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Henry Holt and Co.
Henry Holt and Co.
Barnes & Noble
"This may be the most original cross-species love story I've ever read. Part travelogue, part recovery memoir, and one hundred percent compelling." -Gwen Cooper, author of the New York Times bestselling Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat
"[An] epiphany-provoking gem of a story, skillfully crafted, vivid and rich with feeling." -Richard Blanco, Presidential Inaugural Poet and author of The Prince of los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood
"A stunning, exceptional memoir from a woman who truly understands and appreciates birds . . . A captivating, heart-warming tale and a delightful, inspiring read." -Joanna Burger, author of The Parrot Who Owns Me: The Story of a Relationship
Nikki Moustaki grew up in 1980s Miami, the only child of parents who worked, played, and traveled for luxury sports car dealerships. At home, her doting grandmother cooked for and fed her, but it was her grandfather-an evening-gown designer, riveting storyteller, and bird expert-who was her mentor and dearest companion.
Like her grandfather, Nikki fell hard for birds. "Birds filled my childhood," she writes, "as blue filled the sky." Her grandfather showed her how to hypnotize chickens, sneak up on pigeons, and handle baby birds. He gave her a white dove to release for luck on each birthday. And he urged her to, someday, visit the bird market of Paris.
But by the time Nikki graduated from college and moved to New York City, she was succumbing to an alcohol addiction and was increasingly unable to care for her flock. When her grandfather died, guilt-ridden Nikki drank even more. In a last-ditch effort to honor her grandfather, she flew to France hoping to visit the bird market of Paris to release a white dove. And there, something astonishing happened that saved Nikki's life.
I woke one afternoon in New York City, birdless, hungover, a yellow screwdriver on the floor next to my dismantled stereo, a debris field of broken glass strewn across the living room floor, not knowing why my gimlet glasses no longer had stems, or why someone had pulverized my turntable into a mound of splintered plastic. What I did know was that I had given away one of the only friends I had left in the world&mdashJesse, my African Meyer’s parrot.
This was the first moment in my life that I didn’t have at least one friend with feathers. Birds had filled my world the way blue filled the sky, with a wholeness so natural that an existence without them seemed a perverse impossibility. But alcohol had superseded birds, and my ability to take care of another living creature had died inside a bottle of Malibu rum.
Until that afternoon, birdsong had been the soundtrack of my life. My parents and I had lived close to my grandparents from the time I was very young, and my grandfather, Poppy, kept birds&mdashegg-laying Rhode Island Reds, fancy rolling pigeons, gray cockatiels, yellow ducklings, and gleaming pheasants.
I always believed that my affinity for birds was inherited, or at least contagious. In Corfu, at the end of the nineteenth century, Poppy’s father had a white cockatoo that sat on the wall in his courtyard and called each family member by name. Poppy’s father passed the “bird gene” to Poppy, who, as an adult, sat in an outdoor table at Café Riche in Cairo, beckoning to the Egyptian sparrow merchants who sold the little birds for food. He would buy several cages of the doomed creatures, fifty to a tiny crate, and as dusk fell over Cairo, Poppy and his only child, my father, would set the birds free from the balcony of their apartment. Poppy passed the bird gene to my father, who was responsible for bringing many of Poppy’s birds into our world in South Florida&mdashand for later indulging my bird hobby from beak to tail&mdasheffectively passing the bird gene to me.
Ours is not just a love for birds or an appreciation of them, but a particular empathy for anything feathered. I can look at a bird and know what it needs or wants, and I know that Poppy could, too. He taught me how to hypnotize chickens, how to sneak up on flighty pigeons, and how to handle baby birds. I wouldn’t call myself a bird whisperer or a bird psychic, because that’s not quite right. It’s about reading their subtle cues, about paying attention, a kind of avian super intuition.
After receiving a baby lovebird of my own at eighteen years old, I embarked on a feathered journey using my avian genetic inheritance, which eventually led me to a serious avocation in birds&mdashbreeding them, rescuing them, and writing about them. That first lovebird taught me what it meant to love a bird, or any creature, unconditionally.
But along the way I discovered alcohol, and it began to consume my life. I was headed toward a featherless existence, leaving that first lovebird and all my other birds behind. While I was at the bottom of my daily martini, Poppy passed away. That loss sent me further into the darkness, into that confused, hungover birdless afternoon, and even further, toward a place without wings.
Copyright © 2015 by Nikki Moustaki