BARCELONA - In San Jose, Costa Rica, it was the slender and practiced hand of a tiny woman of indeterminate maturity standing beside me at the
In Rome, a block or two from the central train station, Termini, it was a gang of three young women, one of them holding a baby, who surrounded me. Two of them kept me stationary, jabbing and pushing my chest and stomach, while the third deftly rifled one of my front pockets, only to find the folded map that I had planted there. I bolted away, goods intact in a wallet pouch under my shirt, though pride and person were decidedly disturbed.
But in Barcelona last spring, a third attempt was successfully executed, thanks to urban ingenuity and utter surprise.
Those who have heard this tale blame my sneakers and, by extension, me. This time, though, the fatal distraction was being splashed with liquid chocolate. Nothing suspends reasoning and measured response like being doused from behind. For a few moments, I had no idea what had hit me.
My wife and I were staying in a hotel a few blocks off Las Ramblas, the teeming promenade leading from the noisy, well-trafficked Plaza de Catalunya to the port and yachting piers of Barcelona. Our hotel for the hasty two-day visit was the small, efficient La Terrassa. We had walked the city for those two days, visiting the requisite Gaudí and Picasso and Miró, and on our last night were in search of tapas.
We had heard about a place called Cal Pep, near the Picasso Museum in La Ribera, also near the waterfront. We had just set out, strolling through an old neighborhood to Las Ramblas. We passed a church, courtyard, several cafes, shops, and restaurants and, a block away, the resplendent produce market, La Boqueria.
I'm not sure I looked any more obvious than the hordes of other tourists crowding the streets, but I was wearing my apparently signature sucker sneakers, Wilson Pro Staff, my choice for play and travel for years. They were worn, but they were also, undeniably, white. I also was wearing chino shorts. As I always do, I carried our valuables in the wallet pouch tethered to a string and slung under my arm and, as always, under my shirt. I did have a few euros in one of my front pockets.
As my wife, whose leather pocketbook was saddled tightly to her side, and I were passing a parking garage and several small markets and bistros, I noticed, for no reason in particular, a short, middle-aged man walk by us. A moment later, I felt something plop in my hair.
It was sudden and it was sticky and I thought of two possibilities: Bird poop, though it was evening, or some kids playing on a veranda. We looked up and saw nothing. I wanted only to rid myself of the sticky mess.
Then the little fellow who had passed us reappeared, urging us earnestly toward the small W.C. in the bowels of a parking garage. He was saying "water, water."
Our all-too-friendly Samaritan assured us, it seemed, that it was chocolate that had landed on me. He persisted in pushing us into the garage, brandishing wads of soiled tissue. I wanted only to be rid of the gunk.
Inside the small bathroom, now bulging with the three of us, my wife saw that the chocolate was not only in my hair, but across the back of my shirt and on my shorts. She tried to scrub some of it off. Instinctively I clamped my arm down on the hidden pouch, and stuck a hand into the pocket where the euros were. Then I noticed our friend leaving in a hurry. Another fellow appeared with more tissues.
My wife deemed the cleanup too much for mere tissue paper, so we retreated to our hotel where, as I showered, I began to get the dismal picture.
The chocolate did not land on the top of my head, but on the back. Since I was splashed from behind, my back was always turned away from the action during the frenzy in the bathroom. I knew I'd lost nothing, but I asked my wife to check her purse. Her wallet was gone.
We'd been had, seamlessly.
Steven Slosberg, a freelance writer in Stonington, Conn., can be reached at Maayan72@aol.com.