I came to Europe looking for some life experiences, or whatever. You know, see the world and all that jazz. Urinate on some historical landmarks, cower my way through a red-light district, ride some bicycles, maybe even look at some art. All standard fare. All Enriching and Educational.
Inevitably, some time abroad becomes a little more layered, and occasionally even exciting than Picasso and pee. For instance: a not-insignificant amount of time here in Paris has revolved around the UEFA soccer tournament, which, sadly, came to a close when Portugal beat France 1-0 in extra time. Between a pan-European displays of drunken merriment and a surprise victory over Germany, the tournament has been an easy source of, well, life experiences. Especially after the final.
I had wandered down near the Eiffel tower, where more than 90,000 people crowded into a “Fanzone” on the Champ de Mars in front of the iconic lawn, to catch the second half of the match. I wasn’t surprised to learn that I wouldn’t be allowed into the already-packed fan zone, so I began to wander around the area to find a crowded cafe and enjoy the lively ambiance. Lively, it turns out, was an understatement.
Leaving the metro and walking around the blocks near the Eiffel tower for only a little bit, I inhaled a faint, spicy smell—what I would later learn is the smell of tear gas, everyone’s favorite crowd control mechanism. Fully-armored police had been doing some serious work in the area immediately surrounding the Eiffel tower, so it was a few blocks before I came to any kind of bar or cafe that was showing the game. It was clear why: People were throwing bottles, jumping on cars, breaking windows, and generally having one hell of a good time, right? The search for a clean, well-lit place to watch the game only continued as police progressively cleared out blocks with canisters of tear gas; I was slowly coming to love the searing taste and smell.
Not that I was totally opposed to all of this. I knew I was quickly gaining material for one of my mandated blogs and I could finally start saying things like “I saw some shit in ‘Nam” to my friends. It didn’t matter that I was neither in Vietnam, nor seeing any shit—well, eventually people lit trash fires. But you get the idea.
My naïvites aside, I finally settled on a very crowded, friendly-seeming bar. It didn’t seem to matter too much that it was mostly Portugal fans here. I could actually see the TV screen as Portugal scored its sole goal; the patrons at this bar burst into cheers and started singing Portuguese chants.
Until canisters of tear gas landed all around us. That stopped the chanting, and for a bit, stopped the breathing all together. Running, coughing and spitting and, yes, crying, I watched as drunk fans fell through bar tables and smacked into the ground, the haze of the gas slowly clearing as we ran the few hundred yards away from the invasive sting.
Me being the highly practical, highly courageous young adventurer that I am, I decided that post-teargas flee would be an ideal time to take some video of the scene. Who doesn’t love a little bit of chaos? Who isn’t charmed by a little bit of chaos? Maybe I could snap a quick tear-gas selfie, my eyes swollen and teary? All my fans back at home would be thrilled.
Then a man, maybe 30 years old, grabbed my phone out of my hand and started running away. This was not what I was looking for when I talked about having some life experiences in Europe.
So I start chasing the guy, yelling “stop that piece of shit with my phone,” as I did. This cri de guerre was less effective than I had hoped. The piece of shit with my phone kept running, and so did I.
I ran cross country in high school, which is usually only something I tell the ladies at parties to impress them (yes, yes my mile time was under 5 minutes—I can do other things quickly, too), but in this particular instance, it’s a relevant and useful piece of context. Because soon I found myself in the middle of a one-on-one foot chase with a man who had just stolen my phone on a recently teargassed street in Paris, France. My years of nailing down my verb conjugations in French class had not quite prepared me for this piece of Parisian life.
After a few blocks, I can tell this guy is starting lag. He’s swinging his arms in wide, lazy circles and keeps looking over his tensed shoulders. I decide I’m going to exhaust the piece of shit with my phone. (I know, I know, hold your applause for my Jason Bourne-esque daring and courage and strength and grit and all that. They’re making a movie about me in a few years.)
Eventually, thief-man stops running. Between the tear gas and the stolen phone and the screaming and the running, my thought process had basically devolved an animalistic phone phone STOP MAN phone mine mine phone need mine phone now phone now run. Adrenaline is a hell of a drug.
But then this guy stops, and I suddenly realize this could go very, very poorly for me. He might have a knife, he might have gun, this might have been part of his plan. (Back to the Jason Bourne: a few times, I thought he was going to jump into a van with all of his thieving friends. Hollywood, man—it’s like they’ve never even done a real foot chase.) It turns out, it wasn’t. This guy was just tired, and I think he realized I cared a hell of a lot more about having my phone than he did. He also, clearly, did not run cross country in high school.
Long story short: the guy, breathing heavily, hands me my phone. I, only mostly hysterical and confused, take it and run the fuck away, clutching my very valuable telecommunicative device.
Back in Paris, man. I saw some shit.