Unconditional Love

On a late December evening in 2002 just before Christmas vacation started, I brought my little Moitié home.

Earlier that afternoon I had decided to give myself a little Christmas gift after a year of excruciating hard work at one of the city’s largest and busiest architecture and planning firms. At the Papineau Veterinary Clinic in Montreal, they have cats of all ages for adoption. The little 7 week old kitten – half black, half white – which they had found abandoned when he was even younger immediately won my heart with his affectionate demeanor. Within seconds of holding his little fluffy body in my arms, he broke out into a loud purr. He had found his home.

Later that evening I returned to make the payment of $89 and take him home in a cat carrier. “Home” was a cavernous 2 bedroom apartment next to the Oratorie St. Joseph  on Montreal’s Queen Mary street where I lived with my then-partner Guillaume – a successful lawyer now with his own practice, but at the time working on his Bar exams. We were both in our 20s, full of youthful optimism and naïveté, the world before us and not in the least aware of the twists and turns in our life that the little cat would be directly affected by.

On exiting his carrier, immediately the kitten started rubbing against both of us, unable to stop giving and wanting affection. All kittens are cute, but it was easy to see that this little one was exceptionally cuddly. Our other cat Biloo, a beautiful Maine Coon, around a year and half old which we’d both chosen together in the summer of 2001 to celebrate a year since our first meeting, had always been independent and was not exactly a cuddler, so this little one with a white dot at the end of his black tail was an instant heart-warmer. We decided to name him Moitié-Moitié (for the pronunciation- here) or “half-half” as he was half black and half white and was justly dividing his time nuzzling between both of us.

Moitié would go on to accompany us as we moved to the house we bought six months later in Montreal’s south shore with a big backyard and swimming pool. He loved the outdoors, and it soon got impossible to let both cats stay at home, as their exploratory instincts had taken over.

Biloo would die shortly after, hit by a horrible speeding car in the early morning in the fall of 2003 when she was making her way back home – and it would be eighteen hours before we’d discover her hiding, painfully injured but still alive, rush her to the vet, and be told that the best thing was to euthanize her. For years, it would remain an incredibly traumatic and painful memory in my life. Pets have that effect on us. They love us so innocently, so unconditionally, so simply…..anyone who has lost a pet knows how hard it is, and even more so, if the death was a violent or painful one.

Through it all, Moitié continued to love us, heal us. He was one of those cats who liked sleeping tightly right next to you, loved snuggling and sitting on your lap, and head-butting, licking or nipping like a pure eternal fountain of love and affection. He stayed on with Guillaume when I moved to Florida for a new job, with questions suspended around our relation, as quite frankly – I had reconsidered it by now due to sheer exhaustion as I was working crazy hours, while he was still getting his ropes around law. And there were other issues – which in retrospect were so minor, that they could have been easily worked out. Love or a lack of love as well as chemistry had never been an issue though, nor had there been any incompatibility in literary, artistic or intellectual tastes, as all those fundamental aspects we shared in plenty, and I am quite lucky to have been loved so deeply and strongly by a great person. It was more his extreme possessiveness and most of all, inability to understand the crazy working hours of the architecture world. Instead of loving support, there used to be constant rages against my working late, the long hours before deadlines, the loss of vacation time. I had no choice as he was still an intern, and we needed my job to keep going. Architecture hours are truly brutal and it would be several years before I would question the masochism and slavish workaholic brutality of my profession, and wake up to smell the coffee and look beyond the bubble architects lived in, but, alas – back then neither of us could understand the other’s point of view.

So when I moved to South Florida in early 2006, it made sense that Moitié should stay back with Gui as he had grown more attached to him as in his kitten days it had been Gui who had spent more time at home while I was at the office. In 2004, soon after his internship, he had refused an offer to join that firm as an associate and instead decided to start his own law firm which had only led to an increased workload for me as now I was working as an architect by day and moonlighting as a legal assistant at night, helping build up a business, where failure was not an option. Gui had rented an office on Montreal’s Rene Levesque Boulevard, but the pressure and exhaustion had caught up with me and I was ready to leave to be on my own now, to have my own metaphorical “space” to grow individually. It was a sad, uncertain period for us, and Moitié comforted him unconditionally to the point that Gui would joke that all his inheritance would one day go to the cat. We sold the house we’d bought and now had our own apartments in our own respective cities. On every visit back to Montreal I would run to hug and spend time with the little fella, who had never forgotten his mommy.

When Gui decided to leave Canada to open a second office in south-east Asia in early 2007, he handed the kitty over to his twin and his girlfriend. The cat must have been confused and devastated. He had known no others except Gui and me. It took him a while, but soon enough, he was giving his love to Raphael and Marie.

In mid-2007 they all bought a beautiful duplex I had picked out, the twins deciding to live in the same building, or at least renting the upstairs when Gui was away while Raph and Marie would live downstairs. When I returned back to Montreal – there was Moitié – affectionate as ever, fatter, wiser and giving love to all who came his way, even to my grouchy new cat Mojo – who had been adopted after being found starving and abandoned in a garbage dump in Fort Lauderdale, along with his siblings locked up in a box. Moitié in the meantime had survived many adventures, disappearances (when he ran away from the twin for a month), break-outs (when he found a way out from a basement heating room to escape in the bitter Canadian cold for 14 days and lived outside till our return from a vacation in Cancun) and many other ups and downs in his kitty life.

On this return, I stayed on for another 18 months much of which, from the early summer of 2008, I spent in an apartment on the top of the Mount Royal Summit Park (on Ridgewood avenue) and resumed working at a distinguished firm I’d worked at since 2004. The housing recession had started to strike much of the US, and Canada had a far more stable job market at the time. Gui and I figured out our relationship and finally split on very amicable terms and moved on with new partners in new countries – he deciding to spend the major part of each year in Asia and me moving to Cambridge in 2009 and eventually to New York.  As I had already spent some years in Asia, prior to meeting him, I didn’t feel like going back there again, while for him it was a fascinating novelty. While we had “officially” or legally split in 2006, this time any strong lingering emotional ties were cleared up, and boundaries that reinforced mutual respect towards each other and to our new partners further strengthened. We still remain professional trusting friends, and on my trips back to Montreal, I’m always invited to stay at his mother’s or at his twin’s – and they both extend the invitation even to my present partner.

Moitié stayed back with the twin after our split and would later even become a patient and loving pet to the little baby girl that Raphael and Marie-Claude would have in 2011. He was well-known in the neighborhood as a loving, peaceful cat, a gentle soul who liked taking strolls through connecting backyards, protective of new kittens and ready to take on any feline bullies.

He was there to comfort me when I returned deeply hurt after receiving the insulting rage in a supposed meeting for a long overdue in-person  “apology” by a cruel individual in October 2010; he had always been there whenever I used to come home exhausted from a day in the office; he was always there to greet me every time I would visit Montreal,  a can of his favorite cat food in my hand, my pace escalating with excitement and anticipation as I walked round the corner towards the duplex, crying out “Moitié, Moitié” as he would come running from wherever he was like a faithful little dog.  And he had been there, as a steady anchor, for all the other humans in his life, nuzzling, cuddling, always demanding and giving affection, with dog-like loyalty yet in full feline grace and elegance.

Cats on average live for about 15-18 years. Moitié was only a little over 11 years old.  So it was with a jolt of shock when Sunday night I was forwarded a mail from Raph to Gui about the sudden demise of this little feline angel. They had found him paralyzed in half his body in the bedroom on their return home from an afternoon out. He had suffered a stroke.  After careful consideration, the vet’s advice and several hours in the clinic they had opted for euthanization. He died in their arms, purring and rubbing against them till the last moments before falling asleep forever. Living in New York, I had last seen him only several months back during a summer visit to Montreal. Little did I know it would be for the very last time.

Tears and sadness at the pain of loss have engulfed me since the news. Guilt as well….wondering if I should have moved him with me to Cambridge, to New York…..but then he really loved his backyard and the house in Montreal and he would cry and bellow whenever he was moved to a new place (had tried that) and was a creature of habit. He was happier where he was. And what guarantee was there he wouldn’t have had a stroke at that age anyway?

I beat myself up with all the possibilities (as unfortunately I often tend to be quite hard on myself at times), was upset for a while wishing they’d informed me earlier so I could have rushed to Montreal to see him one last time, but then finally reconciled that what happened was probably the kindest and sanest option – that at least he had not been killed by some car and died without being found and painfully bleeding. After a long phone conversation with Marie on Thursday other facts started to bring in some peace, despite the sadness. At least the stroke had occurred at his home, not outside, where the paralysis would mean that he would freeze to death, unable to walk in the -25 Celsius Canadian winter that week. It had always been a concern of mine – that such an incredibly loving and affectionate kitty should be near his loved ones in his last moments. And in that respect – his death had been peaceful, relatively painless and dignified. Guillaume was perhaps the most devastated as the cat had been like his son. He is still inconsolable, breaking out in tears in the middle of the day in his office, and buried with guilt wishing he had never left the cat and moved away to Asia. He had thought the cat would live for 20 years so when he returned back full time in another 3 years, he would be reunited with his “son.” Alas, that was not to be. Fortunately he had been able to spend three weeks last Christmas with Moitié during a trip back to Canada.

Animals come into our life, mostly the mammals we have as our pets, they give us irrevocable love, ask no questions, pass no judgment, spend the day waiting for us to return home, all they ask for is to be fed and walked, loved and caressed and in return they give us the most unconditional and loyal love we will ever know or experience in our lifetime… They remind us over and over again the simplicity and beauty of life and love, bereft of the complications, greed, power-wars and duplicity of humans who have innumerable flaws and failings – especially when it comes to loyalty and unconditional love. Yes, no one can love you like a dog, a cat or a faithful pet. There is no substitute for that kind of joyous, simple, innocent and genuine  love.

We see all around us in our world (at least those who are introspective or meta-analytical to see) hypocrisies, superficialities, toxic attention-craving, ass-kissing hierarchies, injustices (tons of those committed against animals), online status-whoring among fame-and-validation-hungry people, narcissistic self-indulgence, mind-numbing idiotic “selfies,” pussy-footing political correctness where we’re disallowed to call a spade a spade,  and many more  widely accepted societal “norms” that make the mannerisms of the human race often seem so pretentious and repulsive at times.  I came to a realization a few months ago; it’s something  some others I know also believe in – something I used to feel as a kid too, but at some point I’d lost that wisdom: that I prefer to trust warm-blooded animals far more than humans; that I’d rather spend time with the innocents of another species than with some of the conniving, constantly self-promoting caricatures of our species…Being an introvert who loves solitude, and generally not very social (except in good company) that realization wasn’t hard to come to.  Moitié’s death and his legacy reminded me even more to focus on real life in all its textures and fragrances, instead of the virtual parody much of “life” has become these days with an overdose of excess-information-without-wisdom, quantity-without-quality..….

Spring will step into Montreal again this May, the last slivers of snow will melt and the tulip buds sprout, the birds will commence their singing again….but this Spring I will know that no pink-nosed Moitié will awaken from his lazy slumber to go out and play like he did every day.  Life will go on. Except someone will now live on only in memory and in the innocent love he brought to all whose lives he touched in his short time upon this earth. This Spring, the new grass in the backyard of that house will sorely miss the silent and soft steps of the most affectionate cat in the world that I ever knew and who will forever live on in my heart and who I’ll always deeply miss – mon meillieur minou Moitié.

*

What was up with February 9, 2014? That night I not only lost my beloved Moitié forever, early that week I received the news that on that same evening one of the kindest, gentlest, most beautiful and most unpretentious souls I had met in New York’s art world, Hudson – who ran Feature Inc. gallery – and was a breath of fresh air in the snooty art community, had also passed away.  He was only 63.  A New York Times article on his death: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/17/arts/hudson-gallerist-and-nurturer-of-artists-dies-at-63.html?_r=0

Hudson and I had connected instantly – from the first glance and further reinforced through our conversations. He was my kind of guy/human – solitude-loving, unpretentious, with good taste in art and ethics, and with “an enormously fine-tuned bullshit detector.” Humble yet firm, witty yet serious, energetic yet low-key – his innate authenticity and ethics shone through his gentle old-soul face. Every week I would receive his emails about the shows in his gallery and his opinions on art. It is with great sadness I will know that Spring will seep into New York City after this whitewashed winter, but Hudson will never be there in person again. One of the last remaining good ones…..He will be greatly missed. An apt eulogy written on him:

Seeing Out Loud: Remembering Feature Gallery’s Hudson

By Jerry Saltz

“Hudson — the founder of the Feature Inc. gallery, who went by one name — was one of the greatest of his generation, a generation that was rich in art-dealer talent. Feature opened on April Fool’s Day 1984 with a show of work by Richard Prince, and was eventually among the first to exhibit the art of Takashi Murakami, Raymond Pettibon, Tom Friedman, Charles Ray, B. Wurtz, Judy Linn, Richard Kern, Lisa Beck, Tom of Finland, and many others. Hudson was 63, but seemed timeless. He was one of the last of his kind, and among the smartest, wittiest, and most visionary gallerists I’ve ever known — old-school in that he almost seemed not to want to be a dealer. He just loved art and artists. 

The possessor of a sharp eye, an enormously fine-tuned bullshit detector, and an ability to disagree affably but firmly, he started in Chicago, then moved the operation to New York four years later, landing first at 484 Broome Street. Before that he’d been an artist and a performer and spent ten years as an administrator and curator in the not-for-profit sector. Hudson called his gallery Feature “as a way to deflect a personality from the gallery, an attempt to let the exhibitions be the focus. The structure of having several galleries simultaneously show differing exhibitions was my move against stardom and a push for pluralism and multiplicity … it is the artists who lead the way. Watch what they’re doing and you’ll see what is happening.” When it came to curators—many of whom drifted away from his gallery over the past decade — he told the artist Dike Blair, “They should flee from hipness and the current notion of art as fun … What ever happened to the museum as a place of study, aesthetics, and the subjective, or the quiet time wandering about a museum deep in thought or ecstatic with emotion? Perhaps museums should institute one silent day weekly … curatorial positions should be created for those with training outside academia.” Amen.

At first he might be placed in the class of gypsy-dreamboat super-intelligent anti-gallerists like Colin de Land, Gavin Brown, and Michele Maccarone. But Hudson was more taciturn, detached, solitary. He avoided being the center of attention and was not social. He said that when he went home after hours, he didn’t read the paper or the internet and, except for listening to music, remained in total silence until the following day. “I prefer art that is complex and multi-focused,” he said. “Such work is, and probably always has been, out there, yet because it isn’t an easy read, or easy to explain. It rarely functions in the market in a very big way.”

Hudson. (Photo by Judy Linn)

Hudson. (Photo by Judy Linn)

“Unlike almost every other dealer I’ve ever known, Hudson sat at the front desk. No office walls separated him from the gallery. Getting a checklist or signing-in meant seeing him, as he was forever working — usually with a staff of one or two. His great director Jimi Dams left to form his own excellent gallery in 2005. Since then, it’s mainly been Hudson and the wholehearted artist Anne Doran. Once, when asked to comment on the architecture of other Chelsea galleries, he remarked, “Well, I wouldn’t exactly call it architecture. In scale, administrative layout, and personality — the suits — we see business at work, the corporate model, which I don’t find rewarding or wish to encourage.” Whenever I called late on summer weekends looking for information, Hudson always answered the phone himself, in the gallery.

It wasn’t until recently that Hudson participated in art fairs, saying, “We should all pay less attention to the salesmanship and showmanship of auctions and fairs, and, of course, be more aware of the not new and hot. Stop running around trying to see everything everywhere, and spend more time with the richness that is close to home.” Time eventually forced his hand, and over the past few years he did participate in a few, to fabulous effect. The first, I think, was at Zucher Studios on Bleecker Street where there were no more than a dozen other galleries, most lesser known. I bought two marijuana brownies from him for $25 each and gave them to my best stoner friend, who said they were divine and a great price. His fantastic booth at the Outsider Art Fair (Feature as an outsider!) was all tantric drawings by anonymous Indian artists.

I often saw Hudson early on Saturday mornings going around to other galleries. He saw a lot of art and had well-formed individual opinions on everything he saw. I learned a lot from him and stood corrected often. In the early 2000s, when photographic work dominated the scene, he called for a “moratorium on photography, especially art-directed snapshot-quality images of low life, especially when class, gender, and sexuality are pictured …. and avoid the notion of the largest possible photographs, particularly when laminated to Plexiglas. MoMA’s Gursky exhibition made me think that this guy makes great postcard images, and many of them actually would be more significant at that scale and in that form.”

He was ultra-aware of the shift in metaphysical control from artists and dealers to speculator-collectors and auction houses. He lost artists to bigger, slicker galleries. Still, few dealers have been more committed to and passionate about the artists they represent. In 2014, Feature is a special gallery of special artists: Always on the cutting edge, but always art-first. I often didn’t quite understand the work he showed. But — as with only a tiny handful of gallerists — I trusted him enough to make extra efforts to come to terms with it. I was sometimes sheepish around him, especially when I wrote about an artist and event I assumed he didn’t like. Even then, he was sweetly funny with his disapproval and scorn. He had nicknames for people. He called me “Salt shaker.” I knew this was a sly reference to the way I can get caught up in the flavorful hype and throw myself at, say, a performance by Jay Z. I’m told he could be quite harsh to artists who sent him unsolicited work that he didn’t like, writing notes that suggested why they might want to give up art. I’d love to do an exhibition or book of these letters and notes to artists. Hudson loved engaging with those who engaged with him. He was always available for conversation. I think I loved him. I know I’m in shock and despondent that he’s gone. The art world has lost a colossal spirit.”

*

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