Home > 2011 Posts > Ring Around the Opera

Ring Around the Opera

February 18, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Opera Garnier, looking up from the main lobby

Not long ago, I was at the Opera Garnier in Paris. As you may know, it’s the real-life basis for the Opera Populaire in Gaston Leroux ‘s novel, Phantom of the Opera. And, yes, it really does have a lake underneath!

The Garnier is a unique experience in lovely, high-density opulence. It used to be the place where Parisian Glitterati would meet in full plumage. About a third of the gilded box seats can’t even glimpse the stage, but do have a good view of most other boxes.

Before heading inside, I took a stroll around the building. Three separate times during that short walk, three different scammers tried The Found Ring con on me.

Chagall ceiling and the famous chandelier

The con works like this: a decently-dressed pedestrian comes toward you, something on the sidewalk seems to catch his eye, his abrupt move to ‘pick it up’ catches your eye, and up he comes with a surprised look holding what seems to be a nice diamond ring. Then, acting a bit confused, he glances around. You are ‘by chance’ the closest person, so he holds out the sparkling object and asks if it’s yours.

Now, if you answer, the scam can go along at least two paths. A scammer working alone will try to talk you out of some money. If there is a second person, your pocket or purse gets picked while the first guy distracts you.

Black bronze sculptures are everywhere

New this day was the fact that it happened to me three times in three hundred yards! The first time, without breaking stride, I dismissed the earstwhile criminal with: “Nice try. Find someone else.” The second time, I smiled and waved the guy off, saying, “You need a new con!”

Walking on, I was still amused when, around the corner, a brunette in her late 20s tried it a third time. Because she looked so earnest and her demeanor seemed so polite, I found myself feeling almost a bit sorry for her. I thought, How bad is the Paris job market when con artists are stacked three deep out here on a freezing day in February?

The intermission hall. Just like at home...

So I did something out of character for me. Instead of tossing out another brush off, I stopped and offered some lame counsel. All the while staying alert for a rascally picker of pockets.

“Ma’am,” I said, “you’re the third person in five minutes who’s tried this on me. You look like doing bad stuff doesn’t come too naturally. Maybe you’ll want to rethink this whole scam thing.” She acted a bit sheepish, unlike the two men before her. But she didn’t seem very receptive to my platitudes either. With an embarrassed half-smile, she put the ring in her pocket and turned away, shaking her head. Well, I thought, at least now she won’t waste her time trying to sell into a saturated market.

The opera shop sells lovely masks

A day later, outside St. Germain-des-Pres, which is not a big tourist magnet, two new guys tried the ring con on me. Are that many tourists really that gullible? On the other hand, The Found Ring is a lot less obvious a scam than most politicians’ promises, and we collectively fall for those all the time.

Ah, well, the opera was fun.

  1. mary
    February 18, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    are you a travel writer? ever consider being one?

    • February 18, 2011 at 9:22 pm

      I’m a writer who enjoys travel and photography. Perhaps after I finish my novel, I may try my hand officially at travel writing. Unless, of course, someone is willing to pay me to travel exactly where I want to go next. That would be good.

  2. February 18, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    Awesome building!

    • February 18, 2011 at 9:23 pm

      Yes. And it’s even better and much more fascinating than these few shots can convey.

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