I had just entered the Champ de Mars when the woman saw me. She looked suddenly surprised.
I had come up the Avenue de Tourville, crossed Avenue de la Motte-Picquet, and was walking, strolling really, hands in pockets, hat tilted back, toward the Eiffel Tower. It was a gray morning in Paris — early March. Foggy and a bit cold, but I was in no hurry. I had just left coffee with friends and was having a wonderful day.
“Monsieur!” she called, in French. She bent to the ground, startled, and picked up something small.
“Did you drop this?” she asked, changing to English.
She was neither young nor old, dressed in gray and black layers and a hat of her own, hard to describe.
She held her hand out toward me. A small gold ring, looking very much like a wedding ring, rested in her palm. I smiled at her first mistake. We walk away, not toward, the things we drop.
I took the ring from her hand and held it up, turned it around, gave it a good looking over.
“Thanks,” I said, and took a step away from her, looking for her accomplice. But there was no one near.
“Monsieur!” She stepped in front of me. “My family is hungry. A few Euros, please?”
She had a good face for this. Sad, but not threatening. I put the ring back in her hand.
“I do not carry money,” I said.
She huffed and walked away.
I continued my walk. But at Rue de Grenelle, just one block from the first attempt, I saw two grey women approach a lone woman in a bright yellow coat. Suddenly, there was something on the ground.
“Mademoiselle!” In French. “Did you drop this?” In English.
The lone woman reached out her hand. One of the grey women stood facing her, talking, while the other moved to her side. I dug my camera out of my pocket, zoomed in and focused. This should be good, I thought. But 20 yards away, another woman standing alone next to a tree saw what I was doing and called out the warning. The duo left the bright coat fast and I put the camera down.
“Fuck you.” The woman from the tree was by my side, standing close, a bit unhappy.
“You think you’re helping?” The grey pair had come up too. They were all speaking in English.
“You’re taking fucking pictures and taking money away from us!”
“You’re stealing our money!”
“Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you.”
“Would you like me to take your picture now?” I asked.
Each of them spit at my feet and walked away.
Ring day, I thought. Yesterday was petitions, groups of children running up and surrounding you, holding out a petition of some sort for you to sign, waiting for your arms to reach out, away from your body, your bag, your purse. One group here. Another group there. Yet another group farther on.
One more block, crossing Rue Saint Dominique, and I see a car pull up. The door opens and before the driver can exit there is a man in his way. “Monsieur!” The man reaches into the gutter by the car. “Did you drop this?”
A man I assume is Parisian, walking up to this scene, barks at the…