Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame. So much workmanship! So much wealth!
Just quietly though (because the signs on the front of the churches say you should be quiet and respect that these are places of worship), what is it with the slot machines up the back?
As you wander around, you can hear the ka-ching! ka-ching! echoing through the churches. These are donation machines. For the small amount of two euros these brightly lit card machines will spit out a shiny new commemorative coin for you to take home and put in a draw.
If you happen to miss these, there are many information points scattered around the worshippers where you can leave your cash. The signs will tell you how the bell tower needs replacing or how the organ's out of tune or light a candle for whatever reason and thank you for help in completing this very important work. Leave your money in the box.
People are throwing their money at the buildings! Coins flying everywhere! If you're not careful, you could walk out with little round circle bruises all over you.
After everyone's handed over all their cash to the church and feel like they've made a difference, they walk out into the street and are confronted by beggars everywhere. In fact, you can't walk down a street or sit at a cafe without at least a couple of people asking for money. No chance of getting hit by flying euros here though. Everyone ignores them at best and at worst, yells at them.
For the most part, I have followed the crowd in my response to beggars (not the yelling bit). I do understand that if you start handing out coins, word will get around pretty quickly and before you know it, you'll be the pied piper of Paris.
I am always terribly uncomfortable saying no and I have given out a baguette or two, however I do think there are a few scams going on around town.
The saddest one is using cute dogs to attract donations. People can't help themselves if they see a cute dog. There is a man who sits on the bridge, going towards Notre Dame, who has really got this one sorted. He's been begging solo since I got here, with little interest from the public, but yesterday I walked past and he's managed to get hold of a whole litter of new born puppies. Business is good. A bit of competition for the nearby church.
The other scam involved me. I have baptised this scam, 'the Smeegle'.
All dressed up I am, walking over the Seine towards the Champs Élysées. A girl walking towards me notices something shiny on the ground, she stops to pick it up. She catches my eye and I look in her hand. It's a gold ring! What a find! She looks excited.
'Do you think those numbers on the ring mean that it's real gold?'
'I wouldn't know. Go find out though. It's worth a try.'
We both look at it for a bit and talk about how you might be able to tell if it's gold or not. Stupid conversation. I turn to walk away and she stretches her hand out to me.
'What? I don't want it! You take it! You found it.'
'No. I want you to have it.'
A bit of to and fro. She places it in my hand and closes it around the ring.
'It means good luck for you while you are in Paris.'
Wow! This is truly a special morning! Despite what the ring is made of, and I doubt it's anything but scrap, the gesture made me feel all glowing on the inside.
As I am walking away...
'Miss! Excuse me Miss!'
Did I drop three hundred euros on the ground and she's bringing it back to me? Every cent of it?
'Can I have some money for some food?'
'OK, and why don't you take the ring back? I don't need it.'
'Just some money for some food.'
She looks at me disappointed.
'Some more Miss? I want to buy a sandwich.'
'Of course! What was I thinking? Paris is so expensive. I paid over eight euros the other day for one beer! Can you believe that! One beer! And then yesterday I paid almost six euros for one coffee! Do you know how much that is in Australian dollars? Of course a couple of euros isn't going to buy a sandwich.'
I laugh at my own stupidity and give her some more coins.
'A sandwich is six euros.'
She looks at the coins and then at me. Is that outrage?
'What? Did you want some caviar with that sandwich?'
'An orange juice'
'I want also an orange juice. That's three euros.'
'Look. Why don't you just take the ring back?'
'Ahhhh.... now I get it. You make me feel all warm and cosy and terribly obliged and then you think you can show me your litter of the cutest starving puppies ever and I'll just keep throwing money at you until I don't feel guilty anymore.'
I ended up relieving myself of eight euros worth of guilt before I worked out what was going on.
Between the churches and the scams, you could make quite an expensive holiday of it. Thank God I lost the Catholic guilt years ago.