A Postscript to the Ash Scattering.
It was mildly disappointing, after my mothers successful burial at sea ceremony, to pick up one of my back issues of the New Yorker and learn that theres a website called www.oceanscattering.com. It had passed through my head that a brand new entrepreneurial opportunity might have dropped into my lap -- scattering parental ashes, in absentia, for guilty Yuppie children, in this idyllic tropical setting, over jewel-bright aquamarine waters and from aboard what could be billed as a luxury yacht, especially with the creative use of the wide-angle lens and unlikely as it was the children would ever attend.
This is not the first such reverie. New business ideas and clever products the world can longer can afford to live without are a particular specialty. In many cases I went way beyond the reverie stage. "Oh, God, Moms into another one," my children would moan as Id throw myself passionately into the next new venture, certain it would make millions though to buy what I was never sure. Maybe striking it rich is just an American pastime, our national business sport, a 20th century version of the Alaskan Gold Rush.
I always said my ideas were too early, but the kids maintained, "too ridiculous." Judge for yourself.
There was the humorous PMS book my friend Judy & I worked on for 6 months, circa 1975. "Rags to Bitches" we called it It even included a fold-out board game that started in pimply puberty and ended in blissful, if wrinkly, menopause.
"No woman would consider this a laughing matter." "Clever, but no thanks." "Pre-Menstrual Syndrome? Not a subject we can deal with." "Too risqué and too risky," are excerpts from the rejection letters we got and by the way all written by male editors. Nowadays, of course, you can pick up a book called "Smut," if I recall correctly [Editors Note: actually - the book is called "The Book of Filth" which I read to Louise on an Antigua dock, doubled over and fuchsia with laughter -- Wendy] actually - the book is called "The Book of Filth" which I read to Louise on an Antigua dock, doubled over and fuschia with laughter -- Wendy] : a compendium of eschatological nicknames and lewd euphemisms for a host of body parts as in Breast, Anus, Penis as well as basic human functions Toileting, Sexual Diversions and the like. By comparison, PMS is tame -- and was, in fact, done to death in ensuing years.
Shortly after "Rags to Bitches" came Buddy Bands, an idea for do-it-yourself friendship bracelets that adolescent girls could make for their best friends. Mattel passed on it, though I am convinced they eventually marketed a version of this product sufficiently different to ward off any lawsuits. "Probably," I grumbled, "in their heyday, Buddy Bands ranked just under Barbie in Mattels profit makers. (Alternately they contributed to the companys recent and humiliating downslide.)
Then came the solution to the dilemma of the far-sighted -- how to locate your contact lenses when theyre swimming invisibly in their case. Gary designed a lens case with a geometric design at the bottom, which would distort a lens floating above making it simple to pluck out a lens and pop it into your eye. I called this product "Eyes Here," (names were always my long suit) and we sunk a hefty sum into patenting it. Not long after brought Bausch and Lombs attention to this common predicament, they remedied the situation by ever-so-slightly tinting soft lenses, thereby consigning our untold fortunes to the graveyard of good ideas at the US Patent Office.
My next corporate presentation was to McDonalds, which was not only a new sandwich idea, but a full fledged marketing and ad campaign, including jingles set to music. I was crushed when they absolutely refused to look at my idea, though the company sorely needed something pizzazzy at the time, an item that would expand their dinner business, and I was sure I had it in the McThanks a turkey, cranberry sauce and stuffing sandwich they could kick off on Thanksgiving and carry on with all year. Thanks, but no thank you, was the gist of their reply: we dont look at outside ideas.
For some reason perhaps my mothers countless forays into new religions -- no product ever struck my fancy as the glow in-the-dark Jesus switch plate/nightlight. Forget that it was tasteless to begin with: in prototype, the location of the on/off switch relative to Jesus anatomy turned out to be even more tasteless. Had we gone ahead, we would have soon learned that Born-Agains, our target market, shun all religious images. In this case our financial investment was (blessedly) limited to time, and the value of my time at that point was by then open to question anyway.
Ill skip briefly over the Full-Body Bibs (clear plastic with silk-screened ketchup and mustard splotches or their more sophisticated incarnation with Laura Ashley flower designs) and the Bib Clips (carry them along and insert the restaurants napkin at your neck a decorative variation on the lobster bib.) I could never understand, and still dont really, why women balked at the idea of dining at Le Bernadin or Lespinasse and, at the same time, protecting their $5,000 Chanel suits. The Bib Clip found enthusiastic reception only with very old ladies (usually from Miami and very often friends of Garys mother ) -- either too smart, too confident or just too damn sloppy to care about looking foolish.
Food stains have always been a particular preoccupation of mine, but when the Bib Clips, too, missed mass market success, I gave up and took to carrying a vial of stain remover in my cosmetic case. This I became possible only because Balsamic vinegar had finally made its way into almost every restaurant and I could stop toting a small bottle of that everywhere I went. Recently, I understand, the Shout people are marketing pre-moistened stain-remover towelettes, something I admit I didnt think of, but should have.
As I review this partial list, which excludes a host of ideas for soap operas, movie scripts, New Yorker Magazine articles and runaway Barnes & Noble bestsellers, I feel fortunate to have been able to retire on anything at all.
January 16, 2000
Its true what they say about St. Barths. Im not even sure exactly what they say, but it doesnt matter. What I mean is everything superlative is true about St. Barthélemey. Everywhere there is superb subtlety set against striking beauty. The island, 8-square miles of near perfection, is drop-dead-gorgeous topographically and oceanographically. The homes and buildings -- tasteful, immaculate, well designed never compete to be more noticed than either their neighbors or the islands natural beauty. Almost all of them have identically pitched terra-cotta- or forest-green-colored roofs. Many seem virtually dressed in camouflage as they creep up surprisingly steep, verdant mountains. Nothing seems to detract from the sudden vistas of alabaster sand and aqua sea that spring up as you round corners driving the serpentine mountain roads, as we have been for the past few days.
The beaches, at least the ones that havent been washed away by recent hurricanes, are pristine, unspoiled by sandwich stands or thatched-roof bars. No scruffy seaweed or homely plankton would dare wash to shore and sully these perfect beaches. Along their crescent sand rings, nude sunbathers scatter themselves no big deal amid the bathing-suited. Even the official St. Barth tee-shirt is a simple square logo of muted white or black, against the kind of colors that remind you of soft suede.
Hotels are done in Casually Elegant Beach -- soft whites, pale canvases, muted pastel plaids restful tones, meant to prepare your eyes for the burst of color that awaits them in, say, a glorious centerpiece of oversized, brilliantly-hued flowers, or a 3-sided sapphire blue lap pool, its missing edge a waterfall dropping off into a frothy ocean backyard. Restaurants, too, are either quietly sophisticated or toned-down trendy -- unless theyre the pizzerias and panini shops that have had the good taste to cluster themselves along only one side of Gustavias port.
This island is pure Calvin Klein. If it had an official texture it would be cashmere. Even its voice, the silky sibilants, the intricate curlicues of the French language, wash over you like an aromatic oil bath.
But thats not to say it doesnt have a dance-your-buns-off night life. How I, so recently consigned to the Old Fogey Set, know this? Because of late weve been hobnobbing with the Disco Set.
The other night, Gary and I were eating at La Mandala, a restaurant tucked into a cliff overhanging the harbor, its environment infused with hushed Asian atmosphere from the large reclining Buddha that welcomed us into the softly lit teak-and-canvas interior, to the bald, tunicked and soft-slippered waiter who threaded us to our table through dramatic catwalks that surround and crisscross an illuminated swimming pool below, meant to evoke serene Zen reflecting pools.
We were just finishing a perfect dinner, in our most sophisticated European mode -- at 10:30. (Jackie & Mel resist these late night meals with uncharacteristic ferocity.) It was all very quiet, with background music of tinkly, soothing, mystical music.
Suddenly, in pranced this wild foursome: a short, stomachy, billiard-ball bald man in a white suit and sweeping white cape followed close behind by tall, slender, early-fortyish man, the very definition of Boyish-Handsome, wearing a perfectly crumpled as if by St. Laurent himself -- white linen suit, set off by a black vest and a Panama hat pulled low over his brow. Accompanying them were two high-heeled drag queens wearing identical black and white Zebra-print sheaths, with astonishing hats to match trapezoidal, cathedral-tall, and liturgical looking, as if theyd stolen them from some cardinals vestment closet and resurfaced them in zebra.
Each of the men -- one the handsome prince, the other vaguely toadish -- embraced one of the "girls." Having made a suitably raucous entry and, with every diner now snapped to full military attention, the men, in their best Fred-Astaire style, spun their companions out, releasing them like yo-yos to stalk the restaurants catwalks a perfect parody of Paris runway models. The only thing missing was Diana Vreeland or a lookalike in drag.
Memories of so many well-loved weekends at Fire Island Pines washed over me. I wanted desperately to drop down at their table and play Fag-Hag Geography, so I could find out who we knew in common. But courage failed me. Or, good taste saved me.
Then yesterday, while lunching at Le Tamarin, a countryside restaurant awash in African atmosphere, two men were ushered to the table just behind me: one short, bald and toady, an ascot peeking from his tight white tee-shirt, his eyes hidden behind mirrored wraparound shades. I actually heard him jangling before I saw him: a midsize Mexican silver mine must have been depleted to fashion the artisan jewelry encircling his wrists, fingers and neck. The other, head to foot in his signature white linen, was tall, cute, Espadrilled and boyish. Jackie scanned them briefly and hissed across the table, "Are those two of your last nights entourage?"
Sure enough. I turned around -- and asked them where "the ladies" were.
Call them anything you like, Jeffrey, but theyre just drag queens," said Prince Charming.
"My dear, their feet were simply killing them at 4:30 in the morning, after partying all night; we did, at last let them pour themselves into bed around 6," said Toad, an Englishman -- though hardly high-tea English -- and "a real Lord, but dont you dare tell him I told you," said his companion, Michael, AKA Cutie Pie.
"Yes, but doesnt he really prefer to be called Lady Jeffrey," I wondered and actually did ask, though much later in this saga.
The six of us fell into one of those shrill, overly-laughy conversations you can end up having with perfect strangers and these two defined, for me anyway, the quintessential perfect strangers to happen upon.
Michael, who calls himself Mike, but he is in no way a Mike, also told us, sotto voce, (this despite the fact that Jeffrey was far away in the mens -- well, I think the mens room) that during the height of Studio 54s reign over the New York Scene, Jeffrey spent his time in the control room there, designing and running the lighting. "Hes endlessly talented, you know."
Michael, on the other hand, is probably endlessly rich, at what or from whom we never discovered. Jeffrey told us (as soon as Michael visited the loo), that Michael, who has houses in Laguna Beach and L.A., "has finally made up his mind to buy (as if he, Jeffrey, has been spending the last few years impatiently tapping an elegant patent-leather slipper.) "Weve come here a month every year for the last 8 we always stay at The Villa, " he whispered, conjuring up a cross between an olive-groved Tuscan estate and the male equivalent of a Turkish seraglio but regardless, the chic-est rental on the island, in the neighborhood, say, of 40 grand a week.
"So, we flew straight from the airport yesterday to this absolutely divine property a steal -- he can get it for 2 mill, Im sure, throw another $500,000 at it to make it livable, and then rent it out, if we can bear to But the economics are just so gooood, how can we not? And then it will be so profitable, well have no place to stay," Jeffrey whined.
Such a dilemma I wouldnt mind tackling.
Anyway, thats how I know St Barths has a swinging nightlife.
"You must meet us tonight, my dahlings, at Vincent Adam," Jeffrey commanded. "The divas will be wearing something entirely new takes them weeks to pack, dont you know. And theyll be in something completely different every night, all building to a crescendo, a giant finale," he promised. "But Ill let you in on the secret" (like we were about to be privy to a secret hed reserve for us alone and, no doubt, the next 2- or 3 hundred people he picks up.) "At the end of next week, maybe Saturday, at around 5, there will be a parade, an absolute parade of us, from one hot spot to the next, all night, into the wee, wee hours and all of us Jackie-Os, totally authentic Jackie Os, down to the last pearl and pillbox "
So we obeyed, if only to catch the next outfits, and dined at Vincent Adam only by that time we were simply part of their lunch time catch. Jeffrey and Michael were now focused on reeling in a new quartet seated nearby. There was a sweet-looking young man of about 30 -- a fashion photographer on a shoot, we learned -- who Michael couldnt keep his graceful hands off ("Its sooo much more fun being a King," announced Michael, gracing us with a wink as he plied the flustered, flummoxed photographers shoulder flesh sensually between his fingers.) Jeffrey was left to charm the other three -- two barely-dressed, fresh-faced models, escorted by a foppish, silk-suited, pocket squared Vanity Fair type one of those lascivious dabblers in pretty young girls.
For their part, the divas looked on, largely ignored. And looking a bit peeked in tonights clownish costumes "Didi" all in red with a fire-red cloud of cottony Clarabelle hair and "Mimi" (I think) in black and silver sequins, exuding Lisa Minelli references the plate-round eyes, thick brows and nylon-bristle eyelashes. These costumes were vaguely tawdry, not witty at all. Of course Vincent Adam is a small bistro, nestled up a mountain road, no big scene, so maybe they were taking a night off, so to speak, saving the real finery for larger venues.
Suddenly, there was something sad and a little desperate about all their flamboyance,
about the way they gather up people and knead them together, like dough. Or, was it just
sour grapes on our part? Like when your best friend leaves you flat and takes up with the
new girl on the block. Regardless, I have to admire people with the ability and the pluck
to put on parties wherever they go, attempting outrageous, fun with strangers.
We promised to search them out at everyones earliest with hints of even dinghying them out here to take a look at our very own boating villas. We did not tell them that we will, unfortunately, have to miss the Jackie-O soirée, since Gary has no pillbox and his chubby legs definitely wont work sticking out the bottom of a Chanel skirt. Besides, well be in St Martin.
January 16, 2000
Fashion Statement: Or, It Doesnt Bod Well
We have been making up for the (mostly) abysmal Caribbean food weve encountered so far by positively gorging ourselves in St Barth. Being a French island and, at the same time, a parking place for the rich, theres no lack of creative chefs who somehow find the fresh ingredients that we cant and they work wonders with them. Weve been reintroduced to vegetables, especially in smooth, sweet purees, and fresh salad ingredients. The islands French/Vietnamese/Creole historical roots add spice and variety to traditional French haute cuisine. I particularly have loved the subtle variations on spicy curry dishes, like curry/coconut milk-based bouillabaisses and Vietnamese curries. Even Gary has been dipping into my curry dishes.
I believe, though this has not been officially corroborated, that St Barths is the birthplace of the Size 2. Absolutely no-one (except us) wears much more than a 4. Size 8s are virtual muumuus around here.
St Barths women are almost universally skinny beyond belief -- and tall. Their legs seem to go on forever, starting from graceful ankles and traveling far up into their miniskirts. They add a teeny-weeny tight Spandex tank, a pair of high-heels or tall espadrilles and call it an outfit. The other costume du jour is the tight, strappy little minidress. If it happens to be black, as it frequently is -- even at 10 AM in the morning -- I tend to think theyre on their way to someones wedding, and not simply the supermarket.
Its not that theyre anorexic, either -- the women here just have totally different bodies than American women. They tend to be more flat-chested, with well rounded, jut-out derrières, which they know how to swivel sort of one or two notches less than a wiggle -- so as to make the average American husbands eyes almost fall out of his head -- in fact, look like hes wearing an invisible leash and being tugged along behind like a grateful puppy. Or, mastiff in heat
This means St Barths women also wear a lot of bikinis, and even worse, thong bikinis (also size 2). That is, if they wear bathing suits at all. Their skins are smooth as taffy, their tans so even they look freshly painted.
Even the older women older like in their forties look like this. If not, I guess they get deported back to France, probably to force-feed the foie-gras geese.
The net result of all this is St. Barths forgetting even the fabulous food -- is a complete diet disincentive for the American female. There is simply no way one of us could ever look like that, so why bother?
My only hope is to beat a quick return to the frumpier former British protectorates.
January 21, 2000
Were now in St Martin and, at least on the French side, the women look exactly the same. Thus, I prefer the Dutch side -- Sint Maarten -- where, if the young women are not exactly wearing wooden shoes and Heidi braids, theyre a tad plumper and dowdier. (Im splitting hairs, here, because I can promise our husbands havent noticed. Mel now wears his darkest sunglasses wherever he goes, thinking his ogling is going unnoticed both by the oglees and by Jackie. Fat chance. Gary is, as usual, much more brazen in his, lets call it "overt appreciation of the local goods.")
It makes us ponder again the randomness of life. And, to take notice of how lucky we are -- just in case we werent already pinching ourselves daily in utter disbelief that we are here living amidst of all this natural beauty, that this peaceful lifestyle is ours and that we are on our way home! -- to sound boats that we love. It also puts into perspective how puny are our daily breakdowns and system failures.
Smashed buildings, too, populate the waterfront. Frequently we see a former apartment or hotel building, now a big pile of rubble resembling bomb debris, sitting in the middle of a row of buildings that are perfectly intact, looking like it alone was targeted specifically for destruction.
St Martin was particularly devastated by Lenny and somewhat by Jose just before that, by Mitch last year, and before that, in 1995, most ferociously by Luis. Lenny lingered here, stalled for 3 days over the island before moving on. People say they could not believe the hurricanes relentless pounding. In St Barths we saw only a few ruined beaches and some rockslides down the mountain, former roads that came tumbling down. Dead palm tree fronds also hung limp, like the remnants of an old argument. But in the 2 months since, new foliage has begun to sprout and before long Lenny will be a painful dream. Of course, no one will forget entirely, because residents of these islands know theres always another of these horrific enemies gathering strength somewhere to test their endurance again next season.
January 22, 2000
We rented a car this afternoon and got to see more of how much St Martin has suffered. Its interior is mostly rubbly and poverty stricken, though our Fodors says this island has one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean. To me it looks like poor and even poorer villages strung together by intermittent rich resort areas. But in many of these former playgrounds, we saw building after building, remnants of large condo and time-share complexes, sitting empty, their picture windows gaping holes into furniture-less rooms. Likewise vacant beachfront hotels. Simply too much damage to rebuild after Luis. Prize waterfront property everywhere is littered with huge rusted cranes and other construction machinery as if someone once made a stab at restoration and gave up.
There are very few charming areas left, but Port La Royale, on Marigot Bay, where we are now, is one. A There are very few charming areas left, but Port La Royale, on Marigot Bay, where we are now, is one. A U-shaped harbor, surrounded by cafes and small boutiques housed in low-rise buildings it looks totally unplanned and like many a centuries-old Mediterranean harbor village. At night the signs, lights and building reflections reach deep into the shimmering water. The restaurants serve pizzas and more sophisticated dishes, like silky steak tartares, perfectly done pommes frites and yummy Moules Marinière. These tiny mussels are flown in weekly from France -- they arrive late at night every Thursday, are soaked in sauces of onions and white wine by lunchtime Friday and thoroughly gobbled up by 10 PM that night. We passed table after table of steaming bowls piled high with shiny black shells and happy diners dunking hunks of bread into their sweet gravies. Eventually we all dove into a similar feast.
Bread is yet another delight of these French islands. All day long a constant parade of people flow into and stream out of, the boulangeries, carrying long, crunchy baguettes tucked under their arms or into their straw shopping bags. We wonder constantly why no baker in our own country has ever bothered to faithfully reproduce this divine bread, so crisp it tears right into the roof of your mouth, and yet, screw the pain, you remain insanely grateful for it and lusting after more.
We get this same bread plunked at our table constantly, along with bottles of nutty, first-press, extra-virgin olive oil, which is mercifully left pure un-infused with garlic cloves or tarragon sprigs or basil essence as is invariably the case nowadays in trendy L.A and New York bistros. If you ask, and Gary almost always does, also available are small ramequins of perfectly chilled, artery-clogging sweet butter the kind that keeps the Lipitor people in business.
I dont want to give the impression that all we do is inhale fattening lunches and dinners at marvelous local restaurants. In fact, the other day, Gary and I took a whole day out of our eating schedule to finally get our scuba diving certification handled.
We had planned on being certified much sooner by a local Virgin Islands or Antigua dive shop. But all the heavy weather and choppy seas kept local waters churning, making them difficult to dive -- even for experts, much less me. I had been dreading this experience, because signing on with a dive shop generally means you dont do it alone with an instructor, but with a group. To me this seemed a recipe for a rerun of my initial dive course in Westchester, which featured frequent underwater hyperventilation, failure at just about every required skill and holding back the rest of my class of six people.
All that had left me convinced I would never pass this final aspect of certification the actual deep water dives. (I was well aware the only reason I passed the initial phase is the dive shop owner knew if I hadnt, I couldnt have dropped $1800 in his store on dive equipment. And, since I was completing the course down here, he could push me on, relatively guiltlessly, to some other expert, who would, doubtless, fail me on the grounds that Id surely drown myself diving.
Fortunately Jackie and Mel found us the captain and purser on Cookie Monster, a husband and wife team named Chris and Kim, who are not only divemasters, but have even run dive boats. Their personalities, experience and the fact that they had only the two of us to certify, gave them enough patience to work with me. Their calming influences allowed me to discover I actually knew most of what I was supposed to.
Kim may have dumbed down the required skills a bit for me, but I doubt Ill dive without an expert around for a while anyway. It sort of reminded me of my teenage driving test: where I forgot a turn signal, parallel parked like I was planning to swim to the curb and drove down a one-way street the wrong way. All in one 15-minute time period.
"How can I pass you?" the Connecticut Motor Vehicles officer groaned. (For some reason, he liked me. And you can be sure it wasnt any bikini I was wearing.)
He missed the whispered "today" at the end of the sentence.
So have several of my cars.