Did you know that St. Catherine is from Siena, Italy? Did you also know that they house her mummified face and finger in their main Duomo? Siena is full of relics, monuments, and statues. Many of which reflect their fear of the Florentines. The Sienese cherish their culture and heritage. A lot of their city is designed to mimic the trappings of Roman culture. Throughout the city you can find statues and frescoes depicting the wolf that nursed the babes of Remus and Romulus. Romulus having killed Remus is attributed to the founding of Rome.
Spending the day in this city, however, was less than entertaining. That might sound ungrateful given that I was traveling around Europe. But the theme of most of our tours and lectures for the day revolved around how superior Siena was to Florence. Walking through the palazzos and churches gets a little monotonous after a while. Once you’ve been to one medieval city, you have really been to them all.
You know what is interesting though? Watching one of your classmates decide that the best way to spruce up the day is to catch a pigeon with his bare hands.
“You have to do it the right way,” he informed us, a twinkle in his eye. “The best way to go about it is to get a group of them together, and single one out.”
Our group of friends sat in the giant palazzo, huddled together and eagerly listening to his instructions.Having lived in Italy for a full year in high school he had covered a lot of the country even before our Study Abroad program. He told us stories of how each time he visited a new city he had made it his mission to catch one. Some people collect postcards, Teo collected pigeons.
Personally, I would never be brave enough to touch a bird. I find birds in general dirty and gross, sky rats if you will. But who was I to stop him? At our encouragement he ran off towards the closest bar to buy some kind of bait.. After what seemed like quite a while he returned with some stale bread that they had begrudgingly given to him. At his instruction we all began to rip the bread into teeny tiny pieces. “You have to make it last. You rarely get one on the first try.”
It was time...
We began scattering our crumbs all around us. Far enough away that they wouldn’t land on us, but close enough to reach them when the time came. Sure enough, they came. It started small, but before we knew it they were everywhere. White pigeons, grey pigeons, demon-eyed black pigeons. They swarmed around the piles of stale bread crumbs. I screamed and ducked for fear of being pooped on. Teo was already in the zone, and was circling in on what would soon be his prey. Enthusiasm curbed (get it?) my fear as he crept towards the group of pigeons... Oh my god... He’s going to do it. He is actually going to grab a bird! Both disgusted and enthralled I turned on my video camera. I would not miss this moment. He bent his legs... crept towards the group... and ever so slowly reached down his hands.
Bang, Swoosh, Flappppingggg
A sweeping of birds took to the sky as a five year old with a chocolate smeared face took over the scene. Giggles and shouts flooded over us as all of the local children came running to our collection of birds. Some to chase, others to kick, but all in good fun. Teo’s face sunk with sadness but only for a moment. Watching these children really was enjoyable. We handed them bread crumbs and they threw them towards the sky. I’m not sure they understood that we had a pretty specific mission in mind. However we were happy to share in the hunt for a moment.
It took several minutes to shoo away the children, and not the birds. I wasn’t sure how to say “Please stop ruining our photo-op, my friends trying to catch a pigeon.” in Italian. It seemed every time we got the birds to come back to us that the groups of screaming children would come rushing back to join in the fray. The cuteness of their gelato smeared faces was wearing off. “My camera battery is dying. Let’s do this!” Our friends began to circle the pigeons, pushing them closer and closer together. Circling around like vultures. Wild children aside this was taking longer than we had anticipated.
I was starting to have my doubts. Maybe he had exaggerated? I bet he didn’t expect us to ask him to actually do it when he told us the stories of his past conquests. Disappointment began to find me as I accepted that it was highly unlikely that he was going to be able to pull this off.
Our hopes were running low just as fast as our bread crumbs. Teo continued to reassure us that this was going to happen, but we had all begun to accept the fact that it wasn’t. My roommate, Hania, began her own attempts to single one out. She would slowly shuffle behind one bird that looked weaker than the rest. When she was close she'd yell for him to come get it. He would hurry over, but to no avail.
“This is it guys, this is the rest of our bread.”
In his hand lay a pile of sandy crumbs, all that was left of our feast. He drizzled it near his feet and we all backed up. So as not to disturb a single bird. The pigeons waddled over and began pushing each other out of the way to get a bite of bread. Teo assumed the position. He slowly lowered his hands over the bird closest to him. Down, down, down.... Gently he placed his hands on either side of his victim and cupped it. Victory was his! He scooped it up and held it above him for us all to see. It was like Lion King, but more germs. “I got one! Take a picture, take a picture! Quick!” Our friend Andy had not only a picture but a perfect video of the whole thing. We giggled and squealed as he released the bird back to the Siena sky.
So he really could catch a pigeon. This day may have started out boring, but the city showed us it’s charm in a very unique way. How often in life do you get to say you watched someone catch a pigeon with their bare hands?
This moment taught me something else though too, to have a little faith. Teo said that he could do it, and that he would do it. When it seemed impossible my immediate response was to lose faith and give up on seeing it happen. What a crappy attitude right? On my left wrist I have tattooed the word “Faith.” It is a reminder to me to have faith in God, myself, and in people. In my cynical world view it is so easy to forget that. Yet somehow chasing pigeons showed me that all good things happen in their own time. You just have to remember to have faith.
(This post is dedicated to Teo, a wonderful wonderful hooman. Pictured below shortly before this escapade began.)