Standing on the bridge, taking photos I was completely absorbed when a young lady and I use the term loosely, approached me with a wedding band.
Before she had the chance to speak, I roared with laughter, as heartily as I could possibly muster.
The pretty pedestrian bridge I speak of is Pont des Arts, leading from the left bank and arriving at the Louvre, on the right bank. Laden with padlocks from lovers, who leave their weighty mark on Paris and discard the key into the river Seine.
I found myself on the bridge after earlier visiting a current exhibition on Brassai at the Hotel de Ville, Paris’ opulent town hall.
Approaching the entrance, I was relieved to find a handful of people waiting instead of the long line, that had snaked back and forth within the queue barrier during the past few weeks.
Brassai was a hungarian born photographer, who moved to Paris in his early 30’s and enjoyed wandering around the misty streets of Paris at night.
His late night walks inspired him to present to the public, the city he deeply loved through his photography.
Whether it was lovers kissing in darkened alleys, nights at the Opera, brothels, newly arrived immigrant children, butchers hauling carcasses at the now defunct market of Les Halles, or what became his famous café shots, he quintessentially captured the spirit of Paris.
Offering us a glimpse of different cultures and societies and what life was like in the city of light between the two world wars.
His book Paris de Nuit (Paris by Night) shot him to international fame and was later referred to as ‘the eye of Paris’, coined by Henry Miller.
Living amongst the intellects and artists in Montparnasse, which had become the favoured area after the literary set had moved away from Montmartre. He rubbed shoulders with the likes of Henry Miller, Dali, Picasso and Matisse.
The free exhibition was fascinating. To observe the fashion, the architecture, different ways of life. He has left behind a snap shot of a world he lived in, in much the same way that now millions of images are captured every day on cameras, ipads and mobile phones by tourists, enthusiasts and professionals alike.
Brassai clearly loved Paris in the way I do.
Perhaps my motivation and inspiration to try to capture the city is similar to his.
I loved the exhibition, noting his angles, perspectives how he framed a shot and often questioned myself whether I, myself would have captured the same image in the way he did.
I had intended to visit another museum but half way through the exhibition my phone silently vibrated in my pocket. My new glasses were ready to pick up. Although the air was nippy, the sun was shining and I was not far from Cour d’Honneur.
In an effort to try to find a new angle than others do to photograph Buren’s Columns in the courtyard Cour d’Honneur at the Palais Royal, all that was required was to brave the cold over to the other side of Pont des Arts, the bridge.
Pausing on the bridge I noted a scam I had heard so much about but have never personally witnessed or encountered before.
A gypsy girl, approaches when you are in mid kiss or mid photo shot on the bridge, leans down and presents a ring and asks ‘is this yours’, in English.
When you are surrounded by so many foreign languages and you hear one that you immediately understand, instincts drive you to react.
Standing on the bridge, taking photos, completely absorbed, a young lady and I use the term loosely, approached me with a wedding band, before she had a moment to intake a breath to speak, I roared with laughter, as heartily as I could possibly muster.
It worked she walked away, unclear whether I had been scammed before or perhaps I was French and in the know, she was on to her next victim, only a few metres away.
A couple taking selfies, kissing and in their own little world were the perfect target. The ring barely hit the timber walkway of the bridge, before she leaned down, picked it up and presented it to them, oh you dropped this, is this yours she asks them. Sneaky little cat.
It is a scam, I tell them in English, figuring most people have some English as a second language to try to get by in Paris. They didn’t understand. ‘Attention’, a wave of the finger and the shake of my head – they still didn’t get it. The gypsy hisses at me and turns back all eyes and smiles to seduce her victims.
Paris Adéle can’t save the world on one random moment and I moved along the bridge but still close enough to observe, for some strange reason, camera in hand, I decided to snap a photo of her.
A double nod of the head, an approving sucking in of the cheeks and a knowing smile from a guy selling padlocks near me, confirmed he had seen it all before too.
Moving on I tried to find my friend’s lock he had attached to the bridge in Paris’ last summer, I got down on all fours and started searching.
Whoo haa, she hisses again, standing beside me. Her scam must have eventually fallen through.
I am in trouble I thought, until some courage surfaced and with it words from my mouth. You are a bitch she hissed at me in English. No you are the bitch and get off the bridge, I snapped back. You are a bitch and @#$% off, she retorted. Ok, this was a little scary but I stood my ground, you are the bitch, you are trying to rip people off, it is not right, get a job.
That was the best I could come up with and she stormed off, still snarling and hissing at me like a wild tiger.
Phew, after my stolen bag incident, maybe I shouldn’t push my luck but stuff her, I thought. I continued to look for my friends lock with no joy.
Sitting on a bench, still on Pont des Arts bridge, I send him an email, I can’t find your lock.
I am sure it was there but the immense amount of locks that are weighing down the bridge, it was more difficult to find than last time.
Once again, absorbed this time with my mobile phone, as I send a message, another gypsy approaches me, with what looked like exactly the same ring. Ok, the laughing worked last time, to an extent, until I interfered but I am feed up now and not in the mood for laughter.
Somehow sarcastic laughter did slip out first. Are you serious, I spat at her, straight for the English, no mucking around. I just had a fight with your friend, so I would advise that you move on … sweet-eee.
She didn’t get it, she comes in for another round. I said …. I started ….. no need to finish, her mate, my hissing ring bearer sidles up next to her, says something that is not French and they both hiss at me. Geez, it was unpleasant and then when the ‘pimp’ arrived, I thought I might end up in the river.
But no, they filed abuse, hissed and snarled, continued to call me a bitch and went on their way but not without standing at the end of the lock laden, Pont des Arts bridge, turning around, discussing me and being very pissed off.
No doubt, they were waiting in the wings for me to leave and would have got back to their day job moments after I left the bridge. The cheeky little buggars. Now at least I can finally say I have witnessed the ring scam.
Perhaps I should explain the scam; it goes like this.
They pretend you dropped the ring, very sweetly, ‘honestly’ offering to return it to you. When you insist that it isn’t yours, they persist until eventually you just take it. It seems harmless but this is when the fun begins. After this, they want money for their honesty and kindness, you give it to them and ‘your’ ring back. They go with the money and the ring. If you keep the ring, it is no loss, it is worth nothing.
It sounds ridiculous right? How could that possibly work, who would fall for that? Thousands of tourists per year is the answer. I can now officially say, be warned. It does happen and maybe expect hissing – lol!
My advise, if you want it: is roar with laughter as I did and don’t speak, don’t let them know what language you speak. Staring them down, being rude or discussion, ensures interaction and you will be woven under their expert spell. Don’t be afraid, be aware.
With my exciting little encounter under my belt, I reached Cour d’Honneur, only to be disappointed.
The courtyard was covered in plastic and timber for renovations. I am quite confident that every shot conceivable and every angle has all been photographed before, printed, emailed and sent off into the stratosphere, but I gave it my best shot, trying to crop out the renovations without success.
Wandering back in the general direction of home, I was tired, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, I get like this towards the end of my stay in Paris. I can’t be bothered to ‘achieve’ my list items and wander in a daze. It was getting colder by the minute and the mild weather has had me dressing much lighter than I normally would.
I offered money to a man creating giant bubbles, seeing I was taking sneaky shots behind his back and moved on.
My hands were starting to sting from the cold.
The warm air that was blowing out of the Desigual clothing store, was a good enough excuse to get in from the cold.
The balmy weather of around 12 degrees that we have been having in Paris plummeted today to around 2 degrees celsius.
Maybe the stores, like me had turned down their heating. Half naked in the changing rooms it was cold, so cold I was going to leave a layer on, to try on a cute little black and white dress but this was silly, I needed to take everything off and had to muster up the courage to do so.
This is what Parisians do, I thought, take a coffee break in a warm cafe or duck into a store.
Problem is that the store I ducked into and the dress and skirt I bought probably paid for their winter heating bill.
How to find the places mentioned:Pont des Arts – map Desigual Store Locations in Paris Hôtel de Ville – map Hôtel de Ville – official site Place de l’Hôtel de Ville Paris 75004 Nearest Metro: Hôtel de Ville Brassaï wiki page link