Hand-feeding the birds in Paris is compulsive. I do it every time I go. My favourite are the sparrows. On one visit I would wander down to Notre Dame square every evening with a madeleine longue, rice or birdseed bought in the nearby bird market. I love the sensation of their tiny gripping claws, and I talk to them of course. There are regulars who feed them every day, every year, that the birds know, who attract a flock as soon as they arrive with their carrier bags full of seed or bread. If I don't have any food on me I'll ask them for a hand-full of theirs, and chat to them about the ways of sparrows, or gulls, crows, pigeons, starlings - they all take their turns.
When I was four I lived in a children's home south of Paris called the Mésangerie – the tit-house – and the birds of Paris I encounter now remind me of those infants in their nest-like dormitories, and also of Annette Messager's sculptures The Boarders and Knit for Sparrows, with her sparrow corpses obsessively dressed in knitted capes and crocheted bonnets, laid out to sleep in boarding rooms. The sparrows – or moineaux – seem miraculous to me, as I live in east London, where they have virtually vanished, though they were plentiful when I first moved here twenty-five years ago. A special treat is to see them having a dust-bath just by the privet in front of Notre Dame, which I remember they used to do on the pavement outside my house once, so often I didn't always marvel at their ritual.
|Me hand-feeding the sparrows on the parvis of Notre Dame, over the box privet, I took the photo on my iPhone with my other hand.|
|The gull man this Christmas on the Pont au Double. He has trained them to eat from his lips as well, I love the queue!|
|The crows of the Jardin des Plantes, at twilight, closing time, this Christmas. A woman arrived with a bag of bread and hundreds crowded around her.|
|This man must be a regular. He was so engrossed in his sparrows it was captivating. I did ask for a hand-full of breadcrumbs from him and they devoured them instantly.|
|The pigeon man of Notre Dame|
|The pigeon woman of Notre Dame offering rice, Christmas 2011|