During the German occupation of Paris in World War II the food supply steadily dwindled. As the war dragged on and Germany began to run out of food, the occupiers thought nothing of stealing French food and sending it home to Germany. Rationing in Paris was severe.
A.J. Liebling, the New Yorker’s war correspondent, was a Francophile. He loved France, he loved french food — which, eventually killed him because he ate so much of it — and he loved Paris. He was in Paris in 1940 and stayed as long as could, leaving only a matter of hours before the German Army arrived. He returned to Paris with the Daydaybay (the French 2nd Armored Division) only a matter of hours after the Germans left in 1944.
Liebling had been living in the Hotel Louvois in Paris prior to his hurried 1940 departure and he returned there the day after the Liberation. The Hotel looked out on the Square Louvois, a small park which before the war contained 14 trees and innumerable pigeons. Liebling was delighted to find the hotel still in business after the Occupation. When he got there one of the first things he did was count the trees; fourteen still stood. Writing years later he remembered, “The pigeons, of course, were gone but I can’t say at that moment I really missed them.”
The pigeons were gone because, during the rationing, Parisians ate pretty much whatever they could get their hands on. That included the city’s large population of pigeons. By August, 1944, none were left.
Liebling was again at the Hotel Louvois in the mid-1950s, writing Normandy Revisited, his memoir of the war years. Here is what he had to say about the pigeons then,
Pigeons roost in the trees of the Square Louvois; even when the temperature is near zero, they seem none the worse for it, and no less amorous. The pigeons are collateral descendants of those I used to see there in 1940, the latter having been eaten during the Occupation. (The same people who treacherously devoured those birds now try to make it up to their successors by feeding them crumbs of croissants left over from breakfast.) “My God, those pigeons were tough!” says Fernand, the old night porter. “Real Athletes! And with the rationing, we were hardly strong enough to chew them.”
But times change and what was once yesterday’s necessity becomes today’s luxury; we learn from Maureen Dowd that the discredited, disgraced executives of AIG — after we taxpayers bailed them out — traveled, in a private jet costing $17,500, to a partridge hunt at a British country manor where they paid another $17,500 on the food and rooms. The food included pigeon breast.