26 April 2010

Le Select

At the center of the village of Gustavia sits an open-air bar and hamburger place called Le Select. Big hangout for locals and crews off the yachts tied up at the nearby quay. Open from noon to midnight, it is always crowded. Very informal. No table service. Want a drink, go to the bar and get one. Want a hamburger and fries, go the food grill opposite the bar and place your order. The girl writes herself a note, says you are “Number Six”, and you go sit down and drink your beer until she calls your number.

As constant readers may recall, this historic place is the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

So last night, with our time in Paradise growing short, Pinks and I decided to bag the French cuisine and do some good old bacon cheeseburgers et frites at Le Select. But I went ill-prepared. Down here I generally carry no cash, just my “Carte Bleu” --my local debit card-- and ten or twenty euros to leave as a supplemental tip when I pay for dinner with the card. (When paying for dinner, one does not get a credit card receipt containing a line for tips. The server punches in the amount of the check on a portable machine brought to the table, you punch in your four digit PIN, and the machine prints out a receipt. Gratuities are included in the menu prices, by law. It is customary to leave some additional coins. I generally overtip, leaving an additional 10%.

So with the ten euros in cash in my pocket, I bought three bottles of Red Stripe, and proceeded to the counter to order the food. I got nervous when I spied a cash drawer but no credit card machine, and before I ordered I showed one of the young women at the grill my Carte Bleu, and asked if that was okay. In adequate English, the grill lady said, with a smile, “ No, sorry, only cash. Euros or Dollars, but only cash.”

Yikes. I put on my saddest face, told her I had no cash, and asked if there was not some way she nevertheless could take my credit card. She just shrugged her shoulders, smiled again, and said, “So? You have no cash? This is not a problem. You tell me what you want to eat, enjoy your food. If you don’t have the cash now, just pay later.”

And that we did.

Next morning,I ran down to Gustavia before the lunch crowd got there and said, “ I owe you money. I had none last night, and they said come back tomorrow to pay.” The lunch shift pair working the grill gave me the impression this was business as usual at Le Select. I got a shoulder shrug and a smile from both, they asked me how much I owed, I told them and paid, they smiled again, I left an outrageous tip and walked away. I too was smiling.

Everybody smiling. Ahh, just like New York City.

Leaving Paradise ain't easy.

A bientot.

16 April 2010

Wild coyotes in Paradise!!!

Saline Beach is perhaps one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Located on the southern side of St. Barths, the half-mile long crescent of dazzling white sand is unspoiled by any nearby man-made structures. As you might expect, getting there is a schlep, albeit a scenic one.

First stop is a parking area bordered by abandoned salt flats. (The salt works were closed down in the mid-sixties, putting all the mules out of work.) At the end this space is a short dirt road, ending in a fence at which one makes a ninety degree left turn, and walks 50 yards down a ten yard wide path bounded by scrub bushes shielding an almost invisible wire fence on each side of the path. Trees arching overhead shade the beachgoers. Beyond the border of bushes is typical St. Barths bramble. At the end of this path is a hill climb leading to the top of the dune and a breathtaking vista down the dune to beach and the sea.

Last week, as Pinks and I were traversing the path leading to the hill climb, we encountered a man, woman, and ten-year old boy returning from the beach. Just as we were abreast of them about half-way down the path, the boy stopped, pointed into the boundary bushes and exclaimed in a frightened tone, “Look, Ma, an animal! What is it? What is it?” Pinks and I stopped and looked too.

The upper-east-side mother looked at where her son was pointing, and shouted, “A coyote, a coyote. Oh m’god, a coyote! Don’t look at it, maybe it won’t notice us!” at which time she grabbed her son’s arm and moved smartly toward the parking area at a pace calculated to reach her destination as quickly as possible but at the same time minimizing the likelihood of attracting the attention of the carnivore lurking behind the bushes and invisible wire fence.

Pinks and I, being natural born wild animal trainers, were fascinated. We had been unaware of the St. Barths coyotes. Nobody had ever mentioned them. Nevertheless, I was fearless. As far as I knew, coyotes are small, about the size of a Spaniel, and while they are known to hunt in packs and take a small dog every now and then in parts of the Unites States countryside, I was pretty confident that individual coyotes do not attack people, especially when the coyote and the people are separated by a wire fence. So while the tourists executed their hasty withdrawal from the scene, we stood our ground and peered through the bushes.

We did not see a typical St. Barths wild coyote. What we saw was a typical adorable St. Barths wild goat, peacefully chewing on typical St. Barths wild vegetation. The floppy-eared goat was about three times the size of the largest coyote in history, had an udder the size of a basketball, and never stopped eating her bramble leaves.

The meeting was soon adjourned: East Side Mom shepherded her family to the safety of her rented automobile, Goat Mom continued chewing on her nutritious green leaves, and the Londons climbed the hill, descended to the beach, sunned, swam, and ate their jambon et frommage paninis. To avoid dehydration, they had packed in a six-pack of Red Stripe.

Moral: Even in Paradise, everyone worries about something. East Side Mom worries about being eaten by coyotes, Goat Mom worries about being undisturbed so she can eat enough to feed her kids, and I worry about whether Winair will be flying on the sad day we leave Goat Mom behind.

A bientot.