WHO: Deborah Toppan, 64, of Weston
WHEN: Three weeks in April
WHY: ''I knew someone who needed a cat sitter," Toppan said. ''When I told people I was going to Paris to be with a cat, they just laughed."
MAIS OUI: The woman she cat-sat for was a fellow student back in their college days at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Toppan got in touch with her before a visit to Paris several years earlier. They were unable to connect then, but the woman asked Toppan if she'd ever be interested in cat-sitting. ''I'm in real estate and the timing worked really well," Toppan said. ''. . . I did take French while I was in high school, and while I'm far from fluent, I can carry on a little bit of a conversation."
STRANGER IN PARIS: When Toppan arrived, her college friend had left town already, so she was on her own. (The two still haven't seen each other since college.) ''After flying all night, I had to find my way to her apartment, which was pretty easy. I did have to stop people and ask for directions a couple times." The small apartment was in the 16th arrondissement, a nice neighborhood in the city.
OUT AND ABOUT: ''I bought a rail pass to ensure I would leave Paris," said Toppan, who calculated that she walked about 85 miles in three weeks. One outing was to the city of Metz, to visit a friend she had made when he was an exchange student at her high school. He and his wife took her to Verdun, the famous World War I battlefield. ''It was sombering," she said. She stayed with them one night. ''I would have stayed longer, but I was so neurotic about the cat. Of course the cat was fine." Other outings included Chartres and Dijon. ''I didn't buy any mustard," she added. ''It looks very French. It was quite delightful." At Giverny she visited the house Monet lived in and walked through the gardens, and in Auvers-sur-Oise, she saw where Van Gogh ended his life.
MEMORABLE EVENING: ''I found that the American Church had free concerts on Sunday nights. Those were really nice. Then I heard that at the American Cathedral they had an adults-only night. One week they were going to show 'Babette's Feast,' and in order to come you had to bring champagne or chocolate. It was so great." Toppan also had her sweet tooth sated at Angelina's Tearoom near the Tuileries. ''I went there twice to have their pistachio macaroon cake."
THE ONE WAY: ''I never got lonely because I was always busy thinking about what I was going to do next," she said. ''It was such a luxury from the standpoint of having all that time, and being able to experience a lot of things. It was a great opportunity. I was lucky I could take advantage of it."