Paris – you must learn to accept the Rose with its thorns…
After weeks of walking in the quiet fields of rural northern France, arriving in Paris felt completely disorienting.
The train station and the city are dirty and overcrowded, a place where everything could and does happen.
It took only moments for us to encounter a scammer who fleeced us.
She was pretending to be a Métro office worker, helping with holiday train tickets, helping to move along the long lines at the self service ticket machines.
In a few seconds she collected our money for multi day metro passes, and disappeared into the crowd, leaving us with two kids’ single day tickets.
We replaced the kids’ tickets at the manned counter, with regular metro tickets.
The real Metro worker nodded her head when I explained what happened, and then she called the police.
Then she told me that the police are coming, but in all truth, nothing can be done.
The criminal always performs the same scam, and then disappears into the crowd.
We did not stay to file the police report.
We shrugged our shoulders and inwardly decided not to trust anyone pretending to help, while we are in France.
The real reason I did not stay for the police to arrive, was because I could see how it was going to unfold inside my mind’s eye.
The policemen will come in their full regalia, armed from head to toe.
Then they will ask me how much did we pay the scammer for the alleged five day unlimited passes.
I would answer €65 each or a total of €130.
They would roll their heads in disbelief.
“Tourists can be so dumb,” will be their silent thought.
“Please show me your ID for the police report,” they would ask.
“Well…. our passports, our money, my driver’s license and all of my identification cards were stolen in Peronne, France.”
The policemen would look at me with wide eyes and opened mouths, not saying much but thinking to themselves: “Madam, perhaps you and your husband are too dumb to travel and should just stay home?”
You might wonder why I anticipated this scenario with the police, instead of a more sympathetic reaction and consideration.
This is because the police in Peronne where our passports were stolen, did not even bother to question the waitress and cook at the restaurant who most likely took the bag we forgot, even though it had thousands of dollars in it.
I have also witnessed some really cynical and cruel behavior while in France.
I saw a man enter the train station.
He approached a woman who was sitting quietly waiting for the train.
He waved his hand in front of her face, to attract her attention.
Then he said, “Very nice Botox!,” and he circled his finger around his mouth to indicate that he was referring to her obviously Botoxed lips.
He left her in tears, and I thought to myself why would anyone do this….
What did he have to gain by humiliating a fragile woman who is already so insecure…
So instead of waiting for the police, we promised ourselves that we will reject any offers of help unless we asked for them directly, and not open our wallets on the streets to anyone.
I have to admit that we are not what you would call “Street Smart.”
We live on a high mountain in rural Colorado, surrounded not by cities, people and towns, but with the mighty, empty Colorado Rockies.
We have no street creds and no defenses against scammers.
We are easy prey, and so will simply walk away.
After settling in at our hotel, we went to the US embassy, reported our stolen passports and applied for new passports.
I was jumping for joy on the day I held my new passport.
Paris is a city known for it glitz and glamor.
But Paris does not feel luxurious, unless you are a person who is blind to your surroundings.
Even when staying in a cool, new and comfortable hotel, with lots of space, a great lobby, a good bed, a fabulous shower, plush robes and daily room cleaning with crispy clean sheets, it is hard to feel ease and luxury.
That is because the minute you leave the hotel and walk the streets, you will encounter thieves with shifty eyes, looking over your bag, pickpockets looking for your wallet or phone, and many signs, warning you of thieves and pickpockets.
You will see scammers looking for opportunities, and many, many homeless people and panhandlers.
We saw whole families with young kids living on the streets.
They sit on street corners where the tourists are, bundled up with blankets and surrounded with their kids’ toys.
You can see nicely designed shop windows, but when you look to the other side of the street, you will see old, lonely people walking the streets mumbling nonsense to themselves.
Under beautiful monuments and by majestic stone fountains, you will see drunks sleeping on the dirty pavement, clutching empty bottles.
But despite the dirt and the harsh energy of the streets, we managed to have a good time in the two weeks we’ve spent in Paris.
We were no longer scammed, and we visited some great markets, saw some very good art, ate some good food and really got a sense of the diversity of this city.
We walked through neighborhoods with African people, where the gathering places are the local hair salons.
Dozens of people crammed into those hair salons or walked the streets with their hair covered in shower caps, waiting for the coloring peroxide to work on their hair.
We walked through neighborhoods of recent immigrants from Sudan, Mali, Rwanda and other parts of Africa.
Men were selling single cigarettes from an open pack, to those who could only afford one cigarette at a time.
Others were running small businesses selling one piece of candy for a few pennies, parts of roasted chicken in an open bucket, cheap beaded jewelry to women who still wanted to feel beautifully decorated.
You might wonder how an income from selling single cigarettes or wrapped hard candy for pennies, can allow a man to survive in this expensive city….. but they do.
They live a different life from the one the tourists see.
We saw markets where they can buy new clothes for only one or two euro.
There is another economy for those who have less.
While in Paris, I read an article about Paris, that said that being in Paris is like being in a third world country.
I have to agree.
The city is filthy, the sanitary conditions are poor, there is no police supervision and the once grand monuments are now dirty with grime.
I had visited Paris when the Pompidou Art Center had recently opened.
It was shiny with its unique modern architecture.
The building has been poorly maintained since, and has paint peeling from its rusted columns and grime on the windows and around the passageways that had not been cleaned in years.
Inside, the Pompidou still holds great art treasures, many worth untold millions, but the building is far from grand, with no maintenance of its outside structure at all.
The people who live in Paris these days are not the same breed of people who built the beautiful architecture and sculpted the glorious sculptures that decorate the city.
They are a different culture, living in the remains of a once exalted culture.
Once there were poets and architects, artists and sculptors, stone masons and glass workers, painters, visionaries and carvers, who built grand mansions and breathtaking apartment buildings.
Now the people are barely able to take a selfie and email it to their friends.
Once the buildings had high ceilings and spacious rooms, windows that were ornate and entrance ways that felt like you were entering a palace.
Nowadays they build sardine boxes, with low ceilings, ugly doorways, with barely enough room to fit the washing machine below the TV and beside the shower.
I have been asking myself why I am here…
I don’t know how to turn a blind eye.
I see it all and take it all in, even if I try to filter it through positive eyes.
I saw kindness in many people’s eyes.
I met people running small and soulful businesses, like the hot porridge bar we went to every morning.
Two girls, making fresh juices and wholesome bowls of organic food, for people like us who love and appreciate it.
I saw a kind young man riding on the bus.
He was talking on the phone with his friend in Arabic, while all along helping women with baskets to get on and off the bus, helping ladies load and offload child carriages into the bus, giving a helping hand to an old woman with a cane, all this done without stopping one minute from his phone conversation.
He was not looking for any gratitude or any recognition for his constant help.
It was just his nature to be helpful.
It was no big deal for him.
It was his instinct to help.
Why am I here?
I don’t even like doing typical tourist things in a big city.
I do not like standing in lines.
I do not like what most tourists like…
South or North
They make little difference.
No matter where your destination,
Just make sure to make every journey,
An inner journey.
If you’ll travel within,
You’ll travel the whole wide world and beyond.”
Whispered to me Shams of Tabriz, Rumi’s friend.
“And you MUST Learn to accept the Rose with its thorns,”
he reminds me…
And so I will…
Sending you blessings and love,