First day of Lent and getting ashes smeared on your forehead is one of my favorite religious rituals. The enthusiasm that John Doe brings to singing about the Fourth of July is almost, but not quite, how I feel about Ash Wednesday.
Last Tuesday, after arriving in Paris and enjoying a good lunch at a bistro across from the Gare Du Nord train station, I found myself doing a quick dash among unfamiliar streets in a desperate search for a bank with an ATM. I had booked a flat from a remarkably laid-back landlord who had waived both the security deposit ("I don't need it") and 1/4th of the rent ("you can pay me in cash when you get here"). I had most of the rent in British pounds but was hoping to exchange it at a place with better rates than the kiosk at the train station. But apart from the more touristy locales, Paris is not over-run with places to exchange currency. Plan B: find an ATM and withdraw the rent in Euros while my mother waited in front of the apartment with the luggage.
I jogged along, thinking that eventually I had to run across a bank. I later found out that at the end of the first street, had I turned right instead of left, I would have found several banks a block or so away. But I am by nature gauche so it took me a little longer to find a bank and when I did, I was greeted with a sight like something out of a Michael Haenke film.
A pretty woman (there are no other types in Paris) was standing at the ATM while her male companion was roughly shoving two small children, running interference and keeping the children at arm's length from the woman. From what I could see, the children were not aggressively begging; they were just sort of standing there, looking unwashed and sad like ghosts from a Henry James short story.
How was I going to react to the situation when it was my turn at the ATM? It became a moot point, as the kids had silently disappeared by the time I began punching in my code. Didn't see them at all during my quick jog back to the apartment.