29 April 2007

A Typical Sunday Lunch

There are said to be fifty eight restaurants on this small island. Today we ate out, but not at any of them.

The table setting was simple enough: heavy crockery plates, stainless silverware, paper napkins. In the center of the table was a large aluminum pot, full to the brim with a stew of some sort. There was also a platter of white rice, a bowl of onions and tomatoes in oil and vinegar, and a plate of French bread. Sounds like nothing extraordinary, except that I ate the stuff in the pot, two helpings in fact. The dish was fejuwada (ph) a Portugese stew prepared by our host Jaime, a stone mason. When I asked what the ingredients were, the hostess, the wonderful linguist who cleans our house and is the companion of the cook, asked if I was sure I wanted to know. I said yes and she told me. The main ingredient was white beans. Then comes the good stuff: pork snout, tripes (cow stomach) and chicken. Put it all in a pot with a list of spices I could not recall, simmer for who knows how long, and, voila, a meal for a Prince, and a stonemason, and a couple of New York City retired professionals.

The luncheon was, of course, accompanied by a little "energy" stuff. First, a cold glass of a Portugese port wine, followed by lots of cold beer, and, as a digestif, a clear form of a gasoline-like liquid that is the Portoguese version of grappa.

The occasion? Nothing special. Dina said she wanted to have us to lunch before we left the island, and we went to the charming house she and Jaime rent in Vitet. A bashful 26 yr. old Portugese steel welder who rents the other bedroom was also in attendance. I never did get his name, tho everybody called him the "Ugly Duckling"--a name in which he took great pride. From what I was able to gather, he is expecting to meet and marry and American tourist from Boston. Hey, it's a plan.

The quintet was completed by another St. Barths couple: Rebecca, a California gal who next week is marrying Orlando, a Portugese tile-setter. The three men spoke not a word of English, or French for that matter. Rebecca speaks perfect English, of course, and knows a smattering of Portugese, and Dina speaks English, Spanish, Portugese, French, and one other language, I forget which.

While the first ten or fifteen minutes were a bit awkward-- the guys spoke only to the guys-- a few beers and glasses of wine later, we got along fine. Orlando is very gregarious guy and a non-stop talker. Between sign language, cognates, and a little translation help, we did great. And there is no doubt our language skills improved dramatically the more we drank. Lots of jokes, laughing, and talk about American television and movies--McGiver, Hulk Hogan, John Wayne are very big on French tv re-run stations.

We sat outside on plastic chairs, at a round wooden table covered by a brightly covered oilcloth. The breeze was great, the guys were wearing shorts and t-shirts, the view of the garden and mountains was exceptional, and even the instant espresso was outstanding. You make it yourself. Put some instant coffee in the demitasse cup, add some grappa and a few tablespoons of hot water out of the pot in the center of the table. Who needs a coffee machine?

And just to make me feel like a real techno-moron, after lunch Jaimie dragged me into his bedroom, sat me down in front of his computer, hit a few keys, and there was his brother, in Spain, live on the screen, in a frame just above Jamie and me. The brothers talked for a few minutes while I smiled at the camera. I could make out nothing but the word "Americaine" spoken several times, and the words "Hulk Hogan", a nickname Orlando gave me several beers back. It was clear I was an honored guest, and was being shown off to Jaime's family.

How did he do that electronic magic? Duh, an MSN program. Free. Why don't I have it? Why don't I know about it? Why am I spending all those euros to talk to New York? Okay, thats it. Next year, we put the final nail in France Telcom's coffin.

So after a very slow drive home, two advils, a nap, I sit at my keyboard watching a rain squall work its way across the Carib.

How do you leave a place like this?

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