June 13, 2011

Piazza Navona, Rome. May, 1988

I may be jumping joyously here in 1988, but two years earlier, as I left this familiar piazza on my way to take some laundry to the Campo de’ Fiori not far away, I was less so. After traveling through Italy for weeks, I needed my jeans washed. So I was wearing my chinos, and that’s, I suspect, what caused the trouble. Three gypsy children came up to me with their cardboard “tray” that they pushed toward me asking for money. I’d seen this routine many times around Rome but I was caught by surprise, which was their intention. Having had just about enough, I yelled, “Polizia!” and they scattered as shopkeepers looked out from their doors and passing Romans nonchalantly glanced my way. I thought I was home-free, but then one of the children returned, stuck out her tongue and handed me back my passport that she’d skillfully extracted from my trousers’ loose front pocket. Then she ran back to join her cohorts. I was pretty shaken, feeling violated, realizing that even though I’d been my usually cautious self, these con artists really knew their craft. From then on, I’ve always been especially on my guard, hand on my wallet, every time I see these kids. Too bad.

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