petite anglaise

March 9, 2007

gulls

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaise @ 10:50 am

Breakfast is served on the roof terrace of the Riad Watier. I emerge, still groggy from sleep, at around ten, and make my way upstairs. I have my book and my sunglasses but immediately regret not bringing my camera. The sky is a beautiful shade of periwinkle blue, the view over the rooftops to the Atlantic is spectacular, and the trade wind for which Essaouira is famous, the Alizée, is mercifully absent. The only other people at breakfast are a German mother and daughter; one scribbles, the other reads.

Essaouira is a breath (or gust) of fresh air after the dry heat and bustle of Marrakech. On the bus drive to the coast, parched earth gave way to greenery, red and ochre tones were replaced with whitewashed walls and blue shutters. The medina is small, helpfully laid out in a grid so I can’t get lost, and every single alleyway is named. I still attract a fair amount of attention when I wander around alone, especially in the evening when I eat out, but it’s tame in comparison and deliciously relaxing. I doubt the same can be said for the town in the summer months, but in March, it’s perfect.

A young woman with glossy dark hair brings my breakfast. Pancakes with syrup, yoghurt, freshly squeezed orange juice, bread, butter, jam and coffee. I tuck in, even though my stomach still feels leaden after the previous evening’s tajine. I don’t eat a lot of meat as a rule, but Morocco has been the exception. Lamb with prunes and almonds. Lamb with figs and walnuts. Chicken with lemons. Repeat to fade.

I pour coffee, and take a bite out of my first pancake, wondering what to do with my day. There isn’t much to visit in Essaouira, it’s just an attractive place to stroll around. I had been plotting a trip to a hammam, but I have a little sunburn on my neck and shoulders (which I only bared on the secluded roof terrace of my Marrakech hotel, I hasten to add) and the last thing I need is an over-enthusiastic scrubbing down with scratchy black olive soap and a sandpaper mitt. Other than that, my only firm plan is to eat lunch at one of the stalls by the port where you choose a freshly caught fish and take a seat at a trestle table while it is gutted, grilled and brought to your table with salad, bread, water and a handful of grilled prawns.

A flapping noise to my left startles me out of my food fantasy, and a seagull the size of a cat settles on the roof terrace wall, not a metre away from me. He (for the sake of argument, I’m no birdwatcher) calls to a friend in a raucous voice and is joined by another, slightly less attractive mottled seagull with a mean face. They stare at me, or at my breakfast, to be more accurate. I feel less relaxed. How fearless are they? Bold enough to snatch a piece of pancake from my plate, or indeed my hand? Those slightly hooked beaks look rather intimidating close up. The German ladies and their breakfast don’t seem to have attracted a seagull fan club. Don’t tell me even the seagulls single out lone female travellers in this country?

I pour myself some more coffee, hoping that the clanking of the thermos might frighten them away. It doesn’t. I try muttering “bugger off” under my breath, to no avail. I stare into the seagulls’ beady eyes with my very best Paddington stare. None of this makes a blind bit of difference. In fact, as soon as I set down my cup and open my book the seagull seizes the opportunity to up the ante, hopping onto the railing which tops the wall, opening his wings for a moment and striking a pose which looks decidedly more threatening.

Yikes.

I try flapping my book in his direction. The seagull stares at me scornfully. He mutters something uncomplimentary to his scraggy friend, who joins him on the railing. I take another bite out of my pancake. Somehow, under siege, it doesn’t taste quite so good.

It is when I glance over at the German ladies, casting around for backup, that he leaps onto the table. He lands squarely in front of my plate, only centimetres away from my face and that’s it. Enough. I panic.

“FUCK FUCK FUCK!” I cry, leaping out of my seat, my book raised in front of my face, knocking my plastic chair over backwards in my haste. The German ladies look up, impassive, then carry on with what they are doing as though nothing had happened.

Half and hour and three repeat confrontations later, I conclude that maybe Essaouira isn’t such a relaxing place after all.

47 Comments

  1. NB Other photos in that flickr photostream can be accessed by clicking on the picture above.

    Comment by petite — March 9, 2007 @ 10:51 am

  2. This is exactly why I fear any bird larger than a finch. And, incidentally, I notice that the birds in the photo weren’t so interested in you sans pancakes; their fickleness doesn’t impress me either.

    Comment by sognatrice — March 9, 2007 @ 11:06 am

  3. There are several delinquent gangs of them here in Dublin, occasionally bomb diving to snatch food from cringing city folk. They especially like depriving children of their ice-creams. And waking me up in the morning with their very loud mewlings.

    Comment by hellojed — March 9, 2007 @ 11:27 am

  4. when are you meeting m. frog for dinner??

    Comment by roisin — March 9, 2007 @ 11:29 am

  5. Seagulls are very scary, I agree. I’ll wave, flap and kick at aggressive pigeons any day, but a seagull, no way. I shudder to think of one jumping onto my table. Yikes!

    Comment by BlondebutBright — March 9, 2007 @ 11:46 am

  6. I’m having flashbacks to Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. So much for a peaceful breakfast.

    Comment by The Bold Soul — March 9, 2007 @ 12:16 pm

  7. Oh, God I do sympathise. I hate seagulls. I had a holiday in Porthleven, Cornwall, last summer and the pub with the nicest place to sit out to eat also had belligerent seagulls. Handily, they also had a gravel surface to the seating area, and a few pieces of gravel somehow found themselves airborne, in the general direction of the seagulls….
    It doesn’t get rid of the problem permanently, but does provide both respite and a certain amount of satisfaction.
    It did leave us pondering why people in coastal areas don’t seem to hunt and eat seagull. They would seem to be sitting targets. (My not very extensive research seemed to suggest that they probably taste fishy and not very nice).

    Comment by AlisonK — March 9, 2007 @ 12:21 pm

  8. I can’t believe the German ladies didn’t even bat an eyelid! They should have helped. I would have done, even though I think seagulls are pure evil.

    Maybe they are used to large pancake stealing vicious seagulls. Are they particularly common in Germany?

    Comment by Angelina — March 9, 2007 @ 12:33 pm

  9. Very nice pictures on flickr! It’s just a shame you copywrited them. What about cc?

    Comment by Eric — March 9, 2007 @ 12:45 pm

  10. Copywrited them? Didn’t intentionally do anything, it must have been a setting on the uploader. Will fix.

    Comment by petite — March 9, 2007 @ 12:47 pm

  11. I’m in shock: first time I read “Fuck” on Petite’s writing :D

    Comment by Froggywoogie — March 9, 2007 @ 1:20 pm

  12. tippi hedren! i knew you reminded me of someone. after an incident in cornwall (where else?) where my daughter was dive bombed for her ice-cream, i’ve given seagulls a very wide berth …

    Comment by mad muthas — March 9, 2007 @ 1:20 pm

  13. Sky rats is all they are.
    Them and magpies!
    (Using an accent from somewhere near Bath)

    Comment by meredic — March 9, 2007 @ 1:20 pm

  14. Your photos are gorgeous and reminded me of my trip there last year – the fish in essaouira was amazing. I hope that apart from the seagull incident that essaouira was more relaxing than marrakech. Have you been to the hammam in the Paris mosque? The scrubbing there is ferocious but you do feel great afterwards!

    Comment by beck — March 9, 2007 @ 1:21 pm

  15. There are few things more disconcerting than a seagull from the wrong side of the tracks.

    Kookaburras in Australia can be a bit confronting too. We were lunching on a friend’s boat, moored in Cowan Creek, in the North of Sydney, when a kookaburra swooped down and flew between someone’s hand and face, snatching the sandwich as they lifted it from the plate to their mouth. It was so fast that I didn’t even see it – just heard the woosh and a scream, and then much cursing because it was her last sandwich, and she’d been looking forward to it.

    Comment by Damian — March 9, 2007 @ 2:19 pm

  16. Aberdeen City Council have people employed to kill the seagulls. I believe they go up on the roof tops and break the eggs. It doesn’t seem to make a dent in the population.
    If only people would learn not to feed them…

    Comment by Sarah — March 9, 2007 @ 2:43 pm

  17. Visions of “Finding Nemo” are running through my head……..”MINE, MINE!!!”

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — March 9, 2007 @ 3:03 pm

  18. Your pictures are gorgeous although those are some evil looking seagulls. as a student, i had friends who used to put yogurts on their windowsill to keep cool until the seagulls learnt how to peck them open

    Comment by Kingston Girl — March 9, 2007 @ 3:13 pm

  19. Do you remember that book we read in A-level French about the Arab boy living in Paris? Wasn’t he from Essaouira?

    Comment by old school friend — March 9, 2007 @ 3:29 pm

  20. In my South Boston neighborhood, I recently saw a seagull making off with an obviously full carton of Chinese food. Pretty impressive, really. And alarming at the same time.

    Comment by carrie — March 9, 2007 @ 3:40 pm

  21. this post made me laugh my head off!!

    Comment by aminah — March 9, 2007 @ 3:40 pm

  22. Hello Petite
    Is the copyright a problem? After all they are your pictures and you wouldn’t want someone, for example, to create and sell a calendar with your pictures on it (without your permission and without paying you). I don’t think the copyright stops me looking at your pictures, and printing them for my own use if I wish.
    They are lovely pictures by the way.

    Comment by Pierre L — March 9, 2007 @ 3:44 pm

  23. I’ve been shat on by a seagull. Birds? Flying dogs more like.

    Comment by Caro — March 9, 2007 @ 3:44 pm

  24. But it’s all so funny after all! At least you will remember that breakfast. I can imagine it was a bit frightening and that’s even better. You won’t need to watch “The Birds” again – you had your own “Birds’ experience” now. And you had a nice story for today.. Come on!! I like seagulls. They are the kind of symbol of the seaside even and I love the sea so…:)))
    Enjoy your holiday, Petite!

    Comment by marychna — March 9, 2007 @ 4:50 pm

  25. lolol @ ‘Fuck,fuck,fuck!’

    Brilliant!

    Comment by sooz — March 9, 2007 @ 4:52 pm

  26. Photographer as well as blogger and author?
    Damn you Petite!
    Some very nice pics there.

    Comment by Hywel Mallett — March 9, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

  27. OSF – was that Elise ou la Vraie Vie? I think that was about meeting an Algerian man. If I’m not mistaken. But I might be thinking about the wrong book…

    Comment by petite — March 9, 2007 @ 5:01 pm

  28. Lovely post, Petite and very evocative. Good photos too. Just to be picky, you’re beginning to need a proof-reader though (oh, what a mean pedant I am!)

    I don’t read many blogs, but one of my other favourite bloggers recommends a beautifully written blog, which I thought enchanting and which I pass on to you, if you haven’t discovered it already: wifeinthenorth.com. I think you of all people would really appreciate it!

    Comment by Lindy — March 9, 2007 @ 5:08 pm

  29. Froggie Woogie (how did that name occur???) – I don’t think it’s the first F expletive our princess has utted on these hallowed scrolls.

    Great post again Petite. Reminds me of the joke:

    Two blokes walking along a promenade with lots of seagulls flying overhead. One says to the other “What would you do if a bird shit on you?”, to which the other replied “I wouldn’t go out with her again”.

    Enjoy the rest of your break. Can you post a picture of you sunbathing?

    Comment by JNH — March 9, 2007 @ 5:12 pm

  30. I find the cry of the sea gull relaxing, since I grew up around water and spent great times there.

    Comment by oleblue — March 9, 2007 @ 5:25 pm

  31. I am very curious about most people’s fear of seagulls. Where I grew up, kids ran through big groups of seagulls screaming at the top of their lungs to scare the living daylights out of the little buggers.

    Comment by Rodger — March 9, 2007 @ 5:55 pm

  32. Proof reader? No, I just need to remember to resize the fonts to read it properly. It looks darn small on my macbook…

    Comment by petite — March 9, 2007 @ 6:47 pm

  33. Aberdonian seagulls are a breed apart. We’ve had the case of driving along the street only to be met with the steely-eyed gaze of a gull that was not going to move out of the way just because a car was heading in its direction! It really was a case of “c’mon then!”

    Comment by Maureen — March 9, 2007 @ 7:07 pm

  34. I just can’t get my head around holidaying alone in a strange place. It’s a personal thing, obv. Best travelling holiday I ever had was touring in Turkey with a concert pianist. Did as I pleased all day, then off to the concert, then the reception, then pushed off. Lovely music, nice people, different place every other day. But alone, never!

    Didn’t discovered how many times one can listen to Rachmaninoff’s first before ennui sets in – if there is a limit I never found it. Brilliant and underplayed work.

    Comment by andrew — March 9, 2007 @ 8:51 pm

  35. Well, at least they didn’t crap on you or on your food. When going to a seagully place, it’s a good idea to carry baby wipes because seagully poo can ruin clothes – hell, it even corrodes car paint! And if you hear a flap, immediately cover your glass/cup with your hand. This being said, being dumped on is good luck apparently, but quite difficult and unpleasant to wash out of long hair… grainy, sticky texture. Eeek!

    Comment by Ariel — March 10, 2007 @ 1:46 am

  36. My daughter hates birds (particularly pigeons – “they are evil”) and Owls hate my husband. I’m surrounded by feather phobic folk!

    Comment by Danna — March 10, 2007 @ 3:45 am

  37. Oh, this brought back memories. I’m not even kidding when I say I’ve been chased by squirrels at least three times in my life.

    Once, I was chased past a cemetery by a squirrel in upstate New York.

    Then, I was chased through Madison Park (NYC) by an overly eager squirrel. I’d swear he was laughing at me all the while, if it didn’t sound so crazy.

    The third encounter was a surreal staredown with a squirrel while on a date with a delicious Greek guy in NY.

    NY squirrels are CRAZY, with a capital C-R-A-Z-Y.

    Comment by Mlle Smith — March 10, 2007 @ 6:10 am

  38. Apologies from your humble proof reader! I admit I have spotted the odd little error and failed to report it! Please forgive me? I will strive to prevent it happening again so I beg you not to sack me. One sacking in this family is more than enough!!
    petites mum

    Comment by petite's mum — March 10, 2007 @ 9:13 am

  39. If we sack you, we’d somehow probably end up with a triple best seller, seeing what your daughter’s done, mum.

    Comment by AussieGil — March 10, 2007 @ 12:09 pm

  40. Arab? Algerian? ‘L’Etranger’ by Camus?

    Comment by sooz — March 10, 2007 @ 1:22 pm

  41. Hello petite anglaise!
    I really like the way you’re writing your stories! And by the way, i want you to know that it is very kind to share your life with us! Thanks to you i could learn loads of news things and even new words as I am not a native english speaker!!
    Je vous lis toujours quand j’ai le temps!
    Good luck!!

    Comment by Patron90 — March 10, 2007 @ 10:39 pm

  42. Hi Petite
    I think your seagulls in Essouira may also have been the ones that tried to muscle in our rooftop breakfast in a riad just down the road this week!

    Has been interesting to read your thoughts on the very same places that we went to. Sounds like you had a great time.

    Rachel

    Comment by Rachel — March 11, 2007 @ 12:27 am

  43. So funny reading this today, after a very long and energetic day at the beach, where I remarked to my husband that, no matter what anyone said, I loved the gull.
    Those Morroccan gulls are rogue agents.
    Our Cottesloe gulls were cool, chilled-out and decidely better mannered.
    xx

    Comment by claire — March 11, 2007 @ 8:43 am

  44. I hope that your use of the “F” word doesn’t disqualify you from some search engine results as my use of the word “addiction” seems to have done.

    I loved Essaouira, even if it was a bit touristy. One exception: some very unapetizing-looking sea creatures that were served on my plate at lunchtime.

    Comment by Lost in France — March 11, 2007 @ 10:45 am

  45. Father in law lost an entire Cornish Pasty (extra large) to a gull in St Ives a few years ago. Very scary.

    Comment by Craig — March 12, 2007 @ 12:30 pm

  46. Petite,
    Yes, I think that was the book. Blimey, you have a MUCH better memory than me. Still, set in Algeria or not, I’m sure Essaouira came into it somewhere – maybe he went on a day trip!

    Comment by old school friend — March 13, 2007 @ 10:44 am

  47. Hello petite anglaise!
    I really like your stories and I’m very grateful that you share your life with us.
    It helps my English too because I’m learing english at the present. I hope they will give you back your job, because a job is very importantn for your affirmation. That’s’ very English I think to show you the door because they don’t like your website.

    Comment by Trevor — March 13, 2007 @ 8:10 pm


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