Vol 1, No 3, 12 July 1999
C O N F E T T I:|
This is the second time I am writing this article. The last attempt vanished without trace, because my word processor struck while I wasn't looking. Very appropriate really.
What I had been writing about, in a round about sort of way, was a recent experience which bears a striking resemblance to losing my work. I was making various digressions, like the fact that the title above, if found on a lawyer's letter, means the writer reserves the right to sue you later.
This time round, I'll get right to the point.
I had just paid at McDonald's, No 11 Wenceslas Square, Prague, and put my bulging wallet back in my left inside jacket pocket. I picked up the tray and was holding it, when I got distracted. A cafuffle of female teenagers with brightly coloured hair was ordering various 'Happy meals' and discussing the merits of the plastic toys that came with them. Maybe it was an orchestrated distraction, but it must have been at that time that my wallet disappeared.
This is not a sob story, and I won't spin it out. Suffice it to say my wallet contained my passport, driving licence, credit cards, a wad of cash etc. etc. It was very unpleasant. I reported it to the police and all that, but what happened a bit later is the real moral of my story...
When I spoke to my colleagues and friends about it, everyone who wasn't there seemed to know who dunnit.
Even my mother, who lives in Britain, said she knew, and did not hesitate to tell me over the telephone. She said that a recent British TV documentary had dubbed Prague the 'Capital City of Pickpockets' and showed video clips of Gypsies panning for gold in the tourist pockets of lower Wenceslas Square. Thank you Britain.
I cannot help but admire the skill involved in robbing me. I was holding the tray, my jacket was loose, I didn't feel a thing. I prefer being robbed in this way to being mugged in a dark alley by a stupid, unskilled brute with an iron bar. Had my pickpocket been a professional stage magician, he would have received applause and made a decent living. This way, he made a very decent living, tax free, but no international recognition, if you please.
The experts tell me Gypsies are skilled musicians and pickpockets, so to have been that skilled it must have been a Gypsy.
This is not my claim to secure the moral high-ground either.
To prove my racism is inherited, I will tell you a true story. My father served in the army as a private, thanks to his unreliable political background. As such, he mixed with Gypsies, and learned their ways and language - as revealed in some of his books. When he first returned to the Czech Republic in the early 90s, and was walking with my sister in the same area of Prague, they noticed a young Gypsy man hovering rather too close to her handbag. My father turned to him and asked, in Romani, whether it was the done thing to steal from one's own people. The man stammered, blushed as much as he could manage and ran off.
I have no illusions about what the statistics have to say. The odds are, the person who robbed me was a darker version of Oliver Twist. Maybe a younger David Copperfield. (What the Dickens does it matter?)
The honest truth is, my robber was more akin to H G Wells's Invisible Man. I am not without prejudice, I am colourless-prejudiced.
Perhaps there is not enough pigment in people. Maybe it is all in the air, clouding their eyes. The way people reflect on each other.
Aside from humans, more transparency in Central Europe would be a good thing.
Security cameras in McDonald's, for a start.
Anyway, I'm off to clean my Windows.
Vaclav Pinkava, 12 July 1999
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