Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Pigeons (copy)

The book claims either you love them or you hate them. I would have to say, before my Italian trip, I was indifferent. It took a couple of days in San Marco Square to knock me off the fence. After watching them huddle around diners and rush anyone chewing, I quickly surmised they were icky. Pigeons otherwise known as rats with feathers made my skin crawl.

This weekend my whole attitude changed after reading Pigeons by Andrew D. Blechman. He has written a fascinating, I kid you not, book about these common birds. His tone is light and humorous with interesting stories to lure the reader. The introduction leads with an anonymous quote, “Some days you’re the pigeon. Some days you’re the statue.” Amen.

My heart was won after reading the story of the “Lost Battalion” of World War One. Apparently the 77th Division of the U.S. Army was trapped behind German lines in the Argonne Forest. Overnight, their division numbers dwindled to 200, and as the day began they were bombarded with friendly fire from 25 miles away.

Faced with sure death and no way to communicate with friendly forces, they brought out their rock doves. This battalion, such as the habit of Army foot soldiers, carried baskets of rock doves into battle with them. The first two feathered scouts were shot down by the Germans before ever orienting to their home base.

The third, Cher Ami, carried a desperate plea, “Our artillery is dropping a barrage on us. For Heaven’s sake, stop it!” Vulnerable to the rifle shots as the first two birds, Cher Ami headed back down to earth, but before impact he pushed out his wings and caught a gust of air. He climbed, then climbed some more, and to the amazement of the soldiers he flew out of rifle range.

Twenty minutes later, a blood covered Cher Ami lay on his back at headquarters. “One eye and part of the cranium had been blown away, and its breast had been ripped open.” He lived another year and was awarded the French Croix de Guerre for his “courageous persistence.” (His mangled-stuffed body can be seen at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.)

Yes, you may not think this is a potboiler and you may think I’m a crackpot for suggesting it, but I do hope you give it a try. Oh, and if you don’t fall in love with these fine-feathered friends, Blechman includes a Pigeon Pot Pie recipe.