Cats – it has been well said – will be cats, and there seems nothing to be done about it.

Wodehouse, Company for Henry 1967

“Leafing through an Encyclopedia –this time the French Larousse – I stumbled upon strange things.” This I wrote in my notebook. I was looking for the precise meaning of the term passé défini, this in connection with a passage of Roland Barthes about the préterite – another such brain teaser.

Serendipity it is called – to find something that one does not seek and then bring this either deliberately or unintentionally in conjunction with what you were looking for.

In this case the strange thing turned out to be a lemma on cinema in which the so-called plan Américain is explained. Never heard of that notion before. It concerns the shot of a person, framing him just above the head and at the bottom mi-cuisse – so mid-thigh, which in a Western focuses the eye on the gun of the hero. And of course on his second gun.

Of this Américain frame as depicted in the encyclopaedia I wanted in my turn to take a picture which I would use as an illustration in a piece on Barthes’ préterite. In the encyclopaedia John Waye takes the honours, with that American frame just above his hat while indeed shooting him right through the thigh.




I never made it to that Barthes piece, but this is why it all had to end up in this small series on Catalogy.

At the moment when I pressed the button of the camera, a – methinks – sweet little cat shot out off my left little shed. The creature scared me shitless for a sec, then lingered at the gate of the courtyard and disappeared. The recording of John Wayne was already done, so the shock had no subsequent effects on that.

A practical form of double serendipity, you might say. I not only stumbled on John Wayne, but is also on a cat. Later on you will see how everything came to be connected with everything else. Wayne’s gun and my cat.

Wit a rather meaningless Psssst did I chase the animal out of the courtyard, afraid as I was that I might lock it in once it would decide to hide again in that shed. Already two days earlier I had seen the skinny creature in an equally volatile mood. It shot across the little road in front of the house of my deceased neighbour Vergnes, into his unkept bushes. Skittish is the word.

The animal had to be a female. The frailty, but also the posture and a lack in her anxious attitude of male airs suggested this.

So I put some milk ready at the gate. The saucer – a stone support for a little flowerpot – went empty without me having seen her. The next day two saucers stood there, this time in the quiet garden shed which I would leave open from now on, filled with cats’ dry food and now real cats’ milk. What can one do?

Later I would write: “This sweetheart of a cat is still a problem. What if I temporarily leave? Or in November, when I leave for good? But what can I do – she is dehydrated and starving.”

Meanwhile, she got a name: Shandy Grisaille. ‘Shandy’ came from my girlfriend, who probably had Tristram in mind. However, her fur is gray and certainly not ruddy, not like ‘ginger’ as in the shandy drink. Grisaille seemed like a beautiful and appropriate name, especially as the name for a loved one. For in those few days I got madly in love with her.

Making a portrait was not possible at first. Whenever I had my device ready and came near her she left. Starved as she is, she remains skittish and is waiting to go to the saucers until I’m gone.

I think I now know where she bivouacs: In a little barn of the Parisians who have not come here for months. I saw her slip away this morning, when I raced my bike along the little road down our High Rock. So that sleepover in my shed had been for once. Her hotel is out there, she takes food in my restaurant.

Yet we have become friends since a few days. That much praised love which goes through the stomach – what else! After her dinner and sometimes in between snacks, she comes to me, obviously enjoying my cuddling. Here she is. Hope you guessed my name:




It even goes so far that she does not realize that the courtyard and préaut might constitute her domain, but not my home. That difference she does not understand. And when a cat does not understand a difference, that’s it!

Just like she first occupied the shed, she now wants to invade the house through the front door – as if it has always already been hers. I beg to disagree. She is a welcome stranger, but I do not welcome a genuine incursion into my private territory. So, now the door must stay closed all day, high summer or not.




She lies down once more, visibly at ease so it seems. Then, of a sudden, she has disappeared for a day from the yard. I fear the worst – a farmer’s gun, the road down below high La Roche…

From then on she makes a quick neighbour call to consume her food and drink. After two days my friend who comes along occasionally with her car, informs me that she saw a kitten at the entrance of the hamlet. Just visibly sliding – according to her that is – into a crack under the shed of the Parisian neighbours.

Wishful thinking, I guess.

We go out to the river below Sauzelles, for a picnic and for a game of chess. So many troubles there are in the head, I have to get out of myself. My friend Ton with his lung cancer in Amsterdam. Me and myself in not really good shape. Sleep deprivation. The troubles of life – and now we also have to take care of one whole cat added to the ménage.

Sierksma, La Roche June 2017


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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