Saturday, 25 July 2009

That obscure egret of my desire - Michelle Lovric

I’m thinking of putting up a sign: Vacancy for nest, all mod cons. Tuna provided. No seagulls. No pigeons. No riff-raff. Ideal for young egret couple looking for first home.

The elusive egret of the Grand Canal has become the object of my desire. I was never a twitcher, never took much notice of birds at all. Then an egret floated onto my jetty one day, and I fell into a kind of haze. Now, if the egret lands on my jetty, then I know I’ll have a good writing day. If it flies past in a disdainful way, landing on the shipwrecked gondola by Ca’ Rezzonico on the other side of the canal, then I might as well close down Microsoft Word and go and drink gin in the campo.

Does this happen to other writers? You fix on something and endow it with talismanic powers over your creativity.

Certainly the egret looks supernatural: the impossibly delicate neck, which makes a swan’s oesophagus seem crude as an S-bend, the spray of white feathers rippling its tulip-shaped back, yellow-tipped spears of legs, the miniature rapier of a beak.

And perhaps the bird’s sad history lends it a more piquant romance: it was hunted almost to extinction by the early 20th century. Only the foam-light sprays of back-feathers were needed to decorate women’s hats – and yet hundreds of thousands of birds were massacred in their nests, their fledglings left to starve to death. Egret feathers sold at up to 80 dollars an ounce, compared to gold at 16 dollars.

Now the egret appears like an angel, a ghostly manifestation of all those murdered ancestors. Those too-desirable feathers are so delicate that they blow around its perfect body like talcum powder. The egret, when it shimmers into view, is the whitest thing on the Grand Canal.The ornithologist Arthur Cleveland Bent described the egret as ‘the most charming of all our marsh birds … It seems conscious of its beauty and likes to show off its charms for the benefit of its loved ones’.

I believe the big love affair with the egret is perfectly mutual. Why does it appear so often? Last week, when I arrived home in Venice, the egret was surfing down the canal on a log. I mean, really!

And this golden-edged, azure-tinted morning, we were sitting on the balcony, having a coffee, talking, inevitably, about the egret.

‘It would be a really good time for the egret to visit,’ I suggest.

My husband raises his eyebrow.‘You think I am getting a bit obsessed with the egret, darling?’

‘Maybe a bit,’ he replies tersely.

But as he says it, the egret is cruising right past at eye level.

My husband whispers, ‘He definitely gave you a sideways glance.’

Good writing day, today.

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Anne Rooney said...

I'm so glad you sorted out the posting, Michelle. How fantastic, to have a near-resident egret. And I love the idea of an egret that goes surfing. Perhaps your husband is jealous.... all those old tales of women taking lovers who come in as birds. And your egret sounds very sexy :-)

Catherine Johnson said...

How lovely! An egret! I do like our local crows with their feathery trousers and their mobile phone impressions but would love to see an egret from my window.
I have a talisman like that but not for writing for life I suppose. On the West Coast mainline just outside Chester is an old earthwork, a bit like Maiden Castle with a herd of deer on it. If I see a deer with antlers everything - children, work, money - will be brilliant, all their exams will be passed with As and jobs will be had by all. If I see a deer but no antlered deer, things will be OK, fine, but not brilliant. If I see no deer at all.........oh dear.
How sad is that.

adele geras said...

There's a magpie with a very chopped off lot of tail feathers who comes to my back lawn every day. I salute him and say the rhyme about where is your mate and regard him as a bit of a talisman. A good one, too. I reckon magpies are very elegant and scary and love their machinegunfire cries but this one is a failure as a magpie. His feathers are far from glossy...not much in the tail as I said and altogether a bit like a magpie tramp! I am very fond of him.