Paris, Unplugged

Well, not entirely. But I’ll get to that (bear with me on this one).

See, it wasn’t the first time this had happened. It was not my first rodeo with being pickpocketed. The first time (the only other time) I was 18, on spring break with my dad in New Orleans – someone watched me put my wallet back in my (ill-planned) purse after I’d bought a Coke. It wasn’t even in the middle of the French Quarter – it was the convenience store around the corner from our hotel. I never even noticed until a few hours later. There wasn’t even that much to replace – an emergency credit card and a Maryland learner’s permit – both replaced within days – and probably less than $20 or $30 cash.

Since then, I’ve been…lucky with my “important” things. Well, responsibly lucky, I suppose. I’m not exactly reckless with them – I do my best to keep my wallet/passport/camera/etc. secure in whichever bag I have (or squirreled away in my lodging). I like to think I’m pretty good at situational awareness while traveling.

I’ve had a couple of near-misses, certainly. There was that time in Bali when I almost lost my brand-new camera. A couple years before that, my passport fell out of another ill-planned bag on a quiet side street in Kilbeggan, Ireland; hilariously, upon realization and retracing my steps, there it was, staring me right in the face, lying on the sidewalk.

(And before we go any further – yes, I know what the Government tells us when traveling: ALWAYS carry your Official Passport at all times in case you’re stopped or otherwise need to prove your citizenship; NEVER carry your Official Passport in case you’re pickpocketed, mugged, or otherwise lose your belongings; always have multiple copies of every official document you’ve ever been issued; leave multiple copies with everyone you’ve ever known; et cetera, et cetera, and so forth.)

So, here we find ourselves, back in Paris. It was my second trip back since my Year of Living in Paris. It was my fifth touristy visit overall (not counting that YoLiP). I knew my haunts, and I knew what I wanted to revisit. I didn’t end up making it back to everything I’d planned for my nostalgia tour, but I did get back to my falafel spot three times (once entirely intentionally; the second time only half-intentionally, but gratefully so; and the third time at someone else’s suggestion). And there was, of course, plenty of chocolat.

There were also a handful of new experiences. I finally went on a tour of the Opera Garnier (I stayed out of Box Five, I promise); I finally went to an actual ballet at the Opera Garnier (it was…interesting; the dog stole the show, and my buddies and I soon thereafter snuck out of our 10 Euro seats to take goofy selfies); and I finally made the trek up to Mont Saint Michel (in a nutshell, it’s an old fortified religious compound…and so many stairs…).

I also tested my traveler’s luck – not once, but twice – on this trip.

You see, there are ways that I’m a bit…old school. While I know that banking technology has come a long way, and that the best currency conversion rate is now found at the ATMs, I still travel with some cash to exchange in-country. (It might be a throwback to the old days of traveler’s cheques; it might also be that I didn’t always trust ATMs in China.) So off I went to a bureau de change on the rue Rivoli with a buddy of mine, got some Euros, and we happily went on our way…until the paranoia occurred to me. I paused, and dug into the specially designed (and marketed) “secret pocket” in the daypack I was using (it was the pocket closest to my back, ergo in theory the most secure pocket)…and my passport wasn’t in there. My friend and I figured it could only be one of two places – the Opera, or the change counter – both of which were since closed for the day. I went back to my studio in the Marais to tear apart my luggage; meanwhile, my friend – my saintly friend – went to the State Department’s website and printed off a copy of their Emergency Replacement Passport form (and a copy of my passport I had in my gmail inbox) and told me the best photomatrons to get the US-approved photos. She lamented the stamps I’d lose if this was what needed to be done.

(Naturally…I didn’t actually have a physical copy of my passport with me this time; but handily, as my friend pointed out, I would have emailed it to the American University of Paris several years ago as a pre-arrival task. Thank goodness for gmail’s search function and my saintly friend’s printer, amiright?)

After a quick falafel dinner break (the first of those three visits), she and her husband came back to my studio to do one last sweep to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind. No luck.

The next morning, after getting myself sufficiently caffeinated (bless you, French coffee), I zoomed back over to the Opera first and got sent on a stereotypically Parisian wild-goose-chase: The ticket lady (post-metal detector) sent me to the docent; the docent sent me back to the guard at the metal detector; and the metal detector guard sent me back outside to the Artist’s Entrance around the corner. (The guards at that door were the most sympathetic; my friend suspected that they empathized the most with a frustration that is a misplaced government ID.) The lady at that desk called the Lost and Found people, who had not yet seen it; she gave me a post-it note with the right phone number to call the next day and wished me luck.

So back I went to the change desk on the rue Rivoli for another very-Parisian-experience: 5 minutes of throat-clearing and bonjour-ing until I finally got the nice lady’s attention. I got barely three and a half words into my “I was just here yesterday to exchange some cash and might have dropped my passport” speal when she broke into an uncharacteristically large-and-beaming smile, reached under her desk, and pulled out the all-too-familiar small navy-blue rectangle, which she slid through the window with an empathetic half smile (after verifying the now seven-year-old photo and sheepishly apologizing that she couldn’t get my State Department-mandated emergency phone number to work – the one I hadn’t put the “+1” in front of). As soon as my passport was more securely buried deeper into a more-interior pocked in my daypack, I went on my way.

I messaged my friend about lunch, and started walking in the direction of la Place de la Concorde, intent on meandering over to the Champs Elysees to meet her. I stuck my phone into my jacket pocket – not an uncommon movement for me – and was immediately set upon by a fellow waving papers in my face. I yelled at him to back off, and off he hustled. Still feeling a bit put-upon, I reached into my jacket pocket to see what my friend had responded about lunch timing.

My now-empty jacket pocket.


So, once more with feeling, back to the Marais I hustled, back to my laptop, to tell my friend what had just happened (why I had become suddenly unresponsive). To their credit, AT&T rose to the occasion and blacklisted my stolen device, and their insurance company sent my replacement phone…to Maryland.

So here we find ourselves, in Paris, with a full week left, without a working phone. Every youngish person’s nightmare, right?

Yeah, nah.

I emailed/messaged anyone who’d otherwise need to get a hold of me that week that we’d have to make plans the old-fashioned way (arrange a place and time before I left the studio’s wifi, and plan the route ahead of time). Armed with an actual camera and an iPod Touch, I could at the very least still take my photos and find wifi cafes. I had, after all, existed this way literally every other time I found myself in Paris.

I was, in a weird way, due for a bit of a travel crisis. Things had been…too easy, too smooth, too lucky up to this point. And really…thank goodness it was just the phone. It could have been my wallet, my keys (which were, in fact, buried in my luggage), or…my passport, for real.

I let myself unplug. I had to. I literally couldn’t be looking down at my screen while I was on my nostalgia train. I had to read real books or write in a notebook. Or just sit and watch. At some cafes I didn’t even bother to ask for le code wifi. The only time I really insisted was at that second falafel trip (when Breizh was too full to seat me, leading the unintentional second falafel) – when I realized that Mr. Ponytail indeed recognized and remembered me. He even went so far as to make a joke about my stoop. I had to tell someone.

Maybe Saint Christopher really was looking out for me after all. Maybe he was even insisting I enjoy the trip. Which is not to say that I didn’t post to Instagram when I did find wifi…which is oddly, comfortingly, far more available in Parisian public spaces than it used to be, even since the last time I was there in 2016. (I wonder how long it took to occur to someone that the Tower…being so tall…is such a natural conduit of wifi?)

Paris is still always a good idea. Even without a phone.

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