19 April 2013


Preparing to depart Paradise is grueling, both emotionally and physically. Before I go, some random thoughts and experiences that point out the unique contrasts to this life.

Yesterday, I was part of a small sub-committee of the St. Barths International Property Owners Association that was invited to survey the island’s refuse disposal facility, which, before my education, I thought of as the “garbage dump.” The two acre facility is located on the verge of one of the island’s white sand beaches. It was a fantastic learning experience

I once happened upon a phrase used in connection with the slaughtering of pigs: the article described how every part of the animal is utilized for one purpose or another, and in the end the hog butchers were able to sell “everything but the squeal.”  The St. Barths “dump” environmentally disposes of everything but some CO2 that comes out of a small chimney.  It too sells “everything but the squeal.”

It was just 12 years ago, I am told, that St. Barths’ trash was simply dumped in the sea.  This island is a lumpy chunk of volcanic rock, covered by a sheath of soil barely thick enough to support its abundant vegetation but in no way can one dig a deep hole to bury garbage.  In 2001 the Collectivity, along with the help of France and the EU, built a European designed state-of-the-art refuse facility that could be the model for any community. While the residents are now asked to divide their trash into two categories, i) bottles and cans, and ii) everything else, the “dump” goes well beyond that. Everything, and I mean everything, is recycled:

The jewel of the facility is, believe it or not, an incinerator.  I am old enough to recall the time when every apartment house in New York City had its own incinerator.  The pollution was awful. If you left the window open just a crack,  black ash would collect on the sill.  Metal cans with the ash were put out on the curb, and when dumped into the trucks would leave clouds of floating ash.  The St. Barth device is a not just an improvement over its predecessors. It is a different device entirely; it is like the switch from the abacus to the super-computer.

Garbage, i.e, trash, is burned in an oval shaped incinerator that slowly turns on an axis (think cement truck). The heat (900 degrees Centigrade)from the fire in the rotating oven (you can watch the fire on one of the dozen screens in the control tower) is used to make steam that is piped to an adjacent building where it is used to distill seawater into drinking water. The ash from the burned refuse is mechanically sorted into several categories and used for various purposes here and in France, including roadbuilding, etc. All of the chemicals are scrubbed from the smoke so that nothing comes out of the stack but some carbon dioxide that has been cooled so that there is no heat plume rising from the plant that might interfere with the glide path of the small airplanes that land at the airport  just 1000 yards to the east.  When I asked how this facility could handle 300 truckloads of trash a day without my being able to smell any garbage, I was told the incinerator runs 24/7 (except in the low season when it sometimes runs out of trash to burn) and so everything that comes in is disposed of within 24 hours: there is nothing left to rot.

Every other item is disposed of environmentally as well. Restaurants segregate out their used cooking oil which is stored in a railroad-car-size tank, which, when full, is sold to a company in France that manufactures biodiesel. Cartons are crushed, baled, and sold to a plant in Florida.  Refrigerators and air conditioners, are separately stacked and sold to companies in either France or the United States for recapture of freon, etc, and salvage as scrap. Enormous cubes consisting of crushed aluminum cans, crushed automobiles (two cars a day!) are collected and sold to off-island salvage companies, etc.  Glass is ground up into two sizes of granules, one is used as a filter medium in the water treatment plant, and the other used as sand which is sold here and abroad for the production of concrete.

Enough. You get the picture.  In total, about 40% of the cost of running the facility is recovered via sales of these commodities.  And obviously the income number would be substantially larger if stuff could be removed from here by truck or rail instead of transatlantic shipping.  All that and the island’s environment is treated with the respect it deserves.  I figure ten or fifteen of these plants, sited in or around Scarsdale, Chappaqua, and the West Village, would totally solve New York City’s garbage problems, and I hope Mike gets this message and adopts the plan before he leaves the building.

Now to the mundane.

Pinks and I have come, of late, to make a nearby beachfront restaurant a  preferred hangout for lunch. The food is good, the roof leaks but not too badly, some of the tables are in the sand, a .75 litre of bottle of wine is 40 euros and a 1.5 litre bottle of the same wine is 90 Euros, (is that French, or what?) and the atmosphere is everything one could ask for:  The waitstaff is friendly and hard working, the music is not too loud (conversation is actually possible for people over 60), and the people-watching is exceptional.  Bottom line, that’s what lunch is all about, non?

So last week, while we were being served our lunch by a 24 yr. old young man who had more than a passing resemblance to a young movie/tv star whose name I am barred from mentioning, one of our companions said she had learned our waiter had several weeks earlier been spirited away after work by a female Hollywood movie star who was twice his age, and who, as chance would have it, had been married to said younger movie/tv star whose name I am barred from mentioning.  She was a guest on an oligarch’s megayacht anchored in our front yard in Corossol Bay, was having dinner at the beachfront restaurant featured in this story, and was seen departing arm in arm with the young waiter.  

Back to our lunch: everybody in our small group had consumed more than our regular rations of Clos Beylesse (the 40 euro .75 litre bottles, of course) and so I was sufficiently uninhibited as to inquire of our young look-alike, using unambiguous language, if the story about the Hollywood star was true.

Sigh, the age of chivalry is dead, and discretion was not his thing. He grinned from ear to ear and told us the details of his being acquired. We learned every detail up to the closing of the door of the her guest cabin.  Fair enough.  When I good-naturedly challenged his veracity, and said I wanted solid evidence, he took no offense, smiled, ran off, and minutes later returned proudly bearing his cracked-glass iphone and displayed several photos of the loving couple canoodling on the deck of the megayacht. Moreover, he proudly informed us he is scheduled to fly to Los Angeles in two weeks for a reunion. Inasmuch as I am more than old enough to be his grandfather, plus I was a bit wine-soaked,  I felt free to offer the advice that before he left this island he should be certain the lady supplied him with a round trip ticket. He took no offense and nodded enthusiastically. Actually, I think he was hypothesizing he might not need the return leg.  

Clearly there is something in the air here, non? Come on down!

A bientot.

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