CULTURE

Peter the Pigeon takes in the sights of Athens

It isn’t often that we get an envelope postmarked On Her Majesty’s Service. What’s more, it contained not just one letter (with the emblem of the British Ambassador in Athens) but another replying to a letter titled «Too Many Pigeons are Bad for the Health,» which appeared in this column on February 10 from lawyer Yiannis Kinias who had seen a sign in London warning people not to feed the pigeons as they were a health hazard. It appears that the letter came to the attention of a certain Peter the Pigeon who replied: «As a London pigeon enjoying a short holiday in Syntagma Square, may I congratulate you on your column in which one of your readers drew attention to the street signs in London exhorting humans not to feed us pigeons? Of course, we poor urban pigeons have a history of being scorned and abused. We still shudder over the Tom Lehrer song ‘Poisoning Pigeons in the Park’ (sample lyric: ‘When they see us coming the birdies all try and hide, but they still go for peanuts when coated with cyanid’). The current mayor of London as even referred to us as ‘rats with wings’ – a description which caused the feathered and the rodent species to consult their lawyers about defamation of character. So I applaud you reader’s sensitivity in drawing to our attention the London sign advancing the patently absurd notion that too many pigeons are bad for human health. What an idea! The truth is that we pigeons are a blessing for Londoners. We add color to the landscape – quite literally, by leaving our colorful excrement on the otherwise dull monuments and statues. We enliven Trafalgar Square by dive-bombing tourists – particularly if they look as though they have something for us to eat. And as for pigeons spreading diseases, think how we feel! As our pigeon population grows, we transmit more diseases to each other than we do to you! Thank you, too, for describing me and my family as the symbol of peace. Until now, I thought the symbol of peace was the white dove – I didn’t realize that this applied also to the humble gray pigeon (Columba livia domestica). I am puffing up my feathers in pride. So thank you for your kind words. If you would care to sprinkle some pigeon food on the window ledge of your office, I would be happy to visit your place of work with a few hundred of my friends and relations. Yours, Peter the Pigeon. P.S. I’m not sure how to find you, so I have delivered this letter to the office of the British Ambassador in the hope that he will forward it to you.» Afterword: (As we have all realized, Peter the Pigeon is none other than our beloved British Ambassador himself.) Helbi wishes Peter the Pigeon a happy holiday in Athens, which it is sure to be, since tourists and local children feed pigeons all day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Syntagma.