It was enormously crowded in Montmartre, many thousands of people jostling and moving and gawking. Did I flash my wallet when sitting in the little park, the one with the carousel and the kids playing? Maybe. In retrospect, I remember a man in his 20s eyeing me and talking on a cellphone. At the time, I didn’t focus on him.
I walked through narrow streets, then up some steps toward Sacre Coeur. Suddenly, I felt a twinge . . . of what? Sciatica? I was dizzy, as if something had been sprayed in the air. I stopped and felt my back pocket.
My wallet was gone. Gone!
I felt woozy, faint. Not just because I’d been violated, but because of the embarrassment: I, someone who’d been around the world — and around the block — too many times to count, had been fleeced. Me!
My wallet had been removed as neatly as if a magician had done it.
I looked around, saw no one. He, she, they had disappeared. I stumbled down the steps and walked into a restaurant. The owner was preparing the day’s menu. I tried to get his help, but he waved me away: He wasn’t going to let a desperate tourist interfere with lunch business.
I staggered down the street. Two young women working at a vegetarian restaurant came to my rescue. They sat me down, brought me water. At least I still had my phone. I was too frazzled and sweaty to manage canceling my credit cards, so I called my wife in Israel and she took care of it.
The young Frenchwomen made calls, police came. I filed a report, then used the few coins I had left to take the Metro back to the rented flat. By the time I got there, it was the afternoon. I couldn’t help replaying the scene in my mind: the moment when I realized I’d been pickpocketed. I heard a cuckoo sound in my head, over and over: You sap! You sap! You sap!
I’d been so careless. I, of all people, should have known better. The problem is that Paris is excruciatingly civilized, not like Brazil or Turkey or Cambodia or Pakistan or some other places where I’d lived or worked, places where I’m very careful about what I take with me and how I carry it. So I’d lapsed into my lazy American habits, carrying all my cash and credit cards in my wallet, in my pants, instead of using the money/document pouch I use when I’m in the Third World: Secure and zippered, it hangs around my neck, inside my shirt.
I mapped out what I had to do. I called Visa: It would send 200 euros via Western Union. Fine. But, I realized, the neighborhood post office bank, which handles Western Union, wouldn’t reopen until Monday morning. That was 40 hours away.