Fréjus Customs Check

On the train from France to Italy, May 2009
At the French border town of Modane, some French customs men got on the train, they were checking the passports and baggage of certain people. This seemed somewhat unusual, as there is generally free movement of people and vehicles between France and Italy, usually you just drive straight through. It was intriguing to detect whose baggage they were checking too – it was people with dark-coloured skins. It was also intriguing that these French customs men were checking the train that was leaving France, not entering it.
We wondered at first about explosives, for there is a eight-and-a-half-mile tunnel after Mondane (the Fréjus rail tunnel) but to our surprise the train set off with the customs men still on it, so it won’t have been explosives. It will probably have been drugs, that they were after. It may have been illegal immigration too, though they checked the bags of a black man who was, clearly to us at any rate, American, but he did have a strange mystic symbol painted on his forehead, and that may have made his provenance, notwithstanding his passport, less obvious to the French customs.
The French customs men travelled with the train through the tunnel, and got off at Bardonecchia on the Italian side, presumably to check for contraband on the next train back. It surely must be that they were doing a pan-European collaboration job, checking people going into Italy also into France. And we thought: now we know what to do the next time we want to smuggle through a suitcase-full of cocaine. Simple. All you have to do is to look like us. White, moderately prosperous-looking, grey-haired, looking for all the world like we were on a Saga holiday. Except that in our case, we weren’t.
And the suitcase of cocaine? Well, boringly, it was a suitcase of books and CDs, for eventual sale, with a modicum of luck, to the Italians.

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