22 February 2008

Watch Your Language

The other day, a friend of mine who takes great pride in displaying his french-language proficiency, called a local restaurant to cancel his reservation that evening because his wife "doesn't smell good."

And when I call to make an appointment to get a haircut, I am careful to speak only English because the last time I did it in French, instead of asking for a haircut, I asked Wanda at what hour tomorrow I could come in to cut up some horses.

We do try to say a few French phrases every day. It seems whatever ground we gain, we lose over the summer, and then next winter we start all over again. Just yesterday, determined to master the French counting system, I wrote an insurance check to the local company that insures my boat. I practiced at home, wrote the check out in advance, and proudly presented it to the broker, who, like my sixth grade teacher Mrs Miano, very graciously marked up my submission and sent me home to correct it. I had to return the next day because I had been so confident I had done it correctly, I left the checkbook home. Eighteen hundred seventy three in English is not eighteen hundred seventy three in French, but "thousand, eight hundred, sixty- thirteen." Ask why and you get the Gallic Shrug. It is the eqivalent of my former secretary Edith Kaplan's response to those "Why" questions: Though it sounds much better in the original Yiddish, her answer was "Because the cat laid an egg."

The check incident is not so bad, I guess. It's doesn't compare to the time I told the waiter he could take away my empty plate because I was dead.

Grocery stores are particularly difficult. Like our supermarkets, you take it off the shelf and bring it up front to pay for it. There is nobody in the aisles to translate the labels and if you want coffee, and all they have is "café moulu", you just take your best shot. In that case, I lucked out, because it means "ground coffee, " but when it comes to everything else, you kinda look at the pictures on the labels and go with your gut. I once spent fifteen minutes talking to every employee in the store asking for "oatmeal." It appears that while the supermarket has fifteen kinds of pate and forty varieties of cheeses on display, nobody there has ever heard the word "oatmeal". Well, I guess it's the French Paradox: Forget the oatmeal; eat all the rich pate and fatty cheese you want as long as you drink enough red wine. Hey, I can do this.

A bientot.

21 February 2008

Warning: Unrecognized WinSock

Warning: Unrecognized WinSock NSP!

That's what my computer says, and I believe anything I read on the computer. Well, maybe not the NYTimes and the NYPost.

Anyway, this warning sounds serious and I wonder if I should notify the Gendarmes so they can launch a rocket and shoot down the Unrecognized WinSock. I'd hate to think something terrible will happen to Paradise if I fail to put the French government forces on alert that there is a UWS out there.

Maybe the French can borrow one of the U.S. rockets we are using to shoot down our own satellite. Interesting technology. Now that Karl Rove has joined Fox News, is there any doubt they are working a shoot-down of the CNN satellite?

On the other hand, perhaps a UWS is not a UFO. (Btw, where have all the UFO's gone? The only person around who has seen one lately is Dennis Kucinich. And whatever has happened to Dennis Kucinich? He disappearance raises the question of whether he was taken away by an Unrecognized WinSock. I wonder if the authorities are working on that. Forget the Drudge Report, you heard it here first.

Alas, I fear no extraterrestrial is involved, and that we need look no further than the usual suspect: France Telcom, which probably has again cut off my DSL service, (along with that of 7,000 other Paradisians) because something, which for sure is not their fault- -it never is- - is broken, disconnected, or otherwise mal. I would call Guadeloupe and complain except: i) I do not speak French, ii) Guadeloupe is almost always on strike, and iii) Guadeloupe, which is sort of the equivalent of the County Seat of the French West Indies, produces excellent cantaloupe melons. Period.

This may be a real test for the London Family: How many hours can we co-exist without an internet connection? This could get ugly.

I got it! Here's what we do: we sell the idea to a television network for a reality series: Boffo! We'll be original and call it "St. Barths Survival Test- - An Entire Day Without Email!" I can see the promos for the series next season on Fox (Well, I can "see" them sort of the same way that Mitt Romney "saw" his father march with Martin Luther King):"Who Cracks Up First?" "Will This Marriage Last!" "Will They Move Back North?" "Wednesday at 10!"

Hmmm...Now I am thinking we need to spruce this up a bit. I don't think it will sell unless we can get some other people in here. I know, some of the beautiful people from Nikki Beach. That ought do it. And then they won't need us. Or our house, for that matter. Just move the beautiful people into one of those $40,000 a week rental villas, take away their underwear, give them a computer with one of those non-working France Telcom modems, and film everything that happens. Tell the writers they can go back on strike! This is gold! Gold, I tell you, gold!

Remember reading about the those hearty pioneers who settled the American west? They built sod houses on their forty acres, tried to scratch out a living in that sere environment, and then went nuts because the wind never stopped blowing. Now I understand. I too am suffering here. Can't go sailing, can't go fishing, beach sand blows onto my jambon et frommage en baguette, even finds its way into my Red Stripe, and palm fronds fall into my swimming pool. Send help.

If my internet connection doesn't come back soon, I'll print this note and smuggle it out on one of the cruise ships anchored in my front yard.

Where is Al Gore when we need him? Having invented the internet, he should service it, non?

A bientot.

16 February 2008

Global Warming

At the risk of alienating most of my loyal readers up north, I thought I would tell you what Global Warming is doing to Paradise.

While New York, Cleveland, Chicago, and places on the same latitudinal stripe, are now experiencing freezing temperatures, sleet, and the whole "winter wonderland" shtick, Al Gore has struck a mean blow to us tropical islanders as well. There can be no doubt that nature is offended by his Nobel, and is determined to make Global Warming Gore look every bit as foolish as Democratic Candidate Gore looked when not only did he fail to carry his home state, but his deadly efficient campaign team managed to have thousands of aged Jewish Floridians vote for a man who described the State of Israel as "a strategic albatross draped around the neck of the United States" and of whom his mentor, William Buckley wrote, "I find is impossible to defend Pat Buchanan against the charge" of anti-Semitism.

The result, of course, was the election of DubyaTheStupid. Put aside the re-count fiasco, the disgraceful decision of the Supreme Court, the litigation, the whole ugly mess. In the end, it was Al Gore who brought us DTS.

So what has Mother Nature wrought to shame Al and make us all smirk at his recently acquired title as Global Warming maven? It may be Global, but I see no Warming: it has been COLD here for a month. I'm talking nighttime temperatures in the HIGH SIXTIES, long sleeve shirts, chinos at night instead of shorts, the whole bit. Mind you, we still sit on the beach during the day and bake in the sun, but it is not gotta-go-in-the-water-every-fifteen-minutes hot. It's just plain comfortable. Comfortable in the St. Barths sun? Sacrebleu!

And the winds are berserk. The so-called "vents de Noel", which are supposed to blow through here a week or ten days around Christmas time, have been blowing steadily through January and February. The blue waters of the Caribbean look like somebody dumped in a giant box of soap flakes. Lift the lid on your washing machine in the midst of your wash cycle, look in, and you'll know what the Caribbean Sea has looked like for a month now.

Our friends Susan and Jim Dubin came down here to sail on Bobby and Jim Aroncigs' stunning 100 foot sailboat this weekend. They were scheduled to board the yacht in St. Maarten, sail to St. Barths, anchor in the bay, and go sailing every day.

But though the boat was in St. Maarten on the day the Dubins and the Aroncigs arrived there, the captain strongly advised they fly here from St. Maarten. The channel separating these islands was beyond snotty; it was just plain ugly, with nine foot swells. Both couples flew in while the crew brought the boat across. All are now virtual prisoners on the boat. They spent one night at anchor in the very protected Columbier Bay, but they were rocking and rolling so severely, they came into the inner harbor the next morning and tied up to the quay. They did leave the dock to take C'est La Vie out for a sail yesterday and promptly after clearing the point found themselves in thirty knot winds, then encountered blinding rain squalls, and hurried back to port, their faces a touch greener than when they departed. So the Dubin's five day sailing trip morphed into two airplane flights and being tied to the dock for four days.

But shed no tears on their behalf. On Tuesday, the Aroncigs, Dubins, and Londons drank lots of good wine at a scene lunch at Nikki Beach, where had an interesting engineering discussion involving some almost-bathingsuit-tops, and on Thursday the six of us enjoyed an elegant dinner aboard the yacht. And Susan did some shopping damage as well. Mind you, this is still Paradise, and this is not an appeal for sympathy, but really, what's with this weather?

Personally, I am persuaded that Gore should give back that Nobel Peace Prize (Nobel Peace Prize? How ridiculous is that? Oh, well, why not? They gave one to Yasser Arafat.) Were he to surrender that ludicrous award, I am confident the wind would slack off, the rain would limit itself to nighttime only, the temps would get back to the mid seventies where they belong, and Hillary would concede to Barack. (Btw, doncha just love the latest Clinton Team Theme: "Sure, anybody could inspire the country and the rest of the world with words, but we choose not to!")?

So give back that Nobel prize, Al, or at least put it in your lockbox along with my social security. We need some real global warming, and I'd like it now, please.

A bientot.

11 February 2008


A picky eater. Despite the great variety of foodstuffs on the island, Margaret disdains all but one, a problem her guardian Francois wrestles with daily.

Of the three levels of Barthian society, (from the bottom up: tourist, metropole, and local), Margaret is virtual island royalty. While no record is available, she is universally acknowledged to be descended from those who lived and worked on this island when the North American colonists were dumping tea in Boston Harbor to show their unhappiness with King George's Stamp Tax.

We met Margaret yesterday on our way to the beach at Saline. For those unfortunates who haven't personally seen it, Saline is a dazzling Caribbean beach on the south side of the island. The concave shape of the quarter-mile long shoreline, bounded by green mountains , and the broad beaches of very fine white sand, all combine to stun the senses.

The approach to Saline Beach is breathtaking. From upper reaches of the serpentine road that leads down from the top of Grand Fond mountain, one gets a panoramic view of the salt flats, with the sea in the background. At the bottom of the recently-broadened-now-not-so-scary hill, one encounters one of the island's few stretches of flat terrain, a mile-long road bordering the eastern edge of some thirty acres of a complex of shallow ponds. The road boasts four of the island's more notable restaurants, and its terminus is a 40 car parking lot for beach-goers.

But that's the easy part of the journey to the beach. Park your car, load up the folding beach chairs, "bedsheet" towels, beach bag containing water, books, sunscreen, camera, cell phone, and related stuff, plus, on days when we abandon our diets, the insulated bag with beers and ham and cheese sandwiches on french bread, and start the journey on foot down a dirt path 50 yards long, make a left turn down another path equally long that leads to a steep pile of rock, which, when surmounted, offers up the oft-photographed entrance down a cut in the steep dune to the white sand and green-blue flat sea that is Saline Beach.

It was at that left turn in the path where we encountered Francois and his 23 year old donkey, Margaret. Francois was tugging at Margaret's lead, trying to persuade her to come home and Margaret, having found a clump of grass to her liking on the edge of the path, was having none of it.

The good natured Francois was, in effect, both Margaret's keeper and prisoner. She is one of the three remaining donkeys on the island, a descendant of the pack consigned to the harsh burden of carrying sacks of the dried salt raked from the ponds up the steep mountain and down to port at Gustavia. For some two-hundred plus years, the salt ponds were the island's commercial mainstay. Tourism has changed all that. The salt ponds have not been worked since 1973, and the flats are now a nature preserve.

Bottom line: At age 23, Margaret has never worked a day in her life. Remind you of anybody?

What's more, Margaret has no prospects of ever finding a job on this island even were she so inclined.

Francois says Margaret is two-thirds of the way through her expected life span and her only interest now is eating. Remind you of anybody?

Francois reports that his responsibilities are becoming ever more difficult to discharge. Margaret will eat only one specie of grass, and she eats lots of it daily. Francois's needs to find that grass, in a location that Margaret can graze. That means, of course, not on the verge of any auto roadway, not in somebody's garden, and somewhere Margaret can be tethered and left alone for several hours a day. Moreover, as the dry season approaches, the grass will be less abundant, and continued development on the island further reduces the grazing possibilities.

Margaret, of course, pays no attention to us as we chat with Francois. She is as oblivious to the affectionate pats on her rump offered up by passing beach-goers as she is unresponsive to Francois's imprecations about going home. Margaret just eats.

Francois can only shake his head and smile. "What can I do," he says, "she is my responsibility." Remind you of anybody?


Wanna know who Bill Gates supports in the Democratic primary? Go to Outlook Express, type in an email containing the name "Obama" and your spell checker will mark it as a spelling error. "Fair enough," you say, "Obama is a proper name, and could not be expected to be in the Microsoft dictionary." Makes sense, except for the fact that the suggested substitute for "Obama" is...ta dah...Osama."

A bientot.

06 February 2008

Why Does The Iguana Cross the Road?


Actually, they have zero interest in reaching the other side. On the contrary, Barthian roadie-iguanas stroll down the center of way. They do not waver toward one shoulder or the other. Their goal is not to cross the road, but to cross the motorists, some of whom actually think they have some rights to the use of that municipally owned real estate.

These prehistoric looking creatures are arrogant. Their languorous swagger says it all: "We were here first, and if we could pull up the ladder, we would, but we can't, so we need to find some way of reminding you humans of our seniority." They are uniformly successful.

This is an island full of critters. Locals tolerate them all. Mind you, they don't much love the mosquitoes, biting millipedes, 24-hour spiders (that's how long you think you are dying after being bitten by one), and scorpions (nah, not fatal, I am informed, just very painful), and, of course, rats, which, by comparison to the island's cats, are not so bad after all. So far we have discovered live or dead versions of all of the above in our house or pool, but have donated blood only to the mosquitoes.

We are among the fortunate, however, when it comes to other reptiles: We have all kinds. The small lizards, (geckos, just like the adorable green guy in the Geico commercial, except ours do not have a cockney accent) are everywhere, and quite pleasant. Nice to see them change color when they move from the grey living room wall to the brown railing on the deck. The biggest are about 3-4 inches long, and they do this thing with blowing up a sack below their chin that is wonderful to behold. I'm told it's a courting thing, and it's nice to know they feel free so to express themselves in our presence. Very French. This is not an island for Huckabee's base.

Next in line is a species of lizard that looks far less cute. They are about 6-12 inches long, lack the fearsome longitudinal saw-top crown of the iguanas, and generally will scamper away when approached by humans. Well, not all of them scamper. Le Jardin, a lovely restaurant near the airport, is the involuntary host to a neighboring fat Green Lizard who begs at table like a dog. Not kidding. He does not get up on his hind legs like the Geico Gecko, but he approaches the table and stares until his "victim" throws him a crust of bread. (Not your humble correspondent. I am opposed to pet-begging and have trained all our Labrador Retrievers not to engage in that activity and see no reason to change the rule for reptiles.)

A Le Jardin Green Lizard cousin has set up housekeeping in the outdoor bathroom off our guest room. Ricki Herzfeld has named him Lenny, and it stuck. Lenny does not yield turf. He bakes in the sun on the tile floor of the shower, and is willing to share the space while you wash at the sink. Turn on the shower and he will remove to his home (nest?) under the bathroom cabinet-sink, but otherwise he stands (lies?) his ground. The other day, we discovered he is not alone there. Why is that not a surprise? A smaller, reddish companion (Lenore) also hangs, and yesterday we spied a diminutive version of the two in their company. Ah, nature.

All these guys, except perhaps the one who begs for bread at the restaurant, are insect hunters. We saw Lenny with a millipede in his mouth. Nice. I hope they eat spiders and scorpions too. I dunno.

But I have to say, the iguanas creep me out. When I first saw one three years ago, in our back yard, I jumped a foot off the ground. He was four feet long, with a head that is a dead look-alike for Tyrannosaurus Somebody. To see one sparks instant recognition of the inspiration for Godzilla.

The Creationists err in pushing their anti-Darwinism drivel by arguing how offensive it is to think humans have descended from monkeys. Forget monkeys. They ought to focus on iguanas.

When the roadies choose to stroll, they stop traffic in both directions for hundreds of yards. (That is the L.I.E. equivalent of three exits.) There are some motorists who will exit their cars and remove the creatures to the shoulder. Run one over and you have an obligation to rush the injured snob to the vet in L'Orient. Dofie rescued an injured iguana recently and came away with scratches all over his arms because his patient protested involuntary exfiltration and struggled to defend its turf notwithstanding earlier-incurred serious vehicle-inflicted injuries.

Dofie put the critter in the bed of his truck and drove it to the vet. Most of the rest of us have cars, and mostly small ones at that. Can't you picture this? You run over a 4 foot long dinosaur and put him in the back seat of your Daihatsu for a 15 minute drive to the middle of the island? I guess you leave the back window open so his tail can hang out, right? And depending upon how injured the critter was, how would you drive, knowing that thing could just lift his head and front legs, and slither into the copilot seat while you are driving? Yikes.

No surprise--I leave the iguana removal chore to others. Turtles, yes, iguanas and snakes, no. Yes, we have a few snakes on the island--tropical versions of garter snakes. Harmless, except to tourists, in whom they have been known to provoke strokes, heart attacks, and shingles.

Lots more wildlife to talk about later, but I need to get ready for another hard day at the beach. Gotta rest up for the game.

Go Big Blue!

Yes, I know that by the time I post this the game will be over, but if my satellite reception does its usual thing, I may not know the outcome for days. Don't tell me how it ends.

A bientot.

02 February 2008

Everyday Life

Sitting in the living room watching the playoff games on our first rainy day, I use the half-time to reflect on what we do day by day. Dealing with people down here is as different from our New York life as the weather at 18 degrees North Latitude is from the weather at 40 degrees North.

A recent example in this brief report from Paradise:

Think about the last time you had a fender-bender. What was the attitude of the other guy?

We have two cars. I have managed, in just two seasons, to put dents in both of them, once actually using one car to damage our other one. Crumpled plastic and sheet metal are a part of life on this island where two-way roads are 1.5 lanes wide, and the parking shoulders are studded with tree stumps, three-foot high concrete electrical conduit boxes, and pieces of the mountain that have migrated south. A substantial number of cars on the road have no left hand side view mirrors, and NOBODY drives with their elbow on the open window ledge.

But up until yesterday, all the dings in Pinks' car were put there by other family members. That is until yesterday, when she backed out of a parking space and knocked over a motorcycle in the parking lot at the gym. Three items of note: i) the bike was parked exactly where it should have been, ii) its owner's helmet (which skittered 10 feet across the crushed rock surface of the lot) was brand new, and iii) the gym is also new, and of ultra-modern design, which means there are two stories of glass walls facing the lot in the foreground and sea in the background. Behind those walls struggled a score of exercisers observing the crash, some of whom seized the unexpected opportunity to escape the stress of climbing their lonely staircases to nowhere, and rushed down to the parking lot clucking their tongues. One who could not cluck because of his frozen grimace, was the young man who owned the bike. Uh, oh.

An inspection revealed the bike still worked, though it had now lost the right hand mirror, the body was badly scratched, but most aggravatingly, Claude's Christmas-present shiny black Darth Vader helmet is badly scored.

In New York City, the parties would now exchange licenses, registrations, insurance cards, and harsh words, (he would scowl, she would cower), and he would storm off cursing Hillary Clinton.

Ahh, but at 18 degrees North, things are different. Claude is an attractive thirty-something guy whose visage proclaims "surfer dude." And he is what he looks to be. He looks over the damage and says to Pinks, in quite good English, "Not so bad, but my helmet is scratched" and they exchange phone numbers. The next day, in response to his phone invitation, we visit Claude in his shop in St. Jean, where he sells boutique items ranging from 50 euro t-shirts to 5,000 euro ski jackets. (You read it right. That is not a typo.)

Small world. Smaller island. Today, as we enter his shop, Claude recognizes us immediately as customers of his former restaurants. Yes, that's plural. He owned our favorite restaurant in Saline, as well as a newer on the Harbor, La Vela. He has since sold both, and opened this shop, which, he admits, is a little scary because business is spotty. I refrain from commenting that I am not surprised, given that he is selling ski jackets in the tropics.

The conversation focuses, for a while, on one of his former restaurants, and why it did not do so well. Pinks mentions that her daughter Stephanie, who ate there twice, loved it. Claude lights up. "Stephanie? The gorgeous Stephanie is your daughter?" He remembers Stephanie very well. Boy does he. It's all this hip young Frenchman can talk about for the next five minutes. Stephanie, Stephanie, Stephanie.

I now face an ethical dilemma. What role does Stephanie have in the coming negotiation? Must I reveal that Stephanie is now happily married and a mother? I mean, I won't lie, but am I obliged to volunteer that information? Is it relevant to the cost of repairing the bike? Hmm.

Ultimately, the question is moot, because, as usual, the moment I yield control of the conversation, Pinks tells it all anyway. (My Reason For Living's idea of negotiation, be it cars or castles, is to say things like, "I love it, how much does it cost?") No matter, I probably would have said something about Stephanie's current status. In time. For sure. Probably for sure.

The world gets even smaller. Claude loves Montauk, and has surfed at Ditch Plains. We talk about that for a while and then get down to business. He shows me the bike parked out front, we examine the helmet, and Claude produces an absurd written repair estimate for the damage to bike and helmet. I figure he thinks I am a rich American and have never heard of the concept of negotiation. Anyway, we go through the drill: I tell him that for the correct number I pay cash, for more than that he needs to file a claim with my French insurance company, which, I think, has its head office someplace in North Africa, and I wish him luck. It takes only a few minutes, and we reach a happy resolution: I leave some euros behind and get a written release, drafted on the spot on piece of scrap paper, and assure him we will direct to his shop all our friends who may be in need of a 5,000 euro ski jacket.

Claude is happy, Pinks can go back to the gym again, and Stephanie has paid for lunch. Ah, peace.

A bientot.