Are there more beggars in Paris than London? I don’t know, who ‘s counting? But where we were staying in the Marais, the lovely 3rd had its share. Outside the apartment gate , perched on a hot pipe sat the North African madame, slight,in her scarf ,often smoking , always with her little plastic cup ready.
A few yards away outside the excellent boulangerie was the young rather emaciated fellow. At most metro stations there was a bag man in need of support. Since it rained for most of our week’s stay these Parisians who stand and stare looked even more pathetic.
In many ways it was man outside the patisserie who was problem. After my jogs to either the Square du Temple or the grander Place des Vosges as I came out with my two croissants and a baguette, he searched my eye. As a hardened Londoner it was easy for me to shake my head and waddle past. But day by day he was getting to me. I was weakening. Why wasn’t I? I always had 50 cents or so change why wasn’t I giving it to him. I was wasting more than that every day on tourist trinkets which I knew I would bin. Maybe tourists being chronically insecure are always more vulnerable to these most gormless of appeals.
Then I decided that if I gave him on one day he would come to expect the next. And that would be worse for both of us. Sacre Blue I did not want to create a dependency culture! So I decided that I would give only our last day. As Dr Johnston asked why he always gave to beggars, stated it was so they could continue to beg. When the good doc was told that even in the 18th century beggars usually spent the money on drink he famously and gamely riposted that of all sections of society it was they who needed drink the most.
But the Parisian beggar who will haunt me for the rest of my life came on the Left Bank. We were walking in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower towards the Pont d’Alma on our way to buy tickets at the marvellous art deco Theatre Champs Elysee.
Along the pavement staggering towards us like a character from Slum Dog was a man trying to get passing motorists to respond to his plastic cup. Staggering was putting it mildly, he had spaghetti legs, he was totally dependent on his stick, he looked like a man with Parkinson’s recovering from a stroke. It was raining, he was in his shirtsleeves and not one car even when stationary was rolling down its window. He was getting closer. I gave him two euro. I deserve to go to hell for not giving him ten.