Pigeon Fables


HAVANA TIMES, Jan. 27 – It’s likely that most countries have cities with plazas that are full of pigeons.  I can’t be sure which was the first one in Old Havana, but if my memory serves me correctly it was when they restored the Convent of San Francisco and its small plaza that this began attracting pigeons.

For us Cubans this was a European phenomenon, since we’re accustomed to “not leaving the house” (which is a way of saying not leaving the country).  Maybe our surprise was because we’d only seen the pigeons on television or in magazines in the famous squares of London, Italy, France and Spain, though perhaps some of us knew about those of Mexico City.

In any case, pigeons turned out to be a minor source of cultural excitement in the middle of that decade we’d all prefer to forget: the 1990s.  It’s said that along with pigeons appeared “secret colombidae-philes”; those people who love to breed these birds, which were easily sold for religious purposes or simply kept on the breeders’ balconies or individual roofs.

The pigeons of San Francisco Plaza are possibly the best guarded in the world, because without someone being there to “care for” them at this very moment, there would be no pigeons in that square or any other one in Old Havana.  That’s the simple truth.

However, I’ve been reading in that monstrous invention of modernity (the Internet) that in many of those European plazas just mentioned (perhaps in Chile as well), these poor birds have become a nuisance for some politicians and some scientists.

Some think that pigeons steal the show and destroy the ephemeral human work these people usually refer to as art.  Others assert that these birds transmit too many viruses to be allowed to continue spreading them in the principal squares of the world.  “War on pigeons,” the newspaper headlines implore.

This seems paradoxical if we recall that the symbol of the pigeon or dove with an olive branch in their beak symbolizes peace.  But life is like this: Today you’re a symbol of peace; tomorrow they declare war on you.  Today you’re in your house when they come with a cage and take you to another place.  You gradually get used to that new place and then, suddenly, you start to get in the way and you begin putting the lives of people at risk, ever more than petroleum itself.

For my part, I can’t stop feeling grateful for their existence, for running into them in this square in Caracas, where they apparently haven’t started to bother people; in fact, it’s to the contrary.  Those of us who go for walks over there continue to find a certain attractiveness in these “rats with wings,” as the scientists call them.

Perhaps we Latin Americans are less presumptuous and we better accept coexistence with birds and animals in general.  But maybe it’s not that either.  Perhaps it’s because they haven’t piqued the curiosity of some politician.  I bet it’s for this last reason, though unfortunately we already know.  Everything is a question of politics…even the question of pigeons.  I pray for the ones that have lately been going around European plazas “bothering” people.

Click on the tumbnails below to view all the photos in this gallery

Comments are closed.