Our first dinner out on returning to Antibes was at the neighbourhood pizza joint. Directly across from the sandy beaches, Bistrot de la Plage has remained a favourite among locals and sunseekers, pandemic or not. Owner Miguel greeted us as we wandered onto his terrace, but instead of mentioning how our teenager had grown, like he usually did, he looked out over his busy patio. “Vous avez de la chance to get a table,” he said. “Someone just left.”
We certainly felt lucky. We were hungry. As we browsed the menu that we already knew, Philippe suddenly fingered his hair. “What the – ?”
I looked up from the list of pizzas. White goop was running down my husband’s cheek. “Did you just get nailed by a bird?”
Indeed, a small flock of seagulls was circling over the patio. “That never happens to me!” he said. Reaching for his napkin, he turned to our teen. “It happens to your mother, but it never happens to me!”
Lolo smirked as her father mopped off his head, his shirt, and his shorts. He grabbed her napkin and mine, too. The seagull had got him good. “Hey, isn’t it supposed to be good luck if a bird bombs you?” our teen said.
Miguel passed by our table. “Pourriez-nous avoir some more napkins?” Philippe said, pointing out the restaurant’s prodigious company of birds.
“Mais vous avez de la chance!” the bistrot‘s owner said. Le caca of French birds is apparently as propitious as that of their North American cousins.
Everyone forgot about the incident as soon as the pizza arrived. Except that the following evening, when my family sat for dinner on the terrace of our own home, Philippe shuddered when he saw seagulls circling overhead. Halfway through our meal, I spotted black speckles on the edge of my plate. The rest of the black-and-white splodge decorated the tabletop.
“A near miss!” Lolo said gleefully – until the next afternoon, when we were returning home from errands. A sudden movement made her look out her car window. A bird had just unloaded itself down the length of the glass.
“What is it with the birds around here?” This time she sounded disgusted.
In some ways the timing was due. I recently began calling my husband and my daughter “twitchers,” a good British term for bird enthusiasts. For pandemic fun, we had set up a birdfeeder in our garden in Toronto, and Philippe and Lolo delighted in identifying the goldfinches, cardinals, grackles, red-winged blackbirds, and the rest of the winged brigade that flew in for free food. Since returning to Antibes – installing ourselves, I should say, in a house having a crowning pigeonnier (dovecote) – Philippe has spotted a resident dove perched on the branches of our parasol pine. He has studied the bird, admiring the way it bows and crooks its neck while making its velvety call.
But that afternoon while the three of us sat in traffic and fresh bird poo trickled down Lolo’s car window, we wondered aloud about how much luck we really needed for our summer in France. Soon, though, the road construction and traffic jams made us forget the birds and their odd notions about luck – at least until we returned home to Bellevue.
Our housekeeper had left a note on the kitchen counter. “Chance, jardin,” it said. Luck, garden. On the scrap of paper lay not one, but two, four-leaf clovers.
I’ve never seen a four-leaf clover in my life. As a kid in the US Midwest, I spent hours searching for one, just one, to prove that they existed. As an adult visiting Ireland, home of leprechauns and rainbows and an endless carpet of green, I again tried to find a four-leaf clover. Now two trèfles à quatre feuilles lay on Bellevue’s kitchen counter. Anitou had found them in our garden when – appropriately enough – she was cleaning up after her dog.
Le caca d’oiseaux and des trèfles à quatres feuilles: I was enjoying the way superstition spanned Anglo and Franco traditions and set about to learn more. In France, birds can apparently bring good or bad luck, depending on the situation and the type of bird, but getting plastered by a bird is always auspicious. If it dumps on your head, it’s especially promising. As for four-leaf clovers, their supposed fortune circles the planet and goes back millennia; their delicate leaves have heralded everything from love and happiness, to health, riches, and fame, depending on the era and the culture.
Why did my family need so much of this chance? What lay in the cross hairs of our days here?
I mentioned last week that our espresso machine – a proper Italian model with all the professional hardware – had given up its ghost. It was a distressing discovery for this coffee-addicted household, and Philippe made an urgent rendez-vous at the repair shop in the hills behind Nice. A few days later, when he collected our carefully swaddled bundle of joy, the technician listed the interventions he’d made to get the machine purring again. It had needed a new pump, a new intake aspirator, new contacts, new tubing, and a good cleaning of the boiler, which was apparently filthy.
Philippe tallied the damage in his head. “Quels sont les dommages?”
“Oh non, monsieur,” the man said. “Je ne saurrai quoi faire.” Our espresso machine was so old that the technician had used spare parts to fix it. He couldn’t enter the job into the company’s books if he tried.
“Mais c’est impossible,” Philippe said. He offered the man a tip. ”Pour vous,” he insisted, nodding at the technician.
“Non, non,” he said. “C’est sur la maison.” It’s on the house.
Philippe returned home with our precious machine and hoisted it into its rightful spot on the kitchen counter. As he removed the wrapping, he recounted his conversation with the technician and the array of repairs. “They practically rebuilt the whole machine!” he said. He stood back to admire the shiny contraption. “You know, I must’ve been thinking about coffee when that seagull sprang a leak.”
I began looking forward to my own coming days. How would my luck manifest itself? That was when we used up all our credits in one fell swoop. I was chatting to my mother on FaceTime late one afternoon when the telephone rang. Philippe answered.
“It’s the security company,” he called over to me. “Where’s Yoko?”
I twisted to check our miniature poodle beneath the coffee table. “She’s under the – where’s Yoko?” Alarm swelled into my voice.
“They say they have her. Someone’s bringing her back.”
“How is that even possible?” With my mother still beaming into our sitting room from Illinois, the conversation turned to the way Lolo had helped Phillipe launch a sailboat from the beach that afternoon, how Yoko had been sniffing around on the rocks, and then Philippe sailed off and Lolo returned through the gate…
That was over two hours ago. Anxiety charged through my veins. It was Yoko’s afternoon naptime. I didn’t even know she was missing. We rang off with my mother, and within minutes a car turned into Bellevue’s gate. Two women were in the front, and two brown miniature poodles rode in the back.
“Yoko!” We squealed as our pooch made her jubilant return.
The driver got out of the car, and seeing our joy and concern, she said, “Vous avez de la chance. She nearly got killed – twice!”
The story tumbled out in bits and pieces as Philippe, Lolo, and I stood with two sisters, Véronique and Jacqueline, and two poodles in the shade of Bellevue’s courtyard. The women had recognized that our wandering dog wasn’t a stray. They also realized that she didn’t speak French; the usual “viens ici” (vyen ee-SEE, come here) and “assis” (ah-SEE, sit) made no impact on her. Along with their dog Rocky, they had chased our lost poodle – in the car? on foot? – from one end of our busy ring road to another, at which point Yoko circled back and came to sit outside the gate of our home. “My food is in there,” she was telling them. “My food, my bed, and my people are in there.”
Another passerby was able to catch Yoko, and she ended up in the car of the sisters. They had noted down the phone number of our security company, which was posted on the gate, and they drove away to a calmer spot to make that call.
I suddenly wondered whether Yoko had panicked. Trapped in the back seat of a stranger’s moving car, did she think she was losing her only means to explain where she belonged? We would never know the answer. At least Yoko was back, and she was fine – just a bit tired, by the way she slipped away from our small crowd into the quiet of Bellevue.
The sisters were charmed by our runaway pooch. Véronique looked down at her Rocky, who rested comfortably in her arms. “We would offer a marriage proposal?”
But alas, Yoko isn’t able to make new, curly-haired pups. We chatted agreeably there in the shaded patch, but soon it was time for the ladies to leave. As their car reversed out our gate, now carrying two sisters and only one miniature poodle, I called to them, “Vous êtes des anges!”
Véronique and Jacqueline were angels. They were our lucky angels. I returned indoors and crouched beside Yoko, who splayed on the cool marble floor, and I gave thanks that we were given this chance.
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