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More Nice neighbours: village idiots …?


I know I’m very lucky to live where I do; but I can’t tell you how sick and tired I get of hearing nothing but gulls and pigeons. Escaping into the arrière pays on those rare occasions when I can is the obvious antidote. And sitting in Maude’s garden in spring and summer – a reliable pleasure on its own, even without the birdsong.

But, oh, I do miss home and living in a tiny village surrounded by wooded hills yielding sounds to beguile even the most exacting ear. And identifying the birds was an additional treat.  I was blessed and, worse still given what was to come, I knew it. Even my pet – that most languid and imperious of cats – collaborated: birds were safe from her because her food was delivered without fail ready to eat.  This passive queen of feline restauration rapide would sit yawning at my kitchen table, observing without interest the robin who used to hop into the room when the patio doors were open and the coal tits gorging on the elderberry bush outside the window by the sink.

So I thought what happened a couple of weeks ago might be the result of nostalgic wishful thinking. There I was, musing over my keyboard and thinking of – well, not very much, frankly –  when I heard a cuckoo. That’s right: a cuckoo. And that was it, not me, if you please.  Just beginning to think that my ears had either deceived me or delivered yet another silly signal from a mobile ‘phone, I dismissed the fancy with a shrug. Then it happened again. Yes, definitely a cuckoo.  But in August? August! Couldn’t be right, surely? The cuckoo, however, had other ideas. I relegated it to ‘prank’, and carried on regardless.

A day or so later, pottering about bright and early one morning, I heard an owl hooting.  Yes, I did. And, no, I am not losing my marbles (or what’s left of ’em). Mildly anxious, I went through the same routine, checking, wondering – and the owls kept up their haunting hunting cries. In the centre of a city on a morning in early September: owls.

Magic! I was absolutely thrilled – and intrigued as well.  Although, enchanting as the birdsong may be, the explanation is prosaic enough.  And entirely apt – its source is a local florist. The young man who lives on the first floor and runs the neighbouring boutique fleuriste is a constant innovator.  So much so that even the most hardened grow-only-things-you-can-eat/drink flower-philistine  – me, for example – is stopped in their tracks by his window display, pausing for a good look and departing with spirits raised. So, having proved himself on the visual front, Monsieur le fleuriste is now experimenting with sound effects.

Gorgeous! As I type, a nightingale is treating the quartier to a serenade – entirely unseasonal, but who cares? We all love it: the inhabitants of the apartment buildings; the hairdressers; the little branch of Schlecker; the bakery; passersby en route to the Prom’ –  all smiling at the birdsong.

I told my neighbour how delighted we are by his latest development. He grinned happily, another neighbour joining us on the pavement outside the shop to add his own appreciation. “And look, Mrs,” said the neighbour, pointing at a tiny birdbox on a stand, “it is amazing! All those birds, they’re all … in there!” I goggled at it, pretending to be amazed. We all laughed.

Sometimes living here is like being in a village. And we have our own idiot, too – well, two of them in fact. I think they might be brothers; there is certainly a resemblance. I know nothing about such things, so hesitate to describe their condition; but I assume that blanket psychiatric term ‘schizophrenia’ covers their behaviour, with its propensity for strange, shout-y delusions and illusions.

A month ago the elder of the pair, not to be outdone by the commotion surrounding a murder in a neighbouring restaurant, marched around the block declaiming his woes and suspicions in full, formal Comédie Française fig for the duration of the immediate aftermath. His audience of residents remained resolutely unimpressed, responding with a communal bras d’honneur accompanied by obbligato requests that he shut up and go away.  But the one-man uproar continued, all the medical emergency services attending apparently having their hands full. Eventually the deluded young man was calmed by a gendarme, weighed down with weaponry, who handled the situation with awe-inspiring patience and kindness – armed to the teeth, a cliché-killing copper.

The other, younger one was having a conniption outside Schlecker not long ago, screaming his outrage at imaginary insult and at great length.  On that occasion it was the young florist who emerged from his shop and with remarkable patience succeeded in soothing the enraged lad. Gently, calmly, body language loose and unthreatening, my clever neighbour spoke to the boy until he was silent and able to walk away without further ado.  I watched admiringly from the balcony noting that, while the boy was deafeningly audible, the florist was speaking so quietly that despite my  overhead perch I couldn’t make out a word he said. A rare gift, that – being able to impose your personality so effectively without raising your voice, and for the good.  Although on reflection perhaps it’s not so surprising in one who can charm the birds from the trees!

  1. 26/09/2009 13:25

    I love to hear the sound of the morning chorus of birds first thing in the morning. Perhaps I could do with his bird box 😉

  2. Minnie permalink
    26/09/2009 13:41

    Cherie: I love the dawn chorus, too. And if you do get one of those bird boxes, you’ll have to let us all know how you get the birds into it ;-).
    Owls hooting away merrily in the background as I type (1340h on 26 Sept.) ;-)!

  3. 26/09/2009 18:48

    Here in the States, we have a clock that has bird sounds on it and a different bird call each hour. The bird is pictured next to the hour.

    The ability to be kind and to see mental illness as just that . . . an illness, is a special insight and gift.

    This has been a wonderful and uplifting post. I would say the French are far ahead of Americans in compassion for the mentally ill.

    Thank you for the visit to my site.

  4. Minnie permalink
    26/09/2009 19:09

    Maria: welcome, and thanks for your kind words. Yes, I agree there aren’t many able to treat the confused and vulnerable with kindly commonsense. I suspect that’s a universal truth. All the same, my own experience shows people are generally more pleasant, even warm-hearted here than in my own country.

  5. 01/10/2009 03:56

    Now I’m a townie, me, but even I miss the little family of sparrows who used to greet me every morning in Britain so I can imagine how you feel. But what a delightful time you have had with all this birdsong and you describe your delight so well. Love the tale of the – err cerebrally challenged lads.

  6. Minnie permalink
    01/10/2009 08:31

    Welshcakes: it is extremely cheering, birdsong, isn’t it? All suspiciously quiet on the ‘CC-lad’ front for past month, so I reckon we’re probably due another episode …!

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