12 January 2007

The Right to Remain Silent

Hey, live long enough, you get to have lots of firsts. Recently, I had my first breathalyzer test.

Pinks and I spent the morning doing chores: replacing lightning-struck computer routers, hanging side-by-side pictures in the garden bedroom -- an activity that, in itself, goes to the core of who we are:

She: "They are not straight."
He: "They are perfectly aligned."
She: "They are crooked, I can see that clearly. The one on the right is much higher than the one on the left."
He: "Okay, I'll check them with the carpenter's level .... There, see, the are perfect."
She: "I hate those things."

I digress.

After the battle of the pictures, we picked up two jambon et fromage heros and four beers and went to Saline beach. We settled on the sand in brilliant sunshine at 2:00 PM. Lunch was over at 2:10. Hey, we had put in a hard morning, n'est ce pas? With lunch I had two cans of Heineken, Pinks one. Delicious. Outstanding. Then a short nap, some reading, some swimming, and at 4:30 we departed the beach, did some errands, and headed for home. What a life, huh?

The Gendarme was, I would say, exceptionally polite. He stepped into the road (no traffic at that hour), waved me over to the curb ( just in front of Le Repaire) and asked for my documents. I am not sure what words he used in French, but I knew what he was asking for, and gave him my registration and driver's license. All in perfect order, of course. Then he walked over to the sticker on the lower right corner of the windshield, looked at it, and said something that I did not understand but instinctively knew was bad news, and it was time for his partner to come into the picture. The latter's English was tortured, but sufficient. He told me my insurance was expired. I said impossible. He went over to the sticker, looked for himself, and said "Il a expiree 31 Juillet, 2006, aujourdhui et 14 Novembre, 2006." Or something like that. Whatever he said, I got the message loud and clear.

Okay, they got me. My insurance sticker was expired. Big deal. I'm a highly trained litigator. This should be no problem for me. A piece of cake. So I simply launched into an erudite discussion of the Rule in Shelley's case and it's effect on three- generation trust instruments. I was brilliant. He listened politely, and said, "Twelve o'clock tomorrow. Noon. Fort Oscar, the Gendarmerie. If you come there before then with documents showing your insurance is valid, it is okay. If you do not come, it is not okay and we will look for you." Very Clint Eastwood. Very effective.

Wow. Fort Oscar. For those who have been here, it is the large fort-like Fort at the point on the far side of the harbor. Up until recently, it bristled with antennas and was occupied by French Secret Service (SGDE, or something like that), where they presumably listened to Henry Kissinger's coded messages to Donald Rumsfeld, assuring the latter we would win the war in Iraq if only we would bomb Cambodia. But I guess the French tired of Rummy's drivel even before the US voters did, and abandoned the Fort about a year ago. The Gendarmes (the French National Police, who are actually a part of the French military) recently moved their Gendarmerie from a quaint house in Corossol to the imposing Fort. When I go there tomorrow, I'll ask for a guided tour.

Back to the roadside: The English-speaking officer gave me specific instructions how to gain entrance to the Fort. It is surrounded by a security fence, of course, and the entrance for people is a gate with a speaker-box at the side. Specific instructions on what French words to speak into the box were necessary because nobody in the Fort speaks English, and my English-speaker would not be at the Fort in the morning. (The Gendarmes do a 3-month tour of duty here. I think it is interesting they choose people who speak no English for this assignment. How my tormentor got this posting, I dunno. Maybe he lied about his language skills.)

So I get ready to put the car into gear and get home and find out about my auto insurance, when this guy reaches into a pouch hanging from his belt, pulls out a small plastic bag with an attached tube, and says, ever so kindly, "Would you mind blowing into this please so we can test for alcohol?"

Oh, boy. The real deal. What the hell do I do now? What are my rights? I haven't the slightest idea. Do I have a real choice? Can I say, in a manner every bit as polite as his, "Actually, I do mind. I am busy. I need to get home to feed the dog, so I'll see your friends at the Fort in the morning."? Hmm. I know that in NY, if you say "No", they can take you in for blood test, or at least suspend your license, or something like that. But in France, who knows? Devil's Island?. Or worse, the motel at the airport in St. Maarten?

You may have seen the recent article in the New York Times headed "Remain Silent." The thrust of it was that tho EVERYBODY knows you should not speak to the fuzz when you are the object of a criminal investigation, everybody speaks anyway. The gist is summed in this quote from the piece:

“Everybody talks,” said Daniel J. Castleman, chief of investigations for the Manhattan district attorney. “Almost nobody doesn’t talk. And the reason for that is that people think they can either talk their way out of it or mitigate the crime. It’s human nature.”

Submitting to the alcohol test is one thing. Blabbing to the cops is another. I am trained for this. I have tried criminal cases, negotiated with big-time prosecutors (including the aforementioned Castleman,) and I know how the system really works. These Gendarmes were not dealing with some unsophisticated tourist. So I did just what you would expect me to do. I blabbed.

With as much charm as I could muster, I said, "Wow, I had two beers for lunch." Brilliant, huh? That surely would dissuade him from pressing forward with the testing idea, right? He smiled, and ever so coyly responded, "Hey, it's five o'clock now, the beers are gone." Trapped. I said okay and blew up the !@#! balloon and handed it back to him. Officer Javert squinted at some gauge at the neck of the balloon, and said, "No alcohol." I re-commenced breathing and we drove home. Yes, to feed Frank. I never lie to he cops.

The moment we are home I call Dawn, our house manager, and ask about the insurance. She checks her file and calls me back in two minutes. I take the call with a Dewars on the rocks in my hand. Yes, she did procure the insurance in a timely fashion, but forgot to put the sticker on the car. She feels awful about that. She offers to go to Fort Oscar for me in the morning and handle the matter. I say "No way, I am dying to get into that place, and I'll do it myself."

Dawn comes right over with the renewed insurance sticker. We chat. She marvels at the fact I got pulled over in a random stop. And tested for alcohol, at that. Pinks says, "If they are going to do random alcohol testing, it's amazing they don't arrest lots of people cause the entire island is drunk by 9 PM." Dawn laughs. "They do not catch anybody because they all go off duty at 6 PM. Except in case of emergency, there are no Gendarmes on duty after dark."

Gotta love the French, non?

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