16 Reasons Pigeons Need Celebrating n Kathleen Rooney’s New Novel!


Doves get loads of love.

Pigeons get nada. Make that less than nothing.

Why?

As an animal lover since birth, the kind who was severely bitten by a dog when I was six yet who still never feared them, pigeon haters have always mystified me.

Hmmm…

Doves: white

Pigeons: colored

Hmmm…

Doves: a little trimmer

Pigeons: a little stouter

Hmmm…

DO NOT TAKE A LOOK AT THIS LINK that elaborates on what I’m getting at if you’re offended by ribald humor with liberal use of the f-word. FOR EVERYONE, THERE’S THIS LINK.

What do a penguin and a pigeon have in common? Sure, they’re both birds, and one might consider what I mentioned about doves vs. pigeons. In their case, however, that’s not what I’m getting to.

Marvelously, Penguin Books is publishing Kathleen Rooney’s most recent novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, about a heroic pigeon!

Kathleen’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, sent me into such complete nirvana that I invited her to guest post on Happiness Between Tails—and she did!!—in this prior post.

Today she’s back to tell us about the inspiration behind Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey and 16 reasons pigeons need to be celebrated.

This is a link to buy Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey from your own favorite local bookstore.

Kathleen Rooney and a friend unbox her latest novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.
Kathleen Rooney and a friend unbox her latest novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

On the Under-Appreciated Marvelousness of Pigeons by Kathleen Rooney

My novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey—a World War I story narrated in the first-person alternately by a homing pigeon and an American military officer, both of them real-life heroes—has just been released by Penguin. The fact that the publisher for this book is named after a bird delights me because penguins and pigeons seem like an auspicious pairing.

Of course, the story of World War I has been told often but never from the perspective of the courageous messenger pigeon who saved the Lost Battalion and helped to determine the war’s outcome. Cher Ami was so famous in her day that when she died as an indirect result of the injuries she sustained in the conflict, they had her taxidermied and put on display in the Smithsonian. You can still visit her there today in their Price of Freedom exhibit, where she sits in her glass case among other important communication equipment. My hope is that if you love pigeons and decide to give this book a read, then you’re in for a treat, and if you don’t, then you’re about to change your mind.

Cher Ami, WWI heroine, at the Smithsonian.
Cher Ami, WWI heroine, at the Smithsonian.

Penguin understands that not everyone shares my admiration for pigeons, so as part of their marketing campaign, they asked me to come up with a set of pigeon facts designed to endear the birds to other people as much as pigeons have endeared themselves to me. Thinking fondly of the pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon (as my spouse and I named them) who moved in under the eaves while I was writing my book, I set to work compiling those facts.

Pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon.
Pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon.

Coo and Walter and their babies Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald have long since moved on with their lives, but the pigeon facts remain, and I hope they’ll inspire you to look more closely at these remarkable birds and also to give my novel a read.

Coo and Walter's babies, Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald.
Coo and Walter’s babies, Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald.
  1. The word “pigeon” is a French translation of the English word “dove.” There’s no scientific difference between the two; they’re the same.
  2. The common city pigeon (Columba livia) is a descendant of the rock dove and is one of the first birds ever domesticated by humans, probably dating back to about 4,500 BCE in Mesopotamia.
  3. Humans and pigeons have lived closely together for millennia, thanks in part to the birds’ phenomenal homing skills, which allow them to return to their nests from up to 1,300 miles away.
  4. In addition to being good navigators, pigeons are extremely strong with high endurance and have been known to fly as far as 1,500 miles on a single trip. They can fly as high as 6,000 feet and average a speed of almost 77 miles per hour, with top speeds of almost 93 miles per hour having been attained by some birds.
  5. Because of pigeons’ homing talent, humans have called upon pigeons to carry the news throughout history, ranging from messages on flood levels up and down the Nile in ancient Egypt, to the results of the Olympic Games in Greece in the 8th century. As early as 500 BCE, the emperor of China used pigeons to receive messages in Beijing from outer provinces because a bird could travel in as many hours as it took a horse and rider days. Hannibal used pigeons during his siege of Rome, and Julius Caesar sent them to relay messages from his military campaigns in Gaul. Genghis Khan and his grandson Kublai Khan created a pigeon post that spanned a sixth of the world. Besieged Parisians relied on pigeon post in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, and, of course, pigeons served as messengers in both WWI and WWII.During World War I, over 100,000 pigeons were used on the battlefield.
  6. Pigeons are included in the Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park London in honor—as the dedication says—of “all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.” It was unveiled in 2004 on the 90th anniversary of the start of World War I.
  7. People didn’t start calling pigeons “rats with wings” until this false idea was popularized in the 1980 movie Stardust Memories; pigeons are actually quite clean and not at all disease-ridden.
  8. Pigeons do not migrate, but rather adapt to one environment and remain there year-round—a lot like humans.
  9. Pigeons are one of a relatively small number of species who pass the mirror test for self-recognition.
  10. Pigeons can distinguish different humans in photographs.
  11. According to a 2016 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pigeons can be trained to recognize dozens of words, with the most accomplished pigeon being able to learn as many as 60.
  12. According to a 1994 study published in The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, pigeons can successfully learn to discriminate between paintings by Monet and Picasso.
  13. When pigeons mate, they mate for life.
  14. Male and female pigeons share equal responsibility in raising their chicks. Both take turns sitting on the eggs and both feed the babies pigeon milk—a secretion that both male and female birds produce in their crops.
  15. Pigeons are still kept as pets, bred, and raced around the world; in 2019, a Belgian racing pigeon named Armando sold for $1.4 million. The auction house said that Armando’s athleticism made him, in soccer terms, the Lionel Messi of the avian world.
  16. The brilliant inventor Nikola Tesla fell in love with a white pigeon who visited him at the window of his room in the Hotel St. Regis in New York City: “I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was purpose to my life,” he wrote.

About Kathleen Rooney: she’s a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a collective of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poems on demand. Her most recent books include the novel Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk and The Listening Room: A Novel of Georgette and Loulou Magritte. Her reviews and criticism appear in the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Chicago magazine, and her World War I novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey is available now from Penguin.

Do you like pigeons? (It’s ok if you didn’t before this post.)

Dogs Fly, Books, Unsung Art, Vistas, Dolphins in Los Angeles! by da-AL


Having people stay over is the best time to get to know my sprawling Los Angeles better! This month we had the bonanza of double guests. I’m kicking myself (metaphorically) for botching photos of some family, so please envision cheery faces between all these shots…

Pasadena’s lovely Norton Simon Museum (of art), is modestly sized yet dense with treasures! Pablo Picasso apparently made the women in his life miserable, which may explain why this one finds sweet refuge in her book…

Woman with a Book, 1932, Pablo Picasso of Spain, oil on canvas.

I knew about Edgar Degas’ captivating ballerina sculptures (the Norton also features some of those), but not that he created atmospheric monotypes…

Autumn Landscape (L’Estérel),1890, Edgar Degas of France, monotype in oil colors on heavy cream-colored laid paper.

Unsung artists sing out! There’s a special place in my heart for ‘unknown’ artists, given my current status as a not-yet-published novelist. In this work by a lesser-known painter, this hat maker might be more content reading a book, no?…

The Milliner by Valere De Mari of the U.S., 1917, pastel on wove sketch pad paper.

Reading Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-winner “The Goldfinch,” which sets an amazing portrait of a little bird at its core, put me in the mood for Dutch art. Unknown artist(s?) committed these masterly tulips to paper for a tulpenboek, a.k.a. a humble flower catalog…

Branson, c. 1640, gouache, watercolor, and pencil on paper.
Root en Geel van Katolikn, c. 1640, gouache, watercolor, and pencil on paper.

Animal lovers, join me in a swoon at this visual paean to dogs! Note the proud master’s coat of arms on the collar, his ‘country house’ in the background…

Aldrovandi Dog, c. 1625, Giovanni Francesco Barbiere (a.k.a. Guercino) of Italy, oil on canvas.

Griffith Park is as wonderful for the park itself as it is for the views. You met this part of my family first here

My year ‘round Valentine and moi in front, Angela and Kim in back, with the sun on our faces, the wind in our hair, and grand Los Angeles behind us.

Our doggie barely touched the ground, she had that much fun at Rosie’s Dog Beach in Long Beach. Thank you, Justin, for your many many good works, including getting the city to okay this canine paradise. As for dolphins, dear reader, your imagination is needed — every dang many times those amazing creatures surfaced only yards from us, they eluded my photography. All the same, they were breathtaking!!!!!…

See the joyous dog in flight, visualize the dolphins cavorting, ignore the oil rigs in the background…

What sight do you most wish you could have photographed?

Inspiration at the Getty Museum Los Angeles by da-AL


My honey, me, Angela, and Kim took a tram up to see the Getty Center.

Having family over to visit is an opportunity to see my own city through new eyes. It’s the best kind of stay-cation! We took them to visit the Getty Center (which shouldn’t be confused with the Getty Villa)…

The Getty Center offers amazing views.

The first area we visited was their gardens…

Getty Center gardens with the Getty’s amazing travertine architecture.

What could be better than art featuring a cat lover?…

Portrait of Magdaleine Pinceloup de la Grange by Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, 1747.

And what’s more manly than manly royalty showing off his 64-year-old dancer legs in tights?…

Portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701.

Which is happier do you think — horse or rider?…

Angel of the Citadel by Marino Marini, 1950.

Mercury is a god of things good and bad and everything in between, so it stands to reason that his shadow would be as interesting as he is…

Mercury by Johan Gregor van der Schardt, 1575.

All this art was made me hungry…

Still Life: Tea Set by Jean-Étienne Liotard, 1782.

The sun began to cast long shadows across this Getty fountain — we were inspired to make our own art!…

Our great day at the Getty made us want to dance!…
so we danced…
and danced…
and danced!

It was a perfect way to end the day!…

Sunset at the Getty is spectacular!

What inspires you?

Bubbly Fun at Bath, England, by da-AL


The city of Bath, England, is famous for — its ancient Roman Baths! First, we’d seen London here, visited the British Museum here and here and here, Avebury henge, Stokesay Castle, Harlech and Conwy and Penrith and Ullswater, and later saw Scotland’s Kelpies

The Roman Baths at Bath are beautiful, but only to look at.

The Roman baths of Bath are a fantastic bit of time-travel. The green bubbling waters are no longer available for soaking in. Once upon a time, they were said to cure just about anything, but then a young girl died from catching a bug while swimming there in 1978…

Waive hi! The 2nd floor is newer. On the top right is the tea room.

There’s a museum with artifacts and explanations of their glory days. Dioramas show the site in its glory days…

A diorama of how the Roman Baths looked in their heyday, eons ago.

Back in the 1st century AD, this bather sported quite an intricate hair-do, front and back…

Rich ladies like this one must not have done their own hair.
Her hair is even more detailed in the back.

The gods were honored there…

Goddess Sulis Minerva had her own temple at the Roman Baths at Bath, England.
The gods were everything back then.

Some people flung their prayers, or rather their curses, written on lead and pewter to people who stole their stuff while they bathed…

The waters took care of gripes like these ones written on little tablets.

After a sample of safe-to-drink thermal water that’s piped in from nearby, we were ready for high tea there. Far more than a mere snack, the elegantly presented occasion included live classical music…

Tea refreshes mind, body, and spirit — along with delicious food, a storybook setting, and delighfful music.

Our tummies full and our leftovers packed in a doggie bag, we visited Bath Abbey next door…

There’s always something happening at intricate Bath Abbey.

And walked along the river.

Even without the Roman Baths, Bath is wonderful to stroll.

Are there natural baths, water, or mud or otherwise, around where you live?

Part 3 of 3: British Museum, where dwarfism is divine n Video by da-AL


There’s much to learn at the British Museum! (Our trip there began with Part 1 and Part 2, an overall tour of London, plus we visited the Kelpies of Scotland, and later BathAvebury henge, and Harlech and Conwy and Penrith and Ullswater, and Stokesay Castle.) For instance…

Here lies a favored retainer. Nefer, a.k.a ‘beautiful’! He was buried with extra care alongside First Dynasty kings. He has achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism. Ancient Egyptians regarded dwarfism as the mark of divine favor. Highly esteemed, little people often served as personal attendants to the king, in charge of his clothing and jewelry. Egypt, c. 3150 – c. 2890 BCE

“When you meet someone different, what part of their day do you want to be?” That’s what filmmaker Jonathan Novick asks in, “Don’t Look Down on Me,” his documentary about his experiences in New York City as a little person.

Tang Dynasty tomb figures. Horses and camels weren’t indigenous to 700 BC China.
Yellow-painted jar in the form of an animal, probably 12th-13th century AD, from Soba (former capital of the medieval Nubian kingdom of Alodia).
Goddess? Priestess? Ritual participant? Whatever her duties, she’s covered in Nile Valley elements; a hippo on her belly, symbols probably for water and plants, collared hunting dogs on her back, and jewelry around her wrists, ankles, and neck. Early-Middle Predynastic, before 3900-3300 BC.
The statuette sports even black dogs on her back!
Lookin’ cute for the afterlife — or the beach? Back in the day, these ivory figurines might have sported wigs and lapis lazuli eyes. Egypt, 3900-3300 BC.
Here’s an artifact — a drawing of myself that I did when I was tiny!

Do you have art that depicts you?

Part 2 of 3: Strolling the British Museum by da-AL


There’s so much at the British Museum! I don’t recommend trying to see it all in one go — nor all in one blog post. Here’s Part 1 of our visit, here’s Part 3, here’s our overall visit to London, to Bath, Avebury henge, Stokesay Castle, Harlech and Conwy and Penrith and Ullswater, and to see the Kelpies of Scotland. Let’s start with the Parthenon for the second leg of our walk through the British Museum…

This chariot horse is worn out from carrying moon-goddess Selene to the Parthenon. 435 BC.
Does the Parthenon look inviting to you?…
At the Parthenon, who’s stronger — a centaur or a Lampith?
This maenad, two satyrs, and panther are followers of Dionysos, a.k.a. Bacchus, the god of wine. Roman, about 100 AD.
These Assyrians are hunting through a garden. About 645-635 BC.
“I’m looking at you.” This King Ramesses II was carved from one block that was quarried almost 200 kilometers south of the king’s mortuary temple!
General Horemheb has rather pronounced breasts — yet his wife’s are concave… Hmmm… 18th Dynasty, probably reign of Ay (about 1327-1323 BC), Horemheb’s tomb.
An ancestral figure from Easter Island, Chile, about AD 1000-1200.
The flames of Hindu god Shiva, here as Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance, demonstrate how one cycle gives over to another. He creates and then he destroys. About 1100, south India.
Only one flap of Garuda’s wings is needed to orbit the cosmos while he protects followers from serpent spirits. 1800s, Tibet.

Is there an era’s art that you prefer?… 

Part 1 of 3: the British Museum (plus silly video) by da-AL


The British Museum is amazing!!! Join my husband and me for the eye-opening stroll we enjoyed…

The British Museum’s outside isn’t nearly as interesting as its inside.

During this vacation, we visited jam-packed London, Bath, Avebury Henge, Stokesay Castle, Harlech and Conwy and Penrith and Ullswater, and the Kelpies of Scotland. The British Museum (here’s Part 2 and Part 3 of our trip to see it) is best known for the Rosetta Stone that helped scholars decipher ancient Egypt’s hieroglyphic writing. Here’s the front of it at another site. So dense was the crowd that I could only snap these photos…

Rosetta stone from the back.
Rosetta stone from the side.

There’s much of the relief sculpture from the Parthenon, a Greek temple finished in 438 BC. (Btw, ever visited Tennessee’s Parthenon, from 1897?)…

My fave art at the Parthenon’s frieze is on the left, wearing a llama t-shirt…
The Parthenon frieze is huge! This is only a small portion.

On it, the faces of hunters are differentiated by their postures, rather than by their features…

Galloping around the Parthenon…
Sacrificial animals on the frieze weren’t thrilled about their lot.
Iris, the winged messenger goddess, roomed at the Parthenon.

The British Museum’s collection is overwhelming. We only had time to see a smattering of it…

Clay mastiffs warded off devils and demons in about 645 BC, northern Iraq.
This god has appreciated his mastiff’s protection from evil since 800-700 BC, in southern Iraq.
Lely’s Venus (Aphrodite) does what she can to stay strategically covered. She’s a copy from 1st or 2nd AD.
Compared to lots of other items at the British Museum, these poker-style game cards from Iran, are freshly minted — they’re from 1800-1900.
This protective spirit lost his sheaf of twigs. Palace of Sargon II, Khorsabad, Iraq, 710-705 BC.

After the museum, we meandered across the street — where a gift shop offered a different type of show…

What’s the silliest thing you’ve seen in or around a museum?…

Part 2: Art in Sydney, Australia by da-AL


View of Sydney Harbor Bridge from Sydney Opera House by Khashayar Parsi.

Night or day, Sydney, Australia is beautiful and fascinating. For one thing, their Art Gallery of New South Wales is fabulous!

I love this statue — I think it’s a Jeff Koons, but am not sure — anyone out there know?

Our vacation began with New Zealand’s beautiful Auckland / Rotorua / Redwoods / Huka Falls / Craters of the Moon / Waitomo Glowworms Caves / Taupo / Pirongia / and Hamilton Gardens. In Australia, we met terrific family in Gold Coast / observed these exciting birds — and these too / hiked breathtaking views / enjoyed delicious eats at the beach / saw some wild things and cute things at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary / had fun with Rita Rigby / enjoyed a bit of the beauty and beasts of Brisbane / and then we got to Sydney where we began with this and loved the purring there!

Self-portrait by Margaret Preston of Australia, 1930.
“Western Australian gum blossom,” by Margaret Preston of Australia, 1928.
“Helen,” by Edward John Poynter of England, 1881 (Helen of Troy was a great beauty — the sitter for this is actress Lillie Langtry.)
“The sea hath its pearls,” by William Henry Margetson of England, 1897 (he did the frame too!)
“Study of a head: still as a bud whose petals close,” by Edward Onslow Ford of England, 1895.
“The sons of Clovis II,” by Évariste Luminais of France, 1880 (Interesting signage explains: “The rebellious sons os the7th-century Merovingian King of France, Clovis II, were punished by their mother who ordered them to be hamstrung and set adrift on the river Seine.”)
“The warrior, from the series Mubarizun – no more,” by Adeela Suleman of Pakistan, 2014.
My husband, as you can see, took some liberties as a photographer.

We ended our visit with a snack in their cafe — where we encountered some colorful company!…

A cute bird at MCA Australia.
Some more pretty birds at MCA Australia.
Those same pretty birds at MCA Australia close-up.

Come back soon to see more of Sydney! Meantime, what are you doing to have fun?…

Part 1: Sydney, Australia by da-AL


 

Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge by Khashayar Parsi.

Australia, including the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge shown here, is stunning beyond what photography can convey.

Sydney Opera House by Khashayar Parsi.

Our vacation began with New Zealand’s beautiful Auckland / Rotorua / Redwoods / Huka Falls / Craters of the Moon / Waitomo Glowworms Caves / Taupo / Pirongia / and Hamilton Gardens. In Australia, we met terrific family in Gold Coast / observed these exciting birds — and these too / hiked breathtaking views / enjoyed delicious eats at the beach / saw some wild things and cute things at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary / had fun with Rita Rigby / delighted in a bit of the beauty and beasts of Brisbane / and later enjoyed Sydney’s art and the purring there, as well as this…

From — nature to architecture to entertainment to food to a heck of a lot more — it was impossible to see all of Sydney’s wonderfulness in the few days left to our holiday. What less would anyone expect of a city with a Writers Walk in front of their most notable site?! Mark Twain’s comments (near the Sydney Opera House) about his visit over a century ago still ring true…

Mark Twain quotation at Sydney Writers Walk.

Same as the other parts of Australia we’d visited earlier, ibis flock to Sydney as plentifully as pigeons do to our Los Angeles. We saw this ibis near a touching memorial to Australia’s working horses…

Ibis in Sydney.
Memorial in Sydney.

Their NSW State Library is as impressive for its architecture, collection, and reading room as it is for its displays of culture and art. Surely you’re not surprised by what caught my eye there — dogs, including a kangaroo dog!!!…

NSW State Library.
Art display at NSW State Library.
Historical art at NSW State Library.

What is a kangaroo dog? Well, here is what I found when I googled ‘kangaroo dog’…

We also ate various delicious types of food. The first night we had African food, another time I had a great veggie burger…

African food at Radio Cairo in Sydney is tasty!
I had a great veggie burger at Buddahlicious.

Visit back here soon, dear reader, for more about Sydney! What are your vacation plans?

Beauty of Brisbane, Australia by da-AL


Up, down, inside and out, Brisbane is an arty city!

Note: Here in the U.S., ‘museums’ can have art, science, and sometimes both. In the States, ‘galleries’ are just for buying art. However, in Australia, science goes into a museum and art goes into a gallery that maybe sells, maybe doesn’t.

Brisbane, Australia, dazzles the senses indoors and out. Though we only had a day there, several sights were a short walk apart. After meeting some beasts, we strolled to the Queensland Art Gallery (QAGOMA), where there’s sooo much wonderful art!…

“Albert and Vincent” 2014, by Vincent Namatjira is from the north of S. Australia, here with his artist grandfather.
“Dingo Dreaming” 1978, by Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Pintupi people of Australia.
“Triptych: Requiem, Of Grandeur, Empire” 1989, by Gordon Bennett of Queensland, Australia.
“Untitled (HNDFWMIAFN) 2017, by Daniel Boyd, Dudjla/Gangalu people, Australia.
“Stucco Home” 1991, by Howard Arkley of Victoria, Australia.
“Love a Teacher” 2018, by Simon Gende, Kuman people, born in Papua New Guinea.
“Death Adder” (right), “An Aboriginal family” (top), “The Southern Cross and the Coal Sack (the Wanamoumitja brothers spearing Alakitja)” bottom, 1948, by Groote Eylandt Community, Anindilyakwa people, Australia.
“Majority Rule” 2014, by Michael Cook, Bidjara people, Australia.
“Utopia Panels” 1996, by Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Anmatyerre people, Australia.

Brisbane was a wonderful day in our vacation that began New Zealand’s beautiful Auckland / Rotorua / Redwoods / Huka Falls / Craters of the Moon / Waitomo Glowworms Caves / Taupo / Pirongia / and Hamilton Gardens. The second half of our vacation was in Australia, starting with Gold Coast, where we met terrific family, observed these exciting birds — and these too, hiked breathtaking views, enjoyed delicious eats at the beach, saw some wild things and cute things at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, had fun with Rita Rigby, saw soem of the beasts of Brisbane, and enjoyed Sydney this much and that much, as well as the purring there!

What art museum means the most to you?…