Sunday, January 16
In 1990, Steve lost his wallet one night when we were hanging out under the Eiffel Tower. I was sure pickpockets had gotten it. Perhaps because of this experience, he noticed and throttled the young gypsy who grabbed his wallet in Rome in 1997, forcing the kid to give it up. In West Africa, we expected pickpockets to be operating in the busy, crowded, urban settings; we listened avidly to Laura’s accounts of notorious ploys practiced in Dakar. Nothing happened there, but two wily rascals robbed 70 euros from Steve in Madrid (where we spent a day and a night on our way home). Here’s how they did it.
Our guards were down. Although fog had been predicted, when we landed around 7 a.m., the sky was clear, and by mid-day, the temperature had climbed into the high 50s. We took a short nap but then went out, to stroll around the center of the city. The streets looked so clean, the buildings so grand, I felt like I was on a movie set, one crammed with thousands of people reveling in the unexpected warmth and sunshine. Most of them seemed to be eating gorgeous food and drinking large quantities of wine or beer — even though it was early afternoon.
So we were ebullient when the two young women approached us under one of the arcades adjoining the Plaza Mayor. One handed me a red carnation, and when I tried to refuse it, she laughed and insisted. In Spanish, she asked if I had any foreign coins — they didn’t want Spanish money, she said. Both girls (maybe in their early 20s) were playful, high-spirited. I got the impression they were working for some civic event, and indeed they told us to return at 3 p.m., when there would be dancing. Since I was certain I had no coins of any sort, I asked Steve if he had any. One of the girls helped him poke through the change pocket in his wallet. Again she rejected any of the euro coins he had, urging us to return with a few foreign coins “for our collection.”
Steve later told me he’d suspected they might be pickpockets. He’d been prepared for them to try to run away with the wallet. But when they bade us goodbye, and he still retained it, he put it away, relieved.
It wasn’t until hours later, when he went to pay for something that he realized both the 50- and 20-euro notes he’d had were gone. (They’d left the two 10s.) This means the girl was so adept she managed to extract the two bigger bills under our gaze — not unlike a card sharp confounding the shills with his sleight of hand!
We feel chagrined, of course. But we console ourselves that if that’s the worst thing that happened on this trip (as it appears), we got off cheaply.