Is there any sound more annoying than the call of a pigeon? At 5 in the morning? Incessant cooing for over an hour? No, absolutely not.
Up until that point I had been living an idyllic life in Italy, munching on olives and sipping white wine, but no one had prepared me for the feathered fiend currently perched in the Cyprus tree outside my bedroom window. It stared at me with a beady eye and a beak full of twigs.
‘It’s roosting in our tree!’ exclaimed my husband.
“Oh no, it’s not,” I replied, still groggy from my early morning wake up call, “because you are not going to let it.”
With a shrug of submission, my husband disappeared into the house and came back with an umbrella. He threw the umbrella up at the tree. And missed. It fell clattering to the ground, sparks flying as metal struck concrete. It was not an impressive start and the din brought out the neighbors.
Mr. Rossi and Giuseppe leaned on their gates, scratching their bald heads thoughtfully.
“What you need is a hawk,” suggested Mr. Rossi.
“Set fire to the tree,” said Giuseppe.
Marco, the 10-year old who lived next door, sat on the wall, swinging his legs rhythmically, squinting at me in the sunshine. “I’ve got a catapult,” he ventured.
Birds of prey, domestic fires and broken windows were not the most helpful of suggestions.
My husband’s next strategy was to attach a water hose to the kitchen faucet, drag it through the house, up the stairs and point it at the tree from our bedroom window. The jet of water struck the trunk with force, splashed and soaked him.
Wet, but not undeterred, he then lit some firecrackers and threw them in the foliage. With a cacophony of explosions, the confused pigeon flew out, hovered nervously, then settled on our television aerial. There was an enthusiastic round of applause from the group of, now numerous, neighbors gathering below.
As we dragged the hosepipe safely back into the garage and mopped up the huge puddle on the bedroom floor, my mother-in-law returned from her afternoon stroll with our daughter. They were greeted warmly by the cheerful group in the garden.
“In the war we shot them,” said Giuseppe, pointing an invisible gun towards the tree. “Bang! Pigeons make excellent stew.”
“In the war we were so hungry we’d eat anything.”
“Pitchin. Bang. Dead,” said my daughter and promptly burst into tears.
But my husband had already moved on to ‘plan D’. He appeared with a ladder and three, long broomsticks tied haphazardly together with some string. The brave knight carried the metal pole up on to the roof and proceeded to joust the tree.
“Ah!” shrieked my mother-in-law from the garden, hands raised dramatically to her cheeks. “Tie yourself to the chimney, son, or you’ll fall!”
“Timny. Daddy. Fall,” said our daughter and burst into tears again.
Mrs Rossi explained knowledgeably that, in Verona, they used a special, sticky repellent on their window sills. Images of Aida being sung to rows of rotting birds around the Arena and dead pigeons glued to Juliette’s balcony sprung nastily to mind.
“I’ve got an air gun,” volunteered little Marco.
My husband prodded at the Cyprus tree with his pole, found the nest and sent twigs and bark cascading to the floor.
Below my mother-in-law was wiping down the garden furniture and offering the neighbors places to sit. Mrs Rossi appeared with a plate of crunchy, almond biscotti and Giuseppe was opening a bottle of cool, white wine. It sparkled and fizzed tantalizingly in the summer light.
“Metal spikes work, and nets.”
“What you need is electrified tracking. That’ll roast ’em!”
“I still say you need a hawk.”
“My cousin’s a hunter, he’d shoot it for you.”
My daughter scuttled off in fright to offer Marco a half-chewed biscuit. He had his dirty thumb nails pressed up against his lips and was blowing into his hands, producing an excellent imitation of a pigeon cooing. “That’s all you need,” Giuseppe laughed.
The prey watched us from the roof, cocking its head from side to side. It appeared to be listening. Finally it flew off.
“It’ll be back,” said Mr. Rossi.
“Probably,” I said enjoying the pleasant burning sensation of wine sliding down my throat. We raised our glasses in the Italian sunshine. Here, living la dolce vita, anything was a good excuse for a party.
We said in unison, clinking glasses: ‘Cheers! To the pigeon!’