Hands, Not Flamenco
We couldn't claim we hadn't been warned, a couple of times. First by the federal government who advised that Spain was safe to travel in but look out for pickpockets; the next time by our hotel whose information folder welcomed us in large print, "Do not carry valuables with you. Use your room safe." and then added, disconcertingly, at the bottom of the page, "We are not responsible for valuables left in room safes."
The four of us considered the odds, locked everything valuable, passports, cash, cards, in our safes, and headed out into the Madrid morning. My husband, manager of our travel monies, held out $l00 to cover lunch and dinner.
Surely, in a pocket almost as deep as his kneecap, protected
by a hand in that pocket at all times, the money would be safe. His
brother decided to keep his little pile of Euros zippered in an ankle
pocket in his many-zippered hiking pants. We two women loaded our shoulderbags
with water and sun screen. We made our way to the Rastro, the famous
Sunday open air market.
$l00 seemed a bit steep a price to pay but we had learned our lesson. No more stuff in pockets. Reluctantly, we took our money belt and neck bag out of our suitcases. Don said wearing that thing under his T-shirt made him look like his pacemaker had popped out. I said that that was better than looking five months pregnant at my age.
We both started out the next day carrying all of our valuables on our bodies. Sherry and Bob decided to stick with the safe and Bob's ankle pockets.
We stopped at the Starbucks a block or so from the only museum open on Monday, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. I was in charge of the itinerary, and it included a full day of walking and shopping. We needed to stoke up on lattes to get us started.
Then we headed to the museum, we women in front. As we approached the building, a well-dressed gentleman appeared at Don's side and nudged him, pointing to two young girls near the gate. "Be careful," he said. "Those girls are pickpockets." A nanosecond later, I noticed that Sherry's small microfiber back pack was unzipped.
"You guys let me walk with the pack open!" she said, miffed, and at that moment we knew we had been hit again. This time her wallet with fifty Euros, at the very bottom of the pack covered with bottles, a scarf, and a book, had been lifted. All three zippers were unzipped and she hadn't felt a thing, and I, walking beside her, hadn't seen a thing. Even more amazing was the second act: the two girls who had been pointed out as pickpockets came up to us as Sherry was trying to pull herself together and they held out the missing wallet.
"Your picture is in it, " one of them explained. "We picked it up and saw you." The wallet was empty, of course. The girls hung around for a few minutes even after we thanked them and later we understood that they had been waiting for a reward for being part of the team that robbed us. They did return the wallet, didn't they?
all four of us had gone into various stages of paranoia. Sherry entered
the museum with her pack in front, arms hugging it so tightly her face
was turning red. Don kept tapping his pseudo pacemaker to assure himself
of its presence.
hadn't recovered the next day. When a little old couple, all in black,
approached Sherry on the Calle Tres Cruces and asked if she was traveling
on their bus, Sherry clutched her bag, cried "No!" and leaped
backward two feet into her husband's arms. The old folks moved on, either
part of a gang, or convinced of the rudeness of foreigners.
Bob commented that if our percentages held, one out of every two tourists
in Spain would be robbed. It certainly seemed like it when we got home
and told our stories, only to be met with those of our listeners. For
one, my sister: same month, same Starbucks.
books tell us that a victim of robbery should report it. My sister went
immediately to the police station where she stood in a line until she
reached the desk and the officer pulled out a notebook labeled "English."
She filled out a form, which was filed in the notebook and the notebook
was placed back on its shelf, next to other notebooks labeled German,
French, Italian, and so on.
cigarette burns, helpful guides. Who knows what else lies in the bag
of tricks of Spain's talented and rampant street performers? I for one
don't want to find out. Months later, six thousand miles away, I still
walk with my bag crisscrossed over my shoulder, banging into my stomach.
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