THE INTERCITY train from Brussels arrived at Antwerp Central station a few minutes late and passengers pushed forward in a mad scramble to get aboard. A well-dressed man elbowed me out of the way, almost knocking an elderly woman in the crush. Seconds later, the rude man was exiting again, through the crowd, muttering loudly that he needed to be on another train, jostling past us to get off.
Aboard the Amsterdam-bound morning train and dying for a coffee, I reached for my purse to pay. It had vanished from inside my zipped-up handbag, which I was carrying postman-style, to prevent it being snatched. This Benelux route is notorious for pickpockets, and passengers are constantly warned to keep their belongings beside them.
The catering trolley-server, who kindly paid for my coffee himself, out of pity, asked if the guy on the wrong train passed me in the crush. “Oh yeah…, there were a few more victims earlier in the week, that trick has been going on for a while now. He probably has others taking purses and wallets while he diverts attention away”.
Yet, it could have been worse. I still had my mobile phone, with my bank code and bank telephone number in the list of contacts. So, I could stop my pass-card; I had no credit cards, and less than €25 in my purse.
The Swedish couple sitting opposite me on that recent journey had no such luck. They were robbed on the same route, a week earlier, travelling south to Paris.
Their hand luggage, containing a new laptop, an ipad, their passports, expensive cameras and other valuables, had been stolen. How? A friendly male traveller, seemingly respectable, had engaged them in conversation, asking politely where they were from, regaling them with his wonderful visit to Stockholm.
They paid no attention to a young woman, equally well-dressed and apparently unconnected to the man, who was fiddling with her luggage near their bags, in the overhead rack. They were about to become victims of a favourite trick on this train: the thief removes something from her own luggage, usually a coat or rug. This is used to cover the targeted bags, which are slid along the rack and stolen.
I have been mugged twice and pick-pocketed three times, including once on an escalator at Dublin airport, and in my local supermarket.
While trying to stay alert on my travels, it is hard when you are a bit absentminded and immersed in your new surroundings.
Yet, often places nearer home, familiar and ‘harmless’, can be filled with danger. I have walked the streets of Buenos Aires, and other reputedly dangerous cities, without incident, through being extra-vigilant. The problem is we often let our guard down in places nearer home.
If you are lucky enough never to have been robbed on holidays, you are bound to know people who were, and whose trip was ruined by the experience.
John Stein, owner of Kirei, a company based in Solana Beach, Calif., says architects and interior designers have been enthusiastic about the beetle-kill wood panels it began selling six months ago. When they hear the back story, “it resonates,” he says. That’s especially true in the West, where many prospective buyers have firsthand experience with the beetle infestation.
The Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory based in Madison, Wis., has worked with insect-killed wood for 50 years, and is now using it as a component in plywood-like panels. The state of Colorado has exempted beetle-kill lumber, sawdust and furniture from sales tax, and estimates that the value of items made from trees felled by the mountain pine beetle and the spruce beetle will hit $22 million this year.
The byproducts of two environmental scourges in Southeast Asia have similarly been transformed into furniture at the hands of Bannavis Andrew Sribyatta, founder and design director of a Miami design firm, Project Import Export.
He obtains dried water hyacinths and liana vines — both considered destructive plants — from his home country, Thailand. He weaves them into chairs, chaise lounges and wall panels for individual and commercial clients, including a Nobu restaurant in Los Angeles. The story behind his creations often “seals the deal” for potential buyers, he says. “Our work doesn’t stop at the point where I tell the customers about the product,” he says. “They tell their friends. It’s a topic of conversation.”
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