Our trip to France this year was momentous on so many levels. I’ve written about episodes of the trip in earlier posts, but recently I was going through some of the brochures and literature I had kept from our trip this spring and felt inspired to share a few more thoughts and memories.
Kay and I spent a day in Paris in 2012 on a twelve-hour layover between flights. As we walked along the Seine River past the Louvre (a building that is so long it has the illusion of a vanishing point when viewed from end-to-end), I regretted our time constraint. Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and a French café made the cut in our dawn-to-dusk excursion that day.
For the trip this year, I bought our tickets to the Louvre in advance because I did not want to waste a single minute standing in line to purchase the tickets and then stand in another line to get into the museum. I hate standing in lines, especially in the rain, and on the day we were scheduled to visit the Louvre, sure enough, the line to purchase tickets was the length of the museum itself, and sure enough, it was raining. I laughed snootily as I breezed by the wet and sour-faced people. Lauren, our youngest, was with us on this day, and she admitted how impressed she was with her old man for getting the tickets in advance, getting us to the glass pyramid entrance, and getting us inside out of the rain with such ease and speed. I got a, “Way to go, Dad” as we rode the escalator down into the hub of the Louvre. I like it when I can still impress my daughters. It takes a little more to impress Kay. After thirty-eight years, she has seen most of my tricks, but despite the diminishing number of ruses inside the magic bag, I still keep trying.
The multi-paged download on the museum’s website included an assortment of pertinent information to review ahead of time from detailed museum schematics to the gallery locations of the most famous art pieces. By following the map layout of the galleries, I could easily travel from floor to floor and find the Vermeer’s, the da Vinci’s, the Michelangelo’s, the Napoleon apartments, the Impressionists, the African and Far Eastern collections, and the Egyptian, Babylonian, Mesopotamian, Greek, and Roman antiquities. I love exploring all these cultures. It’s as if the museum (any museum for that matter) was one big time machine; just step inside the capsule, set the dial for the desired historical location, and push the “go” button. But the experience on the ground was overwhelming. The size of the museum is grand in scale, something a map from the website cannot capture, and we stopped frequently to ask directions when the maze confounded the mice.
One page of this website publication that especially caught my eye was the “Safety Advice.” One would expect such a page pointing out exits in case of emergencies of any kind, but it was nothing like that. This page was a list of how-tos in the prevention of being the victim of pickpockets. “SAFETY ADVICE. Pickpockets may be present in the museum,” it began. “They operate in crowds while you are photographing or looking at the artwork.” Indeed, the Louvre closed its doors for a day in 2013 when pick-pocketing reached epidemic proportions. The guards were so fed up with the problem that they went on strike. Most of the blame was placed on gangs of well-organized children and arrests were difficult because of their age. “You kick them out, they come back the next day,” said the spokesman for the union representing the Louvre security personal. Poor Fagan and his crew of “Artful Dodgers” were taking the rap for this closure.
I continued to read. “Please follow these rules:
Keep your bags closed and hold them in front of you. Imagine walking through the masses with your bag extended in front of you like the reinforced hull of an icebreaker cutting through the thick crowd. Effective, but certainly an impolite way to bump into people.
Do not flash your cash. Let it be known across the land and from sea to shining sea, I flash nothing of my person or property. Well, there was that time in college after a University of Tennessee/Alabama football game when a group of us mooned the departing Alabama fans…but I digress.
Divide up your cash and keep it in several different inside pockets or in different compartments of your bag. Dividing up your assets is what financial planners recommend, advice worthy of heeding, but for me, “inside pockets” become forgotten pockets and to stash credit cards/cash/passport, etc., is courting disaster. I would totally forget where I put most of these assets, and they would end up being tossed into the laundry inside the garments where said assets are therein contained and would perish in the wash or melt in the dryer.
Do not put your wallet in your back pocket. I took this bit of advice. I’m a minimalist when I travel and pack a few nylon, wrinkle-free cargo pants and shirts with multiple pockets. I could secure my forms of currency in any number of pockets, front, side, and back. Any pickpocket would have to be a multi-armed Shiva to search through all the potential hiding places to find any assets on my person.
Do not follow the advice of strangers at ticket machines. What is the first commandment of parents to children: Thou shalt not talk to strangers…and that includes your whacky uncle who lives in a two-room cabin in the woods accessed only by an off-road vehicle.
Pay attention to your bags and pockets while taking photos. So the would-be pickpocket preys upon the unsuspecting tourist who wants to snap a selfie in the presence of great art. Guilty as charged. We posed before the “Mona Lisa,” impressed by our own vanity in front the most famous painting in the world and not the least bit concerned of a pickpocket searching for our assets. To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with Mona. My inner-philistine had reared its ugly head.
In the event of a problem, contact a security officer for assistance. Really. I mean, really. I ask you: what organization in the art world, yea verily, in the entire world of commerce, has ever closed down because of child pickpockets? When the museum gets overrun by pickpockets, who you gonna call? I mean, really.
Thank you for taking the time to read this prevention message. Enjoy your visit.
So now we were prepared. Like Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We could defend ourselves against all threats of pick-pocketing. But to my surprise after our “Mona Lisa” pose, the ladies were ready to split up. “We want you to take your time,” they said. “Enjoy your visit; there are other things we’d like to see” (which was code for “we can’t get out of here fast enough and go shopping”). And in a whoosh they were gone. “Meet you back at the apartment,” was the last thing I heard before they were swallowed up by the large crowd…FULL OF PICKPOCKETS.
I could only pray they would heed the “Safety Advice” I had read to them. I secured the zippers on all my pockets and spent the rest of the day in the Louvre’s wonderful time machine with one eye on the art and the other one cocked for would-be pickpockets. Eventually the art lulled me into its spell, and both eyes became focused on the beautiful exhibitions.
The art of pick-pocketing must be the world’s third oldest profession, and while this form of larceny should not be tolerated, there is something profound in these lines from Shakespeare’s “Othello” where the character of Iago compares the loss of the contents of his purse to the diminished value of his good name. Iago twists this line of reasoning to poison Othello’s mind, but the inherent truth is there all the same.
“Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; ‘tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ‘tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.”
One might say it took you long enough to get to the point of this essay, but indulge one more nod to Shakespeare. When Juliet struggled to justify falling for Romeo, she questioned the value of a person’s name; the two lovers represented two different families engaged in a perpetual, deadly feud. “What’s in a name?” she asked, arguing the point that their names were artificial and meaningless. Remember, they were just teenage kids blinded by the heat of love and the light was off in the rational portion of their brains.
Anyone who has lived on the planet long enough has done damage to their reputation. We are flawed humans being, after all, in need of rescue and forgiveness. There are times in my life where I have wished for the proverbial “do-over” and the chance to polish away the self-inflicted tarnish upon my name. I could wander the Louvre distracted by the beauty, my economic wealth vulnerable to thieves, but in truth, the total value of the contents of my pockets added to the museum’s great wealth of art, is no comparison to the value of the name I inherited. I’m so grateful for that good name, for the good name Kay was given by her parents, and my hope is that we will pass the heritage of those good names down to our girls, their husbands, and their progeny. That “jewel of the soul” is a precious gift.