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lunes, 12 de octubre de 2009

Memories of Alcalá 11: The pigeons

Original Spanish

In those postwar years, there were many pigeons in Alcalá, and many kestrels too. Those were the two most abundant species of medium-sized bird. The pigeons lived in a great pigeon-loft where nobody could disturb them – that was the vault of the Victoria [the church]. Never since have I seen so many pigeons anywhere else. The only places that could compete were the public squares in cities like Cádiz or Jerez, as a result of the generous provision of townsfolk and tourists.

There were great flocks filling the Alcalá sky at daybreak. They came to eat, drink and bring food for their young. Early in the evening they returned to the Victoria, to their nests and to the domestic pigeon-lofts. Rare was the house that didn't have some sort of wooden pigeon-roost in the barnyard for these birds to retire to.

I've often wondered why there was such an abundance of pigeons in Alcalá, and concluded that it must have been the conditions of the post-war era. Many families were unable to get sufficient supplies of meat for the sick, the children and the elderly. Pigeons offered a cheap and healthy source of meat. Game caught by poachers was prohibitively expensive and was reserved for those who could afford to buy it.

There were many types of pigeon and the lads could recognise them in flight. In the yard of my house, in the callejón Osario, we had several pigeon roosts. The most abundant type was the common or domestic pigeon, with blueish wings, dark neck and throat, and greyish-white beak. The wild pigeon [silvestre] had slate-coloured plumage, with a greenish neck, blueish beak and red feet; it couldn't tolerate captivity and lived in the Alcornocales and the game reserves. The carrier [homing] pigeon looked similar to the domestic pigeon; it was bred by aficionados who formed associations and held competitions over long distances. The woodpigeon [torcaz] was similar to the wild pigeon, with a reddish breast, whitish belly and a white collar round its neck. The rock-pigeon [zorita] had a blueish-grey plumage, wings with patches and black edges, a yellow beak, and feet of a reddish-black colour. There were many more, but these were the most well-known.

Once a year Father Manuel called a man to clean up the cloister gardens and the vault of the church. I climbed up to help the man. At the entrance to the vault, he was perplexed when he saw so many pigeons escaping through the window and flying off. The day before, the man had covered the windows and only left one entrance. He said that the pigeons had done a lot of damage in the vaults and had to be culled. He stunned them with a blow of his hand, put them into sacks, tied them up and climbed back down into the cloisters. Then he sold them or gave them to the needy, so Father Manuel said. I was given a couple for our pigeon-loft.

There were lads who killed pigeons with a catapult. This was a gadget composed of a forked stick with two arms on which were tied rubber bands joined by a strip of material, to launch stones or balls of lead. Later came shotguns, with lead shot. They reached a greater speed and distance, but they were more dangerous and children weren't allowed to use them.

There is no place for any more today, but another day I will talk about the kestrels.

JUAN LEIVA

Traducido por Claire Lloyd

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