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The Cat Lady of the East Village, New York
by Jilliana Ranicar-Breese

I was staying with the well established Penny Farthing and Bicycle Collector Pryor Dodge in his fascinating loft in Soho, Manhattan, for a couple of weeks in 1980.  I would come back in the late evening just as he would be going out. In New York I quickly learned that you made evening appointments at designated times and should never assume that if you were to meet someone at 8.00 pm that you would be with them for dinner. Oh no they would race off for another rendezvous at 9.00 and you would be left high and dry dining on your own!

Out of the blue Pryor asked me to find another place to hang out for a week before coming back to his museum loft for my final week. What to do and where to go? I began to ask my crazy colleagues in the collectables world for a bed!! A shipping collector, who worked in window display at Macy's, suggested his colleague Anna who lived in a flat in the East Village and who could do with an extra $30 a week.  I had previously rented a flat in Greenwich Village while the owner was abroad a few years earlier on Bleaker Street when I had come for a month and exhibited at Madison a Garden antiques show. Those were the days! I knew that the East Village had a drug scene and could be quite dangerous at night so I had never visited the area as I was not into sex, drugs and rock and roll. I accepted, however, because I was told that Anna was passionate about cats. So was I but until I got there I had no idea what a nutty cat lady she was!!

Anna rented me her charming bedroom which was full of Indian textiles and interesting objects. The atmosphere of the room was very hippy with late 70s decor.  She moved into her small living room sleeping on the couch with her cats. She collected and loved every deformed cat in the neighbourhood! There was something wrong with each one! Three legs, one weeping eye, one bitten off ear, bald patches, you name it and the cat had it. There were about eight plus a little out of place cute, nothing wrong with it, doggy called Bow Wow. Their large tray was in the bathroom down the hall, out of the way thank goodness, because they never went outdoors but I don't remember the flat smelling.

The deformed cats upset me a lot being passionate about cats. Eventually I only allowed two to enter my newly adopted bedroom. All the rest miaowed outside the closed door. Anna woke me up each morning greeting each cat excitedly by name in a loud voice before she left for Macy's. I felt so sorry for her and her miserable existence that I invited her out for dinner in The East Village. She always set at home to save the bucks. A pleasant woman but so depressing and lonely in her sanctuary of catty friends who could not answer her back but who gave her a lot if pleasure.

I stayed a memorable week but never discovered The East Village because my time was spent with friends, clients and colleagues in Soho, Chelsea and Greenwich Village in the crazy world of collecting between 1980 and 1982 when I was dealing between London, Paris and New York, buying in one country and selling in another filling in the jigsaw culture gaps.

I was not to return to the wonderful Apple again until 2014 when I was reunited with a few of my friends and colleagues including Pryor Dodge who apologised he could no longer put me up as he had married his Tango partner, the lovely Tina, fifteen years earlier.  This time with no cats, I stayed in a brownstone in Chelsea owned by Tony Torn,  the son of the famous actors Geraldine Page and Rip Torn in his Actor's  Studio. So instead of the loud sound of mewing cats I experienced the sound if chorusing actors performing at all hours. But that is a story for another day!