Nov 24, 2014

Palais de Justice

We're in litigation with our wayward bank and today we'll finally have our day in court, in Grasse, Alpes-Maritimes, way station on Napoleon's Route Napoleon during the "100 days" that ended in Waterloo. Grasse is the world capital of fragrances and the locale of Patrick Süskind's The Perfume, the story of a hypersensitive nose attached to Ben Whishaw who needs the bodily fluids of 12 virgins to complete his mission as the greatest perfume-maker of all time. Grasse is also the seat of The Tribunal de Grande Instance, our court.




Grasse is set on the flanks of the Alpes and built around hair needle turns devoid of any spacial logic, so you're sure to lose your way, especially when you're told by your lawyer that the directions are "bien indiquées," meaning that you're directed off the main road long before you reach the town, arrows pointing this way and that way until they stop pointing and you're on your own in the middle of a Mediterranean jungle of gas stations, low-grow brush ("marais"), utilities, perfume makers, quarries, and the urgent need to pass water since (you got up too early and drank coffee too much).[1]





Now you've arrived too early and cleared airport security already (no sharp instruments, dental paste is okay) and you're told by your lawyer that there's no Starbucks. You proceed directly to court room n°1, a nondescript affair of light-wood-wall paneling, leather-upholstered benches, and the bench itself, also in light wood. Our group of anti-bank plaintiffs is relegated to the back of the auditorium; it's not like in American movies where nervous plaintiffs, checkbook in hand, are seated next to their overpaid lawyers; fees are regulated here and contact between lawyers and clients during the session is taboo. Another member of the audience is arriving, wearing jeans and a stuffed, undersized leather jacket. No eye contact. He's youngish, unlike us, and huddles in the back. He's the type that spends a lot of time in the boxing ring but hasn't done so recently.




Our lawyer is encumbered by wheel-based suitcases that she presently unpacks. Les dossiers (tree-based cubic meters) are arranged neatly on the desk of her bench in the first row. Another lawyer arrives, toga, no suitcase, no eye contact, and takes a seat on the other side of the aisle. He stretches his long body, canted on his bench like a tree trunk. Now Honoré Daumier appears, the 19th century cartoonist, and draws a sketch of the canted lawyer. A third lawyer arrives, no eye contact idem, and walks up and down the aisle, immersed in inner dialogue. Daumier makes more sketches. The hearing was set to begin at 8:30, it's now 8:45.

It's now 8:55, and a second pugilist arrives in his stuffed leather jacket. A third pugilist arrives and makes eye contact with the second. They depart jointly. The third lawyer interrupts his inner dialogue and whispers to our lawyer. Two youngish women arrive, suitcase-encumbered, the ones we've been expecting already because prior correspondence pointed to two female lawyers representing our adversary. They share the first name (almost), and the signature


They unpack suitcases. No eye contact. It's now 9:05 or so. Another pugilist arrives. Our lawyer departs to "find out;" she's joined by the third lawyer. Two or three more pugilist arrive.




Now, without prior warning, a lean mean justice machine arrives breathes into the room, i.e., someone who (1) must have spent a lot of time in the boxing ring recently, (2) wears a 4-day stubble, (3) wears a toga and an energetic, handsome chin, and (4) pushes an over-sized cart they use in do-it-yourself outlets for tree-based stuff. Change of plan. The criminal case will be held here, in the court room for civil cases, and the civil case will be held in the criminal court room thither. I help our lawyer move the dossiers; she's grateful.




The criminal court room looks like the civil once except for the special, weapons-grade glass cubicle for the pugilists. It's ca. 9:30 now and time accelerates. Some official appears and actives the court computer (Windows). "The Court," our lawyer shouts and another toga-man ascends along the sunken staircase to the left of the room. We are motioned to rise. His first official act is to tell yours truly to remove his baseball cap. He's otherwise genial and assures the little group of bank victims that he's ready for our case. In the meantime, all lawyers (5 now), have gathered in a group portrait of yet another Daumier cartoon and given their names to the Windows-man. Thence two lawyers depart (this has something to do with money, our lawyer will later explain). The other lawyers remain poised in front of the bench because there's a complication. The bank needs more time to study our documents. They haven't had enough time, the bank, and the principle of "contradiction"   (kɒntrəˈdɪkʃən) gets involved, so all three lawyers speak freely and simultaneously. The Judge presides over the scene, arms stretched out. Any delay, he warns, would mean a postponement of many months. He'll retire now, the Judge, for deliberation (with himself).




Standards have slipped in the meantime, I'm seated directly behind our lawyer and ask her. The Judge will rule in favor of postponement, she says. He will reappear 10 minutes later and postpone the case until September, 28, 2015. At 8:30.

(Art work by Honoré Daumier)

[1] Revision made after reading a few sentences about Hemingway's style principles.

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