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Surrealist Café #2, Les Animaux

He stands on the chair beside me, nuzzling my writing arm. He is so glad to be released from his overnight stay in the kitchen. In spite of his soft bed, fresh water and food, his litter box in the petit coin, he’d much rather sleep on our faces. But we need sleep, too.

He sounds like a little fire. I put down my pen, pick up the pink brush, and comb his white and gold fur. He lifts his face so I can get at the thick Elizabethan ruff beneath his chin. Marley, Marley.

When he’s happy, the fur puffs up around his face, and he reminds me of a bumblebee, drunk on pollen.

It’s too cold now in Paris to leave the windows open. And anyway, Marley’s not as interested in prowling on the ledge since the Tourterelles were evicted.




One morning, shortly after the first egg was hatched, we opened the curtains to see if their second egg had hatched. The older chick had been gobbling food for days.

The nest was gone. Gone. Our neighbors’ grimy window had been “cleaned,” that is, someone had opened it and rubbed a rag in careless circles, leaving swirls of dirt on the glass.

What had they done with the nest? Swept it out of the geranium box? Madame and Monsieur Tourterelle might have flown away, but the three-day-old chick could not have survived, and the egg would surely have smashed.

This was the first and only video we had of that chick.

We wanted to go down to their apartment and bang on the door. But the building is one adjacent to us, and we don’t have the entry code.

What kind of people, we wondered, cannot wait two weeks for two baby doves to gain the strength to fly, before sweeping aside a nest?

Had they seen Richard’s camera pointed at their window, and felt paranoid? No, he’d made sure there were no humans around when he photographed the doves.

So hard-hearted; they were hard-hearted. Can anyone be callous towards animals and birds, and tender towards humans?

What do you think?

To celebrate the life of the Tourterelles, and to kick off a second Surrealist Café event, in which you readers participate in Paris Play, we ask the following: 

On Saturday, October 29th, at 1 p.m. in your time zone, go to your favorite café, and write or photograph or draw or compose a tune about an animal, or fish, or bird you see that day, or one who is dear to you, or an imaginary beast, or your totem animal. Write or photograph or paint from a human perspective, or from the animal’s point of view. Don’t be intimidated if you’re not an artist. Last Surrealist Café, every contribution was imaginative.

Send it to us by e-mail the following Wednesday, November 2 (absolute drop-dead deadline), and we’ll post the best work on Paris Play Saturday, November 5th.

Marley just leapt back on the chair, nudged my arm, and started purring like a bonfire, like a champion Swiss yodeler.


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Reader Comments (24)

Dear Kaaren and Richard,

This makes me so sad. How can a person be so oblivious or cruel or selfish? It is a true mystery to me. Through their proximity, these doves had clearly been part of these humans' daily comings and goings. And yet.

Our collective disconnect from nature troubles me deeply. It seems to be both the root and the symptom of a complex network of ills from which we will not recover unless we find ways to reconnect and respect the natural world.


Thank you for sharing this. And I will hope that Madame et Monsieur T. will find a more hospitable nesting place soon. (And thank you for the inclusion of dear, dear Marley in this post. He is a bundle of warmth and life to allay the coldness of your neighbors.)


Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 1:03 | Unregistered Commenterdawna

Dear Dawna,

Thank you for your eloquence. We agree with you: how can people be so callous towards living beings? It's sad. And you're right, it's a symptom of a greater disconnect with the planet itself.

Of all of his California friends, there's no one who took better care of Marley than you. Emma is a lucky gato.

We just hope the Tourterelles aren't too traumatized by their last attempt to raise a family to try again. Someplace near HUMAN beings.

Marley is glad you'll be coming to Paris next year!


Kaaren & Richard

Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 1:58 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Sorry, but....the moment you said "something sad" had happened...and then the story began with my beloved Marley...well. You can see where I'm going with this. So, as disheartening as it is to hear that people are sans coeur (pun intended), I'm so relieved that Marley is still purring away.

I don't know if people who are dismissive or cruel to animals can be kind to humans. I do know the reverse is true: people who are kind to animals can be terribly cruel to people. But then, people can be awfully easy to be cruel to. No excuse, of course. Just sayin'.

Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 2:16 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

@Anna: WORD. (as the saying is.)

Then again, kaaren, my own upstairs neighbor who had another nest brigade in her geranium box, and was told that they despoiled my terrasse with their droppings, my own nest, choc-abloc with hortensias and bamboo and geraniums and and and- and that it would be correct, in the french neighbor sense-French law says no feeding of pigeons, NONE...) it would be nice if she put up the little stakes to inhibit them from nesting there in the first place. "Chaqu'ne a son truque, " she glared. Each to her own. I was left to live with plastic spreads to catch the droppings daily, for a month...and live with the unsanitary messes. I was not charmed, my love for feathers notwithstanding. . Not that I don't love doves in Flight, but not over my head and dwelling.
XXX, margo

Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 6:28 | Unregistered Commentermargo


Marley thanks you from the bottom of his fur, er coeur. He's doing fine, curled up beside me as I type.

I read a long time ago that children who are cruel to animals usually grow up to be adults who torment other humans. I don't believe everything I read, although I do remember it and test it against my own experience. And my own experience is that people who are kind to animals tend to be kind to people too. But I know of one exception to that rule. I wonder what the experience of others is in this regard...?

Muchos besos para ti,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 15:49 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Dear Margo,

Now that's another perspective. I wouldn't want bird droppings on my terrace either. I empathize with you, yet I empathize with your neighbor's love of nesting birds, too. (Though not her lack of sympathy for your plight. She's cranky, but is she cruel?) Let's see, could you hang a huge umbrella upside down to catch the droppings, and then throw it away? Or was the mess broader than the broadest umbrella? We have noticed that the French are pretty intransigent when it comes to peacefully working out neighborly differences.

The difference here is that there's no terrace below the geranium box. The droppings fall to the courtyard, which is scrubbed daily. Hmm, maybe the gardienne reported our doves, and the police came and took them away.

May birds fly through your skies and far away from your head!


Kaaren (& Richard)

Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 16:10 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

ya know, the generalizations never do work.
cannot vouch for all this, but @kaaren, this link says some pretty make ya wonder stuff:


I hope to find more human capable of love than not, for life forms of all kinds including humans. But that's not quite predictable, it's just a good prayer.
with care,

Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 16:13 | Unregistered Commentermargo

simultaneous sending, dear k,
alas, twas bigger than a bread box, bigger than an umbrella. by far. and i found little chunks of bread on my geranium petals, so the madame was indeed feeding her favored brood.

in addition to her interest in nests, she does seem to love her 2 bulldogs. (not the prettiest species of dog, but hey.)

as for cruelty...BIG subject that does not fit in a breadbox or under an umbrella. gadaffi was cruel. adolph was cruel. the repubs who vote against healthcare and human resources and dismiss OWS and obvious hardships with let em eat cake... etc , are cruel. (imo.) my neighbor was selfish and insensitive. big diff. But that does not make me more tolerant of the inattention to neighborly welfare.

ho hum.

life on our planet.

Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 16:22 | Unregistered Commentermargo


I read the link you sent on Adolf Hitler. And my intuition said, I don't believe that he was kind to animals in his childhood. Just do not believe it. So I looked it up, and this is the first link I found, "How Did Adolf Hitler's Childhood and Youth Influence His Development," by Brian Jansen:


Here's an excerpt:

"He was even able to manipulate his mother into allowing him to stay home from school so that he could apply to an art school. This stage of his youth, however, is best described by a specific example of cruelty to animals. “According to several of Hitler’s childhood friends, Adolf once captured a billy goat and wedged a piece of wood in its mouth, then proceeding to urinate into the goat’s open mouth (unfortunately for him, though, the goat was still able to bite, causing some injury).” (Redlich, 18) If nothing else, this story serves as a chilling example of unstable behaviour. At worst, this event establishes Hitler as a neurotic and deranged person."

And another:

"The most telling sign of psychological problems could be Adolf Hitler's cruel treatment of animals. There have been several documented instances (including two here) of Hitler mistreating animals for his own pleasure. It was said that he once beat a dog brutally for the purpose of impressing a girlfriend. (abelard.org)"

Doesn't it just make SENSE that a man as monstrously cruel, deranged, as Hitler, would have taken out his rage on vulnerable creatures earlier in life? I wonder if there are similar stories about Gaddafi.

And so through dialogue, we muse on the nature of things. I'm so glad that the billy goat bit him good.



Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 16:48 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard


I so agree with you, cruelty is not just a big subject, it is the biggest subject. If the world were rid of cruelty, we'd live in Paradise--or at least, hunger and lack of health care and war would not be the challenges they are today.

Yet, there is plenty of beauty and love all around us, and life is so worth living.

Maybe do a magic spell on your neighbor's geranium box, so no birds land there?



Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 17:01 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Fascinating links, both of them, kaaren. How do we ever come to understand the psychology of mass murderers and their evil seeds? We try and try. And read the biographies, and then try to understand the next. one down the pike. Surely there will be a slew on the most current ones. And re Hitler, not sure one of the links is more 'certain" as reference than another, tho the documentation of the student's reading is also of interest...and/but am surely glad to read both and mull the human animal in all its glories and horrors, on a gorgeous autumnal Saturday afternoon in Paris.
be well,
live in love however one can, and pray for the doves of peace to teach their most important metaphor.
as for magic spells...hmmm. bubble bubble toil n trouble.

I'll hush now and let others say more...

Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 17:25 | Unregistered Commentermargo

Dear Margo,


And, by magic spell, I don't mean witchery a la Shakespeare. Was thinking more of the magic of imagining, of iMAGining something twice this week so intensely that it happened. "As if" by magic. More along the lines of John Lennon's "Imagine." Making magic with our minds.

The sky is so beautiful today!



Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 17:52 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Kaaren and Richard,

I'll refer to your quote: "I read a long time ago that children who are cruel to animals usually grow up to be adults who torment other humans."

It's common psychological knowledge that adult sociopaths and psychopaths often exhibited cruelty to animals during childhood. Their feelings of empathy are blunted. MRI's exhibit that a part of the amygdala area of the brain lights up when these psychologically ill people view images of people and living creatures being hurt, indicating that they derive pleasure from witnessing others pain. They are sadistic, needless to say.

This is disturbing to know. Yet, I'd rather be aware than naive and ignorant. Then I can be discerning, only allowing kind people into my personal world.

I also concur with Anna's point, that there are many pet/animal lovers who are cruel to humans.

I am so grateful for the many kind people I am kindred with.

Bless your hearts. You know who you are. And, by the way, where do you find these images, Richard, like the peeling black paint image of the cat on concrete? Amazing.


Sunday, October 23, 2011 at 5:13 | Unregistered CommenterMarguerite Baca

Dear Marguerite,

Thanks for citing the scientific tests. You reminded me of something I'd forgotten: that a part of the brain--the amygdala--reveals the pleasure that sociopaths and psychopaths get from causing pain. Isn't that the very essence of psychological illness?

Clearly, I have less experience than you or Anna with people who are kind to animals and cruel to humans. But I have learned how to distance myself from unloving people. I had an epiphany about twenty years ago that I didn't need any negative people in my life, and just stopped seeing these people. And the shift in quality of life, of happiness, was exponential. Huge. No more coming home from meeting someone and feeling drained, diminished in energy.

We mirror one another, bringing blessing or depression. I choose the former.

Richard is a hunter/gatherer of images; he finds them everywhere. And he thanks you.

And we're grateful for your friendship.


Kaaren & Richard

Sunday, October 23, 2011 at 16:03 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

A caution here: Pigeons/doves carry disease and when you try to clean up after them, you can breathe in some pretty destructive bacteria. We had a pair of nesting pigeons on our roof/balcony and tried everything we could to discourage them. Didn't work. Seems they mate for life and stay in the same place forever, generation after generation. Sometimes it was fascinating to watch them (especially mating) and sometimes damned annoying to listen to the "coo, coo, coo" at dawn. Most of all, I'm afraid the "concierge" in "The Producers" was right when she talked about "dirty, stinkin" boids". Are they ever. Finally we had to remove the structure (a tool shed) to force the pigeons to move. They did and I presume they're living happily ever after somewhere else. Just remember: if you're going to clean up after them wear a mask and gloves, soak the area with water and bleach, then scrub it clean.

Monday, October 24, 2011 at 3:03 | Unregistered CommenterRuth Lansford

Dear Ruth:

How wonderful to hear from you. And to have you weigh in with such a compassionate view--from someone we would consider an expert in the humane treatment of animals. Seems to us that's one of the reasons you founded Friends of Ballona Wetlands, yes?

So the eventual secret is to tear down the place they're living in and hope they move? We trust you did not do it during mating season. Seems to us that California law is quite strict on that point, and that you would be rigorous in that regard.

Love to you and Bill.

Richard (& Kaaren)

Monday, October 24, 2011 at 18:34 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Swept off the ledge, probably without a second thought. Remember, in some corners of the world they are called "rats with wings." That they charmed you for so brief a time is the magic of nature, a challenge in our cities. Regarding the diseases they probably carry, the longer I live the more I hope I get exposed to everything out there, so that my resistance grows stronger. It's a hard line to walk, do we wash our hands after filling our car with gas (a new report came out today on the germyist things you touch - gas handles top the list). Well, there maybe - yes. When you pick up a handful of dirt there is a good chance you've just exposed yourself to anthrax, or cleaning your cat litter, picking up your dog poo, wiping your kid's bottom - all kinds of stuff is just waiting. I don't know what the answer is, I just know if I had to live in a bubble I would die. Not to say my eyes don't water and itch every day from some undiagnosed allergy I'm suffering from. Getting back to the doves, does Paris have a "migratory bird act" which protects "nesting" birds? It you want to take time to inform your clueless neighbors perhaps you could drop off a note with that information, for next time. Like in America, some gardener was probably just doing his job and didn't realize until it was too late, and even then thought, oh, it's just a pigeon. The doves will probably be back next year... get the word out now that you noticed, you're watching, you care. Maybe they, the tenants and the gardener, will too.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 at 14:13 | Unregistered CommenterLisa - remaining Head

Dear Lisa,

No one knows better than you the magic of nature. I remember the last time I walked with you around Del Rey lagoon, and every few steps you'd point out a bird and tell Yami and me something about it. I assume you know them all by their nicknames by now.

What you say about germs--"the longer I live the more I hope I get exposed to everything out there, so that my resistance grows stronger" was the very attitude of our friend, Jane Eliot, and she was in terrific health most of her life.

You're also reminding me of traveling with Varda. I got immune shots before going to Vietnam with her, and the doctor advised not touching any animals. I passed on the word to her, and then tramping through the jungle one day, we came across a huge, I mean HUGE, pig in a pen, probably a day away from slaughter. He looked up at us through long lashes of the most beautiful pale eyes, and we both thought he was pleading with us to free him. She leaned down and petted him, and he seemed almost... soothed. So much for germs.

We'd have to figure out how to get into our neighbors' building if we wanted to leave them a note. But the law is on their side, and we doubt they'd be interested in hearing what a couple of Americans have to say about what they do with their window box.

But we're sending out word to the doves that they can nest in our geraniums anytime. We just won't open that window.

--Fans of les Tourterelles

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 0:06 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

They do move. Pigeons are marvelous survivors. That's why they're all over the place. They don't really have a mating season. They produce little ones all year round. And before we did this we checked and found that there isn't any prohibition on getting rid of pigeons, as compared with other birds (nesting season, etc). The advice to get rid of their residence came from the rehab center for injured birds. It's interesting that there seems to be a caste system among birders -- and poor pigeons are at the bottom of the list. In fact, a major Auduboner once warned that should we continue neglecting the wetlands, we'd be left with nothing but pigeons and Norway rats. How's that for a put-down? But believe me, they are the ultimate survivors.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 4:22 | Unregistered CommenterRuth Lansford

Hi Ruth,

We're glad to hear that pigeons and doves are such survivors. And we've certainly noticed their year-round fertility.

If birders are people who have a caste system for birds, I guess that means we're not birders.

Since everyone seems to be weighing what they know about germs with how much they like a particular bird, maybe it comes down to which matters more to you. (And where the birds are located in relation to your home.) But then, a white dove flew into our friend, Jon Hess's home, and he adopted it. That wouldn't work for us, since we have a cat who loves birds entirely too much.

Between you and Lisa, there is nothing we can't learn about our winged friends.

Much love,

Kaaren and Richard

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 22:10 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

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