A bird in the hand


When­ever France beck­ons, out comes my note­book. Some trav­ellers col­lect tea­spoons but I gather vi­gnettes, those fleet­ing, funny, of­ten poignant episodes that evoke the joie de vivre that I love about the French.

While in Tour­rettes-sur-Loup, an en­chant­ing vil­lage in Provence known for its Fete des Vi­o­lettes (vi­o­let festival) ev­ery Fe­bru­ary, we were hav­ing morn­ing cof­fee with new friends, an Amer­i­can cou­ple. As we savoured the fra­grant cof­fee and crois­sants, we be­gan to be aware of a fris­son em­a­nat­ing from inside the patis­serie. A small, ag­i­tated crowd be­gan to gather and voices were raised.

Cu­rios­ity get­ting the bet­ter of us, we went in to in­ves­ti­gate. Just as we did, the source of the trou­ble whizzed over our heads and, avoid­ing Madame’s fran­tic arm-wav­ing, landed firmly in the cen­tre of an ex­quis­ite dis­play of pas­tel mac­arons — le pi­geon! Feel­ing as if I had stepped into a Jac­ques Tati movie, I watched en­tranced as the good ma- trons of Tour­rettes clucked and gave in­creas­ingly stri­dent sug­ges­tions for the re­moval of the bird. Ooh la la.

They had not reck­oned on their vis­i­tor from the US. With­out a word, our friend slipped out of the crowd and with the grace of a dancer, grasped the bird firmly with both hands. How­ever, in his haste, he had wrapped both arms around the up­rights of the dis­play cab­i­net and was now locked in place. There was a sharp in­take of breath as the au­di­ence re­alised what had hap­pened. What would Mon­sieur do? If he let go of the bird all would be lost, but he could not re­main fixed to the cab­i­net for­ever.

I don’t know how he did it but, sud­denly, the bird was un­der one arm and our friend was head­ing for the door. With a flash of pink and grey, le pi­geon was free. Ap­plause broke out and above the din could be heard many a “Bravo! Bravo!” as the swift­ness and quick think­ing of the for­eign mon­sieur was dis­cussed.

The crowd dis­persed, we went back to our cof­fee and peace de­scended once more on the square. As we con­grat­u­lated the res­cuer, I drew out my note­book and thought ... only in France.

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