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Death in the Morning

One of our favourite things to do in Paris on a day off was to have breakfast for 8 Euros at La Coupole. After fresh rolls, croissants, Kougloff if we are early enough, and coffee, we ambled down rue Vavin to the Luxembourg Gardens with a book or newspaper, to find a quiet shady spot for a few hours of reading and dozing.

The Mairie de Paris (Paris City Hall) thoughtfully provides many seats and armchairs to lounge in, which you can move to anywhere in the garden, for a few minutes or hours. They are big generous chairs, some with armrests, some reclining at a comfortable angle which encourages quiet reflection, drifting into sleep on a warm summer day.

We crossed the dusty limestone pebbled desert in front of the Senat, past the children sailing model boats gracefully across bassin or pond, as they have been doing for more than a hundred years.

The spot we chose this morning was the Fontaine de Medicis. A long still pool under green canopy of shady trees with garlands of ivy hanging between them. The comfortable seats are scattered along the sides of the pool, left wherever they were when their last occupants strolled away, in the peaceful reverie which descends on anyone who seeks it in this place.

At the far end is the fountain, originally a faux grotto, built for Catherine of Medici in the 16th century, who was homesick for her native city of Florence. In the early 19th century, statues were added. Galatea in the arms of Acis in the centre, dreamy lovers in a languid embrace, like some of the couples lounging quietly beside the pool.

We reclined in our chairs, legs entwined, reading, dozing, watching the ducks glide silently up and down the pool. Little sparrows chirped and danced about underneath the chairs, picking up crumbs. Other birds were singing in the trees overhead. Higher up and far away, some crows were calling to each other. The morning traffic on Boulevard Saint-Michel was a low rumble in the background. Life, it seemed, hummed both exuberantly and calmly everywhere around us.

There are probably many crows in Paris, but we only ever saw two of them at any one time, so we were convinced they were the same two, and the only two in Paris. We named them Joe and Julie Blow, the Parisien corbeaux. They are big, shiny, black and very serious looking birds, who probably "don't take no merde from nobody". When they are close, or heard in the echoing courtyard of a Paris apartment block, their voices sound like they smoke three packs of Gitanes a day. They generally strut around wherever they please, including le Jardin du Luxembourg, where they drop by for a drink when they feel like it. This morning, Joe Blow swooped down to the pool, Madame stayed up in the trees watching his back.

We will never know what happened exactly, maybe pilot error, maybe a myocardial infarction, but instead of landing on the wall, glaring the other birds to send them away and taking his drink, Joe Blow flopped right into the water. Crows are not water birds, and Joe was in some trouble trying to get out with his wings wet. He started to panic as we looked on in dismay. The ducks sailed up from the far end to where they had prudently retreated when the crows arrived. They formed a semi-circle around the stricken panicking crow, chattering quietly amongst themselves.

"What's this nut doing in the water? Crows can't swim!"
"We think he fell in accidentally, and now he can't get out."
"Well, there's nothing we can do, he'd probably murder us with that great big sharp beak, ugly thing it is!"
"Look out, here comes the other one!"

Julie Blow landed on the wall, looked at Joe desperately flopping around for a second or two, then flew off with a shrug of her shoulders "Looks like the sucker's had it, too bad!" A park official, alerted by a concerned onlooker, arrived with a net on a pole, but it was too late.

Joe Blow, who a minute ago had been proudly flying over Paris contributing his gravelly voice to the sounds of the living city, died there in front of a few ducks and humans, on a clear and sunny morning.

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