11 February 2008

Margaret

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?

NEWS FLASH:

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.

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