Sunday, February 21, 2010
I Should Have Died! #2: The Birds
This story is set in the city of Florence, at the Piazza del Duomo. My mother was completing her Teacher Training course as an instructor of Transcendental Meditation on the island of Majorca, Spain and at Fiuggi, Italy. She was taking a break with some friends, and they toured Florence and several hill towns in the vicinity.
I was about a year and a half old at the time, so we went almost everywhere together. It was a bright sunny day, and we were taking a moment from our tour of Florence before the famous doors of the Duomo to rest.
She had bought me some parched corn to feed the ubiquitous pigeons. I was very excited by the process of feeding the birds. I held the paper bag in my fist with one hand, and scattered the dry kernels before them with the other, bobbing and dancing with glee. I squirmed in the stroller, wanting to be free, to get closer to the few birds that pecked hungrily before me.
The corn was gone, and the pigeons started to wander, so I pulled out another handful and hurled it at the pigeons. The responded as expected, crowding in to compete for the food. A few more birds moved in to take advantage of the bounty. I threw another handful, drawing them closer, tensing and chortling with excitement. More pigeons came, now pecking fearlessly between the wheels of the stroller, almost close enough to touch. At this point my mother became a little alarmed, knowing my propensity for going overboard.
It was too late. I took the plunge. With a wild shriek, a preverbal paean to Pan, I upended the entire bag at my feet, spilling the corn right under me and between the wheels of the stroller, and into my lap. I disappeared from my mother's view, beneath a frothing, churning mass of wings and snapping beaks.
With the horror of my tender little face torn to bits flashing through her mind, she reacted instantly, pulling back the stroller, and shouting at the flock as she slapped them away. My scream of glee became a wail of stymied disappointment, fear, and frustration. When the flock cleared, I was untouched but upset, wailing unconsolably. Of course, my mother did not get to see the Duomo that day.
I barely remember this experience, and only as a impressionistic montage sequence, so I piece this narrative together mostly from my mother's telling (and retelling) of the story over the years. For some time, I had been relating this story to friends as set in Vatican Square. When I discovered that I would be able to study in Florence this summer, she told me "Oh, Tim, you'll have to go back to the Duomo where you were mobbed by pigeons!" Apparently we never went to The Vatican; in hindsight, I have to agree that if I had such a "spirited" child, I would not take them to The Vatican either.
So, it is now my plan that when I return to Florence, some 38 years later, I shall purchase a bag of corn, stand before the great doors on the Piazza del Duomo, and ritually re-enact my experience by dumping the corn at my feet and invoking a mob of pigeons upon myself. Hopefully, they will not pluck out my eyes and tear my face to bits as punishment for my impertinent perversity.
Photos by permission.