Just Above Sunset
October 30, 2005 - Plague of Pigeons

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Our Man in Paris is Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. His weekly columns appear here and often in a slightly different version the next day on his site from Paris, with photographs. Here, what worries the French at the moment.

PARIS, Wednesday, October 26: Instead of having a nightmare or any dreams at all I woke up thinking about pigeons. I remembered Matt Rose saying they've been acting kind of strange lately. Which led me to wonder about the gang of pigeons sitting on the lamp mast outside on the corner, where they make a horrible mess of any car parked beneath.


There used to be about thirty of them, with the overflow perched in a tree in the cemetery across the street. Drivers, especially at night, don't notice them and will park a clean car underneath and come back in the morning and find it looking like a rich lump of ripe, oozy guano.


By the time I got to the shower I was convinced that the pigeons are gone. Everybody knows that pigeons hang out with wild ducks, right in the city, in the big pool beside the Senat in the Luxembourg, yes, and in all the other parks too. While France is locking up its free chickens to protect them from sicko migrating birds, Paris' pigeons are hobnobbing with the visitors right out in plain sight.


So I think, shower water dribbling on my head, so the city has had its bird goons come along in the dark of night to nap the pigeons when Brigitte Bardot and the 30 million 'friends of animals' are dreaming of Bambis. About Brigitte, the TV-news had a correction tonight, to say that she wasn't speaking on behalf of '30 million friends' but the Brigitte Bardot Foundation last night, when she was complaining about the Chinese slaughtering dogs and cats to eat.


I think I haven't seen the pigeons lately because they're gone, snatched, wiped out, disappeared. What a relief! I walk right under that street lamp nearly every day. Not a chicken within 20 arrondissements and I could be innocently going to the post office to mail some money to France Télécom, and whamo! - a lousy pigeon drops a jolt of Avian Flu smack on my bald spot.


After that I was in a hurry to eat breakfast and go outside and check the street light for pigeons. But first, listening to radio France-Info, I had to wonder what our favorite short minister of the interior is up to, with Sarkozy's endorsement of voting privileges for illegal immigrants.


My guess is that Sarkozy didn't really have anything on his plate yesterday so he trotted out this idea to amuse the media, which was only struggling with the negative 'reform' of drug reimbursements and the 40-year long housing crises and the multi-week bus strike in Marseille. Of course it was a bombshell because two years ago Sarkozy said exactly the opposite.


The president was surprised, the prime minister was surprised, most of his party was surprised, and the usual lefties applauded the idea.  No doubt that illegal immigrants would rather have residence permits first, but he didn't propose that. As it is you have to be either French to vote here, or a citizen of the European Community with five years residence.


Then, on tonight's TV-news, there was Sarkozy out in one of those exotic suburbs in north Paris flanked by dudes from the Prefecture and with a platoon of riot cops and the whole neighborhood was out to greet him - these potential voters - greet him with boos and catcalls, flying rocks and bottles and beer cans, and one of the suits was holding a document case over the minister's head and another tried to shield him with an umbrella. Somebody should charge the minister of the interior with disturbing the peace.


By the time I got outside it was time for lunch if you have it extra late, and at first I thought I was right - no pigeons. At first I saw only one but then I noticed there were six others somewhat invisible, and then saw about 20 in the tree across the street. And there were some flying around - yes, it looked like the usual rotten gang. At one point there were 15 on the light mast but most flew off before I could photograph them.


This is not good news. The Australians got miffed the other day when they turned up some Avian Flu antibodies in a shipment of 102 pigeons from Canada. The authorities in Melbourne bumped them all off. The Canadians pointed out that the pigeons didn't have the disease, but the biological defense against it but the Australians said, 'don't matter, they got the antibodies from somewhere.'


In France the government has been trying to tell people that they can't get sick from eating cooked chickens or ducks of geese or turkeys, but folks decided on their own to reduce consumption by 20 percent. Chicken farmers are going crazy of course, and on top of it they are hopping mad about the decree to lock up their free-range birds.


You see there are chickens here who don't live in poulet factories and they get to run around outside for their entire short lives, getting these muscular drumsticks, and eating real French dirt and stray bugs, and these chickens get a cute red label and a snazzy AOC sticker, and then when you buy them you know you are getting the real McCoy. They are the Cadillacs of chickens.


I guess all the people that were eating the cheap factory-version chickens are mostly still doing so, but the luxo market is taking a beating and big burly men down at the Paris wholesale market at Rungis are crying in public. You should see some of the weird stuff that the French eat - you wouldn't think they could be so fussy.


In the interests of further research I trundled off to the Luxembourg to see if pigeons are cohabiting with ducks, and see if Parisians are letting their kids cohabit with wild birds. As usual on a Wednesday the big park on the Left Bank was full of moms and minders and hundreds of kids, most of them in the big cage where they have confined riots and the parents sit around outside the fence on the park's hard metal chairs, pretending to be comfortable.

...the Senat in the Luxembourg, October 2005

There were no birds inside the cage but over by the big pool near the Senat quite a crowd were perched on its edge all the way around, and nearly all the rental sailboats were in operation, being ignored by a few ducks. Pigeons, of course, were not in the pool, but there were a few around.


In sum, in the afternoon sunshine and with an unseasonal temperature of 22 degrees, causing nearly every uncomfortable metal chair to be occupied - hundreds, thousands? - of people were lolling around and not one acting as if they were in a zone of a potential epidemic.


And no sign of any gendarmes - the Senat's national cops - with a shotgun to protect the Senat's pool from undocumented visitors, flying in from Siberia or China or Thailand. In fact I saw no gendarmes near the pool at all.


Except for the business of the house-arrest for AOC chickens France is handling the Avian Flu crises with its characteristic Gallic aplomb. The government is showing us the regulation doctors in white coats being reassuring, the Pasteur vaccine people are working overtime and even the duck hunters have ceased their usual right-wing grumbling, even though their season has been reduced to a mere shred.


But, um, it looks like this year's Christmas turkey might have a longer life than it expected. Except that for farmers business is feed, so I doubt that birds that the market won't accept are going to get overfed. Is this going to turn into another tragic case for Brigitte Bardot?




Photo and Text Copyright © 2005 – Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis







Editor's Note:


AFP items -


French Poultry Sales Dive 25 Percent in Supermarkets (October 26)

France Extends Ban on Outdoor Poultry Rearing (October 27)


Times (UK) -


Sarkozy promises a curb on immigrants (October 24)

Reuters -


Youths riot for second night in Paris suburb (October 29)


And this -


La Fondation Brigitte Bardot - « … la Fondation Brigitte Bardot s'est développée et n’a eu de cesse de se battre pour la protection de l'animal domestique et sauvage dans le monde. »





Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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