05 April 2008

The Crows of Montmartre

Awaiting the next sortie: A few of my neighbors

My apartment overlooks the Montmartre Cemetery. The usual joke is that at least the neighbors are quiet, but the reality is otherwise. Apart from the glorious dead, the cemetery is home to living — and noisy — creatures, including several flocks of crows.

Crows are carrion birds, and for that reason, I always thought they must be a little confused. After all, the pickings must be slim when all the best material is six feet underground and covered over with a marble slab, or else residing in a tightly locked mausoleum, of which Montmartre has many. Surely they’d be better off elsewhere. This morning, however, I witnessed a scene that persuaded me that the crows must be in the right place, after all.

I chanced to look out my window into the street, a dead-end that backs into one of the cemetery walls. Below me, one of the local cats was scurrying toward the graveyard, a pigeon in his jaws. With agility that seemed somehow more than catlike, he scaled the wall, never dropping his prey.

This did not escape the attention of the crows, who began one of the angriest choruses of cawing I’ve heard from them during my time in Paris. They began to circle and to perch briefly in the overlooking trees — clearly preparing to attack or to scavenge, as circumstances required.

The cat was not thrilled by either prospect. He ran for cover behind one grave, then another, the pigeon fluttering its wings but unable to escape. The crows became louder and, as their numbers increased, more menacing. At last the cat ducked under the base of a mausoleum, and in a second or two — much to my surprise — the pigeon emerged, spread its wings and began to fly away.

The crows were not satisfied by this demonstration of the pigeon’s vitality, and tested it by chasing the bird back and forth across this corner of the cemetery for a couple of minutes. When it became clear that the pigeon was in no immediate danger of dying, the crows returned to the treetops, where they discussed the matter at some length.

That’s when I snapped a few photos, to commemorate the event. For those who doubted that Paris was a savage jungle, you know better now.