Saturday, April 23, 2005


Did you know that there is just a single Dutch word that encompasses both the English words "pigeon" and "dove?" "Duif"...

It seems so wrong to me. I mean, I'm no ornithologist or anything like that -- so I can't speak with a truly informed view on the question of species... But it seems to me that the idea of a pigeon and the idea of a dove are so separate, so distinct, so polar. I just don't understand how these mental images in my head could possibly be reconciled under the single word "duif."

Does a pigeon signify peace and tranquility to you? Would they release a flock of "pigeons" at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games? Wouldn't you keep your kid away from a magician who could mysteriously produce nasty, smelly pigeons from a hat. Would the Holy Spirit have descended upon Jesus in the form of a pigeon? I have a hard time seeing pigeons incorporated into so many designs, logos, and symbols of 21st Century Western culture... Yet it's not hard for the Dutch to see these roles occupied by "duiven" (plural of "duif").

By the same token, it doesn't feel right to be angry at the "doves" who've been shedding their nasty feathers and pooping all sorts of foulness and disease into our backyard, from the balconies of the apartments above us. There's a sort of perversion to think of those birds defiling the statues throughout the city as peaceful, transcendent doves. And isn't it ridiculous to think of Sesame Street's eccentric character Bert so thoroughly enjoying the company of Ernie, his paperclip collection... and the "doves" cooing outside his apartment window? Yet a "duif" is a "duif" is a "duif" to the Nederlanders.

Like so many other minor points of friction between cultures, the juxtaposition seems strange and somehow wrong... But I've learned that it can be extremely valuable to have different perspectives on the "duiven" that we encounter each day. Perhaps the distinctions between these birds are not so black-and-white (no pun intended). Perhaps we English-speakers choose to give distinct names to the two different ends of the same spectrum. In fact, it can be downright useful to consider that "duiven" can provide the peace and beauty of "doves" together with the disgust and disdain for "pigeons."

In the end, it's a more truthful reflection of our world... Something I'll have to think about the next time I watch the release of pigeons at the Olympics or dodge the dove poop raining down from the trees of the Vondelpark...


At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yet again I say you are one deep, deep dude. This would be a great way to start a teaching at the Zolder. What do you think? If you don't use it I may steal the idea, and claim it as my own. -B.W.'s

At 8:26 PM, Blogger Eric Asp said...

Thanks for the comment, BW. I definitely think a lot of these blog pieces could eventually make their way into one of my teachings at the Zolder or some other purpose... But don't let that prevent you from using it as well. I would be honored to have something I wrote be recognized and used by someone else. For what it's worth, if you were to use this story in particular, it might help to know that the pronunciation of "duiven" is like "douw-fen." Thanks for visiting the blog and providing your feedback!


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