This week I handed in my manuscript Fauverie to my editor at Seren. I will still add a few poems and do more work on it before it's published in autumn 2014, but the bulk of the book is there. The title Fauverie comes from the name of the carnivore house in the Jardin des Plantes. For me the word conjures both a big-cat house and a 'fauve' wild beast painting, a habitat of primal colour and encagement.
Like my second collection The Zoo Father, the central character is my father, but in this follow-up volume, the city of Paris is also centre stage, as is the zoo at its heart. I discovered my estranged father was enclosed in his own fauverie, because in the last years of his life he was bound to an oxygen concentrator machine in a tiny cluttered room, about ten minutes' walk from the zoo, and was much too frail to go out.
When I stay in Paris I'm drawn back to the Fauverie. I try not to go, because it is an obsession, but I rent a room within walking distance, and this August I was so close that I could walk along the Seine, through the outdoor sculpture gardens, and be there in ten minutes! Even after closing-time – 'la fermeture' – I would linger in the outdoor park and glance over the road to the art deco semi-circular building and think of the great cats in their night cages, locked in at 6pm for 'security'. Whether for our security in case they escape, or theirs, since they are endangered species, I was never sure. It reminded me of when I lived with my grandmother in Wales from the age of seven to fourteen, how she used to make me go to bed at 6pm, and I'd stand at the window looking out at much younger kids still playing in the fields.
Before closing-time, there is feeding-time - l'heure du repas - which is a spectacle. In fact, to see the cats active it's best to observe them in their outdoor quarters about half an hour before 'la rentrée', when they become restless and impatient for food, then to go inside and watch as the keepers thrust their meals through. At this point they are separated, to avoid conflict, and they sleep alone, apart from the caracal pair.
The star of the show is Aramis the black jaguar (a temporary resident), and when he pounces through his hatch, and it's banged down behind him, there's always a cheer, as he thuds onto the lower floor on his stocky powerful legs. Leila the elderly and solitary North China leopard is next door, and she puts on quite a performance, desperately scrabbling at her grille for her rabbit. There are two other North China leopards, Tao and Bao-bao, but she won't tolerate their company. I took these pics with my iPhone as part of my note-making.