Friday, 16 October 2009

What a Hoot!


Yesterday was a day packed, like a tin of Paimpol Sardines, full of rendezvous. Being a wise old owl I master minded proceedings with the precision of a Napoleonic campaign, dashing about Brittany to ensure both boys were in the right place at the right time with all the necessary accouterments and dressed appropriately for each occasion, clean teeth for the Orthodontist, clean hands for the orthophonist, clean sports kit for Handball and , as always with any expedition involving diminutive Frenchmen , a suitable supply of goutes to keep the ever present loupe of hunger at bay, for as Napoleon famously said "an army marches on its stomach".
On the final leg of the journey , driving along in the pitch blackness of country lanes we were halted by the sight of an Barn owl sitting unperturbed by our headlights in the middle of the road and with no intention it seemed of stirring one feather in flight. Thus we ground to a sedate halt and waited.
"Look boys isn't it beautiful!"

"Is it a Chouette? ( French name for Barn Owl)" asked Middle .
"Yes" I said gleefully proud of his ornithological skills .
" Oh Chouette!( the French for "Oh Great! " ) said youngest.
The French language has a not so endearing trick of using the same word spelt and pronounced the same way to mean a variety of quite diverse things, which has no doubt led to some interesting misunderstandings in history . Any way back to the Owl...
"Someone close to us is going to die" .they both said with typical French resignation.
"Not true" I chirruped " its just a myth" . They gave me one of those slow steady stares reserved for demented elderly relatives who have uttered something particularly stupid.
The problem is that our Breton neighbours believe, and I mean seriously believe, that to see a Chouette and hear its call means someone you love will fall off their proverbial twig in the not to distant future if not before. Rather a fatalistic lot they are at times. Since we live surrounded by woodland and barns all of which are bustling with Chouettes it can make an evening excusion rather a tense event at times. No wonder the locals rarely go out after dark.
"Anyway" I prattled like the vielle chouette that I am ( and that means silly old bag in French, see I told you French vocab was a cunning beast!)
"We aren't Breton so it doesn't apply to us"
My passengers were not convinced and as if to emphasise the inevitability of a dear ones passing each devoured another Madelaine in resigned silence. I could feel their minds working on the list of family and friends crossing of those accounted for and pondering for whom the owl would screech.
After an age the Owl gave a rather Gaelic shrug and took off silently into the night having successfully put a damper on our evening. Not that I believe in those things but I did drive very carefully all the way home!

11 comments:

ChrisH said...

What an entertaining post - sheesh, all the words that sound the same and mean different things! Perhaps its the horror of all those misunderstandings which makes so many Breton's fall off their perches?

muddyboots said...

we have barn owls nesting here on the farm, know affectionately as either 'barny' or 'wol'. l see them every day flying silently searching for either breakfast or supper, perhaps l had better make sure my things are in order, but then perhaps not.

gaelikaa said...

C'est tres chouette! Hey, the Gaelic are a fatalistic lot in general, don't let that bother you. Those druids had it all sewn up controlling the people with fear. Anyway, an owl is a beautiful thing. Some Indians believe that the souls of the dead live in owls. It's probably because of that deep intense stare - who knows? But live without fear - and enjoy them when you see them!

snailbeachshepherdess said...

Good grief - all those different meanings for one word - it must be hilarious on occasions. Lovely pictures

mountainear said...

A most beautiful bird - one which I always feel privileged to spot. No doom related associations here.

Pondside said...

Lucky you to see one of these so close! I hear the owls in the woods, but never see them, except for once when I didn't realize what I'd seen until it was past.

patsy said...

Often see barn owls around here and not dropped off my twig yet.Beautiful plumage.
Of course owls, usually Little Owls, are symbolic of Athena, goddess of wisdom. Much happier connotation.
Love the French vocab lesson too!

Friko said...

a Breton owl with a Gaelic shrug.....
I'm still chuckling.

By the way, in Germany too the call of a tawny owl (kiwitt - not too whit too who - or something - can't be bothered to lookup how you Anglais spell it) presages the imminent death of somebody close by. When somebody sick heard that sound, they were definitely for it...


Kiwitt sounds like kommit, as in "follow me".
The boys will love it, they'll say, "see, we were right"

Frances said...

Chouette. I will always remember this word! And all the meanings that you've divulged.

Merci!

Not too many chouettes on view around these parts.

xo

Fred said...

We were once entertained, at 3 am, by mama chouette giving her brood of six flying lessons from the top of the conservatory roof, just below our bedroom window. It was a full moon and one of the most magical things I've ever witnessed.

Funny thing superstition. My maternal grandmother was fiercely superstitious, her own daughter, my mother pooh-poohed the whole thing, yet I find my self subconsciously turning into my grandmother. Youngest is ridiculously superstitious for one so young, but I put it down to too many dressing room routines and tics in whatever sport he's playing at the time.

Fennie said...

Well that's killed off all my relatives - there having been a whole conference of chouettes down at the Mill making loathsome sounds in the middle of the night. Mind you this sounds much the same sort of tale as the Banshee about which my Irish great aunt used to instruct me. If you hear the Banshee cry once - then it's misfortune, twice heralds serious illness and if you hear it thrice - well don't start reading any long books. 'I heard the Banshee again last night' she would say at breakfast and proceed to wonder what calamity was about to befall us.

Quite what a Banshee is or was I don't know - Barn Owls don't quite look dangerous enough but maybe they have powers of trans-substantiation and become ethereal spirits in earthly forms. Have you checked on Loic recently? Could he really be a Barn Owl? I mean he does come back from the dead - doesn't he?