A Brief Interlude in St. Martin/Sint Maarten

Sitting on the cozy covered patio, watching a rainstorm roll in from across the bay, and scratching idly at my many no-see-um bites. A one-eared cat we’ve named Van Gogh keeps me company. Bliss. Well, sort of.

I’ve always said everywhere has its own rhythm, special magic. But I don’t really see the magic here. I mean, you really can’t argue with general island ambience. But this is one of the first places I’ve ever been that I don’t even feel inspired to find out much more about. Even with the tropical humidity, it seems bone-dry, arid, desert like–very much like Baja. I know that some people find this type of geography beautiful, but I don’t. The obligatory signs “Welcome to Paradise!” just lack credibility.

Ah, look. I’m not going to completely diss the place–there’s some good stuff here, too. It just isn’t for me.

Most of the island’s water is desalinated seawater, which is actually better for the feckless traveler–much less likely to be contaminated. But then, 85% of its food is imported, its economy is–or appears to be–100% tourism based. Cruise ships descend every few days, vomiting out hordes of sunburnt, fat Americans, who descend on the shops like a plague of locusts, buying up cheap knickknacks (made in China, of course!), jewelry, electronics. Every shop has signs proclaiming “duty free!” There’s no culture here–well, there is, but it is the culture of the almighty dollar. Basically, I’ve decided that sitting on our quiet little patio, with an oceanfront view, listening to the waves, is all I need to know about this island.

This is the first time I’ve been to the French Caribbean. I do love the lilting sounds of French transposed over the hustle of the day–shopkeepers and restaurant staff switching back and forth between English and French effortlessly. For the 8 millionth time in my life, I kick myself for not learning French. And, damn it, it’s not like I can’t, but seriously–what’s the point now? When I was born, it was still the international language, the language of diplomacy and colonial exploitation, the language of love, the most beautiful language in the world. Today? Well, let’s just say–limited range and usefulness.

My keyboard feels damp after the rain. I wondering if I’m fucking up my computer by having it out in this 99% humidity. I can’t write in the condo–the AC is blasting and it is too cold for me to be inside. But mostly I just don’t want to miss a moment of the tropical rain. I am tempted to move to the tropics just so I can watch downpours more often. I think this is the Californian in me speaking. We are predisposed to think of water as scarce and precious. Well, some of us, anyway.

I’ve asked at the restaurants, and the “locally” caught fish is actually from Anguilla. I am trying to get fresh fish–on an island–and having a hard time of it. I wonder if it’s because of overfishing. Much of the nearshore is protected by a marine park, which usually means they fished it to extinction and now are trying to save it. I don’t have confirmation on this theory, though. I’ve gathered, from asking at the restaurants, much of the fish on the menus that isn’t from Anguilla is flown in daily to stock the 500 restaurants on the island. More than one restaurant offered a catch of the day that was flown in from Europe. What is the point of flying in Dover sole from Europe so that cruise ship tourists can eat imported fish on an island surrounded by the Caribbean fisheries? St. Martin calls itself the “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean,” and I’ll give it that. If you want European food. My travel companion and I ate out every day for lunch and dinner, spending an inordinate amount of time choosing each restaurant we wanted to try–while lolling about on the patio and generally making ourselves useless.

It is low season, which is nice–nothing is crowded. The towns and shops are deserted. The waiters and shop clerks look bored, languid. Restaurants are open, but empty, or maybe one table is occupied. The hosts stand on the sidewalk like circus hawkers–offering free appetizers, free drinks, sometimes even $1-1 Euro exchanges on their prices just to lure in some patrons.

The best meal we’ve had so far was not at the pretentious 4-star French restaurants, but at a lolo, a little local joint serving up Creole food–curries, rice and peas, fried plantains. I had forgotten about rice and peas, which is really rice and beans…it reminds me of when I lived in Jamaica (and, of course, gives me some ideas for future blog posts).

I’m sitting on the the patio, watching another stormfront blow in from across the bay in Marigot. A cool gust precedes it, giving me goosebumps, then the deluge follows. After waiting for days, I finally got the torrential storm I was waiting for.

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One Response to A Brief Interlude in St. Martin/Sint Maarten

  1. nannygoats says:

    I love this post! So wonderfully descriptive. I think you’ve captured it better than I could have. Well done, my friend.

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