Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bird brained...

My mother refers to pigeons as something like rats of the sky---even if they don't spend all that much time in the sky.

What she means by this is that they are dirty and gross and, well, horrifying. In addition they are found in every major city in this world (as well as some minor ones, I'm quite sure), just like rats are. Luckily they do not grow to be the size of raccoons, as some urban rodents are known to do. I'm sure that would only make them that much more horrifying. My mom may never travel to another urban local again if she knew she could expect turkey-sized pigeons swooping from the eaves to chance partaking in her morning croissant or afternoon snack.

But that brings me to the real issue at hand when pigeons are being discussed. They are scavengers at best and flock to the places where they know there is food. In some towns pigeons wait patiently (I am anthropomorphizing; perhaps the pigeons would not call it patience?) for scraps to be left behind and then dive in to clean up. In other places, certain parts of Seoul being in this category, there is no waiting, the pigeons move right in as you eat.

This would gross my mother out. In fact, if she reads this, she may think twice about visiting. (Don't worry, ma. We'll do our best to avoid these areas.)

The real message here isn't about the pushiness of the birds (they're hardly unique---they are pigeons, after all); I don't need to tell you about how they turned their heads so one sharp, bright, amber eye could keep us in view as Sasha munched on a pancake; I won't go into their efforts at pouncing this way and plunging that way to position themselves most strategically for the moment a morsel fell from the paper wrapping in his hands to the stone walkway below his feet.

I would rather like to tell you about how the pigeons contribute to the textures of Seoul. For these pigeons are not smooth, feathered beings. These pigeons are waxy and crusty. They are missing legs or parts of feet and some have string tangled around those parts that remain. Their shiny black heads are dull, sticky and grayish. Some look as if they dunked their heads in wet cement, then stood to let it dry in clumps above their beaks and through chunks of top feathers. More than anything they look un-groomed and unkempt. Their appearance makes you wonder where (how) they live and how they missed the lesson about keeping oneself reasonably clean.

Other birds hide their crust and gunk with molt. Perhaps the molted feathers can't be released to fall away due to the general stickiness of the rest of the bird, or perhaps the feathers are hanging on at their roots like loose teeth do in children's mouths. In either case the downy hangers-on only add to the general disorder of the creatures as they scavenge.

These birds are like zombie birds, hobbling and wobbling to and fro as they eye you with one eye and then bounce and turn in order to eye you with the other. With missing feet parts, crusty heads, crooked wings, and dirt-caked beaks, one may wonder if there is anything worth noticing about these creatures. But there is. There is something that is perfect in each of them twice.

Their sharp, amber eyes never miss a beat. Pitch-black pupils so perfectly absent of color see every morsel fall, they see every anxious human arm wave them away, they see every competitor approach. And it's those perfect eyes wrapped up in an imperfect package that makes pigeons a texture of Seoul.

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