22 February 2007

Invasion!

The island has, as I see it, three main groups of residents: The locals, the French (Metropoles) and les Americaines. Not surprisingly, each group has social and economic interests that sometimes conflict with its neighbors. Sometimes, those issues loom large and there's a lot of buzz at the hardware store, which, though lacking a hot stove, nevertheless is the center of most good island gossip.

It is necessary, of course, to retain a certain cohesiveness in order to maintain good order and discipline, not to mention profitability and calm, among the populace. In some societies, the leadership has found it useful to forge internal cohesion by identifying a foreign threat that all citizens fear and abhor. Indeed (and I know some of you will find this difficult to believe) some national leaders have even resorted to the extreme: war with an outside power.

St. Barths, of course, lacks that option. It has no army, and if you don't count the twelve dinghies used by the local public school to teach sailing to the students, we've not got a navy either. So war is out of the question, and while the French, locals, and Americaines do bitch about one or the other, in truth they get along passably well.

But rarely have the segments of this community come together as dramatically as did last month when faced with a threat from abroad.

Perhaps you noticed the recent NYTimes piece headlined "Megastores March up Avenue and Paris Takes to the Barricades," reporting that the Mayor of Paris had banned a foreign-owned chain from opening up a store on the Champs-Elysees. Le Maire decried the "banalizaton" of the that historic thoroughfare and said the threatened opening had created a "crisis of confidence" in his administration.

Back to my home town: Up the steep hill immediately to west of and parallel to La Rue de la Republique (the main drag which runs along the eastern border of the Gustavia harbor) lies a narrow street, which unaccountably has two names, the only one of which one I remember is Rue de Roi Oscar. The street is lined with small shops not of the class and character of its neighbor to the west, where Christian, Ralph, and M. Hermes hang out. King Oscar is is where one goes to get ice cream, crepes, fresh fruit at an open air stand (early morning only), peruse art galleries that do not require a display of your Morgan Stanley account to gain entrance, and, if necessary, visit le Police Municipale.

Last month, one of the shops on Oscar was under construction. It's a heavily trafficked street because it is the only outlet for northbound traffic. As we were making our way home from a day at Gouverneur Beach, Pinks noticed, above one of the shops being re-done, a sign that read, simply, "PIZZA HUT". Sacre Bleu! A Pizza Hut defiling the crown jewel of Caribbean/French sophistication? Should we prepare now for Burger King, Mickey D's, Blimpies, and Carib Disney? Isn't it enough we put up with pasty-faced, camera lugging, inappropriately dressed tourists 0ff the cruise ships?

On our morning walks up to lookout on Point Columbier, we often see the Mayor of St. Barths, driving to or from his home at the top of the point. We waive, say hello. He's friendly, approachable, and speaks perfect English. So the next morning, Pinks waived him to a stop and asked if we really were going to endure a Pizza Hut invasion. Le Maire was outraged. He knew nothing about it. How could they do such a thing without his knowledge and permission? He would look into this at once.

Meanwhile, the townspeople boiled. At the heat of the frenzy, we departed for New York City, to get ready for the birth of Princess Audrey Viola. After overseeing that miracle, we returned to find the populace unaccountably calm, the eighth grade sailing school had stood down from Defcon 2, and the airport had changed the orange flag to green.

The PIZZA HUT sign was gone!

The frenzy had been the result of poor intelligence. Yup, that can happen here too. The WMD, in this case the PIZZA HUT sign, was a work of folk art, to be displayed in the art gallery then under construction at the site of the sign.

The lesson: When we islanders saw approaching danger, we banded together and protected ourselves without having to kill or sue anyone. Ya gotta love it here, non?

A bientot.

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