In the heyday of cat travel, any reasonably adventurous feline could simply saunter up the gangplank of a ferry bound for France, nap for a week in the cargo hold noshing on salty ship rats, then settle into a steamer trunk strapped to the top of a Buick with Paris license plates, et voilà, you were there.
It’s much harder now. By far the easiest way to get to Paris today is in the handbag of a wealthy pop musician or heiress traveling to the city for her or her boyfriend’s band’s tour of the Schengen Area. If you find you want to extend your stay, just pretend to snooze until the heiress goes out for pre-dinner apéritifs at 22:00, then hop out the hotel’s bathroom window (almost always kept open owing to the French obsession with fresh air), and scamper along the ledge until you find a horse chestnut tree or obélisque to climb down to your freedom.
Taxis are prohibitively expensive in Paris and, unless you speak the language, it’s next to impossible to let the driver know where you’re headed. Another option that might seem appealing at first sniff is Vélib, the city-wide bicycle sharing system. Each bike comes with a cat-sized basket at the front that may look like a fun ride, but you’re taking one of your lives into your paws. Drivers in Paris are aggressive, the cobblestone streets make for a bumpy ride, and, worst of all, your fur gets completely blown out.
The best way to explore the City of Light is via the Paris Métro. This underground network of rail lines is a marvel of urban engineering and artistry, with over 300 stations densely packed within the city limits. It’s also a great place to catch and eat mice. Only the chunkiest Maine Coon could not squeeze under the turnstiles or leap over them. The system is renowned for its ease of use — any animal can figure it out. Except dogs, of course.
What To Do
Us cats have access to nearly every attraction in the city. Museums, art galleries, grassy park fields, chimneys — anywhere humans have to pay to enter, or can’t get to at all — for us they’re free. But whatever you do, don’t visit a museum on the first Sunday of the month. They’re packed with people and extra security, making it more likely that you’ll be stepped on or spotted. If caught, you will be asked to leave, sternly.
Tails down, the most popular spot in Paris is the Louvre Museum, which has a seemingly infinite number of surfaces to nap on without being disturbed. It’s so big you could spend weeks clicking down its marble halls, clawing its vertical tapestries and climbing on its slippery sculptures. If you’re planning to mark your territory, don’t bother. Let’s just say every corner of the building has been “spoken for.”
A hidden highlight of the Louvre is the small room on the second floor of the Richelieu Wing that was sealed — except for a Siamese-sized ventilation hole — during a renovation in the 1950s and never re-opened. Today it’s a lovely private salon for cats with a passion for art history and high dust tolerance. On my last visit I had the good fortune of batting around a packet of glorious Louis XV catnip with Mister Mistoffelees, who retired there in the 1980s.
Another must-rub-up-against is the shrine to the cat-centric artist Théophile Steinlen at the Cimetière Saint-Vincent in Montmartre. If you’re walking there after dark, avoid the area around the Pigalle Métro station. It no longer smells of urine.
Where To Eat
I hate to state the obvious, but the food is way, way better in Paris. Not the cat food — that’s the same. Skip the canned stuff and try the local fare: plump smoked salmon from a fallen crêpe, scraps of jambon de Bayonne (it’s like French prosciutto, try it!) from a wailing child’s half-finished baguette, the messy face of a toddler slowly licking a salted-butter caramel ice cream cone.
French cats tend to eat several courses, so why not do the same? Start with an amuse-bouche scrounged from the sidewalks by Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of the city, where human tourists walk slowly while eating, leaving behind a surprisingly succulent spread. Next, head to the Seine to catch fresh carp or eel to go. Thirsty? Slurp the pungent runoff from the ice used to keep fish cool at one of the city’s many sidewalk fishmongers. For dessert, look for a butcher station at one of the outdoor fresh food markets, where you’re sure to find delicious bits of chicken liver and the other raw animal parts that Paris is famous for.
You may be shocked to learn that many Parisian restaurants allow us to wander around untouched. This laissez-faire attitude is what makes the city so attractive to so many cats, drawing us back generation after generation. Like most aspects of French culture, it is deeply rooted in traditions and yet still on display in contemporary life, at places such as Le Café D’Imagination in the 11th arrondissement, the Harry’s New York Bar of the 21st-century hipster expat-cat set. Trust me, it’s not as pretentious as it sounds. There are usually more than a few cute Persian Longhairs or virile Norwegian Forests around to keep it interesting, and plenty of throw rugs to shred. A couple plaintive meows will get you a saucer-full of cream, thick and warm, unpasteurized to perfection. And remember: the tip is always included.