I don’t enjoy big cities. A city of 12 million people is too big by my measure. The larger a city grows, the greater the pressures on people, amenity, services, liveability. If you’re part of the wealthy elite, life is pretty comfortable when lived in secure, elegant, clean streets with manicured gardens and parks. At the other end of the scale, in the 10th arrondissement, prostitutes from North Africa are lining up against the walls in the restaurant district from around 7pm.
Public security appears to be low. Other than a black clad SWAT team who piled out of a van into the police station next to the restaurant where I was dining, three armed soldiers near the Louvre and three near the Science Park,
I saw no police – no officers on the beat, no cars, no motorbikes. Totally unlike Spain, where safety is a priority, streets are well lit, the police are visible and petty crime has been considerably reduced.
Pick pockets are everywhere, especially in the Metro: warning signs about pickpockets are in French and English all over the Metro, and in the Louvre in several other languages as well! I mean, do these people take out a yearly membership to prey upon gawping gormless tourists? Other threats include gold ring scams (“Is this your ring? I saw you drop it. Please take it …”), “Please sign this petition”, or “Do you speak English?” all of which are designed to distract you and get close into your personal space for the sting. Then there are beggars, strung along the Champs Elysees, with their pile of worldly possessions and a cute puppy or tatty mutt – the money is to feed the dog you know. A sharp contrast with the exclusive stores that line this street. And street performers, whose assistants thread their light-fingered way through unsuspecting observers.
All this I traversed unscathed until my dawn departure through Metro station Ponte Maillot where my iPhone was stolen. I travel with a compact, hard leather, heavily zipped compartment handbag, worn across the front of the body. It has served me well for years…until distraction by one person, action by another, and the iPhone was gone in seconds – from the one compartment that has a snap closure. I didn’t realise it had happened until after they had disappeared. This station is a labyrinth of passageways and stairs (escalators only go down, no lifts), no visible security cameras or personnel. It’s the Metro which connects travellers with the bus station for Beauvais and Charles de Gaulle Airports, and it is a pickpocket’s paradise for hitting travellers with luggage. Where are the police?
The police at the Beauvais were most accommodating – writing a report, nodding sagely at the mention of Ponte Maillot, and forming the view from my description of the thieves that they were Romany.
Some small blessings for me: the phone was shut down for the flight; I have a pay-as-you-go plan, and I was able to retrieve my data and to have the sim deactivated. The incident left me feeling very flat.