corner image   The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 

Issue Twenty-Six

The Boatman's Home by Shome Dasgupta
Selections from
Fabulosae Aves (Fabulous Birds)
by Flavia Lobo
Two Compositions (from Empty Streets) by Michal Ajvaz
The Pavilion and the Lime Tree by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud
"I" Get Caught With
Marie-Yves's Pants Down
by Derek White
Wind by Ralph Wahlstrom
Thief of the Moon by Srinjay Chakravarti


Selections from
Fabulosae Aves (Fabulous Birds)

by Flavia Lobo
(Collage Illustrations by John Digby)

Pommefrite, collage by John Digby

Pommefrite (Picui tuberosum)

Local Names: Potato Bird, Spud Bird, Fou-Fou

Haunt: Broad distribution throughout farmlands. The Yam Bird in southern America and the Fou-Fou in West Africa are sub-species.

Chief Features: A small bird, reaching at most three inches, the Picui, unlike most other birds, cannot turn its head around on its neck. On the other hand, it achieves a 360-degree range of vision by twirling like a top on its graceful, slender legs. Its bones are even lighter than other birds', which allows it to fly high and long distances despite its minute wings. Observed in flight, it has occasionally been taken for a UFO or meteorite. Docile and affectionate, it is popular with bird lovers for its sweet expression and demeanor. It enjoys being cradled in soft pillows and serenaded.

Plumage: The most noteworthy feature of the plumage is the lily tail, longer and larger in the female, which changes color according to the bird's mood. The wing coverts are torquoise in color; the primary and secondary flight feathers are emerald green in the Irish species common in northern regions and orange in the African Fou-Fou.

Courtship: The female inspects a group of potential males that swing from side to side clapping the tips of their wings and tapping their feet in order to attract her attention. She then picks some by winking at them, and they walk behind her for hours in a spectacular parade. Eventually the exhausted males drop out one by one until the last is proclaimed the winner and groom.

Nesting: The nest is made underground. Both the male and female Pommefrite dig a shallow burrow with their heads and shoots immediately start sprouting. They then pull out the shoots, which they use as lining to make a soft bed for the clutch of eggs. The male sits on the eggs, which the female turns over every two hours to prevent baking from the male's body heat.

Eggs & Young: When the young are hatached the parents take turns feeding them with a regurgitated pulp the consistency of soft butter and sour cream. Although their bodies are covered with tiny eyes, the birds are born blind, gaining vision after three weeks, when their legs become sturdy enough to support the chicks' first attempts at twirling and flight.

Voice: The chicks make a sound like, "chip, chip, chip." Mature female and male birds call to each other on the ascent, "hot-potato, hot-potato."

Cockaleekie collage by John Digby

Green-Tailed Cockaleekie (Lusbonnum avisvolans)

Local Names: Cockaleekie, Vichysoise, Leek Bird, Little fish head

Haunt: Europe from Scotland and England to France and Belgium. The North American subspecies, Julia childius, is a slightly smaller bird.

Chief Features: The Green-tailed Cockaleekie is considered a pest by farmers for raiding fields and plantations, where it devours various seeds and potato buds. When in flight from pursuers it will hide its head in the soil and is at times taken for a vegetable. According to some scientists, the bird is the link between aquatic and flying birds, which accounts for its fish-like head and exceptional swimming ability. In the water it can reach great speed due to the tail that acts as a powerful propeller. Living in large communities, it has to fight fiercely for a roost or haunt, using its beak to repel attackers. Flocks work together when hunting potatoes, which they surround using techniques similar to wolf packs.

Plumage: The males sport a metallic white head, dark green forehead and golden yellow cheeks, females softer shades of the same colors. In breeding seasons, male Cockaleekies grow bright tartan tufts while females display a soft onion-like aroma.

Courtship: Standing on their stiffened tails the males attract their mates by mimicking dances of other species, the jig or apache, depending on region. According to the few birdwatchers lucky enough to witness it, the performance changes one's life forever.

Nesting: Any depression in the soil can be used as a nest, though it has been known to enter homes and pastry shops to nest in soft dough and soup bowls. When threatened by man or any other predator, the whole community gathers to protect the eggs and young, hissing and projecting their spiky tongues like shiny soup spoons.

Eggs & Young: The female lays a clutch of green eggs, usually fifteen glued together with the consistency of cream and melted cheese. Once the young are hatched, one of the parents goes in search of crusty bread, the only food eaten by the fledglings until they abandon the nest after three weeks. By then they have practiced running long distances in order to take off, and can fly for short spells flapping their leafy tails.

Voice: The call of the male Green-tailed Cockaleekie is "soup — soup — soup." The female trills a softer "soupy-soupy," and when agitated a sharp "tart-tart."


Flavia M. Lobo is a writer and translator from Rio de Janeiro. Her translations for the Brazilian public include Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband and Liam O’Flaherty’s The Informer. She also helped revise the translation of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Recent work includes two children's stories; The Key, a fairy tale published by Feral Press, with illustrations by John Digby; and Fabulosae Aves (Fabulous Birds), also published by Feral Press, from which these selections came. Her translation of André Sant'Ánna’s story, "Bitches Brew," appeared in Issue 18 of The Cafe Irreal, and her story, "Masks," appeared in Issue 19.

John Digby's collages have been exhibited widely in the UK, France, USA and Korea. All of his work is exclusively black and white and composed of archival papers and pastes. Using this aesthetic, he and his wife founded The Feral Press, a small press publishing unique stories, essays and poetry, illustrated in black and white by a variety of artists working in various media. Both his studio and press are in Oyster Bay, New York. His work appeared on the cover of Issue 25 of The Cafe Irreal.

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