Life In the Tame Lane

photo: terrace, les halles
A terrace waiting for you in Les Halles.

Did I Tell This Story Before?

by Ric Erickson

Costa Brava:- Monday, 31. August 1998:- Life has been pretty tame for the last three weeks. About twice a week the local town parachutes a patrol car into this suburb. We are always told there are burglars everywhere, but we don't see the policia often.

Over in the town there are enough police, with municipal cops and the national Guardia. But I don't spend much time there so I don't know about the town's 'dark side,' if it has one. All I know is where we are there are lots of burglars because everybody says so.

What's to steal? Most of the housing is composed of apartments and bungalows that belong to Spaniards who live in nearby Gerona or Barcelona. They don't leave valuable stuff in their weekend and summer places. The iron grills and steel bars are probably the most expensive objects around.

But there is no ATM or bank in this suburb. It is possible to get money from the branch post office, but I don't know how. As it doubles as a magazine shop and telephone booth, I think most people phone out for money, if they need some badly.

So, besides the bit of cash one may have in a pocket, and a few cameras and a number of used bicycles, there doesn't seem like much to steal.

One year I think I took a photo of some thieves without knowing it, so they took a fairly major riskphoto: terrace, champs elysees and scooped up my beach sack with the camera in it. I was about a metre from the bag, and another beach person was sitting facing it, about two metres away.

And a famous terrace on the Champs-Elysées.

One guy did a dodgem trick for the beachperson behind, while his partner picked up the bag in a flash. A towel hung casually over a shoulder did the rest.

Because of all the burglar stories, I kept most of my 'eggs' in that one sack. The other kept her stash elsewhere but she wasn't too sure where, so when it came time to sound the alert, all cards, all cheques, all were annulled.

Which left us nearly penniless. On top of it, it was August like now, and most personal help was unavailable because they were away on holidays too and we used up most of what cash we had phoning long-distance to annul the cards.

Just before we left, Le Parisien had a feature about this and their advice was to carry two kinds of plastic, a reasonable amount of cash, plus some cheques. And, do not forget to keep all your cancel numbers handy.

They didn't have any advice about what to do if all of this somehow got stolen at once, because the rest of the feature was about the fact that French merchants in holiday areas will hardly take any cheques, don't like plastic - so if you are out of cash, you are out of luck.

We got out of our hole with the aid of the local rental agency. They simply advanced us cash until the new cards arrived.

When this happened there was a catch. For security reasons, the cards came without new PIN numbers. This meant I could not get cash from an ATM, but had to go into a bank and ask for it. If the new card was flagged as 'good,' then the cash was handed over.

At the time of the theft, I had reported it to the Guardia within about ninety minutes. In the panic of the situation, I had to guess at what was gone, so I reported everything missing.

But like a lot of people, I don't carry a passport on the beach - so it was safe and sound - although reported as stolen.

The new cards came fairly quickly and I found a bank willing to give me cash on it, once the card was verified as 'good,' and I got some several times. Then, after a weekend in Barcelona, I went to the bank and got arrested.

With the passage of time, the bank had received two things. They got a stolen report from the cardphoto: brochure asterix park company and the card company told them - and the police - the stolen card was being used locally. So when they got the chance, they arrested me because my name was on the card.

Which was the same name on the new card. I happened to have my passport when hauled into the Guardia's HQ, and when this was examined it was declared to be phoney. I was, therefore, running stolen plastic with a fake passport as backup.

How did I get out of this jam? I have to thank a certain Guardia detective who was a fan of the 'Miami Vice' TV series.

He looked like 'Sonny' and he dressed like Sonny. He happened into the HQ while several dozen cops were trying to figure out the possible implications of my copy of the stolen bag report, which I happened to have with me.

He took the passport and held it up to the light, and declared it 'good.' He had seen a modern hand-made Irish passport before.

This freed me. I went back to the bank that had me arrested and they gave me some cash.

But with the card-copy slips, totalling hundreds of thousands of pesetas, allegedly spent in local bars and discos, they seemed unable to find some guy who was having a big party off my plastic. It seems to me that it shouldn't have taken much more than about 12 hours to catch the guy.

But then, hey, it took them two weeks to catch me. Didn't I tell this story before?

No matter. Next week, new and fresh Paris stories, right here.

Heads Up!

A couple of years ago Parisians woke up one bright morning to find the Champs-Elysées transformed into a field of wheat.

Spectacular as it was, it was sown on Saturday, mown on Sunday and the Avenue was returned to itself on Monday.

Possibly taking a hint from the farmers, the French Aero Club will borrow the Champs from 10 to 27. September, to use as an aircraft park to commemorate the centennial of the club.

The Bleriot IX, which made the first flight across the Channel in 1909 will be featured. A replica of this famous craft only made a couple of hundred metres in a late-July reenactment, so seeing the original should be enlightening.

According to the International Herald Tribune's report, vintage air machines and modern jet fighters will be parked "on the service roads paralleling the long avenue." There will also be a control tower someplace.

The report does not say the avenue will be closed to traffic, but it does say the aircraft will not be operational. About the "service roads," they disappeared some years ago.

This will leave the planes and their properllers on the ñ wide ñ sidewalks. For this reason, for the two weeks ñ Heads Up!

Dave Parks in Paris Cafés

Famous Miami resident and occasional weekly newspaper writer Dave Barry was recently in Paris and he alertly noted some of the city's odd quirks.

Although he forgot to mention local accents, he got 'café' right after obviously following long-standing Metropole advice to sit around in a lot of cafés often.

He also tried the métro, but blew its accent by writing "Le Metro." As for his comment about the recorded messages in some stations warning passengers about "robbers,' I'm afraid he got it wrong.

The actual warning is about 'pickpockets' and these are, of course, somewhat more discrete than say, 'drive-by' shooters in Miami.

Dave loved Paris' 'Star-Trek'-style public toilets, noted that Parisians have difficulty with the letter 'R' and thought doing nothing except sitting around in cafés ñ where large numbers of short novel writers smoke a lot of stinky cigarettes ñ to be socially positive.

What flummoxed Dave was 'tipping.' Contrary to his impression, the tip is included in the 'addition.' This secret about how much extra to tip is simple: if you ever want to be served in the same place again, just 'roun-off' the 'addition' to the nearest 1,000 francs.

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