Story, video and photos by Louis Denson
Last Tuesday in Arles, I was walking back to my host home when I heard a smack and a splat. Looking over my shoulder, I saw a small black sparrow spread-eagle on the ground looking around like it was waiting for me to tell it what just happened.
After watching the bird make a few failed attempts at flight, I thought to myself, “I’ve never touched a wild bird before.” It seemed its shock at hitting a wall had turned into helplessness as it just lay there with its wings spread wide. Stroking the wings and body with the back of my middle finger, I could see that this bird was in no immediate presence of death. “Maybe a broken foot?” I thought as it gave another effort of flight that jumped me back into the street. Natalia Puglia, a language teacher and interpreter for Arles à la carte, stopped on her bike and told me that sparrows can’t fly from the ground and need wind or velocity from height to take flight; so this bird was not broken, it was just stuck in a rut.
Before I could think of anything to do, a woman approached the three of us and had a quick exchange of words with Natalia in French that went along the lines of “What happened?” “This sparrow ran into the wall and can’t take flight on its own.” Without hesitation, this woman scooped up the sparrow in her hands and gently examined its body. Not only was I surprised that the sparrow made no attempt to prevent this from happening, but I was also slightly jealous that I missed the opportunity to hold and help the bird. After only a few seconds and the lifting of her hands, the sparrow took flight in the direction it had been going when it crashed and landed on a windowsill. We exchanged glances, assumed the bird was safe and said, “Bonne nuit,” and went our separate ways.
How quickly, confidently, and casually all parties–other than myself–handled this situation really shed light on the different air in the streets of Arles. I’ve seen and been a part of conversations that consisted of strangers asking about each other’s children and wellbeing, and leashless dogs looking over their shoulders to check in with their owners as they walk down busy streets in the middle of the day. Arlesians show a calmer attitude than I see in people back home toward flies and mosquitos. Their sensitivity to nature almost brings to mind stories I’ve heard of Native Americans who could pick up a scent in the wind as they ran without sound or shoe through woods and forests. There is an energy that is quick acting but also calm and collected, that is so natural and harmonious with its surroundings that I can’t think of another way to say it other than that Arlesians are tapped into something special.
This is a personal reflection and does not necessarily express the opinion of The Arles Project or program sponsors ieiMedia or Arles à la carte.