It’s cliché, and I can’t help it. The moment that I saw her I knew that she was the mate for me. To win her was another matter for those were the days of my obscurity and this was my first courtship. I can’t explain how good I felt when I saw her; suffice it to say that my heart fluttered, my feathers quivered, and I let out an exuberant twitter of song.
To understand what I experienced you must shut your eyes and see her as I saw her. She was sitting in the middle on top of the central tower of the Forte Michelangelo in Civitavecchia, Italy, overlooking the sea. It was regal. Her silhouette was haloed by the rising sun and I could see every feather. She gazed out to sea, and I dove down next to her to make sure that what I saw was real. Imagine my delight when I determined that she came from the same nesting colony as I, and was another four year-old, the correct age for mating. In case you didn’t know courtship is very serious for we seagulls as we are strictly monogamous. For the lucky ones who have long lives this could be a forty-five year liaison.
It was early March, the correct season for mating which meant that, inevitably, I was not the only one to notice her. My competition was fierce and only served to confirm my conviction and to strengthen my resolve. We launched into all the usual mating displays. We swooped and dove before her. We sang our best trills to her loveliness. We threatened each other and promised fights to the death; and we told her about our choice of nesting place.
Initially she was unimpressed but little by little she began to show interest and eventually, she announced that she had narrowed the field down to two. Oh, joy, I was one of the two. The catch was that she set us three labors and told us that she would make her choice based on our accomplishments. She declared that this was a fairer method of selection than our proposed air battle. Oh how rational she was! I loved her even more intensely.
The first test was for us to display our mettle as providers – to bring her food. I flew out to sea and found a working fishing boat. Soon, I was rewarded with a beautiful baby squid which they threw overboard. But when I got back to my love I found him beside her; he was preening himself with pride. He had stolen, yes stolen, an at least day-old dead fish from the port’s fish market. Even though our beloved asserted that fresh squid was her favorite food; she declared him winner. I lost this round even as her fairness intensified my adoration.
The second test was to bring her a select piece of nesting material – something which would remind her of Civitavecchia and of her favorite Saint Francis. Again we flew off. I flew directly to the Cathedral of San Francisco d’ Assisi with its soaring two-order façade. There I sat on the roof and waited for inspiration. At last I had an idea. I flew down to the entry. On either side of the entry at the top of the regal steps up to the main doors were two large potted plants. They were aromatic rosemary. I took a small sprig and flew triumphant back to my love. Again I was thwarted for he had managed to tear a piece off a Franciscan robe which was out on a clothesline drying. He gave me a mean look and asked whether we really needed to go on with this farce. His squawk upset her; and she peeped that we most certainly did because that was what we had agreed. Her comment fueled my amour, for who could not admire her determination and honesty?. She gave a hopeful caveat that the outcome of the third test could trump the outcomes of the two previous tests on which we had both ‘delivered’ as she put it.
Before our third test we moved fifty miles inland, from Civitavecchia, Rome’s Tyrrhenian Sea port, to Rome itself. We did this to avoid some inclement weather. It was also raining in Rome but we felt better protected inland. She announced the third test which was to give her a taste of celebrity fame. We both stared in disbelief as seagulls generally do not want renown. It isn’t associated with good chick rearing, but neither of us wished to compromise our chances, and so we flew off. I hovered close as I was unable to think of a way to gain recognition but he soon came back bearing a cardinal’s ring. He had brazenly stolen it from a Vatican window. I was horrified. I told her that she would be making a big mistake to mate with this thief for all his responses to her tests indicated that he was one. I told her that thieves eventually get caught and that she would be left alone, probably right in the middle of the nesting season. She harkened to my arguments but, faithful bird that she is, she maintained that she would keep to her word. How I loved her for her stoicism. She conceded that I had until midnight to prove myself.
But how could I prove myself? I flew off and settled on one of the Sistine Chapel vents. It was warm and comforting and gave me a view of the crowds of people below – what, I wondered, were they up to? As I stood there, balancing on one foot, I tried to pray to St. Francis, her patron, but of little avail. I asked for an omen, something to assist me in my quest. All of sudden I got what I asked for as white smoke began to pour out of the vent at my foot, at the same time the crowds of people below erupted into jubilant applause. I flew down to my lost love. She was sitting on the head of one of the statues on top of the Bernini colonnade around the Square. But she was not lost she was squawking with joy. She was using her long eyesight to watch a news broadcast through one of the windows opposite. She explained that the white smoke was a signal that the Cardinals had elected a new Pope, and that while I was sitting on the stack I was viewed by millions all over the world. I had achieved fame beyond our wildest dreams and was, at that very moment, being tweeted worldwide.