Paris is not Chicken Crazy

The Flower Dealers

But if You Want a Fresh One, This is the Place

Paris:- Wednesday, 16. April 1997:- Before you can ask me why I am walking along the Quai de la Mégisserie between Châtelet and the Pont Neuf in the bright afternoon sun looking for chickens, I'll tell you.

Last Monday, while I was paying a rare visit to Metropole's server-driver - Linda Thalman, the lady who walks around Paris on her days off for fun and trophies - Metropole readers were busily composing weird messages to send to its editor.

Thus, Sharlene McLean wrote, via the Internet:

I was in Paris right before Easter and noticed one morning while strolling down the Quai towards the Louvre from the Hôtel de Ville that a number of shops had crates of live chickens and roosters out on the pavement - these were on the Quai de Louvre and the Quai just before it; I can't remember the name.

It was quite startling - imagine passing by cafés interspersed with flower shops and then all of a sudden you are stopped dead in your tracks by the crowing of a rooster! This rooster being less than two feet away from you.

I think that it's a fairly safe assumption that these birds were not being sold as pets. My question is: who actually buys them? And, perhaps more importantly, who sees to the demise of the birds before they're converted into stock?

When I read this, I immediately said to myself, she is right. Chickens are sold there. To you, me, Sharlene McLean and all the good people living in Pinhole-on-Dweeb, Berks, it just seems like a kind of odd idea to find live chickens being sold to all and sundry, rightFish on top, ducks below smack, dab, in the middle of downtown Paris, not all that far from Kilometre Zero.

I can even rewind 20 years and pull up visions of stumbling along the Quai there in numbing cold, amidst great crowds of bird lovers and fish-food buyers. Inside the shops, it was horribly animal-smelly warm and it was hard to tell whether it was better in or out.

My impression then was, that this line of shops were a sort of free-lance zoo; sort of an emergency station for animal lovers trapped in the centre of too much stone. I do remember seeing a parrot then; one of those fake-colored ones that only exist in comic books or on Long John Silver's shoulder, but this was a really real parrot, mostly red, and it cost a fair packet too. I might have seen it at the Sunday bird market on the Ile de la Cité instead; but it was cold there too, so it is about the same thing.

Coming from Châtelet, the first shop I run into is the Oisellerie du Châtelet. They sell live chickens. They only have a few, and not big ones.

The young lady at the cash says, "Moi, je vend les poules, c'est tout," to my question of what she thinks people do with them. I put the question another way, and she guesses that maybe customers might want chickens in order to "faire du spectacle?" My imagination can do lots with this, but I let it drop. It is not the first time today that I've run into people who think I'm asking dumb questions.

The Oisellerie, which has been here about 25 years, also sells dogs, cats and ducks. They have Golden Retriever puppies for 4,850 francs, and they have white mice for 15 francs too. The price for chickens runs from 140 to 240 francs.

The next shop, Vilmorin, at number eight, only sells chicks, at 45 francs a bird. Every second place along here is sellingChatalet Birdshop plants and grass seed and there is a lot of stuff on the sidewalk and well as a lot of people - so I am pretty sure that the first place was an exception, in selling full-sized chickens - maybe for 'spectacles,' crazy rituals and who knows what.

Vilmorin has midget chêvres for 1,800 francs and cute little bunny rabbits for 280 francs. Theirs is a bigger shop and it is full of browsers and buyers and madame who controls the numbers is having a difficult time handwriting very long ones into a ledger.

After I've learned that she is also the only person there who knows any answers and after I've totally broken her intense concentration with the numbers, she tells me all about the 'Canari du Harz' which has a tweety-test score of 90/90 and shows me its score card, dated 1994, called a 'fiche du chant,' which explains why they want 2,200 francs for this particular little yellow bird.

Madame, when asked why people may want to buy a full-sized live chicken, thinks that some people still like fresh eggs. This hadn't occurred to me. She also said she didn't think people who bought live chickens lived in the city.

I am surprised after going past the jungle of the next garden shop to find the Perruche Bleue shop at number 14 has loads of great big live chickens. The two guys there are very big on chickens and they sell 20 to 30 a week; roosters for 240 francs and big brown-feathered chickens for 180 francs.

They claim to be ignorant about the fate of their chickens; and are really hazy about the age of their shop - probably because neither of them were born when it opened. They guess about 1965. They also have a chicken-like bird called a 'Brahama' and the male of these costs 550 francs.

A few doors further on, I find the Oisellerie du Pont Neuf at number 18. It is a big shop with two entrances and inside it is in a 'U', with dogs on the right and fish on the left. In the back there are a large variety of parrots and various sizes and colors; some only in grays.

In one cage there are two large white cockatoos, registered, costing a cool 15,000 francs a bird. At first I think they are asleep, leaning together like two drunks on a log - and while I'm looking at something else, one of them spots me as potential buyer and decides to show me a trick.

The bird, which has claws that articulate almost like fingers, is hanging on the side of the cage with its head towards the muck on the floor, and I see that is going for something shiny there. It picks it up, grapples around and starts up the cage side - and accidently drops the thing.

I look around and finally spot a small silver lock beneath the cage. I pick it up and hook it to a cage bar, but in a way so that most of the lock is outside.

The parrot, which had gone back to being half asleep on its bar, slowly comes awake and climbs over to where the lock is, and I realize I've needlessly made a tricky job of it. This doesn't bother the fully-awake and focused bird one bit and after a little fumbling, gets the lock. Then, without dropping it again, it winds its way around to get back on the bar. While it is still a bit off-balance, the other bird, which until now has done nothing, tries to snatch the lock away. Oho! Not from my bird! When I leave, the bird is taking the lock apart to find its edible bits.

Going out of the shop I take a short glance at a neat small-sized aquarium which has a small swarm of mini-turtles doing fun things underwater. Turtles may look odd, but each of them has four useful paddles.

Further along at number 20, the Paradis des Oiseaux has many cages of big chickens outside on the sidewalk, including a giant Bird and chicken cages 'Brahama' for 580 francs. A neat pair of young pheasants are 2,600 francs. In the next block, after I think there won't be any more chicken dealers, I find Le Merle Blanc, at number 22. Quai du Louvre, and it too has live chickens for sale.

So there it is. In the three blocks along the north side of the Seine, from rue Edouard-Colonne to the Pont Neuf, there are four major live-chicken dealers.

The consensus answer I got was that people in the near suburbs had houses on property, and they could want chickens. I heard roosters when I lived in Meudon, and I think I heard one this morning around 5:30 - but it might have been a loon.

There are no wrecked-car yards in the centre of Paris, but it seems to be okay to have a nice, central location where anybody can buy a live chicken during shop hours. I didn't ask, but these places are open on Sunday, if I remember correctly, and if they aren't - there is the Sunday bird market on the Ile de la Cité which is just across the river and a bit upstream.

As for the last question; who bumps off the chickens when they are ready for the pot - the obvious answer is, their owners do. Just like everybody has been doing it for 25,000 years. By knocking their heads off.

It's been years since I've seen a live chicken - I skipped the winners at the Salon de l'Agriculture this year - but I'll tell you, I've seen some juicy-looking ones today, in Paris.

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