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How a Gang of Pickpockets Shut Down the Louvre

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By Harold Maass

Employees at the Louvre agreed to return to work on Thursday after a one-day walkout, but only when their bosses said they'd tighten security to crack down on increasingly aggressive gangs of pickpockets at the famous Paris art museum. The strike left crowds of disappointed tourists waiting for hours outside the Louvre, home to such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. About 200 of the 450 staff members it takes to run the museum participated in the walkout, and 100 of them picketed in front of the Ministry of Culture demanding that the government tackle the problem. So what's all the ruckus about?

Why are the gangs so threatening?

Museum workers say the pickpockets cruise the Louvre in groups of up to 30. They're usually minors, so they can get into the Louvre any time, as admission is free for visitors under 18. English-speaking tourists complain that the thieves, many of whom are immigrants from Eastern Europe, target them, asking, "Do you speak English?" or giving them an English postcard to sign or read. While the person is distracted, more of the thieves show up, grabbing the victim's wallet or other valuables and then quickly walking away.

And the danger is increasing.

Museum employees have increased their pleas for help as the pickpockets grow more aggressive. Workers say the kids spit at them, insult them, threaten them, and even attack them when spotted. "The children are tough and very well organized," one member of the staff tells Britain's Telegraph. "We can only do so much, but arrests are usually impossible because of their young age. If they are kicked out, they return the next day. They are very aggressive towards staff, putting people in danger of attack."

This isn't exactly a new problem, though.

"There are always pickpockets at the Louvre and other tourist hot spots in central Paris, but for a year and a half they have been more and more violent... and their way of working is well organized," Sophie Aguirre, a member of the museum workers' union, tells Britain's Guardian. The union last year lodged a formal complaint with the state prosecutor saying that the thieves are targeting both visitors and staff members in the vast galleries.

How are authorities addressing the problem?

After the employees filed their complaint to prosecutors last year, the museum stepped up cooperation with police and began barring anyone already identified as a pickpocket from entering the museum. Now authorities have agreed to increase police presence at and around the Louvre. The stakes are high for the city. The Louvre is the world's most heavily visited museum, with nearly 10 million visitors each year. At this time of year, 30,000 people arrive each day, and their impressions can have a direct impact on the city's image among tourists, an important source of income for the French capital. And the widely publicized Louvre walkout comes as the city is still recovering from another recent blow to its reputation, when thieves attacked a tour guide and stole passports and a large amount of cash from a group of 23 Chinese tourists who had just arrived in the country.

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Weird
Take a Peek Inside One of Berlin's Strangest Museums
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Thomas Quine, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Vlad Korneev is a man with an obsession. He's spent years collecting technical and industrial objects from the last century—think iron lungs, World War II gas masks, 1930s fans, and vintage medical prostheses. At his Designpanoptikum in Berlin, which bills itself (accurately) as a "surreal museum of industrial objects," Korneev arranges his collection in fascinating, if disturbing, assemblages. (Atlas Obscura warns that it's "half design museum, half horror house of imagination.") Recently, the Midnight Archive caught up with Vlad for a special tour and some insight into the question visitors inevitably ask—"but what is it, really?" You can watch the full video below.

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Courtesy of Nikon
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science
Microscopic Videos Provide a Rare Close-Up Glimpse of the Natural World
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Courtesy of Nikon

Nature’s wonders aren’t always visible to the naked eye. To celebrate the miniature realm, Nikon’s Small World in Motion digital video competition awards prizes to the most stunning microscopic moving images, as filmed and submitted by photographers and scientists. The winners of the seventh annual competition were just announced on September 21—and you can check out the top submissions below.

FIRST PRIZE

Daniel von Wangenheim, a biologist at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria, took first place with a time-lapse video of thale cress root growth. For the uninitiated, thale cress—known to scientists as Arabidopsis thalianais a small flowering plant, considered by many to be a weed. Plant and genetics researchers like thale cress because of its fast growth cycle, abundant seed production, ability to pollinate itself, and wild genes, which haven’t been subjected to breeding and artificial selection.

Von Wangenheim’s footage condenses 17 hours of root tip growth into just 10 seconds. Magnified with a confocal microscope, the root appears neon green and pink—but von Wangenheim’s work shouldn’t be appreciated only for its aesthetics, he explains in a Nikon news release.

"Once we have a better understanding of the behavior of plant roots and its underlying mechanisms, we can help them grow deeper into the soil to reach water, or defy gravity in upper areas of the soil to adjust their root branching angle to areas with richer nutrients," said von Wangenheim, who studies how plants perceive and respond to gravity. "One step further, this could finally help to successfully grow plants under microgravity conditions in outer space—to provide food for astronauts in long-lasting missions."

SECOND PRIZE

Second place went to Tsutomu Tomita and Shun Miyazaki, both seasoned micro-photographers. They used a stereomicroscope to create a time-lapse video of a sweating fingertip, resulting in footage that’s both mesmerizing and gross.

To prompt the scene, "Tomita created tension amongst the subjects by showing them a video of daredevils climbing to the top of a skyscraper," according to Nikon. "Sweating is a common part of daily life, but being able to see it at a microscopic level is equal parts enlightening and cringe-worthy."

THIRD PRIZE

Third prize was awarded to Satoshi Nishimura, a professor from Japan’s Jichi Medical University who’s also a photography hobbyist. He filmed leukocyte accumulations and platelet aggregations in injured mouse cells. The rainbow-hued video "provides a rare look at how the body reacts to a puncture wound and begins the healing process by creating a blood clot," Nikon said.

To view the complete list of winners, visit Nikon’s website.

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