14 November 2009

Perspective

You North Americans have your worries, and we Barthians have ours.

You worry about the Goldman Sachs bonuses, and this island has no limes. Is there a connection? Has some Goldman Sachs Master of the Universe, sulking because his bonus was cut from 15 million to 13 million, decided to make up the difference by cornering the market for les citron verts so that we sunset gin and tonic drinkers would pay a monopoly price for a slice? Where are they storing them and when are they going to dribble them onto the market already? Do I spend the whole two weeks here without a single lime? Can't Ken Feinberg fix this? Why can't those guys with suspenders just do their insider trading and market rigging in New York and leave the Carib alone?

You worry about with collapse of the New York State government, and this island has a desperate shortage of parking by the harbor in Gustavia. Which is more important? We desperately need more parking space in downtown Gustavia, but do you really want a government in New York State? At least, do you want one that is anything like the one you have now? The State of New York's annual budget has TWELVE digits to the left of the decimal. Like 120 Billion US Dollars. The Collectivity of St. Barthelemy has, I think, an annual budget of EIGHT digits to the left of the decimal, and our elected governor was actually elected by the people. Brothers, can you spare a digit for a new parking area and some palm trees?

You worry about traffic moving too slowly in New York City. We recently had a total traffic shutdown. I'm not talking about slow-moving cars and trucks, I'm talking about shutting down streets in the center of town. Well, to be fair, only one street was closed. But then again, there are only two streets that comprise downtown Gustavia, and the one that was left open is a one way street going OUT of town. Clever, huh?

And, uh, this weekend there were no subways running either.

What calamity caused this total transport freeze? Hey, mon, relax, it's the Carib. They closed the streets because the streets were crowded with people standing around and drinking beer, talking, listening to a rock band, and otherwise chillin'.

Wha?

First, a brief history and geography lesson. As we all know, five thousand years ago, God created the earth, the dinosaurs, men, women, dogs, and the iguanas. They lived happily together for a while here on St. Barths and then the dinosaurs moved to America where they founded the Republican Party, and Christopher Columbus discovered St. Barths. Somehow the French swiped the island from the Portugese (or was it the Spanish?), sold it to Sweden, which sold the naming rights of the harbor to the then current King Gustav (who outbid Citibank), and once that was accomplished, sold the island back to France, and in 1949, a Swedish descendant opened a kerosene-lantern-lighted bar in downtown Gustavia, and he called it Le Select, and it was good, and it prospered, and its square meters multiplied, until the little shop came to be a large open-air hamburger and beer place at the virtual center of Gustavia, which is, by any non-geographic standard, the center of St. Barths, which is for some, the center of the Carib, if not the universe. EVERYBODY, at one time or another, has been to Le Select, including, it seems, a struggling young musician by the name of Warren Buffet, who, some years ago sang there for cheeseburgers. Later, Buffet bought his first cross-border insurance company, made several billion dollars by cornering the cockle shell and railroad market and changed his first name to Jimmy and went back to singin' and strummin'. And he was good.

Btw, I see that some older guy has adopted Jimmy's former name, but you gotta be careful about anything you read in the New York Post.

Bottom line, the real Jimmy Buffet is a long time adopted son of St. Barths. Or visa versa. Anyway, we often see his blue trawler and/or his pontoon airplane hereabouts, and he pops up now and then unannounced and strums and sings at one restaurant or another. Buffet credits the owner of Le Select as being one of his early supporters and indeed, has written one of his most famous songs about it, Cheeseburger in Paradise.

So how is this related to traffic here? Because last weekend the island celebrated the 60th anniversary of Le Select and it was virtually a "national" holiday weekend. Bands playing all weekend, and downtown, especially in the area around Le Select, was like Times Square on New Year's Eve, happily sans Dick Clark. The piece de resistance was to be a Saturday night concert by the old Warren, the new Jimmy. Buffet, that is.

We wandered downtown Friday night after eating at Sante Fe, in Lurin. Lots of people, bands playing, nice. Gustavia was a street festival.

Saturday night was the biggie, an eight o'clock free concert by the man himself, on the quai. Before the concert Pinks, I, and our friend Lee, had drinks at L'Oublier, immediately across the street from Le Select. L'Oublier is about half the size of Le Select, open on two sides, and does about 1/8th the business. Le Select had a rock band going, and L'Oublier was the perfect place to sit, drink too much, listen to the music, and people watch. The street was jammed. Everyone except the infants in strollers and tiny infants in slings (and there were some of each) was holding a beer bottle and smoking a cigarette. Some of the latter actually contained tobacco I am told, tho I have no personal knowledge.

The weather had been threatening all day. (Rain is forbidden from 8 AM to 4 PM). Nobody seemed daunted by the low-hanging clouds. Then, at 7:30 PM it poured. Hard. Ankle-deep water flowed down the street. But God provided everyone with flip-flops and they too were good. People casually sought shelter in doorways, under palm trees (can you imagine any place less likely to shield you from rain than a palm tree?) and some 20 or so stalwarts found a large tarp somewhere and huddled. (My guess is at least three children were conceived thereunder.) Those who had been sitting at tables in Le Select simply stood, turned their plastic chairs upside down, and used them as umbrellas. But nobody, nobody, went home. They all knew it would stop raining in ten minutes, and, of course, it did.

About fifty feet north of Le Select is the southern end of the quai, where the big yachts tie up stern to (for the tortoises among you, that means ass end toward the edge of the wharf). The main part of the quai is a concrete area about two football fields wide and three football fields long. It is a nice quiet place for the most part and we love to stroll there in the morning, watching the neatly dressed ships' officers and crew wiping down and polishing the immaculate steel and fibreglass toys. In the afternoons you can find many of those people drinking beer at Le Select. On this Saturday night, at the southern end of the quai, a substantial stage had been erected, bordered by fifteen foot high speakers, great light bars above the stage, a set-up you might expect to see at the Meadowlands or any other big-time concert venue. Bottom line, this was not a half-assed production.

The quai was packed. I mean packed. When someone danced to the music, his or her neighbors were involuntary dance partners. I estimate several thousand people. I am told every villa on the island was rented, all airline seats sold out, and there were not only the big ships in the harbor but lots of smaller boats that had come over from neighboring islands. I saw small-boat transoms reading from as far away as St. Thomas.

Buffet was sensational. Pinks and I got separated in the crush, but were both close to the stage. Buffet looks like a combination of Larry David and my uncle Sam. He is adorable. Lots of charm, charisma, the real deal. A personality. And great music. (Big band, 10-12 musicians). They played no technoshit, no new wave stuff, just soft rock, not-so-soft rock, some slow-dance stuff, a great mix. Buffet played guitar and sang 90% of the time. I was amazed that the audience, which was a heck of a lot younger than he, knew the words to every song (except for one from his new album) and they loved it when he introduced each song in French and English. They roared. And of course, he made special remarks when he introduced the song he wrote about Le Select, Cheeseburger in Paradise. Great night. A thrill. Even the Goldman Sachs guys on the back decks of their yachts were seen loosening their neckties and holstering their Blackberries. My guess is they were even wiggling their sockless toes in their Guccis.

Not a drop of rain fell during the concert. It wouldn't dare.

Having spent from 6-8 pm drinking at L'Oublier instead of eating, we old folk were starving when Jimmy finished at 9:30, and we were lucky enough to get a table half block down the harbor at L'entre'act where we could eat pizza, drink red wine and still listen to the back up band that played on for another hour after Jimmy ended his show.

Going home that night, of course, meant walking about a half-mile to Public--the community immediately to the north of Gustavia-- to get to where we had parked the car. The rain held off until we got home, then it poured.

Sunday. I think I recall Sunday. We had earlier made a firm date to have lunch with Lee at La Plage, and laced with Advil, the three of us did our duty. Our favorite beach bar did not disappoint. The holiday atmosphere was infectious. The two bottles of red wine and the excellent seafood didn't hurt none, either. While we did not dance on the table, as did the large group of neighboring lunch-goers, we enjoyed their floor show. I briefly chatted with one of the revelers when he sat down next to me while composing a wide-angle photo. He told me he was from Paris and had come over for the party weekend, while the others in his group lived here and "were crazy, definitely crazy." He was very jealous.

In truth, I enjoyed the impromptu dance show even more than the fashion show put on by the stunning young lady who wandered among the tables modelling filmy beachwear from the La Plage store. (What did you expect, she would wander around naked? Well, close, but not quite. Think about it: no profit in naked. Naked is for AFTER the sale.)

Oh, yeah, on Sunday night, while the Giants were pissing away their lead in the fourth quarter, we were thankfully diverted by a great fireworks display mostly visible from our deck. Who does not love fireworks?

What a contrast to the Big Apple. With all the throngs, the only police in evidence were a few of the local guys directing traffic-- of which there was none, of course. No belligerent drunks, no fights, nobody ended up in the water. Huh.

Ah, the relaxing Carib.

Gotta go now. Today is a perfect St. Barths day,--breeze, warm sunshine, and happily the morning hill climb is behind me. Off to the beach. It's my job.

A bientot.

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