Mystery of the grey cat


“La nuit tous les chats sont gris”

I see more graffiti on mailboxes than I do on anything else in town, which means I’m often snapping photos of them while passersby give me strange looks.

This is the most intriguing little piece I’ve seen so far, sprayed onto a box on 14th street. It reads “La nuit tous les chats sont gris,” a French saying that means “At night, all cats are grey.” The tag is a tiny noir masterpiece. Who is the mysterious spy in the middle? Are the two black inkblots under the piece a peculiar signature?

By the time I got home, I’d convinced myself that the “Chats Gris” was a local secret society of espionage agents, possibly employed by the mayor.

Then I found out that the saying is actually the title of the 30th chapter of The Three Musketeers, that ubiquitous French novel by Alexandre Dumas. The resolution to the little mystery was less immediately thrilling, but just as intriguing in the long run.

In the chapter, protagonist D’Artagnan has tricked the beautiful and powerful female spy Milady de Winter into thinking that he is a count who wants her hand in marriage. At some point, the lights are extinguished and he emerges from the darkness. He’s so tall, dark and handsome that Milady immediately gives her heart-and a ring with a mysterious past-to him. The saying is referring to his double identity.

Dumas’ writing was a pleasure to read and it was fun to unravel the mystery, but I’m not completely ruling out the secret society idea. Heck, if one doesn’t already exist, I want to form one! Will anyone join me? All for one…


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