It was all going so well. But those are fateful words, I see that now. There I was on assignment for Condé Nast Traveler, faithfully scouring the provinces for the country’s best regional cuisine. I had discovered buckwheat crêpes that resembled fine lace in Brittany; dipped into a bowl of still-simmering cassoulet in the Languedoc. I had snapped photos of fat tabby cats wandering the cobblestone streets of Carcassone and discovered new friends and ancient arenas in Arles. I had even argued with a Cassis waiter to obtain the day’s last two servings of bouillabaisse.
But while driving to the second-to-last-stop on my eating tour of France — Lyon — things took an unpleasant turn. At an autoroute rest-stop in the Ardèche, my handbag was stolen. It happened in only seconds — I got up from the table to fetch a napkin, my friend was tapped on the shoulder and distracted — poof! — the bag was gone. I lost my passport, my phone, my camera, my enthusiasm (not to mention the keys to the rental car — thankfully, I still had my wallet). It was, quite literally, highway robbery.
Thanks to the kindness of friends and strangers, we eventually limped into Lyon and dined on quenelles that evening. I am deeply grateful to each and every one of them. The next day, I forced myself to continue my research. More than anything, I wanted to go home to my cozy, safe and tranquil apartment in Paris and never go outside again. But when you’re a freelance writer on assignment, the show — and the eating — must go on.
Yesterday I went to the American Embassy to apply for a new passport and while waiting in line, I heard many, many stories much worse than my own. A purse picked on the rue de Rivoli. A couple whose backpacks were snatched from the overhead rack as they slept on the train. A young woman clutching her bag in her lap, dozing off on the train and waking to find all the contents gone.
It’s the type of thing you think will never happen to you — I’m a New Yorker for crying out loud! I’m a travel writer! — until it happens to you. As another friend said: “Who knew there were roving bands of thieves preying on people at autoroute rest-stops?!” But things are just things, and money is just money. And in the end, the quenelles were pretty darn good — and the bouchons of Lyon, and all the kind people I found there, went a long way to erasing the sting. Stay safe, friends. As the guard at the US Embassy told me yesterday, “Gardez-vous le moral!”