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This is the morning light on a dewy a spider web in my front yard.

August: I wish we could borrow a few days from July, a few from September, and make August 40 days long. That would give me 40 of the best early mornings of the year.

Every morning, for 40 days, I’d wake  up before sunrise, and lie in bed listening to the birds try to out-sing the cicadas (a warning that the coming day will be hot, very very hot).

I’d remember to do that quantum-field morning meditation where I create my day by telling myself that I’m going to live today in peace, productivity, and perseverance.

Then I’d get out of bed, put on a  Summer dress, step into my sneakers, go downstairs and put the tea kettle on the stove. then I’d feed the cats, while the water  boils.

I’d put a drop of vanilla extract into my tea, with a big dollop of honey, and I’d head out doors to breathe the freshest air of the day . I’d  watch the sun rise, lighting up a flower bed here and there, illuminating the woods behind my house. I’d  put off thinking about my To Do List until all the night shadows still hanging around the corners of the yard had vanishished into thin air.

Your Comments last week were fantastic! Thank you for so many great tea names! All of them sound exactly like the kind of tea I would be glad to take with me in a Go Cup on every August morning.

I love the suggestion of having a Four Season choice of tea — after all, does anyone in her right mind drink a big duskyLapsang Suchong in the Summer? A dainty little Earl Grey in February?

So many good tea ideas to consider! Thank you so much for giving me so much to ponder (I need a cup of tea).

P. S. And yes, Barbara, I did sew that embroidered picture of me and my cats: the original is hanging in my downstairs powder room:

You know, in Winter, this powder room gets the most beautiful afternoon light. A flood of sunshine comes in through the window just out of view (to the side of the sink) like it’s the portal to some kind Bathroom Henge. And, as I live in a drafty, 100-year old house, this specially solar-powered powder room becomes the most snug room in the house around 3 o’clock every Winter afternoon. There are times when I’ve sat in here, with my afternoon cup of tea and a good book, soaking up some rare sun beams on a cold Winter day.

Good thing I haven’t asked you to come up with names for Drinking in the Downstairs Bathroom Tea. I’d hate to think what you’d come up with.

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I don’t mind that Elizabeth Gilbert is a better writer than I am. I don’t mind that’s she’s blonder, cuter, smarter, and has Julia Roberts playing her in the movie that has been made from her mega-bestseller memoir. Really, I don’t.

But when  The Republic of Tea came out with an Eat, Pray, Love tea, that’s when I said to myself, Now wait just a damn minute.

If you’ve read my book, then  you might have noticed that

1. There’s a lot of cats in it.

2. There’s also a lot of tea in it.

3. There’s even cats and tea in it.

4. See: August chapter, page 126:

I love tea. I love its place in my life, the thoughtful, calm, creative, alone, place where I sit with myself and a good book, a fat cat, a comfy chair, and my favorite cup. I love its place in all other tea drinkers’ lives, which is also its place in literature, culture, and friendship. And I want my own brand of tea, damn it.

And I really really really want to design the box that it will come in. Six sides, all illustrated with a scene of tea heaven — that  clean, well-lit place that soothes the soul. I have it all planned out in my head, and it’s gorgeous: it will be the best box of tea the Earth has ever seen.

But, if any writer had to beat me at my own tea dreams, I’m glad it’s Elizabeth Gilbert, so I got on line and ordered two tins of Eat, Pray, Love tea (available only on line for a limited time, at www.republicoftea.com).

I got my tins yesterday and I had a cup: it’s a Blood Orange Cinnamon Black Tea, very aromatic and spicy, full of familiar and foreign flavors that are elusive yet comforting. It’s a perfect tea for an afternoon voyage to a new mental landscape. And I want to offer my lovely readers the chance to win a tin!

But there’s a catch: I need your help. I don’t have a name for my tea. And I know that a lot of you are pretty spiffy tea drinkers yourselves and much more clever than I am, so here’s the deal: send me your dream tea name, in the Comments section below, and the winning name’s author will receive a tin of Eat,Pray,Love tea (50 tea bags) from me, with a specially-hand made card of thanks (and your name on my tea box). Because mark my words, if the universe works the way Oprah says it does, then I will get my own tea one day.

(My souvenir Buckingham Palace 1994 tea mug not included in contest prize)

Keep in mind that my tea will be:

Black. That means Indian and/or African tea. I do not care for green tea, not that I judge people who like green tea or that I’m judging green tea (which I really am) but I prefer the color, body, taste, and ooomph of black tea.

I want some Madagascar vanilla flavor in my tea. Vanilla is my favorite flavor in the world, and Madagascar is my favorite country name in the world. And I’m very fond of the Madagascar Sun Set Moth.

I am against putting milk in tea.

I like the way tea tastes in a paper cup.

NO PUNS. God, I hate puns.

Deadline for your tea suggestions will be next Friday, August 13, when coincidently, the movie Eat, Pray, Love opens.

Drink. Think. Write to me.

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August is my favorite month of the year: lush, steamy, poignant. It’s also my favorite chapter — because it’s the chapter where I let my Cat Lady self  have free range. In Pawsylvania, as it turns out.

(For those of you reading along , turn to page 124 in When Wanderers Cease to Roam; but if you’re like me and can’t be bothered to put down your cup of tea to go dig up some book you forgot about a long time ago, don’t worry. There won’t be a quiz at the end of this post.)

When people say that my book has a lot of cats in it I have to laugh. Believe me, I held back on the cats big time; in my opinion, I show great restraint in the cat department: I went through every chapter and edited out pages of cat stuff. What’s left is the bare bones of my cat-centric pea brain…except for the August chapter. In August, I decided to fess up about the micro-nation that I inhabited, in the alley behind my apartment house, with my cats Woody and Louie.

Louie:

Woody:

Micro-nations  are actual political units, inventions (usually crack pot in nature) of sovereignty defined by the United Nations as:

small, self-declared state-like entities existing in real or imagined space which do not meet any international criteria for statehood.

I fell in love with the idea of micro-nations because I believe that we all, each of us, live in micro-nations of our own creating, whether it’s made from a family, a church group, a cause, a secret longing, an especially intense inner life, a sport, a hobby, a crush, a  joyous desire to carve a personal niche in the vast indifference of time. My particular micro-nation happens to have existed one memorable Summer, and then it was gone.

It was August 1995, and me and my 15-year old cat Woody had been joined the previous Fall and Winter by a stray cat I called Louie. Of course I’d had him neutered and vaccinated, but I could not turn Louie into a house cat: I had to let him out every night and dayor else he’d tear up my apartment and howl as if I were skinning him alive. That’s how I got into the habit of taking my first cup of tea of the day outside into the back alley — I was out there to check up on Louie. And then Woody started coming along to keep me company.

So we’d by out there, in the alley, every morning at dawn (my favorite time of the August day), in the dim light and shadows and bright freshness, before the village woke up and before the heat of the day. It was tranquil, noiseless, cool, private, and safe. I was reading MFK Fisher for the first  time, so as I’d sit in the alley sipping my tea (sweet, black, with a drop of vanilla extract) I’d also be lost in Ms. Fisher’s world (France, between the wars; tangerines and doomed love). No wonder I can never re-read her books with anything close to the same sensory thrill; I miss the scent of asphalt and dew, the landscape of silence and mystery from being in the alley at sunrise with my cats.

That was my Pawsylvania, that back alley. Or, more exactly, Pawsylvania was a time  (not a place) when there was no one else in my world except me and two doofus cats (each nosing around on their own adventures  — usually in the inexplicable patch of corn that someone grew at the end of the alley that one Summer — but never straying too far from my company) and my own thoughts (some borrowed from MFK Fisher, some made up of my own dread and hopes. Nothing I dreaded was as bad as I thought it would be, and everything I hoped for turned out much better than I’d imagined. The usual story, in other words.).

For fun, and page count, I elaborated (in my book) on my idea of Pawslyvania; made a passport, issued stamps and visas like any other self-respecting micro-nation. But I hope that didn’t obscure my point. That there’s a Pawsylvania in everyone’s back alley, a realm of time to which only you hold the citizenship, passport, and reality.

For comparison, here’s Pawsylvania in Winter (that’s Woody in the lower left corner):

August: it’s its own micro-nation. Catch it while you can.

(This post is dedicated to August. You know who you are.)

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There’s a corner of our backyard that I don’t let Top Cat mow. Now that’s it’s the middle of July the growth is crazy — shoulder-high in places. I call this wildness  “The Meadow”.

Today I want to talk about The Meadow, and its bumper crop:

Can you see them? All three of them?

These cute furries are  what I call our Cash Crop.

Because I am an idiot. And I think this kind of cuteness in our own backyard makes us millionaires.

You know what else makes me feel rich?

1. When Kennedy airport (15 miles to the South of us) re-routes its flights (we never know why) the planes’ approach is right over our little village. We can sit in the backyard and read the tail fins on all the aircraft: Air France. El Al. JAL. That South American airline that LOVES the color teal. TEAL! Air Suisse! Fed Ex!

Each plane is a topic of association and I sit there and marvel that they can get those tin buckets to FLY.  Who needs expensive drugs when you have this for free?

2. On the first Tuesday of every month the Locust Valley bagpipe drill team practices at the Presbyterian church in the village. You can just walk in and take a seat in the pews and listen to the most amazing Scottish music for free. In fact, those guys (and ladies) are so happy to have visitors that they will make you feel like they are playing this all for you.  And then you catch sight  of the skinny Indian teenager who plays his heart out on those bagpipes you give in to the feeling that the human race is full of some of the most wondrous creatures on earth.

3. My local public library has two yards of P. G. Wodehouse books on its shelves. They’ve been there forever… that means that most of those books are vintage, with the original dust covers. For instance, today I got a 1958 edition of Cocktail Time, and a 1971 edition of Jeeves & The Tie That Binds — the one with the author photo of P. G. touching his toes at age 80).

A good public library is like having a rich uncle who gives you free rein in his great collection of books.

4. American birds.  It’s a fact that there are very few blue birds in the world and, in fact, there are none in Ye Olde World. We in the New World are lucky to have the bluest, smartest, spiffiest blue bird in the world: the Blue Jay.

Every time I see them (every day) I feel exorbitantly wealthy that I am able to feast my eyes on these astoundingly beautiful, entertaining, and jazzy smart-ass birds.

5. My husband (the Top Cat) prepares to tackle the down and dirtiness of Home Repair in a wealthy way: he scrounges through all his power tools and his jars of bits of hardware, he hoists his tool belt and his vast stock pile of hand tools ,and drags together all the machinery and leather accessories and snazzy metal accoutrements of his trade.

Then he goes into the kitchen and pours himself a glass of red wine. Then off he goes, to do manly things, wielding in one hand a lethal apparatus of modern technology that can drill/sand/saw through steel/concrete/slate;   and in the other hand is alcohol.

This makes me feel rich because Top Cat’s life insurance policy covers Death By Stupid Stuff That Happens With Power Tools and I’m the only beneficiary!

So, what’s making you feel rich today?

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Last week these two baby raccoons waddled into my backyard. This is how they walk, haunch to haunch, like they were tied up for a three legged race. They aren’t fast, baby raccoons — here they are staggering towards  the bowl of cat food that I was able to punt before them.

And here they are, a little while later, eating some canned cat food off a tea cup saucer. They might not look it in this photo, but these guys were SMALL, like the size of kittens. And noisy: they clicked, and coo’ed, cackled and chirped the whole time they were stuffing their mouths full of Friskies. And they are very messy.  Look:

This is them, two days later, when I shoved another little plate of food at them. Yes, that’s Sparky (the more golden-colored one) going in feet-first. That’s Jeff (the smaller, more fiesty one) trying to get in the scrum on the right. What a mess they make. They are PIGS.

they’ve been gone now, for a week, but Yeah, I’m GLAD that I haven’t seen them in a week. Right! Who needs this kind of slop in the yard? Huh? No sir, not me. Good riddance.

But, maybe, if you’re hungry, or lonely, or scared, will you come back, baby raccoons? Please?

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I was talking to my brother yesterday about a mutual acquaintance.

OK, I was enumerating to my brother some of the dire personality flaws of this mutual acquaintance.

My brother interrupted me and asked, “Is he really that bad? Because, you know, you can be very critical.”

Critical? Moi? I said, “I’m not critical! I just happen to be very observant!”

And, I should add, I’m just trying to be helpful.  In that same spirit of  assistance, I have a few recommendations for the betterment of the human race. Becausepeople, you have to stop annoying me, all of you, but youse in specific:

Readers. Stop being voracious. Because that’s what they all say and I’m dead tired of it. Be insatiable, be gluttonous, be the kind of reader who hates literary fiction as much as I do — and then go on book blogs and tell everyone how much you hated Atonement. Then you’ll be my friend forever.

Moody people. Stop being on an emotional roller coaster. When I first heard that term in 1980I thought, gee, that’s kind of clever: emotional roller coaster. Hits the metaphoric (or is it a simile?) nail on the head. But it’s been 20 years and every damn drama queen and her low of self esteem has been on the old loop-de-loop. Enough already.

Therapists who counsel hoarders. Stop asking if those pack rats are comfortable with the process at each step of the way. Just tell them that they are pigs and they have to clear that crap out whether they like it or not. We don’t wait until racists, kleptomaniacs, dipsomaniacs, or train spotters are comfortable with the demands that living as a productive member of  harmonious society are put upon them before we tell them to just cut it the hell out. Why should we molly coddle hoarders?

Asshole next door. Stop complaining that my cats make your dog bark. First of all, they aren’t my cats. They’re God’s. And second of all,  your dog is a Dalmatian. What did you expect?

Tightwads. Stop saying that your kids spend money like water. It only confuses me, as I have never seen anyone spend water — I  have no idea what that looks like: is it messy? Does it ruin cashmere? Or is it just wet? What is it? What is it?

(P.S. Please, somebody, but mostly the nit wits who say “spend money like water”, please tell me: what country in the world makes the H2O its legal tender?)

Ladies. Stop having sex with guys who wear a soul patch. If nobody would have sex with guys sporting that ridiculous little hairy patch under their bottom lip, those icky crumb-catchers would disappear overnight. I’m serious. I hate those things.

Actors. Stop turning to face the camera  while supposedly sitting in the driver’s seat of your car going 60 mph all the while never taking your eyes off your co-star riding shotgun over whose shoulder the scene is being shot. It’s unbelievable. It’s so fake it’s almost kabuki.

And while you’re at it, actors, especially TV actors, stop pretending to eat food in dinner scenes. I see you, fake chewing the forkfuls of food that the camera never catches you actually putting in your mouth. For god’s sake, risk a few calories for your audience’s sake; you can always puke it up later during your afternoon bulimia session.

Radio show hosts on NPR. Stop slurping your food or drink when you have a chef on, stop talking with your mouth full to show listeners that you are actually eating or drinking. Even if you were on TV, that would be disgusting. (and Scott Simon: Stop trying to speak French. Same reason.)

Melodramatic co-workers. Stop telling people that your arch enemy is tying to throw you under the bus. Because I am your arch enemy and I’d just as soon sprinkle some rat poison into the egg salad that I left in the staff refrigerator that I know you helped yourself to.

Graduates of self help programs. Stop telling people that you now feel good in your own skin. Because, unless you are that psychopath in Silence of the Lambs, no one feels good in anybody else’s skin except their own. For christ’s sake: do you even think before you speak??

People who laugh at their own jokes. Stop it. And stop saying that certain actions are so pointless it’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. You are so damn boring it’s not even funny.

Feel free to add your own amendments to this Memo to the World.

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My mother doesn’t want me to tell you this story. She thinks it makes me look kind of like a jerk, or at least un-ladylike. But I made a vow  and I had to keep it. So this week, Top Cat and I drove to Brooklyn, New York  (20 miles from our house on Long Island) in search of Betty Trippe’s grave in Green-wood Cemetery so I could spit on it.

I must say, if I hadn’t had to settle a score with the late Mrs. Juan Trippe, I would never had had the pleasure of discovering that Green-wood Cemetery is one of my favorite places in all of New York! So, thanks, Betty. You bitch.

Founded in 1838 as one of America’s first rural cemeteries, the Green-Wood Cemetery soon developed an international reputation for its magnificent beauty and became the fashionable place to be buried. By 1860, Green-Wood was attracting 500,000 visitors a year, rivaling Niagara Falls as the country’s greatest tourist attraction.

Today Green-Wood is 478 spectacular acres of hills, valleys, glacial ponds and paths, throughout which exists one of the largest outdoor collections of 19th- and 20th-century statuary and mausoleums. Four seasons of beauty from century-and-a-half-old trees offer a peaceful oasis to visitors, as well as its 560,000 permanent residents, including Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed, Charles Ebbets, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Horace Greeley, Civil War generals, baseball legends, politicians, artists, entertainers and inventors.

On September 27, 2006, Green-Wood was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior, which recognized its national significance in art, architecture, landscaping and history.

This is the hill near the site of the Battle of Long Island (1776), near the very edge of the cemetery overlooking a quiet back street in Brooklyn. You can’t see it very well in this photo, but in real life it pops out, way out there, on the horizon; let me zoon in on it for you:

Top Cat and I spent a wonderful hour moseying around the grounds, which we had all to ourselves on one of the finest Spring days we had this year (people don’t spend their leisure hours strolling around cemeteries like they used to).

At last we found the Trippe grave site, and I stood in front of Betty’s grave (center stone) and I said, “This is for all those lost dogs, all those broken-hearted servicemen!” and I spit on her grave. (When I told my mother what I’d done, she said, “Oh, Vivian, did you have to?” And when I told her that I was going to blog about it she said, “Oh, my, I don’t think anybody wants to read about that.”)

I’ll be honest, it really didn’t feel all that good; I’m not much of a spitter-in-public. But hey: you dis my boys of the ETO and their dogs and you’ll have me spewing  on you and your memory. So there.

Because there is a special bond between service men and women and their animal companions. See this picture, below, taken in Iraq:

See that little puppy in the background? Read about him here (courtesy of my friend, Melinda Penkava, and her excellent Town Dock (Oriental, NC) News website:

http://towndock.net/pet/mr-march-2010-ramadi

I feel like somebody should say: Amen.

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James Alexander Malloy, C Co., 175th Infantry, 29th Division.

This is the last photo ever taken of Pvt. Malloy; it is May 1944 and he is in Cornwall, England, finishing up his training with the 29th Division for the invasion of Europe. He will go in on Omaha Beach on D-Day + 1, in what is known as “the third wave”. He will fight in the hedgerows of Normandy towards the liberation of the German-occupied town of St. Lo (the hub where all the main roads from the deep-sea ports of Brittany and Normandy converge to form a highway straight to Paris) until June 16. On that day, when his regiment is engaged in fierce combat at a place called Hill 108, (known as Purple Heart Hill, for the capture of which the 175th will be awarded a Presidential Unit Citation), James Malloy will be killed by a German sniper with a shot to the heart. He will be interred along with 9, 387 other American servicemen in the Military Cemetery at Colleville-St. Laurent, the only Scottish soldier buried on that magnificently peaceful green bluff overlooking Omaha Beach.

I had gone to Omaha Beach to pay my respects to James Malloy at the request of his son, a Korea War vet who is in poor health (the son, Joseph Molloy, was 14 years old when his father died; he now lives on Long Island). Neither of us knew, at the time, that James Malloy was the only Scottish soldier buried in the American cemetery; in fact, Joseph knew very little about his father — not even his father’s birth date.

Once I began researching the life of James Malloy, I was able to find out rather a lot about his life and service. I tracked down the New York City orphanage where James was sent when he was five years old, I found the records of his discharge when he was sent back to his paternal grandparents in Scotland after six years at The Home, I found the old Army records that show how he waited for the Americans to enter the war before he joined the 29th Division in England, I tracked down his Army sergeant who remembered “Scottie” vividly, who also told me what he saw the day James Malloy was killed. I interviewed James’ best friend in the Division just two months before he died, a man who had never talked about the war to his own family and at whose funeral I spoke on behalf of the Molloy family to thank him for all he had done after the war to support the emigration of James Malloy’s widow and son to the US.

I wrote a brief summary of all this for the veterans’ association fo the 29th Division and it was published in their magazine last March (I have added a new “James Malloy Page” [above, see tabs] for those who are interested). I am now an associate member of The 29th Division Association and I’ve had the pleasure to meet many more WWII vets.

The 29th Division still has, to this day, strong connections to the people they liberated in Normandy. At every anniversary of D-Day, a contingent of 29ers goes to Omaha (sometimes in the company of US Presidents) and are joined by generations of French citizens who march in the streets of St. Lo, Vire, Vierville, and St. Laurent. One of those grateful French citizens comes all the way from the Breton peninsula to pay his respects, and two years ago he took his young family to Omaha to visit James Malloy’s grave:

James Malloy’s only son, Joseph Molloy, does not have children of his own. I used to worry that the memory of James Malloy, the only Scottish soldier buried on Omaha Beach, would disappear. But now that these French children have heard of him, and now that you, too, know his name, I hope that means that someone will be there for him in 2044, on the 100th anniversary of D-Day. And in 2144, 2244, 2344…

If you have a soldier you would like us to remember on Memorial Day, feel free to add his name in your Comments.

Have a happy weekend, everyone.

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The record for At First Not Succeeding And Trying, Trying Again (and Again) goes to a picture I tried to paint of an evening in Paris when Top Cat and I found ourselves in the middle of an impromptu dance party on the Pont des Arts.

Oh! It was such a wonderful memory! Of these Parisians whirling around the boards of the bridge where everyone gathers for picnics and rendez-vous in the dusk, the warmth of that early September evening like velvet at 9 o’clock when the Seine and the sky reflect the sunset and the lights of the city like shimmering bits of satin and silk…

I painted that sucker about a dozen times and could never get it right:

Sometimes it was the sky, sometimes it was the dancers, sometimes it was the sky line of Paris  that didn’t look right…

…sometimes it was the sky line and the dancers and the sky that didn’t look right.

This is how many times I started over, and over, and over, and over, trying to make those figures and that bridge and that view work before I had to throw it all away and start with a whole new idea:

I drew completely new figures and put them on a totally different plane and I slapped a moody wash of violets and blues over them and it worked just fine (Sorry, I don’t have a finished version to show you because I haven’t yet committed myself to keeping it in the book).

Somerset Maughm wrote his autobiography at the end of his career and I carry around an excerpt from it to re-read every now and then. He wrote this about how he arrived at his  understanding of his style:

I discovered my limitations and I aimed at what excellence I could within them. I knew that I had no lyrical quality [Me too! Me too!]. I had a small vocabulary. I had little gift for metaphor; the original and striking simile seldom occurred to me.

On the other hand, I had an acute power of observation, and it seemed to me that I could see a great many things that other people missed. I could put in clear terms what I saw. I had a logical sense and if no great feeling for the richness and strangeness of words, at all events I had a lively appreciation of their sound.

I knew I could never write as well as I could wish, but with pains I could arrive at writing as well as my natural deficits allowed.

In the end, Somerset Maughm summed up his style in these three words:

Lucidity.   Simplicity.   Euphony.

And then he went on to write The Moon and Sixpence, Of  Human Bondage, and one other famous book I can’t remember. (The Razor’s Edge?)

So it just goes to show that even with limitations, one can still strive for excellence; as long as one understands one’s abilities. I just have to figure out what my one or two abilities are.

 

 

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I collect old guide books because, well, I don’t read fiction so that doesn’t leave a whole lot else to read. Ha ha ha!

I happened to pick up a 2005 Frommer’s guide to Paris. I thumbed through it and became deep in thought…

I found myself really thinking, debating, hard, about whether or not I should buy this book.  FOR A DIME.

Take a look: the frontispiece photo ALONE is worth every penny of that dime:

While THIS picture (below) cost me about $4,000:

This is the Brasserie du Champ du Mars, a cafe near my old stomping grounds in the 7th arrondisement near the American University in Paris, also called The American Quarter because it’s where Rick Steves sends all his readers.

There I was, taking the exact same photo as Frommer’s!

My photo is from the 28-day road trip that Top Cat and took through France in 2005, the one I’m busy writing about and illustrating EVEN AS WE SPEAK. And when you see my painting of this cafe here (where Top Cat and I would partake of our morning tea and croissants) in That Damn France Book, I just want you to know that I’d already done my illustration before I had any idea that Frommer’s was READING MY MIND.

Next time I go to France, I’m wearing my tin foil hat.

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