Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Pigeon Tour

This is a guest post by Barbara Josine Haenen.

GIR is very honoured to include her contribution. I am very glad to see GIR growing to become bigger than my stupid brain.  Other people from the city have always had immense influence for GIR. Without them I would never have been getting into Rotterdam at all but rather I would've just gotten into my own dumb head. 

By the way, please send me an email( henry @ skainoiz DOT com) if you want to write something for GIR. Getting into Rotterdam is much more relevant when we do it together. 

Pigeon Tour

One wednesday my roommate and I had breakfast in a café. We decided to do so because I am moving to the Amazon rainforest soon, to carry out some thesis research, and we wanted to seize the opportunity to do something fun together in Rotterdam while we still had the chance. After breakfast I dropped her off at the train station and went to the zoo to write my first ever Getting Into Rotterdam article. I decided months ago to write it, and I always knew it was supposed to be about Blijdorp. Almost every time someone asks me to suggest something fun to do in Rotterdam, I recommend the zoo. When I was very little I lived really close to it. I still visit often, I have a membership card.

On the way to the train station my roommate and I discussed what I should write about. I knew pigeons would be a good focus point. Somewhere on our walk we came up with the idea for the Pigeon Tour; it is a guided tour around the zoo, where a pigeon acts as a guide. Which means that in order to go on a Pigeon Tour, you need to go to the zoo, pick a pigeon, follow it, and see what happens.

Because this idea came to me at the last minute, when I got to the zoo, I first went to the Rivièrahal to think over the plan. The Rivièrahal was designed to look like a cathedral and contains a kind of greenhouse full of birds. Tour. In this big birdcage some of the birds get to fly around freely, outside their smaller cage. Long sheets of plastic in front of the doors keep the birds from flying into any other part of the zoo. I walked in and stood still next to a cage with two toucans in it. After I took off my jacket and my scarf I took a few steps, and the toucans followed me to the left side of their cage. The toucans couldn’t lead me anywhere because they were in a cage. None of the other birds in the Rivièrahal could take me anywhere either, because they were also in a cage, in a way. At that moment I realized, for the first time in my life, that the birds in the Rivièrahal cannot actually fly around freely. The reason I had always thought of it that way before, is that they can stand and walk around on the same path that I walked on.

The pigeon might be the best guide through life because it is completely free. I have been to the zoo many times, always with other people. Sometimes I get the sense that as a result, I end up walking around in the zoo along the same predictable routes. A pigeon could provide a good new perspective. A pigeon in Blijdorp is also a particularly suitable guide not only because no one in the zoo would think to put a pigeon in a cage, unlike a toucan, but because pigeons, like me, live in Rotterdam. There are not many animals who would know how to survive if their natural habitat were replaced with a city; a pigeon, however, finds a way. I also live in this city. Wild animals in Rotterdam generally need to be relegated to a place like the zoo, whereas the pigeon has no need for it. Pigeons don’t have to be in the zoo, but sometimes they go there anyway. So what does a pigeon do in a zoo? Where does it go?

On my way out of the Rivièrahal I accidentally chased a pigeon through the automatic doors. It felt like a sign.

And so I started the Pigeon Tour. The first thing I learned was that going on a Pigeon Tour makes no sense and is highly impractical. Pigeons fly away, and usually to places where you cannot reach them. On the way to the train station my roommate had suggested to look for a diseased pigeon, one that couldn’t fly, to follow on foot. When I couldn’t find one of those right outside the Rivièrahal I went for a walk, on my own, looking for an appropriate pigeon.

Looking for a pigeon guide made me feel like Madeline in the movie Madeline, in the scene where she loses her hat, and in order to find her hat, she pretends to be one. Eventually she finds it under her bed. I spent most of my time either looking at the floor, trying to find a walking pigeon, or at the sky, when I wanted to know how many pigeons were flying overhead. Everything else in between the floor and the sky was a little bit irrelevant. Giraffes became almost completely uninteresting. I saw a white feather lying on the floor and it looked like a clue.

It made sense to me, at some point, that it might be easier to find a pigeon, or try to be more like a pigeon, around other birds. I considered whether maybe the pigeon community in Blijdorp had managed to integrate with other bird communities in the zoo. Then I found out I couldn’t enter any bird enclosure because they were all closed off as a result of national preventative measures against bird flu. I saw some pigeons in the ostrich cage but I couldn’t follow them in there. That made all other birds more interesting, and what particularly drew my attention were the chickens. There are chickens in a chicken coop hidden behind a staircase under a wooden Longhouse.

This is a picture of me standing on top of the stairs, looking down at the hidden chicken coop.

These are some very close-up pictures of chickens, looking straight at me.

Another sign.

The chickens were interesting because they were also birds that aren’t really supposed to be there. I’ve seen many chickens in places besides the zoo and always found them more interesting in those contexts. Today, however, these chickens, hidden underneath a house and behind a staircase, seemed relevant.

In order to carry out a Pigeon Tour effectively, you also need to learn to act like a pigeon, and distance yourself from the people around you. That might be the most challenging part; that pigeon touring is very isolating. At some point I found two walking pigeons walking, so I followed them. I followed them in a circle around the little train that leaves near the zoo entrance and provides a guided tour, two times. They may have been trying to tell me something, but probably not. To other people I probably looked insane. If I were more like a pigeon I wouldn’t have cared, and that would probably have made for a better Pigeon Tour.

I found the most pigeons near cafeterias and restaurants and food stands. They were usually eating crumbs. I followed those around for a bit, in small circles around picnic tables. At the time I felt as though things were not going as planned.

In the end I think you can learn the same lesson from both trying to behave more like a pigeon, and from attempting a Pigeon Tour. Which is, that things do not always go as planned. As they often do in life. Much like being alive, going on a Pigeon Tour makes no sense sometimes. It involves a lot of wandering around aimlessly. During moments when the Pigeon Tour was not taking off, I realized how weird of an activity it was, and how nobody had asked me to do it, and as such I had no idea what exactly it was supposed to entail. In the end that didn’t matter, because I did go on a Pigeon Tour, and saw some pretty things along the way, and the air smelled nice, because it was spring. Nobody asked me to go to the Amazon rainforest for my thesis research either. Sometimes I worry that that is not going to go to plan either, or that I’ll forget why I ever went there in the first place when I get there, or that it will all start to feel ridiculous and unnecessary. But then I remember that there are beautiful trees there too. Just like in Blijdorp.

Once, outside another bird enclosure in a big net, also closed off to me because of national bird flu prevention measures, I saw a different kind of bird. It was black, or dark blue, and looked almost fluffy. I don’t know what species it was. I considered following it only because I couldn’t find a pigeon at the time and this bird was walking slowly along the path, next to lots of green. When I got closer, it flew to the top of a door made out of hollow tree trunks. It sat down and knocked its beak against the tree trunks several times, I don’t know why. But for a second I thought to myself, that maybe he was guiding me somewhere, maybe directing me towards the door.

I looked through a crack in the closed door, and a few steps behind it, I saw another closed door.