21 November 2010

Death in the Jungle

Perhaps you missed it, but the U.S. national news last week carried the story of the death of Sister Eugenie Blanchard, who was, at her death, 114 years old and believed to be the oldest person in the world. She was born in St. Barths and died in St. Barths. Really.

Cause of death was not announced. Personally, I believe it was global warming.

Every sentient person knows that Al Gore had it right: every time it rains, (or doesn’t rain, depending on which side of the aisle you sit) Global Warming is to blame. And for sure, St. Barths has had record-breaking rain for two months. People here say nothing like this has been seen for thirty years. Of course, the locals who say that know as much about Global Warming as does Mr. Gore, but hey, he has a Nobel and they just live and work here and they do not give Nobel medals for that.

Anyway, even Gore, who for all I know has never been here, (and I hope he never comes because I will never forgive him for losing the election in 2000) would be able to take one look at this place and recognize the island has had an extraordinary amount of rain in the last 60 days or so.

What has this to do with the death of Sister Eugenie Blanchard? Well, I am really not sure, but using GlenBeckian logic I think I could easily connect them. Basically, you write Sister Eugenie’s name on a whiteboard, write “ Lots of rain” and “Global Warming” to the right of it, draw an oval encompassing all three phrases, shed some tears, and there it is. The logic is ineluctable. (Could any of you prove there is NO relationship between Sister Eugenie’s death and the by now well-established link between heavy rain showers and Global Warming?) You cannot argue with science.

Anyway, for readers who i) have been here in the past, and/or ii) plan on coming, or iii) have not been here but should come (definitely not you, Al!), I offer up this report on weather and its effects in Paradise.

After hurricane Earl hit the island 2-3 months ago, our house manager emailed us that though we had some minor water intrusion (wind-driven rain seeped in under doorways, stained some rugs and drapes), we had no material physical damage, but the high winds had devastated the shrubbery on our island, trees and bushes were stripped bare, and gone was the privacy we enjoyed by virtue of the belt of green between us and our neighbors. Ugh.

But though Earl’s successors brushed the island without a direct hit, the rains never stopped. Heavy downpours, day after day, week after week. As a result, carpenters on the island (every person who owns or can borrow a saw and a plane is a “carpenter”) are now working overtime; one out of every three doors on the island is swollen shut, window sills are rotted out, exterior paint is peeling off concrete walls as well as the wooden ones, deck and driveway lights are shorted out, --a mess. Saline, a flat area on the island where 50 years ago locals worked the salt ponds was under water and the people who lived there left their cars on the upgrade and rowed to and from their homes.

Frequently, hurricane damage on St. Barth’s steep hillsides takes the form of rock slides. When the mountains get soaked to an extreme, a chunk of the surface loses its grip and we get mud and rock slides. We worry about that a lot, and in fact a small chunk of the mountain above our house gave way a couple of months ago but the rocks and debris were stopped by the concrete and stone retaining wall we built immediately upon taking possession. What the previous owner was thinking I have no idea.

Pinks and I arrived on Monday -- in the rain. The airport is busy, busy, busy. Not with flights, but with painters, carpenters, electricians. They are spiffing up the terminal, boxing in the steel poles, building wooden screens, adding stone planters, re-doing the immigration and luggage areas, all in a mad rush to get it done by Christmas. The timetable looks impossible to me, but Le Presidente is an accomplished executive and I would not sell him short.

Tuesday’s agenda called for tick surgery followed by grocery buying. Neither went well. Hurricane Tomas, though hundreds of miles from here, had kicked up huge swells in these waters. The St. Barths harbor was closed. Freighters had not been able to dock for days. Add in the strike in France and the result is a grocery store without groceries. We did manage some boxed UHT milk, cheese, a French bread, and, of course, Tanqueray, but that’s about it. On balance, not so bad.

The rains stopped in the afternoon, leaving behind dark threatening clouds, so we did what any sensible non-working St. Barthian would do: we went to the beach. Surprise: there were lots of people there, visitors and locals alike. Everybody is desperate for some kind of return to normalcy. And there is nothing more normal in Paradise than going to the beach. The sea is quite warm and we re-discovered what we already knew: you do not need sunshine to fall asleep reading a book on the beach.

On Wednesday, we actually had some sun and a fantastic sunset. Beautiful. On our walk up the mountain in the morning, we discovered the island is weeping. There is water pouring from rocks, running across the road, down the road, everywhere. We generally avoid walking in the rain because the concrete on older roads here is worn smooth and very slippery when wet, but there we were, sweating in the morning sun, walking on the wet sections of the steep hill as one would walk on ice: slowly, putting the whole foot down at once, keeping your arms out for balance like a tightrope walker. Ah, the tropics.

Scheduled our first NYC visitors of the season on Friday: Dan Leffell and Julie Damonkos coming over for cocktails and then dinner out at Santa Fe. We told them to arrive here at 5:30 p.m. to catch the last of the beautiful sunset from our deck. It is poured all Friday morning and we thought the likelihood of a sunset to be tres slim, but the ocean swells had subsided, there was some stuff on the shelves in the stores, and we would at least be able to eat and drink. But they had the charm, sun came out blazing at noon, a gorgeous beach day, and a fantastic sunset.

The most significant aspect of this place right now, aside from the frantic energy of the 110% full speed ahead push to get the villas, stores, hotels, roads, etc ready for the Christmas season, is the lushness of the island greenery. Whatever may have been the conditions in August, the months of rain have turned this place into a jungle. We have never before seen the mountains so green, swallowing up the houses on the steeper slopes. Those who are not employed fixing up the villas and the airport are busy hacking away at the vegetation overtaking the roads. Two-lane roads are now one and half lanes by reason of encroaching greenery. Beautiful, and a little scary too.

Oh, yeah. Our neighbors are invisible again. Now if only I can get the electrician, the carpenter, the refrigerator guy, the locksmith, and the stonemason to come and repair water damage …. Ahh, we should be so lucky.

To heck with it. Another hot sunny day. Off to Flamands Beach, some sun, and a nap.

A bientot.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home