Friday, July 13, 2012

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Interior- La Sagrada Familia.

Eric had been wandering around the University of Barcelona on his own one afternoon and found a little sidewalk cafe that served really good churros con chocolat.  The next morning, we all went there for breakfast to indulge in a good espresso and some yummy churros before setting out for La Sagrada Familia, the magnificent cathedral by Gaudi. 

It was one of those fantasy European mornings that we cherish.  Good coffee, beautiful weather,  just relaxing and enjoying the ambiance.

In Spain, many things are dispensed at ATM machines, including concert tickets.  Al and Eric had purchased tickets to the Bruce Springsteen concert and Al decided to go to an ATM machine near the café to print out the tickets.  As he left, he handed me a 50€ bill to pay for our food.  Eric, Ellen, and I lingered over our breakfast and a second cup of delicious coffee while Al ran his errand.

I paid the bill, about 15€, with Al's 50€ bill and the waiter brought the change on a little tray.  I did not immediately put it away, but instead we kept drinking the coffee and chatting. At one point an old guy came by with a large tote bag full of tissue packs and asked if we wanted to buy some.  We said, “No thank you,” and he continued on his way.  He seemed a little sketchy so I decided that  I probably should put the 35  change into my wallet.  It could have been easily snatched.

I reached for my bag and suddenly realized it was gone.  Our table was outside, but abutted one of the café walls, and the bag had been between my feet and the wall.  The operative words are ‘had been.’ It certainly wasn’t there now.  It was nowhere to be found. That bag contained my wallet, my camera, my Kindle, my prescription reading glasses, Ellen’s wallet and her camera. Fortunately not our passports.

As you might imagine, I was frantic. We told one of the waitresses of our plight.  I paced all around both the interior and outside sections of the café but did not see my bag or anyone suspicious.  There was a professional looking woman at the table next to ours and I asked if she had seen anything.  She sort of shrugged; I assumed she didn’t know much English. 

One of the kids asked if I might have left the bag at our apartment.  I didn’t think so, but at that moment I wasn’t sure of anything. My apartment keys were in my pocket so Eric took them and ran back to make sure I hadn’t just left my stuff behind.

Meanwhile, I searched the adjacent plaza looking for the old guy with the tissues, thinking that he must have grabbed my bag when he walked behind me.  But he was gone.  The café workers called the police and searched the bathrooms to see if the thief might have left any traces behind.  I was not comforted to hear from the café manager that “This happens almost every day. It has always been a problem, but it is much worse now.”  She did say that because my camera was pretty valuable, the police might actually try to find my belongings.  It seemed so odd that no one saw anything at all, not even the woman who was sitting very close to where the bag had been. 

The police came and the café manager filled them in.  They did not speak much English but told me to go to the main station in the Plaza Catalunya to file a report. By then Al was back with the tickets and Eric was back with the news that my bag was not in the apartment.

We walked the short distance to the police station and got in line to file the report.  It took several hours to do so-- waiting for an English speaking officer, explaining the situation, waiting for the report to get typed up, waiting to verify the details.  No, there was not much cash in the wallet, but yes, there were a number of credit cards.  2 cameras.  And so on.  In the meantime, we used a special phone in the police station to report all the stolen credit cards.  I asked the police if they ever found any of the stolen goods. 
“Sometimes.  Not often,” was the reply.

Page one of the Police Report
While we were waiting,  a steady stream of people got in line to report thefts and pickpocket incidents.  I would estimate that 5-10 people per hour arrived in the station to report thefts. And this was just one of many police stations in the city. We had read that Barcelona had a particularly high rate of such petty crimes, but we had not worried too much about it.  After all, we had read the same thing about Rome, Marrakech, Paris and all other major cities.  We have traveled a fair amount and never had any problem and we really did not expect to have a problem in Barcelona either.  We had a false sense of security, which might explain why I was carrying so many (unnecessary) cards and my driver’s license, not to mention  my social security card. 

I have never thought that anyone would want to be me, but my identity was certainly out there free for the taking! 

After we completed the police report, we stopped back at the café.  I had hoped that the thieves had dumped the bag with the not-valuables left in it.  You know, my glasses.  Ellen’s College ID.  My MI driver’s license.   No such luck.  But, it turns out that the café had surveillance cameras and had the whole incident on tape.  The thief was the professional-looking  woman sitting next to me, who calmly drank her coffee while I was not-so -calmly freaking out over the theft of all my stuff.  The café manager told me she would turn the footage over to the police, but that I was unlikely to recover any of my lost possessions.

We had suspected the old guy selling tissues, and he may have provided the distraction while the woman stole my bag, but I certainly did not suspect that woman.  I do remember my eyes lingering momentarily on her large tote bag on the chair next to her.  I now wonder if she had stowed my bag in hers, and in my memory, or possibly my imagination, I think I saw the brown straps of my bag.  But at the time of the incident, this did not register- she simply did not look like a thief. 

Spain is in the midst of a crushing recession.  There is tremendous economic uncertainty, rampant unemployment and severe financial pressures on huge numbers of people. If I  thought the thief was a homeless and needy individual, I might not feel so bad about this whole incident, but I don’t believe that is the case.  In fact, I know my perpetrator pretty well.  For instance,  I know

 She was highly educated.
She knows English.  Very well, in fact.
She has a razor sharp sense of irony.

You may wonder how I know these things. 

Within 30 minutes of the theft, before we were able to cancel all our credit cards, she turned on my Kindle and downloaded several books from Amazon.  The first one was titled

“Beyond Outrage”

And the last one was called

“Let’s Pretend this Never Happened”

Seriously.  Those were the titles.

In the end, there was not much fallout from any of this.  Of course, initially, our perceptions of Barcelona were negatively affected, even more so three days later when Al’s wallet got stolen from his front pocket on a train to a monastery (another story), but now that we have worked through all of the hassles, our good memories of Barcelona supersede the bad ones.  We have had no identity theft issues. We have all new credit cards and were not responsible for any fraudulent charges. We got new licenses with much better photos, we replaced the cameras and the kindle.  My new glasses are on order. 

 La Sagrada Bassoon Player.  
It’s just stuff.  We're fine.

Today I am grateful for the opportunities we've had to travel.  We are blessed to have seen so much, and look forward to seeing even more!

1 comment:

  1. I missed seeing that bassoon player when I was there - of course you would see it! And you're right - it's stuff. And I'm so glad you came out of the experience safe (and with an awesome story).