Out for a walk along the Left Bank in Paris…
hen Rodolphe Salis
opened his Parisian night club on November 18, 1881, at 84 Boulevard Rochechouart, he never dreamed it would become best known for a poster Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen
created as a promotion fifteen years later.
Or that a new generation of black cats would admire the artwork during a walk along the Seine in the 21st Century.
Among all the images of black cats, popular as pets and fabled in stories, it’s anyone’s guess why Steinlen’s image has endured for so long. Its wording in French, the poster is at least as popular in America where it’s a foreign language, considered an indulgence of elites these days.
My guess is that few people who admire the tall, thin feline with an elongated neck know it was ad copy for a night club that closed when its owner, Salis, died in 1897.
Second guess — if you love the original Chat Noir
poster, you probably don’t care where it came from or how it got here. You just love Steinlen’s creation.
Chat Noir’s Newest Generation
Cat lovers in the internet age, where images, stories and videos are shared like viruses without the downside, have been conditioned to expect anything from their cats: telepathy, teleportation, the suspension of gravity.
So, when I wrote Travels with George: Paris, A Cat’s Eye Adventure, I didn’t expect anyone to blink when the plot included cats traveling to Paris by hiding out in their human hosts’ suitcase.
In fact, no one did. Readers readily accepted the idea and, assuming the story was true, expressed concern about the stress George and Billy must have endured while flying.
Note: I made it all up. No cat I’ve ever known about has been smuggled into Paris or anywhere else, hiding inside a suitcase.
That plot twist was the biggest hurdle to leap over. After, it was a piece of cake getting readers to believe that the cats got escorted around Paris, including through the Louvre (!), on leashes.
Some imaginary acrobatics had to happen because I wrote from George’s (the cat’s) point of view. A smart cat resists the prospect of being left behind with twice a day cat sitters, then leads his audience on a tour of Paris as only a cat can see it.
Writing about his listening to a tour guide, walking through sculpted gardens and enduring the Metro was fun. But I knew the key was to have great illustrations of the cats to supplement the story visually. I leaned on cat artist Deborah Julian
to be my coauthor, proofreading but more importantly creating more than a dozen full color illustrations.
As you can see, the cats did some serious adventuring in Paris. Here, they both get the first boat rides of their lives, with a queasy feeling, and the Eiffel Tower lifting skyward behind them.
The new generation of Chat Noir
arrived out of Deborah’s imagination when she read my chapter about George and Billy being walked on a quay along the Seine, then climbing the wide stairs up to the Left Bank where the they discovered the kiosk full of cat posters, including the famous one that still advertises Rodolphe Salis’s rowdy nightclub almost one-hundred and fifty years after it closed.