Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pigeon Stories

1. A Pigeon Apology

I have to apologize. I hereby humbly beg forgiveness from all you pleasant pigeons in the world. I recently stated that I hate pigeons. It was a cruel and unkind remark.

I do not hate all pigeons. In fact, I despise and wish to perform avicide on only one species of pigeon: rock pigeons, the flying rats, the scourge of cities, known in France as les bisets. (Way too nice a name for those nasty beasts.)

How have I reached this revelation, this distinction? A little bird told me.

Actually, a pair of rather large birds who have been frequenting my apartment clued me in. Two charming pigeons, if that's not an oxymoron. These lovey-doves are not the charcoal-grey flying vermin type, but in fact are wood pigeons, les pigeons ramiers. If you click here you can learn more about them, and especially, you can hear their roucoulement, which is my morning gentle wake-up call from their perch on the building's chimney. It pipes straight into my bedroom fireplace.

The first morning a few months ago when one sat on my ledge, I shooed it away without looking. Damn pigeons! I was muttering. I regretted my meanness as I saw it fly away with its partner, who had been down in the courtyard searching for greenery. They were -- dare I say? -- wholesome-looking.

Monday morning it was back, eyeing my new morning glories. (Warning: here's where the story starts sounding like I'm turning into one of those kooky pigeon ladies. I'm not, I promise. Read on.) The pigeon flapped up to the ledge outside the living room window. Being my new ornithologically-aware self, instead of chasing it away I said "Oh, hi," kind of casually to the beauty, and we had a brief eyeball-to-eyeball sideways staring contest. S/he was plump and more like a partridge than one of those disgusting urban winged poop-machines. Finally the partner flew up from the courtyard and the duo flapped away with a distinctive whirring sound.

This is where it gets strange. On the kitchen side of my apartment is an air well protected by bird netting. After the morning pause with my Columba palumbus pal, I'd gone back to my writing. About twenty minutes later I heard the same whirring sound from the opposite side of the building. There was the same wood pigeon, trying to wedge through the net to get to my apartment. And I swear to god, the pigeon was staring at me from the neighboring roof, imploring.

2. The Pigeon Man

Last week I was strolling down my street with my friend Maria. A stooping old guy in a faded brown suit was forging down the sidewalk in our direction. Out of nowhere, out of everywhere, hundreds of ratty pigeons began swarming toward him. The sky was blackened with pigeons swooping down from every rooftop in the neighborhood, heading right for him. And us.

Folks, I only had to see The Birds once in my life, when I was ten, and most of that I watched between my fingers. That was enough. I have zero desire to play the role of Tippi Hedren. This pigeon-shrouded event was a totally creepy city moment. The Pigeon Man must appear every day at the same spot to feed them, because all those flying stinkpots knew exactly who he was, and they wanted to be first in line for the soup kitchen. Bread line. Whatever.

I couldn't duck away from him -- and them -- fast enough.

3. Homing Alone

When I was in my twenties I shared an apartment with three roommates in the top floors of a two-family house high on a hill outside Boston. One warm summer weekend I was Home Alone, which was eery after dark, but normally I would blare rock music and leave the lights on all night and watch Happy Movies on TV. And I was fine.

Until I heard a noise on the third floor.

Oh. My. God. My heart pounded. Edgar Allan Poe knew nothing about noises a heart could make compared to mine. I froze.

By the way, this was so long ago that it was even before cordless phones, much less cell phones. Reaching the wall phone in the kitchen to call for help would have meant moving from the sofa, no easy task when paralyzed with fear. Eventually, over the din of my cardiac timpani, I heard more clatter from upstairs. Cosmetics bottles knocking to the floor. Then, the unmistakable sound of wings flapping.

Oh, silly me, it was just a bird. Jeezus-H.-Christ. A Bird. At that point I would have preferred a burglar. My Tippi Hedren aversion kicked into overdrive with the adrenaline. What if the bird found its way downstairs? I knew I had to get it out of the apartment. Scared to have its claws caught in my flowing tresses, terrified to have it scratch at my eyes, disgusted at the thought of it pooping all over me, I got prepared for battle. One roommate's long galvanized rain slicker. Another roommate's ski goggles. My bouffant shower cap. Work gloves from the tool box. (It's such a pretty mental image of me, eh?) I inched up the stairs and flipped on the lights in the upstairs bedroom.

The damned terrified pigeon flew straight at me.

In my entire life, I have emitted only one bona fide, over-the-top blood curdling scream.

Over a pigeon.

Which is why, friends, I will never become one of those kooky pigeon ladies.

4. The Pigeon Stalker

Despite that history, here in Paris I was neverthless getting all tenderhearted about the wood pigeons who bill and coo on top of my chimney and visit my window ledge. They are the dignified, rarer breed. They are handsome. They are urbanely charming. They are imploring.

They are stalking me.

Do they think I am their mother?

They were back this morning. One of them was peeping into my apartment, watching me type. "We know whoo yooo are, we know where you live..." they are cooing suspiciously as they stare. No problem, for the most part, if the window is closed.

But then s/he decided to move in and snuggled into my lavender. Twice. The accomplice/lover looked on from the ledge below.

After scaring them away with my camera flash, I got out the pencil sharpener. There are now four pointy No.2 pencils poking up in the middle of the planter. I didn't mind a lower-ledge visit or two, but this is getting a little close for comfort.

Now I'm getting jittery Tippi-you-know-who syndrome again. What if I leave the window open for fresh air and the unthinkable happens?

I don't have a rain slicker or ski goggles in Paris.


Wystful1 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jay Livingston said...

Yes, there are pigeons and pigeons. I had dinner at Dovetail, the hot new restaurant in my quartier, and the best dish of the evening at our table was the squab.

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Hi Jay,

I may need the recipe!

PJ said...

Polly-Vous, I share your general dislike, nee hatred of pigeons who misbehave and leave piles behind or fly in ones face. I hold my breath when approaching a flock of pigeons!!! AND...I SO wish I were going back to Paris this summer! It was only a week that I spent there several years ago, but I LOVED IT!!! And Normandy!!! Ah, Normandy!

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

Here in our suburb, there's a cute dovecote in the central park. It's half-timbered and cottage-like and placed up near the treetops on stilts, where it looks like the perfect place for a little winged family to set up house. (Thus making pigeons the only jeunes couples who can afford to move to our town anymore, but anyway.)

But! It's all a trick! Because a nearby sign explains that the eggs are collected and destroyed in an attempt to curb the pigeon population. Sneaky, huh?

Good thing birds can't read, I suppose.

Marianne said...

A little bit scary, and The Birds like! Although I do love that noise they make, it reminds me of the country.

Polly-Vous Francais said...

The sharp pencils didn't work, and le pigeon was back in the lavender this morning. I'm going to have to buy some wooden brochette skewers and fill the thing up.

Parisienne -- Ooh, maybe pigeons do know how to read, but just not French!

The Duchess said...

The Birds movie was enough to put enough self-respecting 10 year old off birds for life. Not sure why we were shown it in 5th grade.

I'm still struggling to tell the pigeons from the pigeons though. My daughter assures me they are doves, but I always thought doves were white. Hmmm, maybe I need to look into pigeons....

Margarita Bloom said...

What a story...I've never had to contend with pigeons myself but they sound like sneaky little devils! lol... The most we have are some cute cooing doves that show up in the summer sometimes. :) Oh, but do I remember that movie, The Birds...eeekkk....

ChloeKenny said...

Hi Polly,

Just wondering if it would be possible to request your full name? I really enjoy your posts and am currently doing a project on Pigeons in Paris so would like to cite a couple of the things you have mentioned in the above article. Thank you very much!

Kind regards,
Chloe Kenny


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