I’m back in Kansas City now after having spent a week in London and a week in Paris, and I’m looking forward to finishing up my short film and starting some new projects, too. London was wonderful for taking in the art other people had produced, and Paris was perfect for creating some of my own. I wrote this on the plane back from Paris; hope you enjoy.
Most people have one of two reactions to the pigeons swarming the square in front of Notre Dame (or really any other place in Paris). Amusement mingled with amazement at their sheer audacity is one of them, and it is usually reserved for tourists. The other is indignant annoyance, usually combined with a vigorous shooing hand motion or the harsh thwap of a menu or a book or some other flat object. This is demonstrated in perfect form by waiters in outdoor cafés.
A third category, much smaller in both number and stature, is the fascinated child, who sees the pigeons as an odd sort of temporary pet meant to be chased around whilst giggling.
These are the three largest divisions of pigeon interaction, but there is a fourth, and it is the true rare bird of pigeon-related behavior: the elderly man or woman who insists on feeding these avian creatures, considered by many to be nothing more than rats with wings. These folks are content to sit amongst hordes of them, in fact encouraging the birds to come closer. They remain nearly motionless, living statues, save the motion it takes to toss a handful of seed onto the ground.
I saw one such woman as I looked down upon the square from one of the towers of Notre Dame. Admittedly, I’d never given these eccentrics much thought. But from the gargoyle’s eye view, I was suddenly stricken with curiosity. What possesses any given person to adopt such behavior? I myself fall into the Amused Tourist category when it comes to pigeons, but when more than three approach I start imagining Hitchcock-esque scenes and quickly add space between myself and the feathered creatures.
But this woman had to have been keeping company with at least fifty if not a hundred, in front, behind, and some even sitting on the bench right next to her. I was a little baffled, and no small part of me was rather frightened for her safety.
I turned to tap my sister’s shoulder to show her the spectacle, and when I turned back, I saw something even more bizarre. A mass of pigeons was hovering in a column of sorts, only a few paces from the woman. I peered at the strange pillar, for a second annoyed that I was so high up. I pitied the gargoyles who surrounded me, always watching from this dead space between heaven and earth.
But then the column began to change before my eyes. Whether it was some sort of cognitive process catching up to reality or a bit of magic happening on the ground, I cannot say with any certainty, but I know what I choose to believe. I no longer saw a pillar of pigeons but a man, matched in age to the woman on the bench. He wore a Bogey-style hat, and a pigeon sat on top of it. His arms were outstretched, and there were three pigeons on each. The woman did not run away frightened or jump up with excitement. She simply remained on the bench, her face turned toward the man. I could not see her expression from my position, but it must have been welcoming, as the man sat down beside her, displacing some of his avian companions (though they did not seem to mind — they almost seemed to make room for him, as if they accepted him as an equal, just as deserving of the woman’s attention as they were).
At that moment, we were siphoned into another stairwell leading to the very top of the tower. From there, I could see all of Paris, but the woman, her pigeons, and her mysterious male companion were gone. The bench was empty, for a moment, and whatever I’d just witnessed (a meeting? a reunion?) remained only in my memory.
© 2010 Elizabeth Ditty