Monday, November 15, 2010

A Terrible, Horrible No-Good Day at Porta Portese

Lest anyone think that our life abroad consists solely of forays to the countryside to stuff ourselves on gourmet vittles while taking in unparalleled vistas or speeding off to private villas for cena when in town, I experienced a decidedly unfortunate incident Sunday morning at the Porta Portese market that rebalanced the scales. Yes, I was robbed.

It just proves that drawing attention to oneself when things are going well (or even better than average) is ill-advised. Especially in a country where streetside shrines to the Madonna fall under the category of “public works”. (See example pictured at left for one in my neighborhood I’ve dubbed “Our Lady of Burgeoning Energy Consciousness”.) Fact is, the mere act of complimenting a baby on its good looks is considered reason enough to tempt fate here, so the practice isn’t encouraged. To wit, summarizing our extravagant dining experience at the Villa Aurora a few weeks ago for friends and family in this blog would not go unpunished.

It all happened in the customary manner. I was negotiating with the proprietor of a stand after trying on various reading glasses (sadly, my long-running 20/20 spec has come to an end) and when I reached for my wallet at the bottom of my purse to pay for a pair of rhinestone-encrusted frames, my beat-up Chococat® wallet was nowhere to be found among the wads of extra napkins I carry as carta igenica (Italian public bagnos are notorious for lacking such amenities). While continuing to rifle futilely through my borsa, Giulia interrupted me mid-panic to explain that “a man just put his hand in your purse, took the wallet and ran off with it.” I asked her why she didn’t say anything and she responded, “because I don’t speak Italian.” I laughed and said that next time she sees someone with his/her hand in my bag, she should just scream “Mamma!” as loudly as possible (and not worry about verb conjugation).

My friend Tamzen says that “once you feel the bump, it’s already over.” In my case, I never had a chance to distinguish the ladro's bump from the incessant crush of bargain hunters. All I could think to do at that moment was to calmly ask Giulia what the thief looked like (she said she didn’t know as she only saw a hand) and then find a Carabinieri to let off steam. Once I located a suitably uniformed official and informed him of our misfortune, he wrote down a phone number and instructed me to call the district police office on Tuesday to see if my empty wallet (and driver’s license) turns up. Apparently the weekly harvest of discarded portofolios is significant.

So there you are. We headed to Rome’s biggest and longest-running Sunday flea market to secure a camouflage shirt for Giorgio’s 5th birthday, extra forks for the house and perhaps a few sundries and all we ended up with was a cheap pair of reading glasses (the proprietor was nice enough to hand them to me upon realizing my plight) and a sad story. Che sara', sara'. Somewhere in this ancient city there's a disembodied hand with 150 Euros in cash, some baby pics, my driver's license and a cancelled credit card, but if that's the price for putting the universe is back in alignment, I think we got off easy.

Giulia said she felt so bad about what happened that she had a tummy ache and I assured her that it wasn’t her fault and that she was far more important than the stuff I lost. We rode the #8 tram home by processing our terrible mishap - as many others before us no doubt have - and learned an important lesson (to keep our purses zipped at all times and/or our money in our underpants). We also had a very good conversation on the way back up the hill ranging from divine jurisprudence to Oliver Twist. Here's an excerpt:

Giulia: “Mommy, not all robbers wear masks you know.”
Me: “Yes, I know sweetie.”
Giulia: “I think Santa’s gonna bring that robber some coal.”
Me: “Without a doubt. Now let’s get home and cancel my credit card before Fagan orders everyone in his crew a bistecca Fiorentina and pays with my credit card.”
Giulia: “What's a credit card and who’s Fagan?”

Once home, I immediately went online to cancel my card and Giulia got to work creating this picture of the incident for the police report.

If the karmic wheel spins again and we somehow end up at Berlusconi’s table in the next few months, I’ll at least have the good sense to keep my head down and the details to ourselves (that is, of course, assuming there isn’t an inquest and we aren’t forced to give testimony).


  1. It seems the Dodger is not the only one who's artful. Quite the brilliant remarks from Giulia! Regrets for your loss. Have read it written than you cannot travel somewhere and only take away. Losing something, or having it taken from you, is a rightful balancing. I think you are too careful to lose things Marie, so the only thing the universe has left for you in the balancing is theft?

  2. Could be amico mio. Given the number of my friends who've had a similar experience I'm surprised I made it all the way to last Sunday without having been pickpocketed before. Clearly the Universe has chosen the Rome flea market as one of the best spots on earth for karmic recalibration.

  3. Well, it makes a good story -- and you tell it so well! Your post conveys that the "disembodied hand" did not, at least, make off with your sense of humor!

    Libby Mosier (friend of Tamzen Flanders, who sent me the link)