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.

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