Alarms sounded, blaring…deafening.

“May I search your bag?” a big, burly man asked.

Except that was not how he said it. He was speaking curtly in French, glaring at me, pointing accusingly at my purse. He was dressed in a dark suit with a telltale coil peeking out from the left side of his head, signifying an ear piece.

“Uhhh….sure?” I managed to appear nonchalant. Or so I thought.

I handed over my bag and watched, heart pounding, as he rifled through my belongings.

Why was the alarm going off? I had just purchased a scarf. I hadn’t stolen anything!

This fellow at the door had been watching me ever since I had stepped off of the escalator. Like he had a plan.

It was summer, 2007. Paris. The Galleries Lafayette with its magnificent stained glass dome. I had wandered for hours all over Paris, trying to find this very place.

Because I am a sucker for a good photograph.

He took everything out. He ran my purse through the sensor. The alarm sounded again.

What is going on here?

Ten minutes passed. I was really starting to get scared. The French aren’t supposed to be nice to Americans, right?

He looked exasperated. Angry.

“Go!” The man shoved my belongings into my purse and thrust it at me. I took it, gratefully, and dashed out the door to the sound of alarms blaring again behind me.

I was not sure if I should walk fast and get as much distance between me and him or if speed would signify guilt and bring the entire security team out to tackle me.

Restraint. Look calm, like you do this every day…

Wait. I don’t do this every day. Screw it!

I broke into a jog, running for a few blocks.

Weeks later, as I was cleaning out the purse, I discovered the package from the camera memory card that I had purchased while in a small town in Northern France. I had bought it the day before when I had run out of memory on my other cards the day before the incident. Four thousand pictures, none of them could be deleted. I am a photo hoarder.

It had a security tag on it, this bit of plastic. I had stashed it in the purse because there had not been a trash bin nearby when I had unwrapped the silly thing.

Unbeknownst to me, the security tag was lighting up the security panels all over that store. The sensors at the bathroom upstairs had beeped, making a Frenchwoman yell something at me…I don’t know what she was saying but she sounded very upset with me.

So, yeah. I did that. And now I am going back.

The dome at the Galleries Lafayette. Paris, France


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