MY POINT OF VIEW #5 (by Tatiana Sisquella)
In Barcelona, as in any other big city, we are used to living with many things: pollution, noise, building work, the sales seasons…but if there's one thing I personally think we are getting increasingly worse at, it has to be living with pigeons. Yes, that's right; pigeons. Those birds that are both grey in appearance and attitude, that contribute nothing to the landscape nor to the logistics of the city. Those creatures that pass amongst us like untouchable extraterrestrials without the slightest intention of adapting to our society. Barcelona, like other big cities, is suffering from a plague of pigeons that nobody knows how to stop.
Let’s be frank: in general, pigeons, are not nice. They are filthy birds that live on filth, they are physically unattractive, and have no skills whatsoever to make them deserving of the admiration of most people. You will have noticed that I'm not talking about all Barcelona's citizens; our city has a double relationship with these creatures. On the one hand there are specialized squads whose aim is to eliminate, from time to time, a large number of these birds and the problems they cause. But on the other hand, Barcelona, and more specifically Plaça Catalunya, has always been a meeting point where harmony reigns between people and pigeons. I'll explain.
When I was still in lace-trimmed socks, it was a kind of tradition to go to Plaça Catalunya on Sundays with my parents and buy a bag of seeds to feed the pigeons. On side of the circle in the plaza (a mathematician would not accept the description of "one side of the circle", but that's another matter) there was a man/woman with a metal cart from which you could buy a whole range of items that included the previously mentioned seeds, strange-shaped balloons, sweets and small toys that today could only aspire to sitting on the shelves in one of the ubiquitous Chinese bazaars, but which at that time could brighten up your Sunday. When you got to the plaza your dad would buy you a little bag of food for the pigeons and he would put a small amount in your hand. You (myself, in this case) were supposed to go up to the pigeons and both carefully and confidently offer them the palm of your hand. Well, that, which for me produced a feeling of fear mixed with disgust, was a well established custom in my family. In fact, a survey devised shows that 97% of all inhabitants of Barcelona have at least one photograph in which they appear crouched down, feeding a pigeon in the middle of the plaza. In spite of the fact that this is a disappearing custom, feeding the pigeons is today the main reason for their over-population.
Time, however, puts many things in place, and over the years Barcelona has lost this area of friendship and harmony with the birds of discord, as they have become creatures rejected by the vast majority of citizens. Pigeons are ugly, they serve no purpose, they make a mess everywhere, they cause accidents and they emit a very unpleasant noise from their throats.
Furthermore, their presence can have consequences on both a large scale and on a more local one. Let's look at two examples. The city, just as in Venice, has had a serious problem to resolve since it was demonstrated that pigeons' droppings are corrosive and are destroying part of the architectural works located throughout Barcelona. In fact, in this sense, I have a theory: the statue of Columbus at the bottom of the Ramblas does not give its name to the discoverer of America but rather, to the large amount of pigeon droppings on Columbus's head. (It should be explained that “Colom” in Catalan is both the local version of Columbus’s surname and the word for “pigeon”…)
In contrast, something which has had more impact is the damaging effect that pigeons are having on the everyday lives of the city’s inhabitants. How many garments have been thrown away because they bore a pigeon shit stain that would not go away? How much therapy is required because you can't get that awful sound they make out of your head? How many twisted ankles have been caused by slipping on pigeon excrement? How many car headlamps have had to be changed due to a collision that occurred while trying to avoid running over an unmovable pigeon in the middle of the road?
I do not like pigeons and I do not like the fact that in Barcelona there are more than 180,000 of them swarming around the city (consider that in the whole of the Gironès area there are 166 thousand inhabitants!), but of course, we can't like everything…
To finish and to make up for this unpleasant interlude I've surely subjected you to, I would like to recommend you two books in which pigeons are, directly or indirectly, the protagonists, and which are both well worth reading.
1. "La Plaça del Diamant" by Mercè Rodoreda: a Catalan literature classic, which this year celebrates the centenary of the author's birth.
2. "The Pigeon" by Patrick Süskind: the other great work by this author.
A question: Why Barcelona?
An answer: Because we make pigeons fly….