Oh, how can I forget you
When there is always something there to remind me
Always something there to remind me...
Bacharach / David - 1968
Sounds like a love song,
Well it ain't.
Let me tell you about our
next to last day on this wonderful, eventful, rewarding, whirlwind
We had made ourselves accustomed to visiting the Italian city of Ventimiglia every Friday, since we first arrived here in Monaco.
Ventimiglia is a pretty and gritty, bustling seaside town, a snappy 25 kilometers from Monte Carlo; a 20 minute train ride.
It is, essentially, an "open border" town, the first big little city on the way into Italy. It takes advantage of its propitious position
on the Italian/French Riviera by hosting an open market on the Mediterranean every Friday from sunup to sundown, offering
some of the best Italian made shoes, bags and clothing, as well as fresh fruits, vegetables and home-made pastas, cheeses, pesto...
you get the picture! If that doesn't whet your appetite, throw in the best prices and deals available between Genoa and Marseilles!
On our last Friday here in Europe, Ty, Ron and I again prepared ourselves for our weekly romp into Ventimiglia, if only to say, "arrivederci!"
We made sure that we had our train tickets, our personal IDs, our hotel keys and a few Euros, just in case another bargain dared attack us.
Upon our arrival, we descended the train and followed the throng toward the station exit - just as we had done 8 times before since July 11th.
What we surprisingly and reluctantly experienced is the inspiration for the pretext of this essay.
The three of us were stopped
by the Italian police and told to present our passports. I've
previously mentioned that Ventimiglia is an
"open border" city, where local French and Italians conduct various business and social activities. For casual visitors and shoppers, only a picture ID
and some proof of residence is required for a day's visit. We even had been assured of this by our hosts in Monaco and we were advised to
secure our passports in the Olympia Hotel safe for the duration of our habitation. Furthermore, our performance contract dictated that we should not travel
more than 50 kilometers into Italy, an extent which rendered Sanremo our "last stop". Needless to say, we were not in possession of our passports.
That being said, we promptly were arrested by the Italian police as illegal immigrants and placed into a locked retaining cell for questioning.
After a short while, we noticed something interestingly common - our cell was filling up with African men and Arab youth. There were no women
and no other Americans or Europeans. I can assure you that the majority of travellers between Nice and Sanremo carry only a personal, approved picture ID.
Here we are again in a "profiling" situation.
Prior to being carted into
the holding pen, Ty was particularly targeted and verbally abused by
a certain, caustic officer, who would alternate between
angry shouts and mocking smiles only inches from Ty's face - goading Ty to make a retaliatory move, while the other two officers guarded against
Ron's and my interference by standing between us. Ty maintained a solid stance, parrying the officer's assaults with an unblinking, head tilted stare.
I smiled at Ty's adamancy and valor without contact as the officer finally backed down, unable to force Ty into a move which might justify physical furtherance.
In fact, Ty so defeated the officer's foray that the little rogue softened into a small-talk interrogator.
Now, entering the second
hour of this dastardly detention, we were informed that we must be
deported to the possession of the French border police.
The three of us were hauled off into a police car, while five other Arab and African detainees were transported in a larger van. We were driven across the
border back into France, where we were handed off to the French immigration control officers. This time, we were locked in a room with a cleaner floor
though a more rancid odor - while again, no air circulation, open vent or sitting area, at least, this cubicle allowed for available sunlight to peek through
its dingy windows. Don't think for a minute that I had fallen into any depression, I took this opportunity to scratch a miniature Skelly board onto the
linoleum floor, where I engaged Ron in a quick game (Brooklyn rules), leaving Ty sitting in the corner in bemused bewilderment. Our other comrades
seemingly were less optimistic of their fates as they inertly watched Ron and I haphazardly skittering copper coins across the lumpy floor.
Now, into the third hour of
this ridiculous episode, the French border patrol officers, after a
number of bilingual telephone calls and barely discernible
fax transmissions determined our obvious legality, finally released us from the "Skelly Cell" and tersely dismissed us from the police station, pointing us
in the direction of the Menton train station, a couple of kilometers uphill. We walked toward the train platform where we faced our final two ironies:
1. that we were walking onto the platform of the train that was going back in the direction of Ventimiglia. (we more than hastened over to the correct side)
2. What do they call
intelligent, articulate and accomplished Black men? (promoting peace
and music throughout our world in 2008 and beyond)
Shamefully, too many of us know the vicious, insulting answer to that old, racist setup.
There's always something there to remind us.
Jusqu'a la prochaine fois!
Fino alla prossima volta!