Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thieves and Magic and Flirting

Beware of pickpockets I am told. And gypsies. And men with roaming, pinching fingers. I decide to zip up my purse, carry it close to my hand, keep a watchful eye out. I will not be like the woman I hear of who has to partially disrobe to pull her money belt from her pants, causing her grandchildren to flee in embarrassment. I hope I will not be like my mother’s friend whose sister got pinched and she didn’t and felt rejected.

I tell the friends who warn me that I will take reasonable precautions and beyond that, I will salute anyone who can magically spirit away the contents of my purse. I think of these potential robbers as magicians. What words can they say to create an illusion? How easily can their hands slip into pockets and purse so that no one is the wiser? If they can do that, I concede they can win.

It is off season but only in the train station do I see potential pickpockets, men who close in slightly, like sharks scenting blood as we emerge from the bus to try to get our bearings. But I see them and instantly fix my eyes on a point beyond them, as if recognizing it exactly, and start walking purposefully. For I also know magic, the illusion of confidence in a strange place. And perhaps my magic was stronger. In any event, it seemed to be all about attitude. The men who loitered in the train station were ready to pounce upon weakness, and all we had to do was maintain our poker face, and hold – not clutch – our purses and packages and we were fine.

Another day, our first, we were walking to the Accademia to see the David and the bound slave sculptures, when we happened to allow our eyes to drift onto the painting prints displayed on the road in front of the gallery. Instantly we were met with a salesman, showing us his wares.

“How much?” I asked politely, stupidly. His answer of 25 euros drops to 10 euros by the time he pursues us to the very door of the museum. He was aggressive, determined not to let us get away, but I was not daunted. I had failed to use my magic, so we simply needed to be firm. (Fortunately we are well practised with telemarketers and we disappeared into the museum.) When we returned, he was still at work, but we engaged in vigorous conversation with each other, maintaining our own unbroken eye contact, assuming we looked too much like every other tourist to be singled out again.

As far as flirting, I was well satisfied. I was neither pinched nor ignored. I have been accused of flirting before when I am honestly only being playful, having fun. It seems Italian clerks and waiters understand this sort of game and they play it happily with me, at their own initiative. No one takes it seriously. It is not flirting. It is enjoying an encounter with another person.

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