2014-08-28 / Sandy Days, Salty Nights

A run-in with the French police and a much-needed life lesson

I was in a car crash one recent Sunday. It happened the way these things do: unexpectedly. One second my friend Eithne was driving down the narrow side streets of Carcassonne and the next there was an explosive bang, shattered glass, and Eithne sitting next to me saying, “This is going to cost a fortune.”

We were all right, but her rental car was wrecked. Eithne and I stood on the sidewalk in stunned silence while above us old women opened shutters and poked their heads out to look. Some called down to make sure we were all right. A man from one of the apartments brought us glasses of cold water, and before long two policeman arrived.

I sat on a stoop, still in shock, while Eithne handled the police report.

I should take a moment here to say that she is especially lovely, fair-haired and light-eyed, witty and entertaining. She grew up the daughter of a minister, and I suspect that all her years spent being good — or, more accurately, rebelling against being good — contributed to her air of naughty charm. Not surprisingly, men find her irresistible.

Once all the necessary paperwork had been completed, the nice man who brought us water came to collect his cups, and the old women retreated from the windows to the shaded interiors of their apartments. The policemen asked if we would like a lift to the car rental agency, and Eithne smiled her most gracious smile and said we would be delighted. An indecent amount of flirtation followed.

“You know, we’re not required to wear seat belts,” one of the two officers said as we clicked our own into place. “These pistols,” he gave a modest shrug. “They get in the way.”

“Do they?” Eithne said, batting her wide eyes.

The officers fell over themselves to talk to her during the drive. How long have you been in France? What do you think of our country? Your French is so good.

Before long, the four of us were chatting about wine and the officers were handing out recommendations for good local vintners. There was something improprietous about all of it, but I was too shaken up to care.

At the car rental company, one of the policemen spoke to an agent and got everything straightened out for us. Both officers told us warm goodbyes, wishing us well on our stay, and just barely stopping short of kissing us on both cheeks.

While Eithne went inside to finish up the car arrangements, I sat on the sidewalk in the sun. A Dutch woman waiting near me was wearing a T-shirt printed in bold letters: “Enjoy life. Laugh. Love.”

I’m not usually one for signs, but after the morning we’d had I thought, why not? Life is so short. We should all be drinking good wine, visiting far-flung places and flirting outrageously with French policemen. ¦

— Artis Henderson is the author of “Unremarried Widow” published by Simon and Schuster.

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