By Mordechai Schmutter
France has always seemed like a nice place to visit, because a lot of important French history happened there, such as . . . I don’t know, the French Revolution, I guess. Okay, so we don’t know a lot about French history. But we do know that a lot of people over the ages have stopped through France on the way to other historical events, because they heard it was a nice place to visit.
So should you go to France? I don’t know. Now’s definitely not a good time. The city seems to be in the middle of a huge crime wave, particularly around the tourist spots.
Our first story today comes from the Paris Museum of Natural History. The Paris Museum of Natural History isn’t something you go all the way to Paris for. It’s kind of the thing that people in France do on chol ha’moed trips.
Most people think of a natural-history museum as a relatively safe place, where everything is already dead. But this time, someone snuck in and stole the tusk off an elephant skeleton. And not just any elephant. This was a special elephant, as it belonged to one of the kings of France—King Louis the Something, and was a gift from the king of Portugal. It’s the kind of gift you can only get a king. If someone got you an elephant, your first reaction would be, “I have no idea where to put this in my apartment.”
You know what it costs to feed an elephant?
So anyway, the elephant died, and the museum took it. And now this guy came in and stole one of its tusks.
Of course, you can’t just take the tusk off an elephant. So he brought a chainsaw. And he was caught, because you can’t quietly cut the tusk off an elephant with a chainsaw at 3 in the morning. The neighbors alerted security, who caught up to him a block later, because it’s not very easy to run while holding a tusk. Nor is it easy to look inconspicuous.
There was also a theft at a bridge—the Pont Alexandre III. The Pont Alexandre III is the most ornate bridge in Paris and has long been the site of people stopping and saying, “Hey, we’re on that bridge!” The bridge was built in 1896 by . . . Well, it’s hard to say. The plaque was stolen.
I’m not sure why someone would steal a plaque. My guess is it’s some guy who thought it would be funny to hang it in his room, because his name is also Alexandre, or possibly Alexander. I would start by checking the phone book.
But authorities are treating this as a serious issue. You might think, “How important is the sign on a bridge anyway? It’s a bridge. Get over it.”
But authorities are saying that the plaque itself has great historic value, with a long and storied history, which is probably printed on a little plaque near the first one.
“Okay,” you’re saying. “Maybe there are thefts near the tourist attractions. But I don’t have to worry. It’s not like I’m bringing along a tusk or any of my plaques. What are people going to steal?”
Well, they can still pick your pockets. Take the news story about the Louvre, which is an art museum in Paris that I’m pretty sure I’m not pronouncing correctly in my head. I would personally never visit the Louvre, and not just because I can’t ask people where it is. For some reason, I tend not to notice art. When I moved out of my first apartment, I almost left the pictures on the walls, as if the next tenant would want pictures of my kids. And when I go to people’s houses, I almost never notice what’s hanging on their walls. If I start silently looking at the paintings, that means the conversation has died down and it’s time to leave.
But just last month, 200 museum guards took off for a day to protest the amount of pickpocketing going on at the museum, because apparently a crowd of people staring at a wall in awkward silence is a great opportunity to sneak up behind them and pick their pockets.
But isn’t that the guards’ job—to stop the pickpocketing? Isn’t that like me walking off my job as an English teacher because none of my students knows how to write?
But actually, that’s not their main job, believe it or not. They’re actually there to protect the paintings, which have state-of-the-art security systems and don’t really need guards, except that the main point of the security system is to alert the guards, in case they miss the chainsaw noises. Because what can they do about pickpockets already?
“Freeze! Wait. Where’s my gun?”
So the guards protested, and the museum had to shut down for a day, because having an open museum with no guards is definitely not going to stop the pickpocketing. I don’t know what the goal was. Are the pickpockets going to say, “We’d better stop, you guys. The guards are protesting”? But I guess the logic is that if the museum is shut down, there’s nowhere for the pickpockets to go. Except—you know—the other tourist attractions. Someone should check a calendar and see if all these stories actually coincided.
And that is not the entire extent of crime in Paris. Our next crime involves the Eiffel Tower.
No, no one stole the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is a very famous structure, also built in the late 1800s, and is very big and metallic. It kind of looks like a frame that will someday become a yeshiva, once they get more funding. It was built by Gustave Eiffel, who was famous for building big, awkward structures, such as the Statue of Liberty, which France gave the United States as a present (“How am I going to fit this in my apartment? It’s New York City! This is worse than an elephant”) and that we only accepted because we thought it was a fully functioning robot.
So anyway, French police swooped down on a souvenir business and seized 13 tons of tiny Eiffel Towers. (For reference, 13 tons is about 2 elephants.)
The business had been selling them at the Louvre and at the actual Eiffel Tower without a permit.
“Care for a tiny Eiffel Tower?”
“Um, no thanks. There’s a big one right there.”
Thirteen tons. Apparently, selling miniature replicas of the Eiffel Tower is a huge business, because it turns out that visiting landmarks isn’t really fun. Once you get there, you realize that there’s not much else to do but go up and look down, and it’s very high, so you spend most of the time down on the ground, taking pictures where you pretend that you’re taller than the tower. So the main point of visiting a landmark like this is so you can tell people afterward that you did it. And it helps to have a little replica, in case they don’t believe you. You bring it home to your loved ones and say, “See this? I stood next to a bigger one.” I don’t know what you’re supposed to do with it after that, but I do know that your kids are going to leave it on the floor in the middle of the night.
I personally had no idea it was even illegal to make Eiffel Towers in France. But authorities are very upset, because when you build a big one, it gives you exclusive rights to build little ones. So yes, the souvenir business could have called theirs by a different name, but that wouldn’t work for the tourist who gets home, and his loved ones are like, “Wait. You got me a Shmeiffel Tower?”
And then they leave it on his dining-room chair.
My point is that France might not be the best place to go to if you don’t enjoy illegal souvenirs and light mugging. So why do we keep hearing that it’s a nice place to visit? Who’s paying for these ads? Maybe they’re being paid for by muggers, with traveler’s checks.
But on the other hand, who says it’s the French that are committing all these crimes? Well, obviously, they’re running the Eiffel Tower stand. Because people do want souvenirs, especially if they’ve gone all the way to France. And now there’s nowhere to buy cheap Eiffel Towers anymore, so they’re just taking anything that isn’t nailed down. And if it is nailed down, they’re using chainsaws.
So yeah, maybe it’s the tourists. Though, if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. Well, I don’t actually have the bridge on me, but I do have the plaque. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.