I’ve used the term “expected surprise” to refer to the unplanned appearance of friends during my Paris stays, and there was yet another last week: Steve Kuehler, a Boston friend on his second tour of Europe, arrived in Paris. Sherard and I invited him over for dinner on Saturday evening, and I made a reservation at a local restaurant. Another “expected surprise,” however, led to a change in plans.
Sherard and I wanted to see more of the Belleville Open Studios, but since they don’t open until 2 pm I suggested that we first have a look at the weekend flea market just outside the northern boundary of Paris, the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen. I explained that it would be a 30 minute métro trip or about an hour on foot, knowing that Sherard would prefer to walk. It’s a straight shot up our street along the ancient road by which seafood was brought into the Paris marketplace (Les Halles) from Le Havre in Normandy. The rue Montorgueil part of the street that I love is upscale, but the road goes through a range of neighborhoods, including the rather rough Barbès district, before arriving at the even rougher Porte de Clignancourt and the banlieu of St-Ouen.
At first all went well. I found the guinguette that I had enjoyed on other occasions, Chez Louisette, and it was very atmospheric. Entertainers, seeming to step right out of the 1950’s, sing their hearts out while you eat a quite adequate lunch. Kitschy, yes, but fun!
After lunch we wandered around the flea market for a while, looking at shiny things, though not really tempted to buy anything. I was surprised at how sparse the crowd was and how many stores had closed since I last visited, in 2011. When it started to rain we decided to head home. Since it would have been a long walk in the rain I prevailed on Sherard to jump on the métro. The station was a madhouse, jammed with very sketchy looking people, many of whom were jumping the turnstiles. In retrospect we should have gotten the heck out of there, either walking to another station or even just walking back home in the rain. But I forged ahead.
As I was getting my wallet out of my right front pocket to go through the turnstile I felt the faintest touch at my left front pocket, where I kept my brand new iPhone XR. I glimpsed a furtive looking woman but immediately was shoved forward by an enormous guy who pushed into the turnstile behind me, ostensibly to avoid paying the fare. I noticed immediately that the phone was gone but the woman was nowhere to be seen and the guy claimed ignorance. My guess is that he was her confederate but there was no way to prove it and absolutely zero prospect of recovering the phone.
While being pickpocketed is a misfortune, it is really another category of “expected surprise.” I lost my wallet to a pickpocket in Barcelona more than a decade ago in similar circumstances, getting onto the train to the airport. I was prepared for it then and I’ve been prepared ever since to lose either my wallet or my cell phone, or both. In fact I’ve really been surprised that nothing along this line has happened to me before in my many visits to Paris (and, except for Barcelona, elsewhere). I’ll blog about how I prepare for this eventuality and how the recovery went in a subsequent post.
We went directly home on the métro so I could call T-Mobile, disable the phone, and have my insurer send a replacement. (We probably should have started this process from the station using Sherard’s phone but the delay doesn’t seem to have done any harm.) After all my calls were completed we decided it was too late to walk up to Belleville then back in time for dinner. Since we were already home I suggested that we “make lemonade” and host a dinner party for Steve instead of going to a restaurant.
Sherard and I went up and down rue Montorgueil with our shopping bag, buying fish at the local fishmonger, lettuce for a salad, a fresh baguette, pastries for dessert, a bottle of white wine, etc. I whipped up my standard meal, which, if I do say so myself, was something of a triumph.
My only miscalculation was how thirsty we all were, but fortunately I had a spare bottle of rosé on hand so we had enough to drink as well as eat. After dinner we headed out for a tour of the neighborhood, which Steve enjoyed as much as expected.
The next evening as we were walking home we saw a little girl lose control of a helium balloon. It went up, up, up until it was a just a diminishing spot in the darkening sky. The girl was brave about it but one could tell that she was upset. I knew just how she felt!
I also knew how Sherard felt. He had been dubious about the métro since his prior trip, and had assiduously avoided it this visit, even when it involved walking an hour or more each way. The single time when I prevailed on him to use the métro one of our pockets got picked. My claim of having used the subway hundreds of times without incident was abstract, but the fact that 100% of his métro trips this year involved a crime was very concrete indeed! I gave up persuading him to use the métro again, and I’m afraid it may be many years before anyone talks him into another trip.