Les pigeons

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Paris. It was sunny, not too cold, and bustling with holiday spirit. I left for French class early to soak up the sun, and as I walked, I brainstormed blog topics for this week. I had just decided on a photo-laden post about the holiday lights strung up across the City of Light when a pigeon flew into my head and changed everything.

Yes, you read that correctly.

A pigeon flew into my head.

Honestly, I can’t say I’m surprised. I’ve always despised pigeons, in large part because they seem wholly incompetent at flying. While technically able to launch themselves airborne, they flap their wings so frenetically that they don’t seem to be flying so much as falling less quickly. There are so many pigeons in Paris that I’ve always known it was only a matter of time until one collided with a person. And given how much I hate them, I cynically assumed that person would be me.

So there I was, walking happily through the bustling pedestrian corridor of Rue Montorgueil, admiring the holiday-themed window displays and florist shops taken over by sapins de Noël, when I heard a familiar flapping behind me. Half a second later, I felt FEATHERS on my forehead. I froze. I gasped. I looked around me at the hundreds of other pedestrians who had somehow avoided becoming a pigeon target, shook my head vigorously to rid myself of the dirty feeling of feathers, and ran the rest of the way to French class.

When I came in, the instructor Laurine greeted me with her usual cheery “Salut, Claire! Ça va?

Except this time I didn’t respond with an affirmative “I’m doing well, thanks.” Instead I indicated that my heart was pounding, that I needed to catch my breath, and that I would explain in a minute.

Dis-moi! Tell me!” Laurine sat down on the edge of her seat, and the two other students perked up as well.

“Well,” I began, taking a deep breath, “quand je marchais ici… when I was walking here… sur la rue Montorgueil…”

Un pigeon…”

S’est ecrasé… crashed…”

dans MA TÊTE. Into my HEAD.”

I drove the tips of my fingers into the side of my head for dramatic effect. I smiled when the others in the room gasped.

“Non!! Vraiment?!”

Oui, c’est vrai. It’s true,I responded proudly. Now that the worst was over, I was happy to own the horrifying absurdity of the situation.

For the next few minutes, the class bombarded me with questions. Did the pigeon fall? (No, it was trying to fly, although I appreciated that the questioner shared my lack of confidence in pigeons’ ability to control their movements.) How did the pigeon hit me? (With its wing.) Did the pigeon die afterwards? (No, thank god. The only thing worse than having a pigeon fly into your head would be having a pigeon fly into your head and then land, dead, on the street in front of you.) The class was appropriately horrified. I still shuddered with the feeling of feathers on my forehead, but I was pleased to have gotten some entertainment out of it.

Anyway, I read once that a good way to cope with a fear of animals is to learn fun facts about them to tell yourself when you encounter one. A few months ago I asked Colin’s biologist friends whether they knew anything that might help me view pigeons in a more positive light, but no one had much to suggest. The best we could come up with is that pigeons’ distant ancestors are dodo birds, so I started making a habit of thinking, “Hey, mini dodo!” every time a pigeon approached. But after yesterday’s incident, I’m thinking there is nothing redeeming about pigeons – other than their potential to generate a good story – and I should probably just invest in a helmet.

The pigeons of Paris: the stuff of nightmares.

P.S. My favorite part of the photo above is the woman crouched, barely visible, in the upper right. I know your panic, madame!

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