I wish this were just the title of a bad 80s tune or the name of another, old, Queen album. I’ve been living in Paris for over 8 months and you’d think I’d have them figured out. But the wenches got me. And AT THE GARNIER OPERA HOUSE no less, where there are lots of people (hence, gypsies plague that tourist spot).
I have already been victim to their mischief before: three weeks after arriving in Paris, I was prey to an attempted pickpocketing in the Metro beginning at the Opera Station. [Hmm…] The kind teenager offered her seat to my husband with one sleepy child in his arms while we waited in the station. I thought to myself, “How kind!” and remembered her. When we boarded the train, she kept pushing herself into me, and myself being Canadian, with my personal space violated, I was annoyed, especially since the train was not that crowded. Well, I heard the Z-I-P sound of my bag being opened and looked down to see the girl’s huge sweatshirt over my purse. At this point, I F-L-I-P-P-E-D O-U-T. I dropped everything: the folded stroller, the sandbuckets, and the kiddie umbrella fell with a crash and I shouted at her, grabbing her sweatshirt to feel for my wallet. She looked surprise at my outburst and quickly rushed out her cell phone from beneath her sweatshirt to prove her innocence, without saying a word. My husband shouted, “Check your purse, Denise. Make sure you have your wallet!” While I did this, the girl silently escaped to the other end of the subway car, and everyone in the train just stared at me. I lost her, but I didn’t lose my wallet. But what a memorable scene for my six-year old son to witness as he was standing beside me that entire time. [Luckily my daughter was still asleep in my man’s arms.] My whole being was shaken. It took me two days to move on and continue with life as usual. And I had to explain to my son the concept of pickpocketing. Wonderful.
Hey, Edvard Munch! That’s exactly how I felt.
Since that time, you can imagine how vigilant I’ve become, avoiding areas like the Tuileries Garden or the bottom of Montmartre Hill (the carrousel area), or the base of the Eiffel Tower. I’ve seen the “Roma” (apparently these gypsies are from Romania but who knows) collect cardboard boxes to make their clipboards for their petitions, stake out their territories and pretend to be mute for sympathy. Upon unavoidable encounters, I avoid eye contact and continue to walk on emotionless, wearing my dark clothes and scarf like the other Parisians. Usually, these young waifs leave you alone since there is so much tourist fodder for them to chew on. But upon two occasions, a male gypsy shoved his petition in front of my face and aggressively kept his arm in front of me, holding me back while I tried to move forward. So while I thought I wouldn’t have been affected by these people because I have some streetsmarts, I got the surprise of my life this month when they decided to choose me as their sole target.
I was leaving the side exit of the Garnier Opera House with a couple behind me after inquiring about tickets. I looked up to admire the architecture because I never get this close to this beautiful edifice. Well, it was bad timing — after 5 seconds of gazing, I looked away to a shock of seeing 4-5 gypsy girls with their petitions waving in front of my face. I must have looked like a deer in headlights because I spun in the opposite direction to leave and felt a tug at my purse which I clutched under my arm. Then, weirdly enough, I felt something being placed on my head and instinctively threw a kick behind me, still clutching my purse. Well, that was the lamest attempt of defense I ever made [gone are those days of roughhousing with my brother]. But I surprised them. In fact, they all laughed at me and one was mimicking my sad kick. What the h*ll? I looked around and there was NO ONE in sight to witness what just happened to me. How is that possible?! This is the Opera House! Everybody comes here! No time to ponder, I whisked myself to the front of the Building where everyone was sunning themselves in the daylight on its front steps.
Well, I went through another two days of my emotions high, and the constant replay of my assault in my head and how I should have handled it. Why was I their focus? Was it because I am petite? A lone woman? The timing was certainly opportune for them — there was no one else to interfere with their ambush. A friend of mine said it was likely because I am Asian and there is a general consensus that Asian tourists carry a lot of money on them (she herself, has been a 5-time victim of pickpocketers — W-H-A-T?!!)
“A Night at the Opera” (1936) with the Marx Brothers (photo taken from http://morristowngreen.com/tag/dreamation/)
I don’t think I can do much about changing my gender, my height, my ancestry… but next time I will not admire the Opera House. And I will SHOUT MY HEAD OFF if they ambush me again. And, I figured that these bandits put their clipboard on my head to provoke me to let go of my purse to yank whatever was on my head. Well HAH! to you thieves because next time I will fiercely tickle you under your arms, headlock you and give you a noogie, ONE * AT * A* TIME!!! [Sometimes an annoying brother helps you develop useless defensive techniques.]