend on nightfall of the 11th, when we laid atop dew-sprayed grass, both trying to spy a falling star.
The last poster I taped to the side of a New Jersey television news van, outside of St. Vincent's, between those of a 34-year-old fireman and a 29-year-old trader from Cantor Fitzgerald. Every news van in the city was papered with missing-persons posters.
As memory rewound three days past, I could not resist fresh tears from skidding down my shirt. I couldn't imagine the loss his wife Cathy felt for someone she only recently wed. For her I hoped a miracle. To see this man emerge from the hospital -- perhaps bandaged around his head -- that would be fine. I'd probably hug him and help him home to her. I wanted to hear some Brooklyn sarcasm, "Who are you? What are you doing posting pictures of me...?" I wanted to hear he was okay. We were the same age.
These priceless photographs -- held time still -- between life and death.
You are here or you are not.
There is nothing to negotiate.
But this information alone is of little use while waiting for something better.
As I experimented with my digital camera at village Parc Ste. Cloud in Paris, the first snowflakes of winter scurried out of the sky. La Tour Eiffel to my East, erect and auburn against a sharp night, stood beacon to fame before wet clouds. I was waiting on a friend for a round of badminton -- a game I hadn't played in twenty years -- and assumed it would be easier to play than this camera. Failing at photos outdoors, I turned to chuckle at him when he described badminton as a tough sport.
He pulled into the gymnase parking lot, where the sign read, "Badminton Club." During the warm-up with three guys I joined, the mission was clear; they were serious. The racket face small, deceptively strong, proved a weapon of precision against the flimsy bird -- I missed two shots for every one hit. My lobs atop the net languished against their returns at raceway speed. Hardwood floors do not make for soft landings, and this body didn't bounce. My mates complimented the attempt to keep up with them for two hours. And one asked if my knee felt as painful as the bruise looked.
Whoever said the French live a sedentary lifestyle owes me a bottle of wine. Or maybe, it isn't important.
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