31 January 2006

Don't Worry About Your Bretheren, It's Your Cistern That Needs Watching

Okay, the wind has subsided, the sun is hot, and the boat is bobbing in the bay, calling to me so clearly that I need to put my hands over my ears. I know what Odysseus went through with the Sirens.

So where am I at noon, the heat of the day? In a damp concrete underground box, 18 feet long, ten feet wide, and seven feet high. That's where. This tomb is where the water from my roof goes when it rains. Of course, leaves, and whatever else the critters with which we share this planet have put or dropped on the roof, goes into the cistern too.--not to mention an occaisional critter itself. If you are mathematically minded, the cistern is 45 cubic meters in volume, which means it holds 45,000 liters of water. And we do not drink a drop of it. It all goes to wash dishes, clothes, and us--and to flush toilets. ( On some level of my consciousness, I know that it also makes our ice cubes, but then again, I have ice cubes only when I drink alcohol, so I ignore the bird poop issue.)

Ah, asks the wise son, why on this first day after the vents de Noel have subsided, is this jerk in this concrete box? Because the cistern is being cleaned and inspected for leaks, because we are consuming more water than any family of 12, and we ran out of cistern water last week, and we had to switch over to "city water", and the harsh government masters are not pleased with our taking their water, and they show their displeasure by imposing harsh taxes for each and every liter we use, that's why. The wise son also inquires what great sin the jerk-in-the-concrete-box has committed to have earned this plague of critters. (It really is getting biblical. Dofie reluctantly told us we had some small frogs in the cistern. It seems they live in the drain pipes, and get washed through in the heavy rains.) The only sin I can think of is RETIREMENT. It must be a sin. It is simply too good not to be.

Now it's not that I don't have Dofie to do all this work for me while I am out fishing. He is doing this. With a crew of three as a matter of fact. But surely you did not expect me to give up a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the inside of a cistern, my cistern, no less. And while I was there, the least I could do was give him some advice as to how the job should be done if it were to be done properly.

So how is it done? Easy. You remove the 3 foot square hatch cover, lower a pump, and empty the 9,000 liters still in the cistern. You put some of this water in the swimming pool overflow basin, some in the irrigation cistern, and the rest in a tank Dofie brought from home. ( Can you imagine Dofie's backyard? The man has every toy ever invented.) When the cistern water gets to about six inches deep, the other end of the drain hose is moved to empty into the bushes, because the guys down there are now using brushes to get all the gunk at the bottom into solution so it will pump. As you watch the clear plastic 2" drain hose, the water changes from clear to dark brown. My ice cube water? Forget my ice cubes. Pinks, who if I let her, would spend five or six hours a day in her new laundry room, would never wash anything again if she saw what had been sitting on the bottom of the cistern. Of course, the cistern-hose never reaches that muck, but still ... .

When the cistern is reasonably clean, we used a light to look for cracks, seams, etc. Nada. No leaks. So why are we using so much water? Right now, the prevailing theory is the Gardener Did It. I have called an all-hands meeting Saturday morning with the gardener, the plumber, Dofie, and Dawn, to see what I can learn and how I can fix the problem short of drinking warm scotch. Hey, the Brits do it, non? It is certaintly clear that the no-ice-cube remedy has a higher place on the probability list than cutting down on the number of washing machine loads per day.

And blaming the gardener is painless, because when you explain it to him, and tell him to reduce the irrigation load, he smiles, nods his head up and down, shakes your hand, and departs in his truck, never having understood a word you said.

I do not want to frighten all who might drop by Villa Stella Maris for a drink. In fact, the pick-up hose that ends six inches off the bottom of the cistern has a screen, so no frogs get pumped into the dishwasher, and there is a filter in the pump room that screens out all but microscopic particles so there are no visible insect parts in the ice cubes. Finally, the walls and floor of the cistern have now been washed down with chlorine bleach , so we should really be in good shape.


A bientot.

28 January 2006

Early Bird Special, SBH Style

I admit it. I am sometimes so uncool as to want to eat early. Now when I say early, I don't mean Early-Bird-Special-at-the-Red-Lobster-outside-Sarasota-where-the-parking-lot-is-full-at-5PM, (Free glass of wine if you arrive before 5:30 tho if you come as late as 5, you will probably have to wait a half hour to be seated), early. I mean just plain New York City early.

So last week, Pinks and I bought tickets to a St. Barts "cultural event", part of the annual Music Festival here run by the island expats. Think it a little out of character for me to go to a church in L'Orient to listen to a pick-up team of musicians? Me, too. But it was "important," so we planned to get there, in our seats, at the opening note of the instrumental program.

Timing was not a difficult calculation: L'Orient is fifteen minutes away from Corossol. Five minutes to park the car is an optimistic estimate: The Catholic Church has no parking lot, and parking on the road on this island is a free-for-all. Locals and tourists alike observe only one rule of parking: Turn off your lights and ignition when you leave the car. If your car happens to be in a location that would permit a another vehicle to pass on its way down the road, so much the better, but that is not a requirement.

So far, that's 20 minutes. Add another ten to buy the tickets and find seats, and you need a half hour. Then there's dinner. The L'Orient Catholics are of the old fashioned kind: you are born in sin and part of the process of redemption is spending part of Sunday morning sitting on the pews made of the hardest wood available in the Caribbean. This is important to know because one must calculate the amount of general anesthesia necessary in order for my non-Catholic behind to endure the evening. Prescription: a minimum of two glasses of wine, maybe add an after-dinner rum to deal with the parking, and that means dinner is a one-hour proposition at the very least.

We had no dinner reservations, but decided to go to a local restaurant at the top of our hill, adjacent to La Petite Columbe. Les Bananiers is a lovely little spot, open on three sides (when the vents de Noel are not howling through), seats about 25 people, friendly management, good food, the whole deal. We pulled onto the shoulder of the road in front of the restaurant at about 6:25, and were pleased to see we would have no trouble getting a table despite the lack of a reservation. We could have a table. We could have any table. Indeed the only person we could find in the place was a large unshaven guy wearing an old-fashioned undershirt ( or very modern, I dunno, it was the kind of undershirt everyone wore when I was a kid--with the straps) peeling potatoes. While he spoke only French, we managed to interpret enough of what he said to understand the place did not open till 1900 hours--7PM. No way we could eat there.

Next choice was Andy's Hideaway, good pizza, informal, in St. Jean, on the way to L'Orient. Got there at 6:45. At least there we could see people--setting tables, filling salt shakers, whatever. English spoken there--owner is Australian. I explained we were on our way to the concert, needed to finish dinner by 7:30, could we be seated at once? Sure. Andy is gregarious host, told us to sit over there and he would take care of us. He did--the waitress came over promptly at 7:00, took our order, and we bolted salad, pizza, wine, and espresso in 30 minutes flat. I am confident that by next week I will have digested the entire dinner.

Every aspect of the concert was exactly what I anticipated. The seats were unbearable and the music was eh. I estimate half the audience was from the metropolitan New York area, and had available to them the finest musical presentations, in the most acoustically excellent auditoriums, while sitting on velvet cushions, and in a visually splendid hall (Mind you, I am not knocking the creche that took up half the width of the sanctuary, and which, I understand, does not get removed until April. And I thought it charming to see the base player competing for turf with a plaster-of-paris shepherd.

Even the parking was a lesson for the uninitiated. Of course, I went up a one-way street and blocked all progress for five minutes. How would I know it was a one way street? There are no signs, and all cars are parked at random compass points. But apparently one or two of the concert goers actually attend this church for non-ecumenical ceremonies ( not many, though. Most island Catholics attend the Anglican Church because the Vicar is cool, while the island Catholic priest is way too conservative --that's another story, stay tuned) and one of them, a pleasant American woman, was kind enough to get out of her car and inform me that I was the single vehicle responsible for a traffic snarl that was right up there with the Rockefeller Center area at the tree-lighting ceremony.

Backing down that narrow, unlit road was fun. Pinks was very supportive. Only thrice did she start an unfinished sentence with, "I told you ... ." Of course, she had in fact told me. How she knew I was going the wrong way up the one way street leading to the church is a mystery. Must be something she learned at St. Mary's. In the end, with lots of help from my partner, I unplugged the goat track, and managed to park the car next to a barbed wire fence that left its mark on my two-week old Jeep Wrangler. Oh, well, penance, I guess.

The good news is that at next year's music festival, the Early Bird Special will be at Villa Stella Maris. Come on down!

A bientot.

24 January 2006

Vivre La Chevre!

My last post produced a wave of outrage. How could civilized people slaughter sweet Pat, the goat from Corossol? Relax, fans, Pat is safe, and in fact has a great story to tell. (Well, I speak as much Goat as I do French.)

First, Pat is really Babette. She is four years old. And she is a "rescue goat." In Paradise, one is not required to go to the SPCA to adopt a goat. There is no goat ARF. You need no permit, need pay no fee or tax, need no veterinarian's certificate to bring the goat on island. What you need is a boat, some fresh water, lettuce or other green leaves, and a free morning.

The Isle de la Fourche is a t-shaped hunk of rock about a mile at its longest dimension, sticking up out of the Barthelemy Channel about three miles northwest of Columbier Point, on the westernmost tip of St. Barths. It is uninhabited, but for the occasional sailboat that may spend the night tucked into the bay fashioned by the southwest crook of the "t." The island has no fresh water, very little vegetation, and strangely enough, is home to a herd of wild goats. How did they get there? I need to do more work on that. How do they survive? Not very well, it would seem. In dry periods, they drink seawater, get sick, and die. They are spindly, sickly, stunted creatures. So every now and then, a St. Barthian goes over with his boat and brings home a critter. Enter Babette.

I met Alain yesterday. I went down to Corossol harbor to take the dinghy off the seawall and make my first attempt to row out to Fish Faster in the teeth of these seasonal 30 knot "vents de Noel." Alain lives directly on the small road adjacent to the seawall, watches all harbor doings from his front porch, and that, so far as I can tell, is his primary, if not sole, occupation, other than caring for Babette, of course. He was chatting with Dolphie (who I thought was working at my house at the time!) as I drove up to park my car perpendicular to the seawall. (Most of the parking spots are taken up with the boats taken off the beach two weeks ago when we got the forecast of the big swell to come. We got only a little swell, but until the winds quit, nobody is going anywhere anyway.)

When Dolphie and Alain learned what I was up to, their faces lit up like kids on Christmas morning. Despite my earnest assertions of absolute competence, they
stripped off shoes and socks, and took over the management and execution of the launch. They lowered the boat onto the beach, carried it into the wash, and held it steady for the old man to climb in and attack the sea.

On my return to the beach several hours later, Alain spied my arrival and came down to help me prop the boat on the wall so the rainwaiter would drain out the transom plug. He showed me how the locals secure the boat to the wall by running a line or cable through a drain hole in the sea side of the wall and out the other side of wall which is at the level of the parking tarmac. When I started to put a lock on the cable I brought for that purpose, he smiled and said "Don't worry, I am here, I see everything." I have no doubts.

It was after we tied the dinghy that Alain gave me the details of Babette's rescue. At least that's what I imagine he was saying but Alain has less English than I have French, so watching the two of us converse can be dangerous to third persons standing within the radius of our arms. But I was able to ascertain basics such as age, milk production (Zero,she need babes first? Hey, I've been a local only for a few weeks. I'll find out.) and that she is Alain's dear family pet. It is his plan to see if he can get Babette in a family way soon. Babette looked happy when she overheard this confidence. I asked Alain what she ate. He looked at me as if I were mad. Doesn't everyone know what goats eat? "Tous." Everything, that's what. If it's green, it's gone. Period.

Btw, the row out to FF was more than a little scary. The dinghy is a light Walker Bay plastic 8-foot boat with an inflatable collar around the hull at the gunnel. This makes it far more stable when 100 kilo klutzes get into and out of the craft without paying attention to the lessons learned at the waterfront at Lake Whatchamacallit in Camp Lakota. But the collar serves to make the boat fat, and there is nothing the wind loves more than a fat small boat. It is no exaggeration when I tell you that at one point I was pulling those oars as hard as I could to get the boat to make headway into a sustained gust, and the very best I could do was fight the wind to a draw. Sorry now I joined the gym in Gustavia. Who needs a rowing machine when you can do the real thing, in the sunlight (and in the wet.)

I will continue to follow the adventures of Babette. She is just adorable, and is a major problem for me in the continuing battle with Pinks over how many animals should live with us. I think the fact that our garden is at risk may be my trump card, but I have understimated Pinks before and am determined to keep my guard up on this one.

A bientot.

21 January 2006

All The News That's Fit To Print

The top three stories in ascending order in the January 21st web edition of the NYTimes are, iii) There's a lack of unity in Iraq(duh), ii) the federal government now wants to test high school kids, (shocking), and the number one lead story is....i) Efforts to uproot Al Quaeda in Pakistan are failing (really a reach to call that news, no?) I do not here bicker with the Times over the accuracy of those headlines ( now that I am retired, I lack the time to actually read the stories, I just scan the headlines) but I think it legitimate to ask questions about how the editors select the stories to cover in depth, and then decide what prominence to give them. Times editors have a tough time these days, working in a room with lifesize cutouts of Jayson Blair and Judith Miller hanging from the ceiling fans. (What, you say, that is not literally true? Well, I say, did I say it was? OTOH, if it is not literally true, surely it should be, non?)

I am here to help. Perhaps observing how others perform the editing task might of some value to those who bear the heavy burden running the newspaper of record. Surely its worth a few minutes of their time.

We have our own Newspaper Of Record, though its publishers are far too modest to print any sort of chest-thumping claim on the masthead. It is called, fairly enough, the St. Barth News, and is published 365 days a year, almost entirely in French, sometimes with a paragraph or two of "US and International News" which looks like it is brought to you "Courtesy of St. Barth Properties, Sales and Rentals, The villa experts since 1989."

Certainly the paper is different from the Times in several respects, i.e., it is smaller-- four 8x11 inch pages, except on holidays when the ads swell the size to eight ( my guess is that proportional to the Times readership, the SB News is the larger of the two papers) and it is free. Like the Times, the News has ads on the front page, though somewhat more prominent,--they take up about a third of the page-- local and international news, classified ads, and if there are death announcements, I have missed them. We don't have a lot of that around here.

So let's take a look at how editors who don't have Blairs and Millers to worry about select the news to publish on the front page. You will have to bear with me here, because I do not speak or read French, but there are enough cognates to get the drift of stories, and I occasionally use the dictionary for a key word or two.

From the edition of Mardi, 17 Janvier the lead story headline is:

Quand la tele dans la chambre a coucher endort la libido.

Now there is an attention getting headline, let me assure you. This is important stuff: The story reports on an Italian study of 523 married couples. The study revealed that those couples without television sets in their bedrooms had "la frequence des rapports sexuels double." For those who speak no French at all, that's "Double."

From this we learn a lot about this island. First, the editors of the local paper know what is really important to the readership. These people are FRENCH. They do some things very well. They may have something to teach the Times editors.

Second, this may help to explain why the people here seem so content, so relaxed: none of the 8-10 villas we have rented over the last 15 years had a tv in the bedroom. None. No matter the size of the house, there is one tv, in the living room, which may impact a lot of issues beyond "rapports sexuels", i.e., family values kind of things. Don' worry, I am not going there.

The second lead story is about a French opera singer who had surgery and had to cancel his tour.

And the third story is something about the first female President of Liberia making a movie in South Africa with Laura Bush, Condoleeza Rice, and Matt Damon playing Lance Armstrong.... or something like that.

What do we learn from this? I am not sure, but I have this suggestion to the news editors at the the New York Times: "Come on down, put your feet in the sand at Cocoloba Beach while enjoying a panini and a draft Stella Artis for lunch (or better yet, breakfast) and try to soak up some real island culture, not the crap published in your Travel Section. Maybe you'll get some perspective on what is really important. Mind you, I will not be disappointed if the experience does not change you. I am quite content with the current regime: you worry about the "important" stuff, and I'll watch the weather report for a break in the wind storms so I can go fishing." Hey, somebody's gotta do this work.

A bientot.

20 January 2006

Pat, La Chevre

My series of pix produced an avalanche of demands (well, Ellin anyway) to see a shot of Frank's buddy. I did not include the picture because the photographer said she could do a lot better and I should wait. But goats have a definite purpose around here, and it ain't as house pets. This one looks kinda full grown (I can hear the critics, "Oh, so now he's a goat maven?") so I am not sure for how long this chevre is going to avoid the dinner table. We are keeping these facts of life from Frank who has no capacity to understand the notion of an animal having any utilily other than as an object of human adoration, accompanied by the extreme pampering which follows therefrom. Posted by Picasa

19 January 2006

M. Franck takes a spot of sun in the driveway

Frank is adjusting well. He has made a friend. We do not know the goat's name, but he (She? We didn't look that carefully) is definitely partial to M. Franck. Posted by Picasa

Pinks on the stairs to the garden bedroom

I can see where this takes organization. These pictures are in no order at all, except possibly inverse. Posted by Picasa

Nothing to do with boats.

The tree on the left is a banana tree. The gardeners wife gets to them before my wife does. The tree is much larger than shown here. Nevertheless, the entire tree produces one flower at a time, which will produce one bunch of bananas, about 10-12 of them, each one about six inches long. I am told they are tasty. I am determined to learn that for myself if only Pinks would out-hustle Mme. Leon. Posted by Picasa

Almost Home

In a few days, my arms will stop aching. At least that's what it says in the manual. Posted by Picasa

Corossol Beach

Where the dinghy lives, and where we sometimes go to drink wine at sunset when it is too hot on the deck. Water is usually not quite so high,--maybe ten feet back, but we have major swells this week. Posted by Picasa

Upon landing on trip from smx to sbh

The engines below Christian's elbow are mine. Posted by Picasa

Captain lands craft after historic hookup in Corossol Bay,

Okay, here are some photos the hard way. Ya gotta do what you gotta do. Not sure if you can see Fish Faster in background, but she is there, I promse. Posted by Picasa

16 January 2006

The sea was rough, my friends ... .

Saturday, 14 Janvier, 2006: I have never before had any symptoms of Dupuytiens Disease, but around 11 AM I was beginning to wonder if I had developed a new variation--not only was my ring finger permanantly curled, so were the other three. On both hands yet. The gradual straightening of the digits after docking at Bobby's Marina in Phillipsburg, St. Maarten, was the tip off: It was not Dupuytiens Disease, but the Bendix Syndrome.

The Saint Barthelemy Channel, separating St. Barts from St. Maarten is about 15 miles wide. Our crossing heading was 315 degrees, more or less. These waters are renowned for the their confused state. Rather than a consistent wave pattern, one gets what the locals refer to as washing-machine wave action. All waves, all directions, all the time. So if you are doing this in a 30' open center console, you pitch about pretty good and you hang on to whatever rails you can access with both hands, non-stop squeezing the 1.5 inch diameter stainless hand-holds with all your strength. Hence the curled finger syndrome.

Nobody with any sense went out that morning, sea conditions were well known. But this was not a fishing cruise. FishFaster was sitting in an ocean-freight yard in St. Maarten, I was in St. Barts, and Christian said let's go and we went.

Christian Audebert runs a marina/boat rental/ fishing charter business in Gustavia Harbor. He is also the local dealer for Contender boats, and I met him six months ago when I was inquiring about a Contender for sale in the harbor. Christian has "the look." As Pinks would put it, he is simply gorgeous-- big guy, big smile, as nice as can be. Christian speaks English well, knows everything there is to know about shipping boats in the Caribbean, knows everbody in the harbor, and he returns telephone calls promptly--not a universal trait down here; Rifkind Lesson Number One apparently does not get taught in France.

There are lots of details involved in getting the boat here: clearing the port, getting a permit to place a mooring in the harbor, getting the divers to do the job, etc. Christian guided me in all that, placing strategic calls to the Harbormaster, the divers, etc, after helping me get the boat here in the first place. He strikes me as a guy who is really happy with his place in this world.
My local boat dealer in Hampton Bays shrink-wrapped my 30' Grady White center console, secured it to the new trailer I bought for this purpose, and arranged trucking to the Bernuth Lines freightyard in Miami. Bernuth's freighter departed Miami on 6 Jan, and arrived Port Phillipsburg after a weather-elongated crossing on the night of 12 Jan, and the rest was up to us.

So London the Lawyer, Christian the Handsome, with the latter's friends who volunteered to spend a Saturday at sea, Eric the baker, and Jeanui the fisherman, set off for what turned out to be a 40 minute slam bang trip across the Channel in Christian's deep V 30' Contender, twin 225 Yamaha Four Strokes. To those readers to whom these details are indecipherable, the message is, "You are deprived."

Christian had made a special arrangement to make the pick-up on Saturday. We docked at Bobby's Marina in Phillipsburg, cabbed to Bernuth. The freightyard was quiet, just us and one other local ship taking on hand cargo. Fish Faster was standing by her lonesome on the lot in apparent perfect condition. ( I have since noticed a broken GPS antenna. No big deal.) The process from there was reasonably simple. We stripped off the shrinkwrap, turned on the battery switches, started each engine for a second, and that was it. A tug (as in the kind that pulls airplanes on the tarmac) pulled the boat, with the captain aboard of course, to the edge of the dock, a crane operator, with the help of some guys on the ground, positioned two eight inch wide straps under the boat, hooked them up, (watch the swinging hook! Now I know why construction workers wear helmets.) lifted the boat off the trailer and set her gently into the Caribbean Sea. We unhooked the straps, started the engines, and pulled away. (Okay Eric did, but I could have!)

One "fun" incident was just the kind of thing that keeps me up at night: When a boat is laid up for the winter, the mechanic removes a brass plug in the transom, at the very bottom of the hull. This, I take it, is to drain any water that might collect over the winter. I think it is called the garboard plug. When the mechanic removes the brass garboard plug in the Fall, he usually leaves it in some cupholder or recess near the engine. We of course looked for the plug before we put Fish Faster back in the water. More than one insurance claim has involved a vessel that sunk upon launching because of a forgotten garboard plug. We replaced THE plug, but we found ANOTHER plug in the cupholder. Four guys spent 20 anxious minutes scouring the boat for second garboard drain. Tweren't none. Bottom line , the mechanic, intentionally or otherwise, gave me a spare plug, and drove us nuts.

I had taken the wheel as soon as we were away from the dock. Now the fun really begins. By 1 PM, we were gassed up, and the two boats head 135 degrees toward SBH. The seas are no longer confused. Indeed they are now quite purposeful: 6-8 foot waves head on the bow. No washing machine here--just plain Roller Coaster. Engine noises tell the story: The engines strain as the boat climbs the eight-foot hill, and either mutter softly as you coast down the other side, or roar as the props bite nothing but air as the boat keeps its horizontal orientation, drives off the cliff-edge top of the wave, and simply free-falls into the hole in the sea on the other side of the wave-top. Not good for the fillings in one's teeth.

Navigation is line of sight, except when you are in a hole and all you can see is water. Christian was running alongside me-- about 200 yards off my starboard beam. I looked at him frequently. I would say that about 1/3 of the time he was gone--one or both of us was in a hole. Sightlines to SBH suffer a similar problem. When the island disappears, one checks the compass. Hey, I can do this.

Next time I'll take the cellphone out of my pocket and put it somewhere dry. I cannot imagine where that would be on my boat in that kind of weather. We were soaking wet, the sea overcame the seals on every hatch cover. I guess you could say the topsides of boats (the parts that are supposed to be in the sunlight while under weigh) are made to be water resistant, not waterproof. Need to get a waterproof pouch, I guess. But the wonderful thing is, whether it was the water temp or the adrenaline, being soaked again and again was part of the excitement of the trip. A blast. Anyway, the phone has since dried, and the speaker part of the phone works again--for now. I don't imagine salt water is good for its innards, buy hey, it's a St. Barts phone, not one of those darling little things carried by NYTimes travel section writers. More on that subject when I calm down.

We were still rocking and rolling past Columbier, and even Corossol. Gustavia Harbor had its usual gentle swell, but by then there was so much salt water on the windshield I could see only by leaning out to try to see the around the windshield. That's like sticking your head out the car window at 50 mph. It might be okay if you can see and know what you are doing, but I did not qualify on either count. Moreover, I couldn't have parked her anyway in the complicated front and back mooring system in Christian's marina where FishFaster will live for a day or two until my mooring in Corossol harbor is completed. The boat will be moored to a two-ton concrete block sitting on the bottom in about 20 feet of water, about 150 yards off the beach. I get back and forth via an eight-foot dinghy--oars, no motor.

Ahh, it ain't over till its over. Divers who are supposed install the mooring are nowhere in sight, and I am going to have to move the boat because the huge northwest swell they are expecting will make the Gustavia marina uninhabitable. I'll have to put Fish Faster on the hook in Corossol Bay--a anchorage that is quite protected as long as the wind does not come out of the west. My experiences on the hook are nightmarish. Anchoring is an art I have not mastered. The last time I anchored, I did such a poor job I almost wiped out the entire fleet in the harbor at Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgins.

Yeah, divers have come, and with help of Olivier, who either works at or hangs out at, Christian's Marina, I am now moored to the two-ton concrete block sitting on the bottom of Corossol harbor. There is a three point attachment to keep Fish Faster secure in anything short of a hurricane, and she will not be in the water in THAT season!
Wanna guess how one can order a two ton concrete block at 11 AM and have it installed by 5 PM? Are you, as did I, imagining a small ship like a Coast Guard bouy tender, with crane, etc? Actually, they always have a couple of these concrete blocks in reserve, sitting on the bottom somewhere in the harbor. The diver attaches a deflated airbag to the steel ring at the top of the block, inflates the bag with an airtank thereby floating the block off the bottom, and they tow the thing away. When they get to my spot, they let the air out of the bag. Voila! What could be simpler? Who'd a thunk it.
After Fish Faster was securely moored, I gingerly worked my way into the dinghy without capsizing the thing. Good thing I let Spellmans Marine in Hampton Bays talk me into the dinghy with the inflated collar. I will need to work on getting in and out of this tiny thing. Graceful I ain't. Put 100 kilos anywhere but dead center in an eight-foot dinghy and you're a swimmer.
The Captain rowed the dinghy ashore, his beloved waiting on the beach taking pictures of this historic event. Dragging the 85 pound dinghy at the water's edge, having my own personal photographer record the landing, I felt nothing at all like Douglas McArthur. Besides, he didn't row anywhere and his pictures were POSED, and re-shot over and over. The pictures of me are genuine unretouched one-of-a-kind contemporaneous recordings of history. I need to describe these pictures to you because I still do not know how to SHOW them to you. I will learn that before the end of 2007. For now, trust me, the sun was setting, it was Golden Hour, Pinks' pictures are beautiful.

The dinghy, by the way, lives on narrow Corossol beach, bow secured to a ring in the seawall. Had to move it to the top of the wall when the locals told me a major swell is in the offing. Hey, I follow orders.

Okay, this blogging is hard work and I am exhausted. Gotta go.

A bientot.

14 January 2006

Big doings in SBH

Two major events this week, not entirely unrelated.

1. Fish Faster, my trusty 30 foot Grady White, arrived via ship in St. Maarten, and yours truly, with a borrowed first mate, brought her through eight foot seas to SBH. Not scary, but lots of up and down, lots of seawater in the face. But the boat and crew are fine, and the captain may actually get to sleep tonite without worrying about all the damage that could have occurred during a ship voyage that was itself so rough, the arrival of the freighter in SMX was delayed six hours. You can be sure there is more to come on this subject.

2. The second major item to report is that at the fish market yesterday morning, Pinks overheard a conversation in broken French to the effect that our good friend Linda Fairstein was seen at a party with Matt Lauer. Pinks and I were really upset. How do we deal with this? What is our duty to Justin? On the trip over from SMX this afternoon, the eight foot seas were reminiscent of the sea conditions that forced us to abandon our trip to Linda and Justin's house this summer in Martha's Vineyard where we were to spend the weekend. Could Linda, with or without Justin, go to a party on OUR island and not give us a call? (Call? I want an invitation!)

You have probably figured out that the story has a happy ending or I would not have repeated it here. Some indirect probing has revealed that either Pinks' French needs a lot more work, or the fishermen should stick to their wahoos. Maybe both. The facts: There is no "party with Matt Lauer". Linda is scheduled to appear on Mardi (Tuesday for les Americaines) with Matt Lauer...on the Today Show to plug her new book Death Dance, which goes on sale the day of her appearance. I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but I am feel obliged to report somebody gets killed in this book, and neither Pinks nor I could figure out who the doer was till the denoument.

Gotta go. We are watching hour 13 of the first season of 24 tonite. Maybe we'll see hour 14 as well. Meanwhile, new season starts tomorrow, and I am taking a nap for sure on Sunday so I can stay up till 11 PM.

A bientot.

12 January 2006

Managed Care, Island Style

The lingua franca of this island is French. While the shopkeepers and restaurateurs speak English, most other locals do not. Certainly not the plumber, electrician, carpenter, pool cleaner, gardener, "Dead Moustique" guy (truck bears a picture of mosquito on his back with legs in the air-- get it?), postman, Fedex driver, and air conditioning repairman, each of whom has visited our carefree nest during the last three days.

To add to this bouillabasse, the work ethic is a combination of Island and French. That can be pretty daunting to New Yorkers.

For example, a review of the above list of helpers brings to mind that though only the electrician has been here twice, the a/c guy and the plumber should have been here twice, and neither has yet returned nor given any indication when they might do so.

Moreover, when they do get here, there is a tendency to do the job the way they think is the way it should be or looks best, or what they think is the best solution. E.G, if you want somebody to build a fence, and draw him a picture of a simple upright rectangle with horizontal boards with 6 inch spaces, you might get that, or you might get vertical boards with 3 inch spaces, along with the explanation that the fence-builder thought it looked nicer that way. That is very Island.

The French approach is best illustrated by this true story: Immediately after we took title, I ordered a DSL line. At first, they wouldn't even give me a phone because there is an island limit of one wired phone per residence, and the SBH manager of France Telcom insisted my seller had not formally surrendered his line to this house. I am not making this stuff up. We did ultimately resolve this ( it was all in French so I have no idea how). Because I was close enough to the main substation, I was DSL eligible, I ordered the service, and they handed me a France Telecom DSL modem, and off I went.

Now this is not complicated. You plug the supplied power cord into the wall socket, the supplied telephone line into the telephone socket, the supplied network cord into the network socket on your computer, and you are in business. Well, not quite. While I did have spotty local email service, I could not talk to the Paul Weiss computer at all, because the law firm, like the guy in the Kosher hot dog television commercial, asserts: "We have higher standards." The dreaded paranoid security conscious Citrix program will accept only the purest signal. So I spent hours on the phone with our tech guys in New York. When they couldn't solve the problem, we consulted the firm's outside consultants: we plugged and unplugged, pinged and paused, researched and recalibrated, all to no good result. We called France Telecom. They checked the signal at the substation, then sent a technician who came with a large box of equipment, and after an hour or so declared my house telephone wiring was excellent. The only thing left to consider was that my new IBM laptop was defective.

I played my last card, and called Jessica Sombat, a 26 year old expat who works for a local computer service business. Her entire visit cost less than one of the many telephone calls to the States. She walked into my office, took a look at my desk, and said, "That's the modem you've been using? It's defective. That entire model run is defective. We always replace them with a similar American model. France Telcom knows its modems are defective, but they have a large inventory, so they give them to their new customers anyway."
Very French.

You can see how managing the combination of Island and French requires some skill and a stern hand.How does one find Jessica Sombat, the carpenter, electrician, etc, choose the right one for the job, ride herd on them to get them back to do it right, or finish what they started, and otherwise get the attention I need? Managed Care, that's how.

Enter Dawn Drouant Gumbs, house manager extraordinaire.

Dawn is worth meeting here:

Petite, attractive, a 40 yr old NOLA native, Dawn has an interesting story. A pharmicist by training, some years back she was managing a pharmacy in NOLA when a girl friend who was an airline stewardess ( that's what they were called then, and besides I am over 70 and by law exempt from PC standards) offered a free weekend round-trip flight to St. Barts. While here, the lovelies were picked up at a bar or a beach, I am not sure which, invited to party where she met Adolphe Gumbs, local contractor. I mean real local. Not all people who live here are locals. Those born here consider themselves "locals" or "islanders", and they call the French who come here from Paris or Brittany for ten or 20 or howmany years "metropoles." Not surprisingly, the two groups sort of look down on each other. Dofie is a local. There are two full pages of Gumbs in the island telephone directory. Dofie is a contractor, builder, fisherman, and if there were deer or bears, on this island, he would be a hunter too. Dofie is 6' 2", and looks like Clark Gable, complete with mustache, dazzling smile, curly black hair, the whole nine yards. And charming to boot.

A good chunk of nearby Mt. Columbier is owned by the Gumbs clan, and Dofie, along with each of his nine siblings, had been given a piece of it by Patriarch Gumbs. Dofie's piece has a breathtaking view of the sea to the west and south, with unobstructed views of Saba, Eustachia, and St. Kitts. Dofie built a house on it, and lived the life of an SBH local bachelor, details not provided. After a reasonably brief courtship ( I need more time to get Pinks to dig out those details) Dawn moved down here, and she and Dofie were married.

Things change. I am reliably informed the following is a an accurate transcript of a conversation that occurred in the middle of year one of the happy union:

Dawn: Dofie, y'think maybe the house is a little small?

Dofie: Not really. I thought we were quite comfortable.

Dawn: Oh, I am, I am, but I thought it would be nice if we had a kitchen.

Dofie: A kitchen? Well, I never needed one before, but if you want a kitchen, I'll build you one.

I am not sure how many rooms the house has now --there are three darling children and I am highly confident Dawn's children do not sleep in the living room. I ran into Dofie on the road this morning, he pulled over, and we chatted. He said he was on his way to the construction materials depot to buy rebar. I asked what kind of project he was working on for his customer. He said, "No customer, I am building Dawn's office."

Dawn, I guess with the help of her NOLA background, speaks very good French with which she whips the electricians and plumbers into shape. But at home, she speaks ONLY ENGLISH. Her children are perfectly bilingual, tho they tend to speak French to their father when Dawn is not around.

Dawn is a bear on the subject of island kids learning English. It is a sad fact of island education that the kids do not really learn to speak English--much. While the public school gives four years of English language classes, the parochial school--big on this island--does not. They had an English teacher, but she left and was not replaced. When Dawn learned there was ZERO English being taught at her kids' school, she did what Dawn does, raised a fuss, demanded answers, spoke to the guy in charge, etc. The school said they had neither the money nor the personnel to put together an English language class. Result: In addition to being wife, mother, homemaker (which includes collecting the eggs and otherwise caring for the chickens) along with being a house manager for a number of villas on the island, Dawn teaches English at the Catholic school in Columbier.

Of course it was Dawn who found Jessica Sombat for us, Dawn who wrestled with the France Telcom manager and pinned him to mat re my telephone line, then got her cousin who works for France Telcom to come here and try to fix my internet access, then arranged with her cousin at the sous-prefecture to ease our way through the residency process, and it is Dawn who, through her cousin in the Tropical Shipping office in Miami, expedites the shipment of our packages to SBH. ( Right, she does have a lot of cousins.) And of course, when Dawn, while balancing my checkbook, discovers the bank has lost another of my euro transfers, she gets after her cousin, the assistant chief cashier there.

It's a small island and people talk. There are no secrets. At Miller Time, some form of this conversation regularly occurs at the Gumbs household:

Dofie: I understand you criticized Claude at EDF (electric company) today, and chided him in front of his employees. Don't you think you were a little hard on him?

Dawn: No I do not, and what's more I intend to go back there tomorrow and keep after him until he puts my customer's account in good order. Just because EDF has no competition is no reason for them to treat their customers carelessly.

Ah, the island's gain is the mainland's loss.

Okay, gang, there is an excellent chance Fish Faster, with this correspondent at the helm, will make her first international voyage tomorrow, from the Netherlands to France, i.e, Sint Maarten to St. Barth. There remains only 24 hours before the scheduled voyage, barely enough time to finish worrying.

A bientot.

10 January 2006

Dirty Rotten Secret: People Get Sick In Paradise

So who wants to go to work( even when going to work involves sitting on the beach) when you can stay home from school sick? And you don't need a written note the next day. I must admit, while the attack of Montezuma's Revenge ( He was from Mexico, right? What's he doing here? Will somebody please give the man a GPS for Easter?) was altogether unpleasant, the issue of dealing with it was oh-so-civilized. One visits Dr. Bernard Husson, whose office is one flight up in the building next to the Cantina on the waterfront. ( Let's face it, all commercial buildings are on the waterfront, or within a block thereof.) And no matter how sick you are, you walk up the flight of steps. No elevators on this island. Perhaps that is because there is no building more than two stories high? Are they on to something here?
Back to my story. One does not make an appointment with Docteur Husson ("Medecine Generale," reads his card.) One goes and sits in the waiting room, which is about about 3 meters square (ten feet for MY readers) and waits. Not bad. Bring your own magazine. His are in French. Lots of pictures of Villepin and his wife (mistress? The French are not big on marriage.)
The good Docteur starts at 7:30 AM. Get in there at 7:20, and you'll be out by 8:00. His office is two-thirds the size of his waiting room, and his examining room is just a bit longer than his examining table . No receptionist, nurse, or other assistant. This is mano a mano. He is trim, pleasant, suitably attired for a professional (i.e, jeans, no shorts) and as far as I can see, thorough and knowledgeable. (Of course, being who I am, I checked every word he spoke with Adam Stracher at Cornell- New York Hospital.) His english is very good ( we had some confusion over electrolytes and electrocardiagrams, but hey, let us not bicker over trivialities.) The examination is deliberate and comprehensive, as is the discussion at his desk afterwards.

Okay, here is the most impressive part: Docteur Husson has office hours Monday and Friday from 0730 to 1230, and then 1430 to 1700. Even on Wednesday, he is there from 0730
to 1300. No way the Drs. union in NYC would let him get away with that. Of course, there are no golf courses on the island, and that may explain his willingness to treat patients on
Wednesday. Price is 40 euros per visit. In cash, into the top drawer. How many of you recall paying le docteur in cash?

Now get this: On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings, le docteur does "visites a domocile." Egad, en anglais, that's house calls! Whoa. We are really going back in time. And the prescription for my gastric distress was --a powder. I thought they did that only in cinematic nineteenth century period pieces. Bottom line, I am much better today, and may even attack the hill tomorrow morning.

The cause of my one-day bug? Not sure. I am inclined to agree with my house manager who blames all bad things on "the tourists." I am proud when she says this because it suggests she no longer puts me in that category--at least not to my face.

I was well enough to go to the beach today, but we got a drenching squall every 30 minutes or so. The intervening brilliant sunshine is just a sucker's lure. We pay it no mind.

My view of rain storms changed dramatically when we were here in a June dry spell, and I had to run expensive city water into the cistern. The island has only one source of drinking water--other than the shiploads of imported 1.5 litre plastic bottles which are competitively priced with gasoline-- a desalinization plant, powered by the electric plant which is, in turn, fueled by the garbage incinerator. I cannot figure out how they do that without smell, sight of smoke, or any noticeable environmental effect. Using expensive "city water" was acceptable when I was a June tourist, but now that I am a local, I love that rain!

November and December were very wet months here. As a result, greenery is now super-abundant. Makes the island very pretty, but roadside bushes and grasses have narrowed the mule tracks that have been covered with concrete and serve as island roads. It is all the fault of Ralph Nader. Surely you remember him: he gave us seat belts and George Bush. The Nader giveth and The Nader taketh away. Until about five years ago, all the islanders drove these little soft-top Suzukis. Everyone wants a soft-top. Naturellement. But the ever-more liability conscious Japanese car manufacturers no longer make them because they tip over and kill people. So, following les Americaines, they have made their cars safer by making them heavier, longer and wider. Now the roads are full of Jeeps, Toyotas, and there are even two Hummers on the island. Many drivers of older cars lost their left side view mirrors a long time ago, and have long since given up replacing them. Even daredevils NEVER drive with their elbows on the window sill.

Driving on this island is not for the timid. Even Pinks adopts standard island protocols when passing another car going in the opposite direction: 1) no wincing, 2) no horn blowing, and 3)most important, NO SLOWING DOWN. I'm sure it would help if we smoked: squinting from the smoke curling up into one's eyes from the lip-held Galoise when passing within inches of an opposing vehicle at a combined approach speed of 70 miles an hour stiffens the backbone--or so it seems. The whole driving thing has an effect on our marriage. On the rare occasions when I sit in the passenger's seat, I am always certain Pinks has over-estimated the clearance from the stone wall on the right, and I react--never silently. Can't figure out why that pisses her off so.

Oh, yes, several critical readers have noted the lack of photos in this blog. This is directly related to the author's lack of facility in managing the software necessary to insert them herein. The author promises to work on this. Pray for rain.
A bientot.

07 January 2006

Headline: French Banks Manipulate Foreign Exchange Rates By Hoarding Euros

Have you ever been to Port Newark? Neither have I but I have seen photos of the massive cranes that load and unload containers on ocean-going ships. Those ships are a highly efficient way to move large quantities of goods, be it cars, coal, or calamine lotion. (I'm told they use lots of that stuff in Bora Bora.) But money? Who but a drug dealer would move money by freighter (I'm guessing 10-12 days from Newark to St. Barths) when you can do it via wire transaction in 10-12 seconds?

But if you are the receiving bank, all this electronic transfer stuff has its disadvantages. Because as soon as the bank receives the wire, it must then credit the amount of the transfer to the customer's account specified in the wire. In other words, the bank sort of has to give the money away to its customer as soon as it gets its hands on it. Of course, if its a French bank it gets a fee for receiving the wire, a fee for crediting your account, a fee for giving you the privilege of having an account there in the first place, and there is a schedule of 27 other things that trigger a debit to your account and a credit to the bank's own account. But let's get back to the wire.

Now I guess if the bank were to receive the wire in St. Barth, collect the money, but then send the wire to Newark, put it on board one those freighters, and then ship the wire to St. Barth, it might arguably play with money itself for some couple of weeks till the ship unloaded the wire at Port Gustavia, at which point the bank would need to give the customer access to his money. Couple of weeks free money ain't bad.

Nah, no bank would do such a thing, you say. You are probably correct.

Certainly Banque Des Antilles Francais ( yup, my bank) would never do anything so crude as that. Especially because it has a much more efficient system for holding on to other people's money received by wire. It simply receives the money and fails to credit the customer's account. Neat, huh? How do they get away with it? Well, they don't have to keep it forever to make a profit y'know. If you are persistent, you can get the money at the end of the chase, but in the interim, as one my lawyer friends is wont to say, "The apples are on THEIR pushcart"

I am reminded of the IB protaganist in Bonfire of the Vanities, who, when asked by his child to please explain what he does for a living and how he makes his money, says, " Well think of slicing up a loaf of bread. When you are finished, you've got a lot of bread slices, and some crumbs left on the table. We keep the crumbs."

Back to my tale. Yesterday, I asked my house manager to give me a check for 12,200 euros so I could pick up my new car today. She said, " Well, Marty darling, I am reluctant to do so cause you got 4,272 euros in your account. You haven't deposited any money since June." Me: " What about the 25,000 euros I wired to the account in the beginning of December?" Ahh, but I already knew the answer. The December 5 euro transfer was a transaction unique to this French outpost: a unilateral wire, a/k/a demi-wire. Here's how it works: You have Citibank buy euros (debiting your New York checking account) and wire the euros to the credit of your account in the the French Bank. This half of the transaction works flawlessly. It's the second half that gives me some pause: the French bank receives the money... and le transaction est finis, i.e., the French bank simply keeps the money and fails to credit its customers account. Neat, huh?.

When I learned I was out 25,000 euros, and couldn't buy my car, I reacted with calm reason: I made eleven calls to New York to find and acquire a paper copy of the Citibank wire so I could roll it up and, in lawyerly fashion, insert it in the manager of my bank here in St. Barth.

Between calls, I did visit BDAF in Gustavia and confronted the Bank Manager: Our conversation went something like this:

Me: " M. Arron, this is the FOURTH time you have failed to credit my account when I wired euros."

M. Arron: "Yes, that is true."

Me: "Where are my 25,000 euros?"

M. Arron: (Gallic shrug.)

Me: "How can you run a bank this way? Doesn't anybody count the money? No one notice some 25,000 extra euros lying around at the end of the month?"

M. Arron: "We need a better system."

Me: (Thinking back on the last Larry David show with Dustin Hoffman playing an angel) "'System', M. Arron? I see no evidence of a 'system'. You consistently lose my money, and find it only after I complain and then laboriously find and produce the documents that prove you had the money all the time. That is not a 'system' ".

M. Arron: (Evincing no evidence he recognized I was stealing lines from "Curb") "Yes, we have made some changes."

Me: "But the 'changes' have accomplished nothing. You still consistently lose my money."

M. Arron: "Ah, yes, that is true."

Bottom line: I negotiated a successful resolution of the conflict: I will write and deliver the 12,200 euro check to the auto dealer. M. Arron promises the bank will honor the check based on my oral representation I wired the money last month. But if it turns out Citibank did NOT send the 25,000 euro wire, he will foreclose on my mortgage.

Don' worry, be hoppy, by the end of the day I had a copy of the Citibank wire, which shows clearly the transfer of funds, at my order, to be credited to my account at BDAF, on December 7, 2005. So Pinks and M. Franck will continue to have a roof over their heads for while. (Frank, btw, now has been promoted to his own air conditioned room during the day. He sleeps in the guest room when it is empty. When we have guests, he is their guest) .

Not that I would change places with any of you northerners. I would much rather wrestle with M. Arron, (who is actually a very pleasant guy who will ultimately find the money and credit my account) than have to look at Pat Robertson's picture in the New York Times. Y'think Rev. Robertson would say my money was lost cause the Isreali's gave up Gaza? Hmm.

A bientot.

Me: "Mr. Arron, I am very upset. This the FOURTH time a wire to my account has gone astray.

Mr. Arron: "Yes."

Me: " Where is the money"

Mr. Arron: Blank stare accompanied by oh-so-traditional Gallic shrug, and then "Hmm."

Me: I have spent the entire day on the phone to NY trying to get a copy of the wire. I have driven citibank and my secretary crazy with my calls and emails. You have embarrassed me with the auto dealer whom I now cannot pay, how can you treat a customer this way, and how can you run a bank this way? Don't you balance the books at the end of the month? At the end of the year? Doesn't someone notice there's been an extra 25,000 euros lying around for 30 days? Isn't there a system for crediting the account mentioned in the wire? Is there anybody here or in Paris that actually counts the money going in and out?

Bank manager: "Yes, very interesting. When you get a copy of the wire, I'll try to find the money. "

Mr. Arron: Shrug, smile

05 January 2006

M. Franck at work

 Posted by Picasa

M. Franck at work

 Posted by Picasa

Headline: French Declare Londons Healthy Enough to Stay

Visions of the dreaded chalked cross on the lapel, the sign that consigned thousands at Ellis Island to return to their place of embarkation, have happily been despatched. A vigorous physical examination (chest x-ray, peeing in a cup --easy for me, but damned if I can figure out how the girls do it--measuring height, weight, and blood pressure) demonstrated these Americaines were fit enough to live in France. And all that took only 2.5 hours. Methinks if we smoked cigarettes and held them between our third and fourth fingers, they wouldn't even have made that much effort before saying "Oui".

All this takes place in the new hospital on French side of St. Martin. To get there, one takes a ferry from St. Barths to the Dutch side (Sint Maarten) and a 20-minute cab ride (18USD). Cab was waiting for us at ferry dock at 8:45 am cause the ferry boat captain called it for us.

Now for a little touch of good old NYC: We finish our physicals at noon, and need to get back to Dutch side to catch the 2:45 pm return ferry. The receptionist at the hospital front desk kindly calls us a cab, i.e., she calls the hack stand in downtown St. Martin, asks for a cab to go from the hospital on French side to dock on Dutch side, listens to guy on other end, nods with a smile, and tells us, ever so sweetly, "Sorry, no cabs. There are six cruise ships in town, and he says you need to call back in 15 minutes and see if they have a cab. " She also tells us that the SXM traffic is now awful, as is expected in the middle of a busy cruise ship day.

I call five minutes later, tell the hack stand (everybody speaks English, except the French who are bilingual but speak only French to each other) where I am and where I need to go. He has a muffled conversation with several people, and tells me, "No cabs, call back in ten minutes." This process is repeated three times, and I am beginning to imagine spending the rest of my retirement on the hospital front steps, when my Manhattan-4pm-cab-hailing experience kicks in. Duh,what took me so long to get the picture. Why struggle through cross island traffic when the cabbies can stay local and rack up multiple fares from the peripatetic cruise-shippers? So on the fifth call inside of fifteen minutes, the conversation went like this:

Hack stand guy: "Hello, hack stand."

Me: "I've got 50 euros for the first cab driver who gets me from the French Hospital to the dock on the Dutch side."

Hack stand guy, laughing: "Hold on." Then after a muffled conversation much shorter than the previous ones: "Car 430 will be there in six minutes. "

Minutes later, the compact sedan tore up the hospital driveway, with a middle aged cruise-ship couple from Minnesota in the back seat, to whom the driver explained he had to interrupt their cab ride to the "topless beach", and they must share their cab, because he got a phone call and "must pick up some people at the hospital." So the world turns. They should stay out of the sun anyway, it's bad for people from Minnesota. I feel good about helping them stay healthy.

Now that I am an advanced techno-person, I am going to try ( when I get upstairs and plug the camera into the computer) to show you how M. Franck feels about being here. Life is hard on les chiens ici.

Just returned from the airport, seeing Rob and Sloane off. Departure lounge crowded. Island gradually bleeding off the Christmas/New Year's influx. A word of warning to those who might some day need it: One must assume that in the SBH departure lounge there is at least one person you do not notice who knows and notices you. So if you need to say au revoir by
sticking your tongue down someone's throat, and that someone is other than your spouse, find another locale. French privacy laws forbid further elucidation.

A bientot.

03 January 2006

Why are the French trying so hard to get rid of me?

So here's the deal. I want to stay here, at least for for a number of months each year. I buy lots of euros and spend them lavishly. All the merchants smile when a London is spotted in the hood. You would thing the French gov, or at least the Chamber of Commerce, would offer me an incentive to do this. Yeah, right. The French Foreign Office says that to stay here for more than three months, I need a Long-Stay visa. To get that visa, last April we had to fill out a form that was more onerous than the outrageous one my co-op demands of prospective purchasers, translate it into French, gather supporting documents from employers, banks, stock brokers, insurance companies, (all in english and french, no less) and then stand in line for an hour and a half outside the French Consulate. The guy inside, who collects a fee before you get to the lady who actually reads the form, said "A Long-Stay visa? Nobody ever fills that form out correctly, with the correct number of copies, etc, without coming here two or three times." Well, little did he know with whom he was dealing. I was then a partner in the Litigation Department voted number one in the nation for 2005! Harrumph. Sure enough, three months later a letter arrives informing us, ( in French, of course) that we have beaten the French Foreign office. We have won. Round one, that is. Round two was filling out more forms at the local sous-prefecture (Yes, I shaved and wore clean clothes, and will do so again tomorrow when we must travel to St. Martin for round three--a medical examination.) I'm not kidding. Assuming we pass that, we will need to pay a 440 euro tax for one year to the Mayor's office, then return to the sous-prefecture. If we behave ourselves, our visa will issue and be good for one year when it renews for only 220 euros for the year following. There appears to be no tax on Franck.
The French do love dogs, tho there are signs all about banning them from the beaches. The local dogs love to pee on those signs.

Want some local dog color? The island is, this week, chock full of people who arrive on 250' yachts. You get the picture. Of course they all must eat, so Match, the only decent size supermarket on the island, is very busy. Between the front door of Match and the parking lot is a football-field size lawn, you know the kind you see outside of most Manhatten supermarkets. On this field lives a chicken, or maybe it's a rooster, (bring to mind the Seinfeld episode when George's father, while dining with his future machetunim, philosophizes about chickens, hens, and roosters: "So if the chicken goes with the rooster, who goes with the hen? What's the matter with those hens anyway?" Ah, you had to be there.) Anyway, up drives a local with two Pointers in the car. The guy goes into the store and both dogs jump out the window, and are cruising the parking lot when one of them spots the chicken and gives chase. Man, that chicken is fast! Chicken dashes across road, dog follows, I am waiting for the feathers to fly or the cars to crash. Nothing happens. Nothing at all. Cars barely notice--very blase. I guess they see this all the time. I think this is all a game between the Pointer and the chicken. They need the exercise and their show pleases the tourists.

Btw, Franck barked at a baby goat this morning, and the poor critter got so excited he fell down and got tangled up in his lead. Pinks was this far from climbing the barbed wire fence and soothing the kid. Btw, you will be happy to learn that I am so far winning the Let's-get-a-goat battle. The smart money is on me in this one.

So the hardware store opens, and what do we buy? AN ALARM CLOCK! I thought I was finished with those. Gotta be at the dock at 7:30 am to make the 8:00am ferry to smx.

PITA trip has a bright side. No gym tomorrow. Just saying that reminds me of high school.

Oops, sun is sinking. I'm off. A bientot.

02 January 2006

Le regime nouveau

Okay, gang, here is the latest:

My Reason-for-living dared to suggest that maybe not EVERYONE was as interested in having their email inboxes cluttered with my hardware store adventures as I was in cluttering them. Sooo, here goes another great adventure in techno experiments. I read somewhere that one can create a blog in ten minutes. That's how simple it is. TEN MINUTES. I started two days ago and have been at it, I would say conservatively, about a total of eight hours, and counting. I have now succeeded in putting two previous emails in the blog, and will even try to get this one in, but its almost five pm, I need a drink cause the sun will not set unless I am on the deck with a scotch in hand, watching it dip below the horizon.

I owe it to society to be there, suitably equipped. After all, if the sun does not set, it means the earth is no longer spinning, and my conscience will not permit me to be responsible for that. If the world no longer spins, ya think the seasons won't change either? Can you imagine? You guys would be stuck in winter forever, while we here would be stuck with sun in the western sky, temperature at 76 degrees fahrenheit, mild breeze blowing.... you get the picture.

Okay, better get down there and crank up the ice gizmo on the front door of the refrigerator--its the English not the French who drink their whiskey at room temperature.

Will eat at Le Sapoltier tonite. I will even shave, that's how fancy it is. Maybe even wear a nice shirt with my shorts and sandals. Civilization.

Not that civilized, tho, cause the hardware store is still closed. Enough of this New Year's stuff. Let's get real.

Oi revoir. gotta go. Plse comment on the new format. After this, to read my stuff you gotta go to:

Not so hard. For the technically challenged, I think all you need to do is click on the above--or copy and paste it into your browser bar, then save it as a favorite, then check it every morning BEFORE you read the NYTimes. Yeah, right.

Frequently answered question: Of course you can still email me. How else will I hear from you? Email address remains: londonsbh@ wanadoo.fr/

A bientot.
I need to amend the earlier email. I called it Day 2 of my retirement. Not so. My retirement does not start until Jan 1, so to use the biblical example, the dec 30 report was really Day 2 BR, as in "Before Retirement." It follows then that this report is Day 1 BR. I realized this when, on 29 dec, I had to fill out the landing card for smx airport. Under "occupation", I hesitated, then wrote "lawyer." Still was then. Mind you, I will always, I hope, be a lawyer, but it will not be my occupation starting tomorrow.

The island continues to challenge me with crises: When I hear my beloved say, "Marty, I am not going to panic, but... " I panic. Happily, we then read the manual (Read the manual? Whoever did that before?) of the new 12,000 euro washing machine, and the problem was solved. The washing machine is way up there on the list of things most important to my ReasonForLiving. My RFL, btw, is now vacuuming the back seat of the new Jeep Wrangler because Franck sat on it three times and now it looks like Chrysler Corp has adopted Black Labrador Fur as a new interior decor option. Also, because I took the sides out and drive with the window open, there is a cloud of black fur that follows us when we drive. Unfortunately, the wind does not take it all off, and Franck adds it faster than we can remove it. If the enviro-cops get me, I'll have to sell the car and put Franck in a sealed environment.

Still busy running errands. One trip to the hardware store per day. That's my limit. I swear.

Gotta run now and pick up Rob and Sloane, who made the last-minute decision to break away and get down here. It would be nice if didn't rain for ten or fifteen minutes after they land. Of course, every rental car on the island is gone. I think they are in the holds of the yachts in the harbor. Lots of boats. Lots.

Doubless, when I really retire, I will be able to relax. Y'think?

a bientot
Aagh,the hardware store is closed! New Year's Day or not, they do not know what they are doing to me. Will have to find somewhere else to go. I know, I'll go to the gym -- a safe bet cause that's sure to be closed too. Yeah! I was right. In NYC, they say New Year's Day at the gym is one of the busiest days of the year, with all those intense IB's and IB wannabees, and their IB-mate wannabees, pursuing their resolutions about getting into that bathing suit in six months. The Great French Paradox does not involve eating cheese and avoiding heart attacks; it involves French islanders eating cheese AND eating panninis, pasta dishes, pizzas, pain au raisins, while avoiding all unnecessary exercise, and still looking like models when they show up on the beach onNew Year's Day.

Lazy day. Short walk up ridiculously steep hill, ( there are no other kinds) till knee said stop, back down hill, ice knee, read, fix Pinks's computer, ( I turned it off, then on, does wonders for the computer and my psyche) played with Picasa ( photo software trying to organize and improve last night's pix and the ones from the dec trip to Japan, etc., lunch, a loooong nap, and now watching a magnificent sky on the verge of cloud-on-the-horizon sunset. About half the boats gone from the harbor. A prize to the first reader who identifies that very bright planet (satellite?) in the western sky about 40 degrees above the horizon.

By now you have probably figured out all the obsessive emailing is my excuse for not spending the allotted time each day writing my novel. Think of this as warm up pitching, and you are the bullpen catcher. Lifts you right up there, doesn't it? The bullpen-catcher simile comes from my almost-finished reading of "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis. Excellent, convention challenging book, whether you are a baseball fan or not, tho it helps. Sort of hate to finish it, cause the genius who packed for this trip south put all my books in cartons going via slow boat, instead of airline luggage. Yeah, and I also put the boat keys in the cartons too, and have no idea what I'm going to do when the boat arrives before the cartons do. The boxes, with lots of my stuff, will be here in two weeks. That's not to long to wear the same pair of seat socks, is it? I am already becoming very French.

It's tough having so many homes..

a bientot.

01 January 2006

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