27 April 2006


Now comes the hard part: readjusting to the New York City intensity that is simply absent in Paradise.

We went out to dinner last night with two wonderful friends. The four of us were eager to catch up, and we went to an old standby high end restaurant on the East Side. I could barely hear the table conversation—at our table, I mean. The noise in the restaurant was overwhelming—it was like having dinner on the subway. Not six inches from us was a table with four women who seemed to be competing with each other for the loud-talker prize. My vote went to the blond-haired X-ray of a certain age. Yeah, right. That description matches about half the women in the restaurant. I especially liked the part when her cell rang, and she got up from the table to have her conversation. But she didn’t go outside—she just stood next to us with her back to her companions (and facing us, head bowed, finger in one ear, phone to the other) and conducted her phone conversation in a voice calculated to be heard over the ambient din. Headache city.

While I did not recognize this woman, it is my hypothesis that she is the owner of the cell phone that rang and rang during the rabbi’s sermon at the funeral we attended this morning. I deduce that cell must have belonged to a woman, because it rang six or seven times, consistent only with a frantic search in the jumbo suitcase New York City women call purses. And that is probably why she didn’t turn it off when the rabbi, at the begining of the service, specifically asked people to turn off their phones—she didn’t turn hers off because she couldn’t find it in her luggage.

One of our companions asked if the noise issue wasn’t the same at the restaurants in Paradise. No even close. Almost all of the restaurants we go to have no walls, high ceilings, and a person-per-square-foot ratio about one-fifth as dense. And most have plants, pots, trees, in and around the dining room. I’m not saying the restaurants in Paradise are dead quiet…I mean we do get a lot of Americans down there.

Upon leaving the classy east-side restaurant, I stopped in a chain drugstore to buy a small bottle of Advil. The line at each of the two cashers was long. Why? The store was not so crowded. Ah, the cashiers were the problem. One of them had fingernails so long they rendered her hands virtually useless. The other behaved in a manner calculated to make it plain to all observers that this job was obviously beneath his capacity for contributing to society’s weal, and the presence of the customers lined up before him was somehow an obstacle to his deserved ascension to a post considerably north of this miserable station.

Certainly these cashiers were not being compensated for efficiency. Or even monitored for that quality, is my bet. What’s more, they neither smiled nor spoke with a charming French accent. I would have settled for either one of the two. There’s the difference: attitude. Generally speaking, people on the island are happy to be in Paradise, and it shows in everything they do. There is a softness about the edges that is absent here. These drugstore cashiers were sourpusses, and they brought all their customers down. Not fatal. None of the customers commited sepuku after paying for their Mylanta, but the negativity was certainly noticeable to someone not inured to New York City ennui. It’s clear that if I am successfully to re-enter, I must start snarling at children and kicking puppy dogs. Or vice versa.

But that was yesterday. Today is a new day. Sun is out, and the air is warming. I walked down to 1st Avenue to catch a bus up to Sloane Kettering to give some blood. The First Ave bus—one of the those monsters consisting of two busses joined by a rubber boot, was just at the bus stop, which is in the middle of the block between 49 and 50th streets. In fact, the driver had just started to pull away from the curb--I would say his front wheels were maybe three feet from the curb, and he was stopped because the light had just turned red. I walked up to the door, and gently knocked. He looked at me the way I look at sbh centipedes, then looked away and sat there for 60-90 seconds before driving away leaving me standing there. I guess he is pissed because his union is about to be bankrupted by fines for their illegal strike last Fall. Y'know, he deserves his misery. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

See, I am adjusting already.

A bientot.

23 April 2006

Guantanamo and Culture Shock

The only disappointment in our first St. Barths season was the rough seas. It was always a tough day on the water, and made fishing a real chore—especially when, after all that work, we still had to go to le supermarche to buy our dinner. But the seas did flatten out, and the Carib became a lake—two days before our departure for New York. By then, we had travel chores up to our eyeballs, and all we had time for was to look at the flat sea and pledge that next year we would stay longer and get one or two of those “summer” months on the water. The conundrum is that the flat water season is in almost perfect confluence with the hurricane season. At 17 degrees North latitude, the hurricane season starts in June. So while I am in the process of taking my boat out of the water for the hurricane season, many locals are just putting theirs in for the boating/fishing season. Oh well, if you want to win the lottery you gotta buy a ticket, and if you want to be in Paradise when the sea is calm, you gotta go there when the sea is calm. Seems reasonable enough when you think about it.

But for reasons that escape both Pinks and me, we came back to NYC on 20 Avril, and we’ll deal with it. The trip was not nearly as difficult as we feared. All our concerns centered on Frank, the 75 pound aging Black Lab,who would make his second-ever lengthy trip in the cargo hold of an airplane. This time, however, he was to be loaded at the southern end of the journey, on a very hot day, and was in his kennel somewhere in the un-airconditioned American Airlines cargo area at Princess Juliana airport for an hour and a half before take-off. What’s more, the charter pilot on the sbh-sxm trip had insisted that Frank be in his kennel on that earlier plane too.

Frank was much calmer than we throughout the entire day-- even when we went through the absurd procedure at JFK: When AA delivered the kennel at the luggage carousel, we let Frank out. He pranced, drank some water, and was delighted to stroll about on his leash while I chased down our suitcases, which I then loaded on the trolley ($3 apiece? What happened to free?). We proceeded then with two trolleys, one with bags, the other with Frank’s empty kennel, until we approached the customs officer who takes your confession about the cost of the T-shirts you bought for your grandchildren. The uniform insists that Frank be in the kennel when crossing his station. So back in the kennel goes Frank, the customs guy takes our paper, we walk about 25 yards to the doorway, and Frank is sprung again. I sleep better knowing Homeland Security is ever vigilant. You can never tell, I mean suppose Frank was really a Hamas dog trained at an Al Queda camp in the Gaza Strip, to attack Homeland Security officers charged with the responsibility of checking on foreign t-shirt purchases? That’s right. Keep em behind bars. I am only grateful they didn’t send Frank to Guantanamo.

You want culture shock? So we are out at the curb waiting for our ride. The scene outside the AA international terminal is pure New York. It is a new terminal, and designed for efficient passenger pickup by private vehicles. Therefore, no private vehicles are permitted in the roadway adjacent to the terminal to pick up passengers, efficiently or otherwise. (Only yellow cabs are allowed there—you know how available they are when several jumbo jets arrive in a short span of time .When our flight discharged some 200 passengers to the curb, there were eight cabs.)

Passenger vehicles are permitted to load their passengers only on the other side of an island. But not really, because they cannot wait there for their passengers. There are two uniformed guys blowing whistles, waving lighted wands, arguing with drivers to keep the area clear of cars. (Actually, only one of them was doing that. The other was, for 30 minutes, chatting with a comely lass illegally stopped at the curb waiting for her mother.) But all the other drivers were permitted to stop only if their passengers were already waiting at the curb. If they were not there, the driver was required to drive all around the airport and come back, cruising very slowly, one hand on the wheel, one hand holding the cell phone, one side of his mouth talking on the phone, the other arguing with the traffic pushers.

All this would be solved it there a close-by garage or lot. There is: A huge garage immediately across from the terminal. It is closed. Locked tight. Hey, it’s New York, right? This is the place of non-functioning parking garages and back-up tram generators..

Back at the loading curb there is an almost universal mismatch of cars and passengers. It is a perfect fury. The Port Authority has figured out how to keep EVERYBODY angry at everybody else—except for the smiling guy hitting on the babe in the unlawfully parked car. Beautiful. What talent it must have taken to accomplish this. Now and then the airport management is frustrated by a passenger actually hooking up with his ride. But not very often.

There was a sweet elderly couple--for these purposes “elderly” means “fifteen or more years older than moi”-- waiting at the curb with us. A long wait. They had only hand luggage and looked as if they had been in some sunny place for a few days. When their dial-car finally arrived, we were treated to this touching bit of Big Apple dialogue:

Sweet Elderly Gentleman: Why weren’t you inside waiting for us, with our name on a placard?

Driver: I was told to pick you up at the curb.

Sweet Elderly Gentleman: Who told you that?

Driver: The dispatcher.

Sweet Elderly Gentleman: The dispatcher should be shot.

Now Pinks and I are still so inebriated with our island experience, we watch all this as if in a thorazine-induced state of relaxation. Our own driver got LOST in the airport, and found us one hour later. If I said we were relaxed about that, I would not be far from the truth. I certainly was not the lawyer of recent incarnation who too many times stood outside an airline terminal, or an office building, or a courthouse, railing at the dispatcher because my car was ten minutes late. A different Martin London. Vivre la difference.

Because the airplane was two hours late, and the driver one hour late, there was no traffic back to the City. The trip took 50 minutes. That is the first time in four months we have been in an automobile for more than fifteen minutes!

Obviously while were away, some awful catastrophe has happened to this metropolis. Honey, they shrunk our apartment.

Ah, we’ll adjust to it all. I’ll probably be back to normal in a couple of weeks and be snarling at the taxi drivers and, for that matter, all the drivers who cross my path. But for now, believe it or not, when I walked to the office yesterday, I did not dodge busses and cabs, I crossed at the green not in between, and actually paused to look at an interesting brownstone which has been on my route for ten years but which I never before noticed.

At the office, many ask the same question. After the obligatory greeting to anyone over 70 who still moves under his own power, “Gee, Marty, you’re looking great,” comes the question, “So how does it feel to be back.” That one is really hard. It’s very much a mixed bag from the first minute of the day. Taking a shower and letting the water run while you are soaping up seems criminal. It certainly is guilt-inducing, especially when you think about the fact (and I do, obsessively) that the water going down the drain is ultimately going into the sea and not being used again for irrigation, as is our waste water in Paradise.

And getting dressed is so much more complicated: In Paradise there are three pieces of clothing: bathing suit, t-shirt, and flip-flops. That’s it. For the beach, add a straw hat.
Now I must deal with socks, hard leather shoes, underwear, pants, belt, shirt, tie, jacket, and I carry keys, wallet, credit cards, etc. I suppose if it rained I would have to add a coat and/or umbrella, or maybe both. I feel like the only thing I am missing is my cartridge belt and steel helmet.

And day Two, at Westhampton, was rainy, 42 degrees Fahrenheit, and, in case you hadn’t noticed, there is definitely something wrong with the sea here: it is dark gray in color. Yuch.

A bientot.

17 April 2006

God and Alcohol

I am a firm believer that alcohol is an important part of one's daily diet, and take cover in those studies that show drinkers (less than five drinks a day was the outer limit in one study Danish study—that's the one I focus on) live longer than abstainers, I do try to start no earlier than cocktail hour—which is officially 4 pm Atlantic Standard Time. The only exception is lunch, at which a beer or two, or a glass of rose is acceptable. But as we prepare to return to civilization, circumstances have conspired to move the drinking hour earlier and earlier.

The French workers love their beer in the morning. When we rented a house in St. Jean, Jesse would walk across the road to the café for his morning coffee. He marveled at the guys sitting there drinking beer while Jesse was having his eye opening morning espresso. When I do my exercise walk in the morning, I often see the road workers sitting and eating their paninis at 9:00 a.m., drinking their Scheafer beer. (I had not seen a can of Scheafer beer for scores of years before I came here. I thought it was long gone, like Piel's, another Brooklyn beer--remember Harry and Bert?. But there it is—the choice of working men all over the island. I wonder if any of them ever heard the Scheafer jingle "Scheafer..is the..one beer to have when you're having more than one." Those of a certain age not only remember those words, but the tune too, I am sure. Did they sponsor the Brooklyn Dodgers radio and tv broadcasts? Along with Old Gold cigarettes? I think so. I can hear Red Barber talk about an "Old Goldie", i.e., a home run, and I think Scheafer beer too. I always wondered what the jingle meant. Less alcohol? More alcohol? Hmm. Intentionally ambiguous? Intentionally meaningless? Probably the latter.

The day starts early here. The rooster who lives next door, ( no I "chickened" out and did not wring his neck) is scheduled to start up around 6 a.m. and he is rarely late. There are days I am starving at noon. The other day we were bemoaning the fact we were soon to depart Paradise, and decided to hit Saline beach by 11 a.m. We brought a cooler with sandwiches and beer. We were like fishermen: the cooler was empty before noon. Two beers before noon, a swim in deliciously clear Caribbean Sea, and a nap on the beach at 1 p.m. Hey, what's wrong with that?

Yesterday was Easter Sunday, and we again went to the service (9 a.m.) at the Anglican Church. It is a beautiful 150 year old building, cooled by the harbor breeze which comes in the big front doors and blows out through the shutters in the wall behind the sanctuary. The Vicar,-- the former investment banker-lawyer from London who now owns the Isle de France hotel-- led a great ecumenical service, and his sermon focused on tolerance to all religions, all minorities, especially gays and those with HIV-Aids. He is way out in front of most clergy in the United States, that's for sure. He invited everyone, not just the Anglicans (who, I was confident, were a minority in that packed church) to come up and accept communion and I was one of very few who didn't accept his offer. But it was a nice service, Pinks loved it, and the church was filled with good feelings radiating from happy people. At the end to the service, the chorus sang again, and this time the hardware store clerk led the chorus in a rousing, foot stomping, hand clapping number that must have been right out a Southern Baptist Revival songbook. She brought the house down. The chorus, led by hardwarestore lady then did another hand-clapping number as they filed down the center aisle, followed by the Vicar and the sanctuary team, and the place went wild.

Upon departure from the church, I shook hands with the Vicar who was greeting all his congregants on the church steps. I thanked him for the lovely service, and we chatted a bit. His interest picked up when he learned I lived here. He is ever so charming. He said he was pleased I liked the service. I said, "You know, Vicar, (I never called anybody "Vicar" before. Have you?) it was a really great service, nice singing and all, …but for this Jewish boy from Carroll Street in Brooklyn, there was a really a lot of stuff about Jesus and God, and that stuff, and I was sorta wondering if maybe you could go a little lighter on that kinda thing next year?"

Nah, I only thunk it, but I didn't say it. I mean, after all, it is a church, and it was the holiest day on the Christian calendar, and the rest of the crowd (including MRFL) seemed to be right there with him, so, being the good guy I am, I let it slide. I certainly did not want to offend this nice man, in which case I would have felt guilty about partaking in the champagne and sushi then being served on the beautiful lawn outside the church. So there I was, at 10:30 a.m. drinking alcohol in the morning again. And that is my message:

God made me do it.

Btw, Easter is very big here. Much more so than in the U.S. On St. Barths, the holiday starts Friday noon, and includes Monday. Locals have an interesting custom: they camp out on the beaches. Not drunken brawls. Families, young kids, living in tents on the dunes, cooking over small charcoal stoves, spending the days in the sun on the beach and in the water, using their inflatable sleeping mattresses as play floats. We took the boat around the island yesterday afternoon, and there are several small beaches on the southern coast that are accessible only by water, and they are dotted with small tents, with boats bobbing at anchor 20 feet off the shore. What a lovely custom. Only in Paradise.

I'll be happy when Tuesday arrives: the bank will be open and I can drop in and quietly carry on again about the latest wire transfer that has gone astray. It is difficult even to make believe I am upset. Ah, I love it here.

A bientot.

11 April 2006

The Eleventh Plague

No, we are not attending a Seder this year. I'm sure there will be several of them sprinkled about this island, but let me assure you there ain't no gefilte fish or matzoh on the shelves at le supermarche, and while the Anglican Vicar leans toward ecuminism, if his church is running a Seder, it is being done under deep cover. (As an aside, there is precedent for that. On both Aruba and St. Thomas, there are centuries-old synagogues with no floor, just sand. They were built that way to hide the fact they are synagogues. But you read that in the NY Times too, n'est ce pas? Anyway, no signs of Inquisitors on this island, so far.)

But just because we have no Manischevitz, does not mean we lack seasonal reminders of The Exodus. While the sea has not turned to blood, and so far there is no evidence of locusts, boils, hail, or an unusually high death rate among first-born St. Barthian sons, we do have drought, frogs, lizards, rats, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, flies, mosquitos, and Hummers.

And with the approach of Passover, an eleventh plague—well, not quite a full-blown plague yet—has made an appearance. Here are the facts:

Last week, we were resting on the chaise lounges at the pool after a hard day at the beach. Emily (age 8), and Hannah (age 5) were bouncin' around in and out of the pool while the grownups were discussing whether 4:30 was too early to start drinking. ( It may be in Cleveland, but definitely it is not on St. Barths. I needed to explain that to my daughter.)

The deck surrounding our swimming pool is made of 6" wide horizontal boards, which are screwed to longitudinal stringers, which, in turn, sit on horizontal 2x4's, which sit on ground. The deck boards are a dirty brownish grey in color, and are laid with a 1/8" gap between the boards, so if it ever rains again on this desert island, the water can drain off the deck. Immediately adjacent to the pool, there are hatches in the deck ( for skimmers, electrical connections, etc) where the gap between the boards is about ½ inch.

Liz and I were on the lounges talking, Pinks was in the kitchen putting salmon on the crackers ( Pinks and I were having cocktails whether Liz got converted or not) when Emily calmly said, "Oh look, Grandpa, there's a snake on the deck." We looked. Then Liz ran into her bedroom and slammed the door. Sure enough, sticking up through a gap in the boards, about four feet from where we were sitting, was the head and neck (do snakes have necks?) of a small (I would say a diameter of about one inch) brown snake. He was very still. Seemed relaxed to me. Like he heard us talking about cocktails and figured if he were quiet he could cadge some hors d'oerves and no one would notice.

The girls were delighted. Pinks, not exactly a snake fan, stayed in the kitchen. Liz was considering what to stuff in the crack between her bedroom door and the floor. Emily, elaborating on her discovery, said, "At first I thought it was a lizard, then I saw his forked tongue. Cool."

"Cool" or not, I knew my duty. I was the man of the house. It was up to me and
I rose to the challenge.

First I calmly asked the snake to leave. He did not flinch. Then I dangled a towel over his head. No result. I let the tip of the towel brush his head. He retreated. Success. I was about to declare us officially snake fee when he stuck his head up again. Same spot. Hannah was worried, "Don't hurt him grandpa, he's harmless!" She was right, of course. I had read somewhere that there are no poisonous snakes on this island, but how did Hannah know that? I repeated the towel tickle, and the serpent again retreated. After about ten snake-free minutes, I sounded the all clear, Pinks brought out the salmon on crackers, and Liz had a vodka on the rocks.

I wasn't sure we had seen the last of the critter, and emailed our house manager Dawn who has a six-year old son, Garrison, who LOVES this stuff. It is Garrison who takes all our prize dead spiders and centipedes to school and shows them off. Dawn phoned immediately. Garrison was home from school with the flu (damn northern tourists), but begged his mom for permission to come over and try to catch the snake and take him home to HIS house which apparently is short on snakes this year. As soon as I found out Garrison wanted the snake so badly, I wasn't so sure I wanted to let him go, and told Dawn I would stay with the status quo for while—after she reconfirmed that the snake was harmless, of course.

A week has gone by and the snake so far has not returned. Garrison the snakeboy is biding his time. I guess he figures that sooner or later we'll be visited by locusts or something and he will be in demand again.

Oh, yeah, I have since learned the snake is a garden snake, and eats insects, frogs, and mice. He is indeed harmless, unless you are one of the foregoing. He is considered a good luck charm. No wonder Garrison wants mine.

Happy Passover, happy Easter. Gotta run and take the boat out before the sea turns red.

A bientot.

08 April 2006


Once upon a time, I thought of a bucket as being a pail. Lots of uses. You put water or sand in it. Or maybe bluefish. Or maybe even sit on it, which side up depending on why you are sitting on it. (22' open boat--think about it.)

But I have recently learned a new definition: a Bucket, with a capital B, is a meeting of super-size sailboats, coming together so the crews can drink, race, drink some more. They have Buckets in places like Newport, Nantucket, and for the last eleven years, St. Barths. This year there were 30 boats in town for the better part of a week.

For one reason or another, we have not before been on the island for the weekend of The Bucket. Boy, did we miss out. Not this time, however. Fantastic.

The boats are simply gorgeous. From afar they are inspiring. Upclose they are breathtaking.

These ocean going sailboats, ranging from 70-180 feet, have remarkably little freeboard, i.e., they sit low in the water. Each one is a museum piece. The hulls all look like they were painted yesterday with the shiniest of enamels. The decks are flawless teak boards that flow fore and aft with the shape of the boat. (Because the boats sit so low in the water, when you stand on the quay, which is about six feet above the waterline, you are actually looking down on the boat, or at least at eye-level with the deck). All metal boat parts aside from the hull and the white masts (aluminum? carbon fibre?) appear to be highly polished chrome over brass. Wood is varnished mahogany. Lines are neatly coiled (I think the nautical term is "faked") on the decks, with dozens of additional lines neatly coiled in that familiar figure-8 pattern, hanging from every available place on the mast, boom, stays, etc. And get this: on most boats, there are no railings, no lifelines, nada. Walk off any edge of the boat and you go into the sea, nothing to hinder your progress in that direction. How these people stay aboard under sail I have no idea.

What struck me as a motor boater who is always sure he is about to run over something or somebody, and therefore always looks where he is headed, is the position of the helmsman on these beauties. On most of these boats, he has his choice of two steering wheels, one to port, one to starboard. They are huge,—maybe four or five feet in diameter. I assume this has to do with leverage in moving the huge rudders on these ships. The helmsman is located in the cockpit which is about 80% of the way back from the bow. And the cockpit is actually a "pit", really a hole in the deck. What's more, the cabin roof is in front of the cockpit, so when the helmsman sits in his seat, he can see nothing at all except, I guess, his wheel and his compass and his electronics. He might as well be steering from below decks. This explains, I think, two wheels. The helmsman sits or stands on either the port or starboard edge of the cockpit, and uses just the 9 o'clock, or the the 3 o'clock rim of the wheel to steer. This way he can peer around the side of the cabin, along the edge of the boat. When under way, he stands on his seat so he can have some visibility over the cabin roof as well. In any event, forward visibility is not a high priority in the design of these boats.

The crew: I am not sure how many people it takes to run these things. For The Bucket, there are lots of friends, friends of friends, and other visiting firemen aboard. I counted 28 people on deck of one the boats as it left the harbor.

(We have a sensational view from our deck. The boats come out of Gustavia Harbor under power, raise sail abreast of Corossol--that's us--and then sail around, warming up in our front yard. Fantastic. Huge masts, I would guess the length of the boat, or maybe larger, mainsails, spinnakers...wow.)

At least for the the Bucket, all crew members are in uniform, with matching shorts, shirts, and hats. All fun color combinations imaginable are utilized. Lots of lime green, pink, etc. No one was dressed all in white, except the harbormaster who supervised the docking and undocking procedures, which is, in itself, a hugely complicated bit of choreography.

I am told that many, or at least some of the boats allow the public to come aboard in the harbor. I missed that this year. It will not happen again.

For The Bucket, the Harbormaster requires the large motor yachts that normally occupy the long northern edge of the harbor, to move to the other side, so the the sailboats can dock all on the same side, stern to. The northern edge of the harbor is the side where the Gustavia main street is located, and there is a large acre-sized plaza at the quay, with a sort of huge three-sided open enclosure, with a stage area as well.

From late afternoon through late evening, the plaza is the scene of a great party. Bands play, bars are set up, hundreds of crewmembers, and would-be crew members gather, drink beer, tell lies about their sail from New Zealand, etc. Gawkers like me are free to mingle, feeling inadequate but nevertheless privileged to be there and absorb the atmosphere. Osmosis is great stuff.

Pinks usually walks Frank in Gustavia Harbor on Sunday mornings, avoiding the beaches where she is technically not permitted to be with the dog. She said the Sunday morning of The Bucket weekend was extraordinary. Crews quietly cleaning up, people on deck drinking coffee, talking to neighbors on either side, thirty magnificent ocean going yachts swaying gently in the harbor swell. Frank, of course, had the time of his life. Can you imagine the smells!

The boat everyone talks about is Endeavour. She is 140 feet long, has an extraordinarily sleek shape, and has a remarkable history. Built in England in 1934, she was at one point sunk, sold for $1 for scrap, and then rehabbed totally. I have seen her at the quayside and under sail. Next year I am going to find a way to get aboard.(Btw, I googled her. She is available for charter. $65,000 a week. Seems like a bargain to me.)

To give you an idea of the informality of this gathering, a young woman of our acquaintance here told us she was fascinated by the yachts and last year went to the quay and asked if she could join the crew for The Bucket weekend. They said yes and she spent three days aboard one of these superyachts.

With all the millions spent getting here, staying here, etc, the actual "race" part of the weekend lasts only two days, Saturday and Sunday. Though this has been a very windy season so far, both days produced a very light wind, too light to move these behemoths at any reasonable speed, so they just noodled around in our front yard instead of circumnavigating the island as scheduled. (The race is really a time trial. The boats do not leave at the same time, and there is a handicap system that has not been explained to me and which I am sure I would not understand if it were.) On Sunday, there was the added complication when visibility totally disappeared for a half hour in a rain squall off Columbier Point. The squall had very precise boundaries. Two inches of rain fell on Columbier point, two miles from our house. We got zilch.


What a thrill just to watch this process. There are 30 boats to be docked, and quay space is such that each boat is docked no more than 3-4 feet from its neighbor. Each boat deploys fenders (inflated rubber teardrops or cylinders) which on these boats are about four feet long, maybe 2 feet in diameter, with the teardrop shaped ones being fatter. The fenders are covered in an immaculate cloth cover, usually navy blue. Anywhere from six to ten fenders are hung on each side, suspended from lines that are adjusted to the height and shape of the adjacent boat. When the boats are finally tied up, the fenders frequently come in contact with the adjacent boat because of the swell in the harbor.

Given the space and other considerations, boats are required to dock in sequence dictated by the Harbormaster. Docking "stern to" is really a work of art. I have watched this process from both sides of the harbor which is about 400 feet across. To dock stern to the northern edge of the harbor, the helmsman puts the bow of his 150' boat within 50 feet of the southern edge of the harbor. When he is directly abreast of his spot on quay, (the Harbormaster in his whites is standing exactly at that spot) he drops his anchor-- itself a shiny work of art, weighing I would estimate a couple of hundred pounds, attached to what I would guess is a thousand pounds of chain. Remember, the helmsman can see very little here. He watches a crewman standing on the bow who communicates solely by well rehearsed arm signals telling him how far he is off the southern concrete quay , and when he is exactly abreast of his place on the north quay.

Once the anchor is down, the helmsman backs his ship around so that it is now stretching directly across the harbor, and lined up with his ultimate spot. As he backs, he lets out anchor at the same rate of the ship's movement astern, no more, no less. He regulates sideways movement of the bow by using a thruster (a propeller in an underwater tube that runs laterally across the bow), and sideways movement of the stern by using the engine(s). I am not sure of what use the rudder may be here. Rudders are relatively little use going backwards, at least on motorboats, but sailboats have much larger rudders.

Because there is a prevailing easterly wind that wants to push the boat sideways as she backs to the north, the crew may employ its dinghy on the lee side of the boat to apply pressure and keep her backing in a straight line. It is really very much like the tug boats helping to dock an ocean liner.

Every crew member has his or her assignment. Most crew members are assigned to do absolutely nothing during docking. The ones working are, i) those assigned to deploy the fenders, ii) two crew members at the stern ready to heave the light line that will be followed by the heavy dock lines, iii) a crew member at the stern who will use arm signals to inform the helmsman of his stern clearance), iv) the guy at the bow still giving arm signals, (I think now informing the helmsman of his clearance to the ship already at the dock, and also the attitude of docking vessel, i.e., is he coming straight in, or is he coming in an angle, --and he may also be letting out anchor chain--I'm not sure who is responsible for that) and, of course v) the helmsman who is in charge of operating the steering wheel, the throttles, the thrusters, and he is, of course, ultimately responsible for the safety of the ship and all aboard her, as well as neighboring craft.

Everybody else is still. Not a word is spoken. Not a peep. No one screaming, "Watch out, we are too close" or "Come left, come left!" ( That last is my favorite: The helmsman is facing forward, backing up, what the hell does "come left" mean anyway? That's what I have to put up with from family members on my bucket.)

Mind you, these guys, in a 150' boat, are simultaneously docking and anchoring ( I simply can not conceive of doing both at the same time). Either one of those activities on Fish Faster is usually accompanied by a fair amount of voice commands--a diplomatic desciption of our communication practices. On Fish Faster, a voice command almost always yields one of two responses,"What did you say? I can't hear a thing!" or "Why are you shouting at me?"

Okay, so the boat backs in. The crew on the adjacent boat is moving about, constantly adjusting their fenders as their new neighbor arrives. When he gets to about six feet from the quay, the helmsman applies some forward throttle, checking his backward progress, the aft lines are put ashore and looped over the concrete and steel bits on the quai by the harbormaster, the anchor line is tightened a bit to reduce the possibility the ship will lurch backwards in the swell, and when all is secured, the harbormaster moves on the the next assignment, and I can relax. I can only watch one or two of these dockings in a day. The strain is too great.

Oh yeah, I left out the best part. When the docking boat is about to drop her anchor, virtually all activity in the harbor ceases. After all, there is not much harbor freeway remaining: the ships already docked stick out some 150+ feet into the harbor, and the docking boat is about as large, leaving only about 50 feet of water on either end of her, and she is moving, albeit very slowly. Several dinghies from other yachts in the inner or outer harbor are idling, not wanting to get too close to this maneuvering giant, when from within the harbor, appears an eight foot Walker Bay dinghy, with two occupants: a young woman rowing the boat, with a 3-4 yr old sitting on the back seat. She calmly rows past the docking ship. No panic, no hurry, no hesitation, just graceful unhurried strokes as she glides on by as if she were on the lake in Central Park. The icing on a delicious cake.

A bientot.

Beaches, II

Okay, sabbatical is over, and we are back to telling it like it is:

Where were we? Oh, yeah, at Nikki Beach with Bill Gates. Well, I didn't go up to him and ask to see his passport, but there was he, or his twin brother, sitting at a table with what looked like an up-tight group of businessmen. No, there were no nieces at the table. Why do you ask?

Aside from Nikki Beach, St. Jean East is pretty much like Airport Beach, just no airplane watching, not as noisy. Otherwise it's the same beach.

Columbier Beach

At the northwest end of the frankfurter, the land forks and the result is a gracefully curved bay and a white sand beach named Columbier. This beach is sensational. Natural dune, vegetation, great protection from the wind and waves, gorgeous. Just one small problem: There are three ways to get there, none of them simple.

1. Most people at this beach are off the boats anchored or moored in the bay. It is a well-protected harbor and probably the best place to spend the day at the beach if you're on a boat. Sensational. Shore has some great rock formations so that in addition to plain old sand and water, there are little pools, eddies, the whole exotic thing. You can find some shade if you get there early and get behind one of the big rock formations. Boats in the bay vary from 20 feet to 200 feet.

2. If you drive to the end of the road to Columbier Point, there is a rock platform that has a tableau set in stone that names all the islands you can see from there. There are about ten of them, St. Martin, Anguilla, Forchue, and others. After you have taken in that breathtaking sight, just walk about 200 yards down a path and you come to a field with a worn track. Make that right turn and in about 50 yards you find yourself in a ridiculously steep descent through a jungle. No kidding. Very hard work. Hand over hand, holding onto vines and saplings, stepping over big holes, rocks, scary sweaty stuff. And that's on the way down! After about 25 minutes of that, you arrive at a field leading to the beach. Of course by then you are soaking wet, your arms and legs are scored from thorns and branches, and if you are a young woman of my close acquaintance, you are barefoot because you refused to listen to moi and you did this in stylish rubber flip-flops, one of which broke one third of the way down.

When you get down to the beach you then must decide what to do now: i) swim, laze in the sun, at one of the premier beaches in the world, or ii) take a drink of water and start back up the trail, wondering why you bothered to come down since you didn't choose i). Ah, the satisfaction of doing your own tropical version of Everest, that's why.

We have done this route three or four times, none since I have reached the age of reason.

3. If you drive your car to the end of Flamands Beach, and park there, you will see a path cut into the lower part of the mountain you surmounted via car and descended on foot in option 2. This is still a healthy walk, (a sneaker walk, not a flip-flop walk) part of the time grasping rocks and stuff, with wonderful views of flowering cactus, crashing surf below, islands on the horizon, and even includes some shallow caves en route. Take your camera. The walk takes about 30 minutes if you are me, about 1/3 that if you are a seven year old french child in sandals. In all, the walk is easy enough so you can enjoy a couple of hours on the beach without stressing about the return.

We interrupt this travelogue to bring you a slice of island life: I am punching this out on my laptop at the dining room table, which is really outside, barely under a pitched roof. What I mean is, when it rains, if the wind is out of the south or the west, we get wet. Just east of this area is the living room- no wall separates us. And north of the living room is the kitchen, some walls but mostly not. Ceilings are vaulted--about 20 feet at the apex. What this means is that when we are outside of our airconditioned bedrooms, we are essentially outdoors, mostly protected from the sun and rain. The only way to close all this in is with accordion pleated metal hurricane shutters.

So this morning when I went into the laundry room behind the kitchen, also vaulted ceiling, with a doorway leading to the kitchen and another leading outside, as I leaned down to get a liter of water, I saw a dark-hued creature about six inches in diameter sitting on the floor. Boy, did I jump. Too small to be a "squirrel", too large to be a bug. Perhaps a curled up iguana? Nope, turns out to be an exhausted hummingbird, deep purple feathers, long curved beak. Flew in and can't get out, because it instinctively flies to the top of the ceiling, flaps its wings against the beams for 60-90 seconds, and then sits,exhausted on top of one of the beams or on the floor near the water bottles. I am paralyzed with indecision. Try to help by catching the delicate critter in the pool net? Risk of injury is too great. Will it break a wing against the beams if I do nothing? Ah, I guess the mantra has to be "Do no harm." Me and Dr. Kildaire. Anybody remember him? Back to the beach. I will do nothing and report the denoument as soon as I have one. (Denoument: Several hours later, he (she?) gone. Either flew off or eaten by a cat, or snake, or rat, or my next door neighbor. I dunno.)

Lorient Beach:

An eastern continuation of the "Anse de St. Jean", the jug handle which is the concave part of the frankfurter on its northern perimeter. Lorient (some confusion here: road signs say "Lorient" but some map and other designations say "L'Orient." Seems to me the latter is correct, but who am I to tell these people what to call their island?) Nice beach, a little wider than those to the west. We have been there in previous years when we rented villas in that area. Emily calls it "Beach-glass Beach" for obvious reasons. Why that section of the Anse is so full of beach glass is a mystery. But there it is. So much of it that it loses its value, sort of.

Flamands Beach:

This northern beach, on the western end of the island, is gorgeous. Wide, gracefully curving, often windy, the only beach that has a semi-reliable "surf." For that reason, it is Stephanie and Robert's favorite. We have friends with teen-age boys who would not consider going elsewhere.

The beach hosts several hotels, mostly clustered on its eastern end, the most famous of which is the Isle de France, a very high end hotel, owned, interestingly enough, by the island's Anglican Vicar. M. Viernickel is a movie-star handsome fiftyish UK lawyer, who, before he "retired" to this island, was a UK lawyer by training but an investment banker by vocation, in London, . When we chatted last Spring at the the Easter Egg Hunt for kids, (The Vicar, having just finished presiding over the Easter Mass, was still wearing his black collar, but had removed his black robe, under which he was wearing a respectfully clerical pair of black shorts. Where does one buy such things? I assume there is a shop, or internet site, where one can buy clerical garb, but clerical shorts? ) M. Viernickel is as charming as he is handsome, and has won the hearts of not only the Anglicans here,--a distinct minority to be sure -- but of many of the island's Catholics as well who reject the rigidity of the island's only priest.

Anyway, the good Vicar runs a very successful hotel, which has just constructed new units which are being sold as time shares, or something like that. That's the new wave here, I guess. The Grande Dame of hotels on this island, The Eden Rock, is doing likewise.

Flamands, and many of the structures on its upland edge, were demolished by the hurricane of 1995. When Pinks and I first came to this island some 12 or 13 years ago, we rented a charming villa on this beach. We loved it so, that after our week here, Pinks wrote a letter to the Washington D.C. woman who owned it, thanking her for renting it to us. The owner said, "You're welcome. Why don't you buy it from me?" Alas, we declined. The villa survived the hurricane, but the two protecting beach dunes were destroyed, as was the swimming pool that separated the master bedroom from first dune. The hotels have long since been repaired and rebuilt, the beach has returned (I am not sure whether nature had some help or not) and the concrete shell of a 20 unit two-story condo, which remained a derelict eyesore for ten years, has now been sold, demolished, and is being replaced by two private homes.

For the most part, Flamands is bordered by small rental villas and tiny hotels. The beach, except in front of the large hotels on the eastern end, is mostly vacant, except for a few renters here and there. It very much reminds me of Westhampton Beach in that regard. There is not much place to park, but then, for reasons that elude me, there are not that many people that choose to go there, so it all works out nicely. I would say Flamands is by far the most spacious and underused beach on the island, especially considering its ready accessibility via auto.

Shell Beach

The only beach one can walk to from "downtown" Gustavia. It is just a few "blocks" from the harbor. Some anomaly in currents, or structure of the bottom, or I-don't-know-what, dumps a zillion small shells on this beach, so in many spots you are walking on shells, not sand.

This is strictly a "local" beach. It is immediately adjacent to the school, and local moms bring their kids there in the afternoon. One of our guests accused me of being a "dirty old man" cause I can not take my eyes off the my favorite mom, the one in the black string bikini that is one size too small, and who occasionally changes into and out of the bathing suit on the beach. Pinks agrees she is one of the most beautiful women we have ever seen, (and we have seen a lot of her!) in every dimension, from every angle and therefore, as far as Pinks is concerned, I am free to ogle. Indeed, MRFL ogles pretty good too. Hey, it's Paradise, remember?

Shell beach is somewhat smaller than the other beaches, tends to be more crowded, and is backed up by the restaurant Do Brasil, informal, some tables on the sand where you can get drinks, a nice open covered deck where they serve lunch and dinner, one of the more reasonably priced restaurants on the island. When we go there these days for lunch, the waitress, who has some English but not much, smiles sweetly and says "Ah, two club sandwiches, n'est ce pas?" Recent publicity re Yannick Noah's son, (MVP, Florida Gators, winner of March Madness tournamentment) has yielded the info that pere Yannick is, or was, co-owner of the place. So that's why there is big poster with his picture on it! All this time I wondered.

Grand Cul-de-Sac

Anse de Grand Cul-de-Sac is a small but deep dent in the northern shoreline of the island, east of Lorient. The Anse has a long narrow (6-10 feet) beach, bordered by restaurants and hotels, great and small. Adjacent to the charming Gloriette Restaurant (Creole menu) and its first cousin outdoor CocaLoba Beach restaurant (picnic tables in the sand, large-leaved trees providing shade,) is the famous, or infamous Lafayette club, home of the $100 hamburger. That is, of course, an exaggeration. I have seen the menu (gaping in from outside, on the beach, not from a table inside the beachside restaurant.) and I feel the need to set the record straight. First of all, the Lafayette Club has no hamburgers on the menu. Second, there is not one main course over 75 euros. And class is worth paying for, right? In the Lafayette Club, the waiters are not barefoot.

On the other hand, there are no nine-euro paninis either.

When Jesse and Freda and the kids were here, Jesse and Zach several times rented jet skis at a place down the beach from CocaLoba and we would meet them there for lunch. Zach, the international adventurer, would always order a hamburger and fries. On the third visit, the waitress said she was out of hamburgers, and Zach was persuaded to try a ham and cheese panini. He took two bites and turned to his father and said "This is tbe best sandwich I have ever eaten in my life. You mean I could have been eating these from the beginning?" Now that is what I would call an endorsement.

The beach also has a number of smaller hotels and motels which I think are reasonably priced, and at the western end, the newly re-built Sereno Hotel, and at the far western end, the newly renovated Hotel Guanahani, one of the high end hotels on the island.

Grand Cul-de-sac is protected by an extensive reef system. The water is not only flat, is is uniformly about 3 feet deep for several hundred yards out to the reefs. The place tends to be windy and it is the home of kite boarders and sail boarders, many of whom are talented and acrobatic, providing a great floor show while you are eating lunch.

In all, this is not a place you would come to go to the beach. There is only about six feet of beach between the property line and the water's edge, and the only people who use it as such are those in the adjacent hotels who utilize part of their property as an add-on to the beach. ( All beaches on St. Barts are public, and all have designated public access ways.)


Public is the center of industrial activity on this island. A dozen acres on the shore west of Gustavia, Public is home to the island's garbage dump, incinerator, electric generation plant, water desalinization plant, the commercial dock which lands all island cargo, a cemetary, the crushed-auto graveyard, sand, gravel and concrete yard, oil and gasoline tanks, and an overpriced restaurant popular with American tourists. Between the commercial dock and restaurant, directly across from the dump is a charming little beach, bordered by palms and other greenery. The sand is pure white, the water clear green and blue, and the beach is home to lots of small boats. Indeed, this is the home of the sailing school attended by all the island kids. And, most importantly, it where MRFL and Frank go for their walk every morning. Frank loves it there. Especially on Monday mornings, before the beach gets raked and cleaned, and before all those panini crusts left over from Sunday's family picnics get removed. Frank is 12 now, and for the each one of those years, Pinks has been urging him to be true to his heritage and swim. Frank, on the other hand, thinks his heritage is those little old ladies I recall from Rockaway Beach whose idea of swimming is to go in knee deep, and pour handfuls of water down the front of their black one-piece bathing suits. Hey, it's what makes him happy, right?


Our area's own little beach. Small in all dimensions, very local, beautiful beach facing west, backed by a seawall. It's where the Corossol locals, (including nous) keep their dinghies to row out to the small boats moored in Corossol Harbor. And where Corossol families take their kids on weekends. The houses on the other side of parking lot bordering the beach include one or two in which elderly women weave straw hats by hand, and leave them out on the wall in front of their house should a tourist stumble down to Corossol. Almost none do. In fact, when people familiar with the island ask where our house is and we tell them Corossol, they most often say something like, " I've been coming here for ten years, where's that?" We say, "Never mind."

When I row my dinghy ashore from Fish Faster, I need to drag the 80 pound boat across about 12 feet of sand before I get it to the seawall. Usually, at mid-day, there is nobody present. Infrequently, one or two women are sunbathing. More infrequently, a guy is there, alone or with a companion. More often than not, the guy will get up and help me drag the boat to the wall. Just like in New York.


There a number of other areas that have what might fairly be called "beaches", but are unattractive for a number of reasons involving lack of sand, rocky shores, lack of easy access, etc.

Besides, I am really tired of this travelogue, and need to move on to other subjects, like Buckets, snakes, and maybe even dentists, we'll see.

A bientot.