05 January 2006

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.

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