Aah, it’s springtime in Paris. It’s a little chilly, yes, but the sun has just come out, we’ve just wandered through and around the Louvre, and have seen the Mona Lisa, and we’re just enjoying being right here, right now, with the Seine in front of us, and farther down the river, the Eiffel tower looming large over the city.
Wife is a couple of steps in front of me, Son and Daughter just behind me, when suddenly an old lady crouches in front of us and picks something from the ground. I don’t see her at first – because I’m taking photos – but when I almost bump into her, I take notice.
“Is this yours?” she asks, and shows me a gold ring.
“Nope, not mine,” I say. Daughter’s right next to me, admiring the shiny ring in the old lady’s hand.
“Keep walking,” says Wife, but I don’t. I’m looking at the ring, and I feel sorry for the person who’s dropped such a nice ring. The ring is big and it’s heavy.
I know this, because the old lady has now dropped the ring on the palm of my hand.
“Just give it back to her,” Wife says, now another three steps farther away from Daughter and me.
“You think it’s gold?” the old lady asks me, and points to some markings inside the ring. “Is that a gold marking?”
I squint, and try to see if there is a gold marking, but as I go through the motions, I remind myself that I don’t really remember what a gold marking looks like.
“Tough to say, but it sure is heavy,” I tell her.
She puts it in my hand, and tells me to give it to Daughter.
“Give it back to her,” says Wife. Now I’m torn, but I walk away from the old lady, and put the ring on a stone wall by the street.
Daugher and I walk a little faster to catch Wife, when we hear the old lady shouting behind us. We stop, and wait for her.
“Just take the ring, just take it,” she says, and I can see her brown eyes, and her teeth with a matching color.
“Then maybe give me something … for coffee,” she adds.
And until that sentence I hadn’t realized it was a scam. I tell her I don’t have any money, she doesn’t believe me, and when I tell her that “honestly, I don’t”, she turns away, taking the ring with her.
I’m a little surprised that I didn’t see the play. After all, I do call it “the oldest trick in the book” when I tell Wife what the old lady had said to me. Also, my legs have barely stopped shaking after two young men tried to rob my camera just four hours prior, before we entered the Louvre.
Aah, it’s springtime in Paris. Son and Daughter are climbing on a bench, on one of the many bridges over Seine, Son wearing a red beret he bought – with his own money – about an hour earlier. They’re happy so I’m happy. We’re in Paris, and the sun is shining.
The kids are facing the river, and I make them laugh when I tell them I’m going to take photos of their butts. That, of course, makes them turn, and then turn away again, and I stand there, cracking more jokes and snapping more photos.
Suddenly, I see a young man to my right. He’s saying something to me in French, and he’s holding a clipboard with a white piece of paper on it. At the same time, another young man walks up to me from my left, and he, too, speaks French and waves a clipboard in front of me.
Everything happens very quickly, but as I try to find a way out of the situation, I see that the man to my right has his hand around the strap on my camera. His hand is around it, but he hasn’t grabbed hold of it, not yet, and I leap backwards, and yell, in “French”: “Nooooon, no-no-no-non!”
Both guys look at me, raise their arms in that French way, with their palms up, and look at me like I was the one who just insulted them, and then they walk briskly down the street. I check my pockets for my wallet and phone, and when I find both still there, I look up and see a young lady jump two meters after the two young men surround her. She escapes the attack, and the men keep on walking.
With the ring episode behind us, I decide it’s a good idea to tell the kids of all the other times I’ve been fooled during my travels. Just so they know this is just something that happens in the world.
So I tell them how Dad and I were in London, and wanted to buy a watch or bracelet from a guy outside Harrods. Just as I had given him the ten-pound or twenty-pound bill, somebody yelled “Police!”, and he packed up his stuff and ran in one direction, Dad and I the other. I still don’t know why we ran.
I tell the kids how ten years ago, as I walked through Stockholm, two guys asked me if I wanted new speakers, straight off their van. Apparently, their company was moving, and they needed to get rid of them. I looked at the speakers, but decided that they were too big.
I tell the kids how in Rome, when Wife and I were walking alongside the river Tiber, a car pulled up next to us and asked for directions to the Vatican. Having been in the city for just three hours, I was more than happy (and proud) to be able to point the man to the right direction.
“In fact, if you look that way, across the river, you can see the St. Peter’s Basilica, right there,” I told him.
“Thank you, signor,” he said.
“Thank you so much,” he added, “thank you. You’ve been so nice that I’d like to pay it back to you somehow. Let me give you a leather jacket.”
He waved towards the backseat of his car, where there was a pile of leather jackets. He reached back and gave me one. It was a nice jacket, and had he given it to me for free, I sure would have taken it. Of course, he wasn’t going to do that.
“I’m sure it’ll look good on you,” he said.
“Oh, signor, I’m almost embarrassed to say this, but … my tank is almost empty, and I don’t have any money. I’m running on fumes here. Now, you get the jacket, and you give me whatever you can give me,” he said.
“I don’t have any money,” I said.
“Honestly,” I added then.
He looked at me, and asked for the leather jacket back. I gave it to him, and he extended his arm, in a handshake.
“Thank you,” he said. “Let me just thank you.”
By now, the situation was a little strange, but I did walk up to the car, and took the man’s hand. And we shook hands. A little longer than I had expected. Or wanted. He just wouldn’t let go of my hand, and for a second, I was absolutely sure he was reaching for a gun.
He wasn’t. He smiled, let go of my hand, and drove away.
Then I tell the kids how on that same Rome trip Wife told a tourist playing the shell game with the cups and the pea that he shouldn’t wage any money on that because he had seen the guy remove the pea. The guy with the cups didn’t like that very much, and we had to run from the market.
And just as I finish telling these stories, we turn a corner. Just then, a young lady walking towards us, seems to pick something up from the ground. She looks at us, shows us a big, shiny, golden ring, and asks:
“Is this yours?”
“Non,” I say, and we cross the street.
“That must be the oldest trick in the book,” Son says.
Daughter listens to my stories intently, her mouth and eyes wide open. She’s quiet for a while. She’s thinking.
“Dad? Why do the tricksters always choose you when they try to fool somebody?” she asks me.
“That’s a good question,” I said. “I don’t know.”
She looks puzzled.
“It’s because Dad looks like a nice guy, and he’s always helping others, of course,” Wife says.
“I know,” she says.