07 February 2010


Scene 1. So there we are, feet in the sand, enjoying a Sunday lunch on St. Jean beach at La Plage restaurant, une bouteille de vin rose sur le table, when an American woman of a certain age sitting at a table adjacent to ours stands up quickly, turns, and urgently addresses a younger woman sitting with friends two tables away, (aussi avec une bouteille de vin rose sur le table) "Your child, your child... is down by the water ... alone!" The mother swivels to see her toddler walking, toe deep, parallel to the shoreline, and (perhaps just to please the American) calmly rises, walks the 50 feet across the sand to the edge of the gentle bay, takes the little girl's hand, bends down to have a few words with her, and then returns to her group, and her vin, leaving the child to continue to wander and play at the water's edge. The agitated American huffs and puffs at her personal rejection, and clucks something I could not quite discern to her luncheon companions. Later, when she returns to Scarsdale, she can entertain her ladies who lunch with with acerbic comments about "Those irresponsible French."

Scene 2. Last year, Corossol Beach: I am returning to shore in my rubber and plastic dinghy, having tied my fishing boat to its mooring buoy 100 yards off the beach. When I am in two or three feet of water, I kill the outboard, tilt it up, and secure the pin that keeps the prop out of the water. But I have never mastered the art of powering in at just the correct speed, killing and raising the engine, while the dinghy still has enough momentum to glide up onto the sand. I clumsily drop off the side of the dinghy, and as I struggle with the boat floundering in the wash, a young French father, who had been playing with his 2-3 old son in the shallows, comes over, to help me beach the ungainly beast. (Perhaps he had seen me fall off and get soaked on prior days. I dunno. Surely if he did not, everyone else on the beach has.) I look nervously at the child. "Your son knows how to swim"? I ask with a smile. "Naturellement," he shrugs while pulling the bow up on the beach. "Good thing," I say. "Well," he shrugs again, this time with a grin, "he has no choice. Look at where he lives."

Scene 3. La Plage restaurant again, on another Sunday. Several tables away, a large group of what I would call "middle age" (i.e., just barely younger than I) locals gathers for a birthday luncheon celebration. Magnums of vin rose on the table. Lots of noise, laughing, swaying and bouncing to the disc jockey's artistry. Flitting around the group are a handful of children, ages three to thirteen, in bathing suits, some of the little girls topless, some are wet from the sea, others neither, orbiting like moons around the planet grouping of relaxed and happy adults. What's missing here? Where is whining? How come no children are crying, or demanding treats from their parents who ignore them? Where are the raised parental voices directing their children as to what they should or should not be doing, where they should go, directing them to "play nice with Claude"? Hmm.

Scene 4. Thursday afternoon at Flamands beach, an out-of-the-way half-mile long stretch of white sand, reflecting the painfully bright mid-day sunlight. Aside from the grouping of occupied chaises and umbrellas in front of the Isle de France Hotel at the extreme eastern end, (even there, beach cellphone talkers get dirty looks) the beach is barely populated. Every twenty-five yards or so as la plage gently curves west, one or two people sit or lie on towels, reading or sleeping, the only sounds to be heard is the hiss of the small breakers at the shoreline on this flat day. Then, into this garden of Eden, bounding out of one of the manses that border the strand, come five Americans, three men, two women, mid-thirties, the men with lots of hair, the fit women showing lots of skin, loud conversation, boisterous, into the surf they go, and then, standing waist deep in the water, they talk about their business, their friends, last night's party, at a volume level such that all within hundreds of yards can not avoid hearing how very important these visitors are. They clearly regarded themselves as the only people in the universe; everybody else was a nobody. The "nobody" sunbathers looked up from their books, interrupted their naps, and saw and heard the message: the Americans (based on the pony tails and afros of the white males, I am betting west coast) have arrived, and they were taking no prisoners: For the next seven days, this was THEIR island, they paid for it up front and they owed nothing to anybody, not money, not courtesy, not civility, nada. So we grind our teeth, confident the boors will soon leave the beach, doubtless off to an expensive lunch at the Isle de France. One hopes it will be a leisurely one.

Scene 5. Late in the afternoon, two days later, a retired New York City lawyer sits on his front deck, looking out at the advancing rain squalls, watches as the pair of volcanic cones that comprise the island of Saba disappears from the horizon, observes the rise in wind speed as evidenced by the new density of the whitecaps and the increasing length of the arcs scribed by the mast-tops of the anchored sailboats, and the lawyer's freewheeling thoughts go back to these scenes. Is it possible, he wonders, to transplant even the smallest bit of the essence of one culture to another? If so, how? He has no clue. Perhaps the answer will be more apparent with the assistance of Monsieur Tanqueray. Hardly confident he will succeed, he decides to give it a try.

A bientot.