Monday, June 17, 2013

A Curious Confluence Chapter Twenty One: Trolling for Pigeon Droppers

The day before my encounter with Nels and Lisa, I went to Neuilly sur Seine.

It is on the Paris Side of a loop of the Seine across from La Défense.  Part of it is on an island in that loop.

I decided to see what the part of Neuilly sur Seine that is on the island is like.

That part had a blue sign saying that Neuilly sur Seine is private and there was to be no entrance.

That fact was ameliorated by a large park immediately adjacent to the ville privee.

It was a pretty day and the park offers a very beautiful walk through trees and bushes along the banks of the Seine. Inside the path is grass and trees and benches and bool pitches and swings and teeter totters. It is a very pleasant place. At the up-stream end of the park, where it terminates, it is possible to continue the walk up the rest of the island all the way to its up-stream end. I did that. I took lots of pictures and enjoyed the whole endeavor.

When I reached the end of the road and the up-stream point of the island an odd thing happened.

I thought I heard what sounded like the shouts of a man and a woman and the barking and yelping of a dog. There was nothing to see that would have been the source of those sounds. They came wafting across the water.

I could not shake the feeling that they were having a wonderful time.

I listened for a few moments and the illusion passed. I walked back to the down-stream end of the island and the bridge that crosses back to the Métro line.

All of that took some time and as I contemplated what to do with the rest of the rapidly waning day I decided to take the Métro back to Pont d’Alma and walk back to the apartment on the left side of the Seine. 

Besides this being one of my favorite walks, it is usually alive with pigeon droppers. I had decided a few pigeon drop encounters previous that I wanted to start collecting their pictures.  I am getting so good at recognizing them that I felt that I could get a shot from the very beginning of the game as each one of them bent down as if picking something up and then get one or two follow on shots as the plot thickened.

But today was a lean day.  There weren’t any pigeon droppers.  I even crossed Pont de la Concorde over and back to see if I could roust one up.  Frequently one will make a hit on that bridge or Pont Royal or Pont du Carousel.  Today Pont de la Concorde was a dry hole.

Once across Pont de la Concorde and down a little bit along my main route one guy did make an attempt but it was so clumsy that if I had not been an expert in the game I would not have recognized what had happened.  In any event it had happened clumsily, and that clumsiness had taken me off my mark, and I hadn’t gotten a picture of it so there was nothing to do but ignore his plaintive cries of “monsieur, monsieur, bon chance, bon chance” and move on down the line.

A little farther on I saw a for sure pigeon drop woman and I made sure the power to the camera was on. But she turned out to be a woman who has tried the game so many times on me – she may even be the original one - that we now know each other.  She said a pleasant “bon jour” and kept on her way.

So it was looking like the day’s troll was going to prove fruitless.

As I approached the statue of Thomas Jefferson, failure to date notwithstanding, I became alert.  I seemed to remember that there often was activity at that point.

Sure enough there was hit in progress.  It looked as if the mark had taken the ring and was in the process of putting it in his pocket and was telling the pigeon dropper to fuck off.  I kind of stopped, and even half heartedly pointed my camera in the general direction of the encounter, but I wasn’t fast enough to get the ring, and in any event, it seemed kind of socially unacceptable intruding on someone else’s pigeon drop.

But I did recognize the dropper.  He was the big tall brown man that I mentioned in a previous post as the one who had ensnared an English speaking couple, the woman of which was saying to the man “why don’t you just give the ring back to him?”

So what I did do was stop slightly beyond this encounter and stare over the sea wall into the river with my camera at attention as if I were going to take some serious shots of the water.  I was hoping that that demeanor would mark me as his next victim, since it looked as if his, by then previous, mark had terminated the transaction.

I was watching out of the corner of my eye, hoping to see the guy come up do the bend down and pick something up act, at which point I was ready to get a shot.

Instead he was suddenly next to me, sort of engulfing me, and showing me the ring in his open paw.  Without thinking, I poked the camera almost into his palm and pulled the trigger.

And it turned out perfectly. Some feat of magic caused not only the ring, but also the hand – complete with well manicured finger nails, and even the cobble stones in the street to be in perfect focus.

This may be the basis for a whole new form of hunting. I think I will take it up.

Some days are better than others for pigeon drop encounters.

The foregoing is yesterday’s post.  Here is today’s post – the day after the day before.


Starting today that – the betterness or the worseness of the day for pigeon droppers - ceased to matter. 

That is due to a decision that I have made.

I have decided to quit trying to catch them in pictures. 

There is a reason for that.

Actually there are two reasons for that. One is that it’s just too damn hard catching their image. Since that first accidentally perfect shot I have accumulated a number of blurred barely identifiable encounters, none of which amount to a documentary hill of beans.

But the other reason for my abandonment of the project is probably more interesting.  Briefly, the story of that is as follows.

Today I went out specifically to harvest images of pigeon droppers. To that end I chose my route carefully, having by now noticed what appears to be patterns to their lurks and their haunts.

My plan was to cross at Pont Neuf and troll down the right bank to Pont d’Alma and cross at Pont d’Alma and troll back to L’institute de France and home. Two hours; maybe six or seven droppers; and maybe one or two decent pictures: it was pretty much a day’s work, I thought.

En route I changed my mind and crossed at Pont Saint-Michel to give myself a little bit of a leader on the first likely encounter (the droppers seem to like to start more toward Le Louvre).

As I walked along, it being a really nice day for a few days before winter solstice, I lost track of what I had been supposed to have been doing. There were some just-right-yellow poplar leaves and the river was absolutely sparklingly spectacular.

I had become many mind-space miles from thinking about the old pigeon drop gambit.

I was composing and taking pictures and savoring the beauty of the day when my concentration was broken by a rather large humanoid at my side thrusting his hand with a gold ring in it into my field of view.

I immediately snapped back into pigeon dropper image harvesting mode, put the camera next to his hand and pulled the trigger.

That did not please Gargantua.

He started asserting in a raised-level voice – something. “No fucking way” came to mind, but I really couldn’t get anything he was saying. I don’t think it was French.

But I didn’t need a dictionary to know the gist of the message.

The problem for me immediately had become – I didn’t really care whether he liked the fact that I had taken a picture of his hand – that the picture I had taken – he obviously believed – gave him the right to pursue the real point of the gambit, which was to extort funds from the mark, and I was the mark.

In the case of an unapproved photo, who knew what the endgame might be?

In any case, I had, inadvertently, stepped into the snare.

And I didn’t like that at all.

So I yelled at the top of as well modulated a pair of baritone male lungs as I could summon “God damn you, you son of a bitch”.

He spit at me. I think he missed. I threw a punch, hitting him mid chest. He was alarmingly lean and solid. I felt as if I had struck a rock. I was so angry that I was ready for a fight, which is totally out of character for me. I was surprised that all that he did was indulge in some eastern European-sounding guttural utterances. I said some things in riposte that I can’t remember now and he reciprocated.

And then not long after that he moved off down the quai.

I took some more pictures of the poplars, waiting for my heart rate to drop below three hundred.

I could see him not far up the quai.

There was no way I was going to backtrack or try to elude him.

I struck out in his direction.

As I had expected, I fairly quickly came abreast of where he was standing.

And he knew that I was there.

As our eyes met, and he had started spewing at me whatever language it is that he speaks, I threw him a snappy, Air Force officer salute.

That seemed to throw him a curve, because he came over and put his arm around me and started saying things that seemed to have “monaie” as a major and recurring word. “Bon chance a vous” I said; and the torrent from him grew even greater. He kept asking me in heavily accented English where I was from.

“You are English?”

I just laughed.

By the time that encounter had been closed out, I had discovered – I think – that he was from Romania, and that there was no luck without money.

If I encounter him again, which I assume I will, maybe I will find out if my feeling that we parted as sort of mutually respecting human beings was, in fact accurate.

That notwithstanding, I  realized during this second encounter that there was something unnervingly familiar about him.

And it was a sinister sort of familiarity.

I felt as if I had just encountered the tangible manifestation of someone or something that had always been with me, but who – or which – had never surfaced to my conscious perception.

It was as beguiling as it was unnerving.

Sometimes my imagination gets away from me.

That encounter is the more compelling of the two reasons that I am out of the game of trolling for droppers and taking their pictures.

I continued walking along the river. My altercation with Gargantua and the feeling of a distant familiarity with him had unnerved me more than I wanted to admit to myself. So I kept walking. As I walked I fought the urge to call it a day and go back to the apartment. But I kept telling myself that I couldn’t let someone or something cow me. That would be too much like being semi captive. It would be yielding to the desire to be safe, and I have made clear previously how I feel about that.

But the events of the last few minutes had pushed even me towards a need for safety. I resolved to put it out of my mind.

I was lost in these thoughts as I came abreast of Pont du Carrousel. I considered crossing and maybe going down to La Frégate to calm my nerves and have a glass – La Frégate has a big glass they call le Bacchus – of wine.

Instead I turned right in the direction of Les Tuilleries.

The entrance to the Tuilleries from the quai at this point consists of five Roman arched portals. The three in the middle are all the same size and larger than the two on their flanks. Those three in the center each allow motorized traffic to enter and exit the compound in a manner that, no matter how many times I have studied it to figure out the exact configuration on ins and outs I have not been able to get beyond the fact that traffic does indeed go in and out.

On each side of those three portals, there are the two smaller Roman arched portals. These are for foot traffic entrance to and exit from the Tuilleries and Louvre.

Since I am always coming at this series of entrances from the left bank, across Pont du Carrousel I always enter the Tuilleries through either the left or the right of the three traffic portals. The choice of which of these two is dependent upon which side of Pont du Carrousel I have decided to cross to get to the right bank. I had never until today been in a place to enter via one of the pedestrian only flanks.

This time it was different. I was already on the right bank, and when the whim to enter the Tuilleries had hit me I was already past all but the second of the two smaller entrances.

As I entered I realized that this portal was a completely different experience from going through the larger traffic portals.

Once into the archway one enters what is a more or less round room. On the right and the left are doorways that must lead into the some part of the Louvre. The rest of the walls are broken periodically by round vents, or things that appear to be vents that are protected by lacy ironwork grates. I hadn’t entered that portal to have an aesthetic experience, so what I am recounting is made up of fairly random impressions that I am surprised to be recalling. It was obvious that this entry was more than a mere passage from the bridge to the forecourt of the Louvre and the Tuilleries such as are the larger, utilitarian traffic arches.

I probably wouldn’t have remembered any of what I have described but for one thing: the floor of the place. It is made up of trapezoids of stone of varying size, their two parallel sides becoming increasingly curved the closer they come to the center of the enclosure. And at the center, the final stone is egg shaped. There is also a curvature to the floor itself dipping slightly inward from the walls to the egg. This configuration makes the floor of the place a sort of shallow dish.

As I stepped on the egg at the center of the saucer I was beset by a chill. And I saw what appeared to be a pool of some sort of liquid. That liquid, or the illusion of it, hadn’t been there in the moment before I stepped on the egg shaped stone. And it wasn’t there as my next step took me one trapezoid beyond it and closer to the light streaming in from the room’s other opening.

Something told me to keep going rather than stopping to examine what the pool or its illusion might have been. I did so keep moving and didn’t look or step back and I have no idea if the chill and the liquid had any basis in reality.

That, however, as fleeting as it had been, was one more adventure than I had room for today.

I walked down to Pont Royal and across to La Frégate.

A Bacchus was sounding really good.

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