Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Flying Rats?

The last few days have been more relaxing than eventful, due in part to great hosts in both France and Italy (thanks again). So instead of talking about crazy adventures, we're going to talk about pigeons.

Europe has pigeons. Lots of them. It could just be me, but I think these little guys have gotten a lot bolder than they were ten or twenty years ago.

In the town of Aix, France, my parents, our friends Mike and Clare, and I came out to a square and decided we waned to get a coffee. There are plenty of little cafes in the square around the big fountain, and they all have outdoor tables, very nicely arranged under some large trees. We went to choose our seats. Somebody suggest we get some in the sun, away from the awnings. I found a nice spot next to a nice table and looked down at what, from a distance, looked like a nice chair. At some point, I'm sure it was a nice chair. Except that a lot of nice pigeons had nicely gotten there first and had copiously left their mark. I reached over to switch with a clean chair. There weren't any. All of the chairs in the sun were covered in wet white and greenish-brown spots. We decided to sit under the awning after all. It's one of those problems that makes complete sense, except that you don't remember having it anywhere else.

Just a few days later, I'd taken a train back to Italy, past one of the bi-weekly French railroad strikes (free ride!). I had a two hour wait in the border town of Ventimiglia before a train into Milan. Ventimiglia is a seaside town, so I wandered over to the shore. I found a river running to the sea. I walked across a long bridge to take in the view up the valley the river ran through on one side, and the beach on the other. I noticed a few pigeons wandering on the bridge, and a few seagulls floating in the water blow. I stopped to take a picture. While pulling out my camera, I rustled the paper bag containing my lunch.

Within seconds, I was surrounded. Pigeons cooing and flapping on all sides, and seagulls circling me like low-flying buzzards. None of them dive bombed me or anything, but I was clearly the center of attention. the gulls gave up after they realized there were no handouts coming, but the pigeons all hopped down behind me and followed me across the bridge. I've never been followed on foot by a flock of birds before. The same thing happened again on the way back, a head-thrusting herd of hypnotized birds following the pair of shoes they last saw when they heard that sound of a bag filled with food.

Then I get to Milan and the Duomo, as per my couchsurfing host's instructions. Once I finished saying wow and recovered (also per my host's instructions) I looked at the statue behind me, about a quarter of which is streaked white. Two pigeons very nearly collided with my legs, and several flew within inches of my head. I later find out that a common scam in this square is for people selling birdseed to slip some in the pockets of unsuspecting tourists so that the pigeons will dive bomb them. The idea is that the seller then comes up and offers to distract them with more (purchased) birdseed.

Nineteen years ago, my parents took me to Europe for the first time. I don't remember it very well but my parents still tell the stories. In St Mark's Square, we saw a scene a lot like the one I saw today, only I imagine the birds were a bit more calm. All around were little European kids my age, nicely handing out bird seed and feeding the pigeons. Perhaps my parents thought I would like to do that as well. But I had different plans. I took one look at the huge flock of birds and instead of acting like a European kid, I acted like a European puppy. One gleeful battle cry and I charged. All the birds scattered to the winds. My parents were a little embarrassed. I loved it.

I'm not four years old anymore. But after the chairs, the bridge, and the statues, I've been mighty tempted to give a repeat performance one of these days.

Check out this entry's Photos. No, they're not all of pigeons.


  1. Die pigeons, die!

    Er, I meant, the pigeons, the.

    If you get to Trafalgar Square, compare - they have depigeoned it to a large extent, which is a miracle.

  2. Ah pigeons! I can't stand those little flying rats with wings. On my travels through Europe, I also noticed a lot more of those pigeons than back in the US...I also noticed more people feeding them, which might be part of the problem. While I was in Venice, I saw a little girl of about 2 or 3 terrorizing pigeons by chasing them and throwing water on them. She was having a ball and I couldn't help but laugh. I agree with Count Comfect: die pigeons die.

  3. Count C- Yeah, Trafalgar square wasn't nearly so full of them when I was there three years ago. Really Milan's been the most impressive showing I've seen in a while.

    ABChick- I was just in Venice, all I saw was people trying to feed them. If you stick out your arm in St Marks square, you have a good shot at getting one to land on it. You still in Europe these days?

  4. @ Joel - Yup, I'm still in Europe. I'm still in London, but moving to Toulouse, France (only for a few months) in mid-November. Where are you know? Any plans to hit either of those cities?