04 November 2011

Paradise Re-found

Ahh, the joys of international travel. It ain't easy getting to Paradise.  No wonder the private jet crowd likes it so much: there are few of the rest of us who can put up with the 19th century travel shit.  As if the body cavity searches ordered by Osama before he met his just reward are not enough, it takes a placid state of mind to deal with the other stuff.  Placid state of mind?  That let's me out.

Much of our travel woes are the fault of our children.  We usually spend a week here in mid November for a break, to find all the problems wrought by the summer rains, and to get em fixed before Christmas.  But this year, because Sloane and Robert have no consideration for their elders, there is a grandchild-to-be, who, like all the others, refuses to consider our scheduling issues when fixing his arrival date. Result: we decided to come down early so we could be back home for the expected mid-November birthday.  This means we had to travel down here before the switch from EDT to EST.  Ugh. I will explain.  Be patient.  Or not.

Getting here:

American Airlines has no direct flights to SXM in November, so unless we wanted to hang in Miami and/or San Juan, and make this one-day trip into a three-day tour of AA's departure lounges, we needed to fly someone else's airplane.  Continental flies direct to St. Maarten from Newark, but when you read of the airlines crying poor mouth, please note that my application for two seats to SXM, filed weeks in advance, was rejected unless one of us was willing to sit in the toilet.  Way too small for me, and I was afraid to suggest it to My Reason For Living. 

The only other direct flight NYC-SXM was on Jet Blue. Great airplane, but it leaves at noon EDT, which means arrival at SXM at 3:30 pm Atlantic Time, which, until Sunday, is still the same as EDT.  Huh.  Wouldn't ya know it, but the last Winair plane SXM-SBH was at 4 pm and that one was sold out.  Of course it is sold out. It's the only working airplane they have.  Why?  Al Gore will explain:  Global warming!  Y'see, because of higher temperatures in South America, the notorious Frammus beetle is multiplying like crazy, and Frammi love rubber trees. The result is a worldwide shortage of rubber, which has led to a worldwide shortage of extra-large rubber bands, which means Winair can get only one rubber band for its "fleet", and after each trip to Paradise it takes a long time to re-wind it.

Not to worry. Ever resourceful, we booked a 5:30 pm SXM-SBH fast ferry, which required check-in at 5:00. That ferry leaves from the Dutch side of St. Maarten, the same town as the airport.  So we had plenty of time between the 3:30 Jet Blue arrival and the 5 pm ferry check-in.

Not so fast, buster.  In the Jet Blue terminal in NYC, we we ran into our friend who lives in Paradise but had spent a week in NYC. She assured us we would never make the ferry because the road to the ferry slip was under construction and the taxi ride was 1.5 hours minimum and the Dutch customs shack at the ferry closed down at 5pm sharp.

So on the plane down from JFK, while Pinks was blithely chatting away with a lovely lady to her left, I spent three and a half hours grinding my few remaining teeth at the prospect of getting stuck in St. Martin for the night. That made for very relaxing flight.

Our plane landed in SXM on time at 3:30 pm.  Can you guess what was the very last piece of luggage off the carousel?  I wore out a pair of sneakers pacing.

At the taxi stand at four pm, we found lots of drivers and vans waiting around.  We announced our intended destination. All the drivers shook their heads. "No way, mon. No way. Road construction. Traffic. One and half hours minimum."
There was one capitalist van driver in the crowd:  "Don' worry, be hoppy.  Get in."  And we did.  The guy drove me nuts.  He put two other couples in the van and dropped them off first! I was dying. He was relaxed. He knew what the others did not: there is a back route to the ferry slip. Made the trip in 50 minutes flat and we beat the clock by a full  ten minutes.  Relaxing huh?

We did have to wait a half hour on the dock before getting on ship. (Notice I said "ship", not "boat."  It's a close call.)  But there was no snow on the dock, the sun was already low in the sky, and we enjoyed chatting with a young woman who had taken three airplanes just to get this far so she could spend five days in Paradise.  And the refreshments from the dockside bar didn't hurt either: Is there any way rescind Al Gore's Nobel prize and give it to the person who invented Red Stripe? I was already in Paradise and I hadn't gotten here yet.

The trip across was easy, and we arrived to our welcoming villa.  Tanqueray in the freezer, tonic in the refrigerator.  Unpacked, showered, and off to Le Repaire for dinner across from the docks. Un verre de vin with my mahi-mahi. Outstanding. Fell asleep in the car on the three minute drive home. (No, I was not driving.  At least I don't think I was driving.)

The villa is wonderful. As expected, a few small problems: no deck lights, no fan over dining room table, no wifi downstairs, frogs in downstairs toilet by the pool, car still smells from last year's feral cat (I foolishly left windows open when parked by a garden wall last  year while dining at L'Isola), outdoor coffee table rotted into sawdust, as did teak chaise in back garden.

All manageable.

Wifi fixed now, electrician comes tomorrow and will repair lights and fan, we will go shopping for a new coffee table, (Pinks has been campaigning to throw out that old outdoor coffee table since we bought the house. I  always found enough metal angle irons, brackets, screws, and epoxy to keep it going as long as we put no heavy cheeses on it and put the wine bottles on the deck.  This year, rot won. I'm done.  New table it is.

Now, what to do about the tiny frogs who live in the first tank of the septic system, (or the cistern, I am not sure) and occasionally swim up into the toilet bowl in the half-bath on the deck by the pool?  I dunno.  They are small, harmless, even cute, but they leap amazing distances when disturbed.  More than once I have missed the bowl in mid-stream when a critter jumped out from under the lip of the porcelain fixture.  And that's with seat up yet.  And sitting on the seat when a frog jumps? Whoa, I cannot even imagine that.  Actually I can. Pinks had that experience last year and I am certain they heard the shriek in downtown Gustavia.

So, two choices so far.  You think of a third, let me know:
1) Exterminator who kills frogs who live in cesspool tanks. Or cisterns.  Is there such a person?  I dunno.
2. Restaurateur who wants to capture the critters and serve up a new St. Barths special, "Frogs Legs a la toilette." Not sure about than one either.

My final note: some arcana I just learned re Best Seller lists in the New York Times:
The data printed in this Sunday's newspaper is two weeks old!  Yup, the November 6 list reflects sales for the week ended October 22.  Stephanie's book, "The End of Normal", which had been published but three days earlier, had already made the lists. (#5 in ebook sales, #9 in print and ebook combined, #25 in hard cover print.  And here is the inside scoop from the November 13 New York Times list: #3 in ebook sales, #7 in ebook and hardcover combined, and, ta-dah, #7 in hardback alone. Yikes.  A fitting tribute to Mark.

Gotta run. I don't want to be late for my massage.

A bientot.