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After Work: Steal My Watch. Don't Steal My Time.

Dona Gibbs is the victim of a crime in Provence – and the loss of a watch brings thoughts of real treasures.

For more of Dona’s valuable words please click on After Work in the menu on this page.

We’re on vacation and we’ve been the victims of petty crime.

Yes, here in the herb-scented hills, over looking the bay of Cannes, we’ve been subjected to an annoyance that reminds us that while we’re luxuriating in the summer sun there’s a harsh world out there. And it’s one filled with wars, famine, unemployment, underemployment, racism, inequalities and a whole batch of social ills.

I couldn’t really call the crime breaking and entering. There was no breaking, only entering. We’d locked up the house, following to the letter the owner’s instructions of our rental. We slid in the iron bars across the shutters, fastened the vertical bars that reached from the top of the shutters into secure niches into the old tile floors and double locked everything -- except the doors and shutters leading onto the patio.

The owner’s instructions assured us that “it was virtually impossible to enter from the patio.” It certainly would appear so. The patio was a three-story drop to terraces below.

So off we went, happy and secure, to visit our grandchildren, daughter-in-law and son. It’s important to time these visits just right since under these two, one barely under three and the other several months shy of one, are very busy. Very busy – spreading apricot puree on a bib, playing a keyboard, swimming, running, yowling, drooling, sometimes mercifully napping – being fully employed as kids.

We were gone from the villa about two hours. When we got back, the house was still bathed in golden Provencal light.

Walking toward the bedroom, I noticed a door ajar and a light on.

Oh, I reasoned, the housekeeper has been back to recheck. After all, we did arrive a little early and rushed her in her routine.

I entered the bedroom. Drawers had been opened. Contents emptied on the desk. The bedside table drawer had been ransacked. That is, it would have been ransacked had there been anything in it. My computer case was open – but everything was still there.

The bathroom had been searched.

The only thing missing was my watch.

I was fond of that watch. It was oversized. I could read the time without putting on my glasses.

It was a copy of a fine watch. A copy, not the real thing, but not a copy of a copy either. It was a pretense – a fun harmless pretense. I loved looking at the sparkle of the faux diamonds that marked 12, 3, 6 and 9. To see the faux diamonds you’d have to tilt the face at the correct angle. I loved the pink pearl face. I love the fake alligator strap.

It was gone.

We were angry. We were indigent. We got on our high horses, Ever-Enthusiastic Husband and I. We called the owner. We called the housekeeper. She called the police.

The housekeeper’s husband huffed, “It was the gypsies…it was the Algerians…it was the Bulgarians.”

Okay I had heard his usually warnings last year and I have trouble blaming gypsies and Algerians for all petty crime. But Bulgarians? Here was something new – and also unlikely.

Alerting the police? Well, I suppose one has to go through the formalities.

The chances of finding my watch: zero and none.

Now all doors – and I mean all doors – are locked, doubled locked and barred. The house grows stale.

We can smell yesterday’s breakfast – and last month’s. Lunches and dinners too. Garlic and fish seem to have been staples and, for some reason, celery salt.

The house is dark in the daytime, but it’s not barred against the strong Provencal sun, as is the custom here. It’s become a mini fortress.

Petty crime here is-- just that -- petty, but it can even include car theft. So far our car’s okay, sitting ugly and stolid and looking like it eats a ton of fuel for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Petty crime seems to be a staple in French literature. Think Les Miserables and the 400 Blows. These tales are sympathetic to the criminal. And major crimes are high drama. Jewel thieves, bank robberies and seamy underworld doings make for breathless stories and usually some fantastic car chase movies.

A pilfered watch and a few open drawers don’t really merit a story. They only bring a shoulder shrug.

I tried out my account at a cocktail party here in this lovely land.

“Welcome to the South of France,” the world-weary woman replied.

Yes, a thief took my watch – and he’s probably a very disappointed thief once he finds out it’s a copy and hardly worth the risk he took.

But I will not let him rob me of time. And although he might have had “sticky fingers” I will not let him get in the way of my delight in the sticky fingers that I cherish –those my of grandchildren.


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