Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
The Bird Market of Paris

The Bird Market of Paris

A Memoir

Nikki Moustaki

Henry Holt and Co.

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"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.

EXCERPT

Prologue

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.

Until Paris.


Copyright © 2015 by Nikki Moustaki

Reviews

Praise for The Bird Market of Paris

“This may be the most original cross-species love story I've ever read. Part travelogue, part recovery memoir, and one hundred percent compelling, The Bird Market of Paris is a gorgeously realized exploration of the ineffable bond that links humans and animals.” —Gwen Cooper, author of New York Times bestselling Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat

The Bird Market of Paris is a stunning, exceptional memoir from a woman who truly understands and appreciates birds--who could not resist the warmth of a baby lovebird in her hand, or the poetry in watching eggs turn to baby birds--and who found strength in them to carry her through addiction and heartache. A captivating, heart-warming tale and a delightful, inspiring read.” —Joanna Burger, author of The Parrot Who Owns Me: The Story of a Relationship

“I've long been a devotee of Nikki Moustaki's poetry. Now, her keen eye, deft language, and startling voice shine just as brilliantly in her memoir, The Bird Market of Paris, a work of remarkable honesty, proving the power and exuberance of her prose. The wisdom of an exceptional grandfather, a passion for birds, and the darkness of addiction—all spun together by Moustaki's gift for finding just the right words, at the right time—give life to this 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

“In this emotionally resonant account, a series of lonely academic and urban sojourns alternates with bouts of alcoholism that are only gradually reined in--not least by way of a fantastically eventful visit to Paris.” —Elle (a Lettres 2015 Readers' Prize pick)

“No one writes better about birds than Nikki Moustaki. To her, the smallest beating bird heart is full of the same strength and longing that is her own. This astonishing book is the story of Nikki's growth, fall, and triumph, as she seeks to protect every bird in her path, often while not protecting herself.” —Deb Olin Unferth, author of Vacation and Revolution

“I'll tell you what's so good about The Bird Market of Paris, what distinguishes it from the long catalogue of naval-gazing memoirs lining our bookstore shelves. I'll tell you why it matters. The governing artistic value here is honesty. Nikki Moustaki may want to tell us about her love for and devotion to her Poppy and to her avian friends, and she does a marvelous job at just that, but she tells us something much more important. She tells us about herself and her struggle with alcoholism, her struggle and ultimate victory, and in so doing she tells us all we need to know about courage, dignity, and heroism.” —John Dufresne, author of No Regrets, Coyote

“Through breathtaking, lyrical prose, Nikki Moustaki bares herself on the page, and renders her coming of age and its uncontainable desires through the surprising metaphor of birds. This debut narrative is a stunning, inspiring, honest, break-your-heart recovery memoir with wings, a triumphant story of the brick-by-brick building of sobriety and of family love.” —Christa Parravani, author of Her: A Memoir

“Nikki Moustaki's The Bird Market of Paris is a terrific book, a beautiful memoir of a child's love of birds, instilled in her by a loving grandfather. The love he gave her helps to save her from the oblivion of alcohol.” —Dan Wakefield, author of the memoirs Returning: A Spiritual Journey and New York in the Fifties

“A tender, shocking and redeeming memoir.” —Arrive Magazine

Nikki Moustaki's honesty and conversational writing style make The Bird Market of Paris a charming read, while her story shows the power of unconditional love to heal and renew-no matter the species.” —The Florida Book Review

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Nikki Moustaki

Nikki Moustaki is the author of twenty-five books on the care and training of exotic birds. She holds an MA in creative writing, poetry, from New York University, an MFA in creative writing, poetry, from Indiana University, and an MFA in creative writing, fiction, from New York University. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant in poetry, as well as many other national writing awards. She splits her time between New York City and Miami Beach.

Nikki Moustaki

Lawrence Fine