I’m feeling overwhelmed by the lack of intelligence and grace in the world right now. How about you?
Perhaps it’s fallout from the presidential election and realizing the majority of the American population has vast difficulty in the realm of analysis and research. Maybe it’s the bombardment of all things Christmas, which, let’s be honest, has been ongoing since November 1. Maybe it’s the lack of attention to this blog: poor blog.
While leaving work yesterday, I was feeling particularly defeated, when I looked up and saw a little owl looking back at me. “Dijon, c’est chouette!” she said. And I couldn’t help but smile. My fingers traced the lines of the magnet, nestled up next to my name tag on the door of a filing cabinet.
As a reminder of the good in the world, here’s the story of my little chouettes.
In June, Cass and I were in France. Oh, I didn’t mention that? Poor blog.
Our final days of the trip were spent in Dijon, where we had one of the most magical Airbnbs you could imagine. I would have been content to sit inside that apartment all day, with a bottle of Châteauneuf–du–Pape, of course. But one does not simply sit when one is a tourist. So off we went exploring the city.
Dijon has a wonderful walking trail for tourists. Much like the Freedom Trail in Boston, the Owl’s Trail in Dijon takes you past significant sights in the city, including the Halles, multiple churches, museums and, of course, the famous owl carved on the side of the Église Notre-Dame (be sure to touch the owl with your left hand and make a wish). Part of the fun of the Owl’s Trail is finding the next marker: a little chouette engraved on a brass plaque embedded in the sidewalk.
As we wandered through the streets, we kept looking for something to bring home, a little owl of our own. And it was then that we stumbled upon La Burgonde, a small gift shop opposite the Square des Ducs. Initially, we walked past the shop, but not ten steps beyond the doors, Cass and I agreed we needed to go back.
Inside there were shirts and wine glasses, knick-knacks and postcards. But what drew Cass in was the row of little brass owls at the counter. She picked one out and showed me. And I couldn’t resist; I needed a chouette of my own.
I loved my owl. I loved the weight of him in my hand. I loved pressing my thumb into the curves of his eyes.
And a week later, when I was nestled in bed in South Africa (poor blog), he looked over at me from the bedside table. He was my token, my talisman, my statue aboard the steamer, Drake.
So imagine my dismay, when I stood in the Port Elizabeth airport, boarding my flight to Johannesburg, and couldn’t find my owl.
“He’s not in my bag,” I said to my husband, panicking. “You must have packed him in your checked luggage,” he replied. “We can pull him out before we board our flight to Atlanta.”
I spent the next hour, cramped and fidgeting, turning over the conversation I had had with the woman at the airline counter as I checked my luggage.
“Are you sure you don’t want to lock your suitcase?” she asked. “Wrap it in plastic?” I laughed. “There’s nothing worth anything in there,” I had replied. But my owl. Was he in there? I couldn’t remember packing him, not in my checked luggage, not in my carry-on. I just remembered him on the nightstand, the weight of him, my thumb on his eyes.
When we got to Johannesburg, my bag was one of the last pieces of luggage on the baggage claim. Once I had it, I ripped it open. But there was no owl. I texted my mother-in-law. Was there perhaps an owl in our bedroom? Maybe on the nightstand? But there wasn’t. Although there was a doll’s head under the bed, which my mother-in-law promised to interrogate.
My little owl was gone. One of the few things I had purchased in France, just disappeared. I was as much heartbroken as I was distressed about my memory. What had I done with that little owl? Surely I hadn’t packed it in my checked bag, not from South Africa. Had he perhaps fallen out of my carry-on while I was going through security? Wouldn’t I have noticed the weight falling out of my bag?
Rather than dwell on it, I decided to reach out to La Burgonde on Facebook.
I visited your shop on June 7 and purchased a bronze owl by Michel Faget. Unfortunately, I lost the owl while visiting relatives in South Africa. I’m hoping it will still be found. If not, would it be possible for me to purchase another owl?
The one I bought was one of the larger owls.
Thank you so much,
Hours later, my messenger made that familiar ting.
I’ll take a picture today of my owls and send it to you this evening. So you can say to me exactly which one you purchased and you’ll give me your address….The owl will fly to you!!
My face must have been glowing looking at the picture of the owls. I remember standing by the counter in the shop, looking down at them all, and yet, now they looked unfamiliar, unseen. This one I hadn’t considered. That one had such a silly face. But ultimately, I settled on a short, squat owl, with circular eyes as big as my thumb.
What followed was a series of emails: me telling Nathalie which owl I wanted; Nathalie figuring out how to sell the owl on her website; me not sure if my credit card went through; Nathalie not sure if she had overcharged me.
Ten days later, there was a package for me at the post office. Inside, the new bronze owl sculpture, a canvas bag with the store’s name on it, an autocollant-voiture (car sticker) that said et je suis fier d’etre bourguignon (proud to be from Burgundy), the magnet, and a postcard from Nathalie.
Such a long way to arrive!
J’espere oue cette petite chouette vous portera bonheur. A tres bientot…in Burgundy.
(I hope this little owl will bring you happiness. See you soon…in Burgundy.)
I smiled, reading the card, holding the heavy, little owl in my hand, my thumb sliding over the top of her head. To get the new owl to me had not just been a stunning display of customer service, it had been something more: it had been real, it had been warm, it had been friendly. The interaction would always frame my memories of Dijon, more so than the fairy tale apartment.
And the first owl? I always wondered what happened to him, imagined him on new adventures with someone in South Africa, someone who had no idea he was actually French.
Until one day in October, my mother-in-law texted me; a little bronze owl had landed on my bedside table at her home in Port Elizabeth. Where he had been, we don’t know, but I look forward to him flying home and roosting with his new companion.
*If any translations don’t make sense, it is totally my fault! Please let me know if I’ve butchered something.