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Patrizia Chen Headshot

Life With Poultry

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When I married, life as I knew it changed radically. No more modeling, no clubs, basta to late nights out or sudden trips to exotic islands just to model a few flimsy high-fashion clothes. Instead, I moved to the countryside a few miles away from Rome, delighted to have left behind the runways and the pressure of always being in tiro, picture-perfect.

My husband was as handsome as a Greek god, or more appropriately in this case as a Roman one. I loved him. He loved me. But poultry was his real obsession...

Hens, chicks, ducks, turkeys, pigeons, you name it. Anything that had feathers and a beak and scratched about the farmyard was adopted and welcomed into our life. We built pens and fox-proof wire fences for the area where the birds were confined -- but only at night. Free to roam the property during the day, they laid eggs wherever they wanted, to the immense amusement of our dogs and cats. We too relished our daily egg-hunting.

Having grown up with the hens that my grandmother kept at the end of our garden -- useful relic of the war years -- I was thrilled, and learned to search among bushes and under the trees, behind the tractor wheels or wherever our birds' fantasy had compelled them to drop their daily production. The basket on my kitchen table was always filled with eggs of different sizes and colors as geese, ducks and hens turned out to be remarkably distinct.

Two huge turkeys appointed themselves my official bodyguards. We had originally acquired them because they're known to scare vipers away; their mighty beaks can attack and kill in a fraction of a second and their legs have no blood vessels a snake can bite into. I was their charge, and they followed me everywhere, enjoying my long walks across the countryside. It must have been a curious sight: a young woman parading with her child, two white Maremmani (the local shepherd-dogs) and several Jack Russell Terriers, followed by two immense gray birds tottering behind. Their prodigious feathery wheels quivered and fluttered, emanating a spine-chilling rustle.

The bucolic peace of our walks turned into a serious problem once it was clear that the turkeys didn't appreciate any of my guests. Nobody was allowed to join our walks. So their very first violent assault on my son Saverio sealed their fate and my two paladins ended up in the deep freezer. Christmas dinner was around the corner...

While trying to come up with a magnificent and unusual gift for my husband on the occasion of our third wedding anniversary, I found out that our grain distributor was selling a mother duck with her trove of newly hatched chicks. Could there be a better choice? It celebrated life, fertility and marriage. Really proud of my inventiveness, I traveled back from the store with an exceedingly animated box as mother duck wasn't very happy to be moved from her usual surroundings. The police stopped me for a random check, and the handsome Italian Carabiniere, resplendent in his impeccable uniform, pointed at the suspicious container: "Open it!" he ordered. I demurred, mumbling that it might be dangerous.

"Aprila immediatamente!" he insisted. Shrugging, I put on a pair of gardening gloves and slowly uncovered the box from which the duck vaulted out like an Erinnýes, the mythological fury. The faces of the policemen were worth the frenetic struggle to grab her and put her back inside.

Life in the countryside is not peaceful, no matter what they tell you. Pregnant with my second child and confined to bed for several months, I had finally hit the end of the eight month. The doctor had allowed me to take a walk a couple of times a day, just around the perimeter of our house. One day I stepped out into the magnificent, sunny July weather, happy to stroll through my roses, checking the growth of the newly planted espalier pears. Like a sea-lion on land, I slowly galumphed across the lawn. Suddenly I felt watched; I sensed a menacing presence looming behind my back, a bullish ruffling of feathers that promised nothing good. I turned around and saw our prize-winning Bantam rooster, a miniature jewel of variegated red and orange feathers, his comb erect, bellicose, ready to assail me. His scrawny feet scratched the dirt to demonstrate his macho power and determination.

I screamed. I was alone, no one else was in the house and the main door had clicked shut behind me, separating me from my dogs. Holding my big belly swathed in a loose white shirt, I tried to run. But my legs weren't as fast as my brain... The rooster attacked, and I hit him back, kicking laterally, karate movies in mind. It went on like this for the whole length of the house, until I finally found an open door and bolted inside, breathless. I had been saved from major harm by the cockerel's habit of re-grouping before each assault, precious seconds that allowed me to limp to safety. Miraculously the baby held on tight inside me.

And the casualty? That tiny Bantam warrior soon joined his cousins in the freezer...

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