January 23, 2000 -- Not Vegetating
Just in case you were wondering, weve encountered no adverse Y2K malfunctions since the year 1999 rolled over into the year 2000. We suffered no suddenly undigitant computers or or recalcitrant electronic gizmos. The boat continued to break within its normal parameters. Our microwave did not turn on, note it was the year 1900 and refuse to warm our croissants just because it hadnt existed in 1900.
No such peaceful transition for my friend and traveling companion, Jackie Cohen.
Well, what else but Y2K could explain her errant behavior the other day?
After 16 years of a vegetarian diet (which, if you think about it, has to feel like a full century) she walked into a restaurant, plunked herself behind a menu and then -- completely forgetting who she was -- ordered a Steak Tartare. Like it was merely mashed okra.
No, nothing else but "Y2K Malfunction" can explain this deviation from 16 years of neo-Calvinist commitment to cucumbers and kale. This retreat from a look so sour it could pickle a brisket into a corned beef; so withering it could age a salami, lasered into poor Mel when he began straying from the (vegetable) garden path by ordering Pork Chops Pizzaola. (Though its true one deviation has led to another and now hes deep into baby back ribs Can bacon be far behind?)
Jackie was a meat eater when I first met her though unfortunately for me not for long.
As far as I could see, there was absolutely no reason, no overriding health consideration, no pro-animal political stance, that explained her conversion.
(Because I am a dabbler in steaks of every cut, always available to devour a 20-ounce slab of rare rib roast and still polish off its bone with Henry-the-Eighth élan in short, because Im an unrepentant carnivore, I think its important to mention that I do accept it when people choose vegetarianism if they have heartfelt health or humane concerns. Though I confess, it befuddles me how anyone can make a distinction between the pain of a pig whose neck is being slit and that of a carrot being yanked out of the ground.
Why, for example, do we not attribute feelings to something so obviously self-protective as an artichoke? How do we know that a head of cauliflower, with all those discrete chambers and tiny aerated branches, isnt at least as smart as a dull-eyed, supine cow lying inert in a pasture?
If the distinction is made because carrots and artichokes and cauliflowers go to their deaths in utter silence, dont they deserve human voices taking up their cause with at least as much contentiousness, as much venom as the animal-rights lobby? To me it seems the height of human arrogance and hairsplitting to choose to shriek about cows rather than champion cauliflower.)
But I digress. I was speaking of Jackies conversion to well, I cant correctly call it vegetarianism, since she didnt drop chicken and fish from her repetoire. She simply drifted, unconsciously I thought, into this non-meat-eating position. Which offended my sensibilities. How can anyone not consider carefully (indeed, not agonize) before trading away something so succulent as a double cut loin lamb chop -- only to get in return swordfish that could qualify for Social Security and poor, weeping eggplants. (Does nobody else stop to wonder what all that liquid pouring out of an eggplant is exactly?)
As I remember, Jackie returned from one of our gorge-out vacations in diet-to-death mode and a friend recommended "Fit For Life," one of the earliest of the change-your-entire-regimen weight-loss plans. The next thing I knew, she was telling me, regularly, how much better she felt physically.
"Head trip...self-fulfilling prophecy," Id mutter to myself. And over the years, I positively crowed whenever she got a cold. A flu was cause for uncorking a bottle of Cliquot.
(I never said I wasnt petty.)
The new eating regime immediately cramped my ordering style (not to mention pleasure) at Chinese restaurants. (No one can tell me that a dish of shrimp or vegetable fried rice doesnt pale in comparison to its pork preparation. And how can anyone actually choose to deprive themselves of spareribs, twice-cooked pork and shredded lamb with scallions? And order instead steamed vegetables over brown rice.) Since she also swept Mel right along with her, her conversion also significantly limited our entrée choices at shared ski condominiums and during boating vacations, when the four of us cooked and ate together regularly. Pasta, chicken, chicken, pasta
Mentioning, however trite, that "Variety is the spice of life" made absolutely no dent in the consciousness of someone who quite suddenly in midlife could distinguish between barley and bulgur. And not only adored quinoa, but knew how to pronounce it kee-wah. (Pronouncing "quinoa" "kee-wah" can only be intended to confound the carnivore. Correction, the omnivore.)
Since I was such a close friend, I always felt I was due some rational explanation of her aberration all right, choice. Her renunciation of succulent Peter Lugers steaks marbled to Venetian palazzo patina in favor of skinless, overcooked, sub-Saharan-dry chicken breasts.
"What is liver if it isnt meat?" wed ask, our jaws dropped so far we could barely eat our own Spaghetti Bolognese or Rack of Lamb Dijonnaise.
"Organ," shed say, flatly, as if that explained everything.
How could livers and brains and kidneys be significantly different from ribs and flanks and sinew? We pondered this question often, Gary and I. We concluded that either a wifely capitulation to Mel in the sexual favors department had permitted her to extend, without guilt, the category "organ" to all manner of meat-eating delights. Or , her Solomonic parsing of the word "meat" could find comparison only in the mandarin byways via which my mother regularly stretched her interpretation of Mary Baker Eddys "Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures" so as to be able to dial up any doctors office for an immediate appointment.
So, with this 16-year background, I must admit I exulted in Jackies sheepish look as she emerged from behind the Restaurant de la Gare menu to announce shed be ordering steak tartare. This look, so different from her scorching grapes-to-raisin stares ray-gunned at poor pork-ordering Mel, told me that she, too, considered this tartare lapse as qualitatively different.
It was all I could do not to cheer when a large mound of red meat (which I immediately magnified into Starship Enterprise proportion) appeared in the center of a plate that had been delivered correctly -- and not as the result of a waiters casual inattention -- to Jackie.
(I never said I wasnt a baby.)
And she, eyeing -- almost lecherously -- this bulbous dome of slippery, parsley-studded chuck, its surface slickened by fat content and glimmering with shiny capers and tiny shallot bits. So glossy it warranted sunglasses.
I could barely eat my own Tartare, preferring to watch happily as she forked off tiny morsels from the Mothership, mashing them between the tines of her fork to gather just the right size clump -- not too big to rush through this delicacy, not too small to miss any of its flavor. Such pleasure to observe her slide each perfect packet into her mouth, clearly savoring every decadent morsel. (I hope I didnt look too smug.)
I found myself praying this might be the prelude to a final capitulation. Like shed soon be ordering veal chops, searching out delicacies like camel hoof.
So far, no dice. Still only rice. But that doesnt mean Im giving up on her.
(I never said I wasnt competitive.)
Ill know Ive won when she really gets serious about meat she goes beyond Peter Lugers and hankers after a thick Wagyu steak. (If youre behind on your delicacies, these steaks are the product of Japanese cattle raised on saki-soaked grain, massages and acupuncture. Available only at Balduccis, $125 the pound. (Plus the plane fare to fly home.)
January 24, 2000 -- Lunch Run
Some people are lucky enough to have the Union Square Café next door so they can drop in for a Tuna Burger lunch. Some fortunate Ann Arborians have Steves Lunch so close they can walk down the street and inhale an excellent bowlful of Bibimpop, with extra beef, please. Unfortunately, as Ive intimated before, this doesnt happen on Caribbean islands, except, of course, to those based in Red Hook who can dash over to Duffys for a Mahi-Mahi sandwich. The best weve come up with since Duffys is Grace Before Meals (believe me, nothing on the menu board surpasses the name), which is a roadside stand with a few ancient picnic tables in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua where you can get a more than passable roti, but you have to really like the company of flies and mosquitoes.
This is by way of explaining why we rushed out of St Martin yesterday morning, dashing through the drawbridge as soon as it was lifted -- at 9 AM -- then pounding through wind straight on the nose and 9-foot rollers, taking on enough salt to cure a butcher shops worth of hams, in order to get back to St Barths. Why all the frenzy? We had to make it to Le Toiny for their 12 Noon, all-you-can-eat (not to mention all-you-can-pay) Sunday buffet, recommended by Mary Moore, so we knew it was not to be missed. Mary doesnt just know her gourmet eateries -- shes the person Id hand my title over to should I ever step down: Director of Quality Control for the Universe.
Everything surrounding Mary is some kind of excellent whether its a supremely inviting living room, a picnic lunch on the beach, a simple silver bracelet or a restaurant where excellent food is complemented by superior atmosphere. Atmosphere should be Marys middle name, what with Architectural Digest-worthy residences in Manhattan, St Barths and Remsenburg (a low-key Hampton neither Donna Karan nor Martha Stewart have discovered yet). Mary is single-handedly responsible for the Food Swoons we experienced here in St Barths last week. And therefore must take full responsibility for the 5 additional pounds (a total of 20 if you multiply by all 4 of us.)
Our friends Carolyn and Dave, without too much thought, something completely out of character, (conservative should be their middle name!) chose to accompany us, making it a 3-boat trek. The timing nearly didnt work. The 14-mile run (nothing in a powerboat, several hours in a sailboat) to Gustavia took longer than it would have in calmer seas. Then Dave went all fearful and catatonic in the anchorage area. Gary and I had anchored, dropped our dinghy, both taken showers, I had dried my hair, thrown on some makeup, Le Toiny being a special environment, we were dressed to go, while Dave, who came in immediately behind us, was still circling obsessively, looking for a spot. Dave actually makes over-cautious Mel look like a trapeze artist who works without a net.
So, once finally and firmly on the hook, we had to rush to shore and commandeer taxis, insisting they find a way to get us to Le Toiny in 5 minutes instead of the requisite 15. We were an hour late, but whew! --they held our table for 6 in our own outdoor lanai, delicately flowered china set on a crisp white cloth, four cornflower blue chairs and a banquette lush with white throw pillows, all spectacularly placed under an awning and facing out to sea. Its only flaw -- a little too distant from the buffet display for my taste. ( I hate having to make a spectacle of myself parading back and forth to the food.)
Jackie and I had some apprehension the maitre d would actually recognize us and throw us out summarily, since last week we made a reservation and forgot to cancel after we decided, in a brief flurry of guilt, a 2-hour drop-dead buffet was just too fattening for our chunked-up bodies to sustain that day. Luckily, we appeared at the restaurant decked out in our casual best -- hair combed, shirts tucked in and unrecognizable from the windswept, disheveled duo whod presented themselves at the hotel to make that original booking.
By the time we arrived, Dave and Carolyn were in a state somewhere between flabbergast and shock and not because of their anchoring fiasco. They were astonished, not to mention exhausted, by the thought that we could make a lunch so important. But then, they lack the history with us to recall that Gary and I were the very people who once traveled to Hershey, Pennsylvania by way of Atlantic City, New Jersey, diverting some 3 hours on what would have been a 4-hour trip, in order to eat a White House Cheese Steak Sub. (Jackie and Mel, had they been meat eaters, would surely have accompanied us on that mission, whose sole purpose was not to miss out on what is not only a sub that torpedoes any Philadelphia Cheese Steak Submarine, but also features the best bread in America, real Provolone instead of Cheese-Whiz, melt-in-your-mouth sautéed sweet peppers and onions and, should you wish, Thai-worthy chopped hot peppers.)
What can I say about Le Toinys buffet? Suffice it to say (though I probably wont leave it at that) Mary Moore never makes a food mis-step.
There were 20 or so antipasto items and salads, some very unusual presentations tangy lemon couscous; cabbage-wrapped mahi-mahi; peas drenched in some kind of sweet cream sauce; fettuccini in a walnut dressing and some rices and salads I had no idea what was in them, but didnt care, except for idle curiosity. There was also a divine poached salmon, best Ive ever tasted, so I didnt even need to add to any one of my 3 heaping platefuls of food the gorgeous looking cold lobsters an additional 70 francs 11 dollars per single half tail and remember, clawless.
Ill skip over dessert, since I mostly always skip over desert anyway, though no one else did. Truth be told, even I took a whole plate of pastries and skimmed the fruit right off the top, ignoring the cake and pie-crust below. By the time wed polished off two bottles of wine and some excellent coffee we were so contentedly full that the others all pronounced themselves ready to never eat again, and I allowed as that I could do without dinner. Not only could, but would. And did.
I must be slipping.
January 26, 2000 -- Homecoming
Up at 0-Dark:30 (could also be called just prior to First Light, but 0-dark-30 tells the story so much better). Once again we there were strong winds in the harbor, pitching seas outside it, harbingers of a miserable passage back to Antigua. We had no choice but to press on, though, because on Friday were flying out to spend a week seeing grandchildren and at our now-secondary residence. Our world is completely topsy-turvy now: home has really become the boat and going home is something else entirely.
The passage itself was uncomfortable as it gets, with a 25- to 35-knot wind was blowing straight on our nose. All day, huge waves frolicked across their backyard the Caribbean Sea -- dashing up frilly whitecaps and then chasing after them. Play for them, wretchedness for us. They pitched the boat like a bath toy down into deep troughs and promptly spit it out in great thunks. This tossing game was punctuated often -- by waterfall-quality walls of water pouring over the bimini, soaking our clothes, our cushions and filling the cockpit ankle-high, and sometimes higher, with green water. I felt like some particularly childish, exasperating god was having a good old time emptying bucket after bucket of water over our heads. We developed a leak in the laundry closet hatch that richocheted down through the ceiling panels, depositing salt water all over the starboard head, stateroom walls, mattresses and carpet.
At least we hope it came from the laundry room hatch, which weve since patched. If that very obvious leak was only part of the problem, well have our hands full trying to isolate where else the water is coming from, because its not necessarily direct.
As a boat pitches back and forth, as well as side to side, its whole exterior is being constantly drenched. Inside, its raw hull is masked by covered ceilings, wood walls and a maze of interior compartments to store things in. Even small leaks can travel long and unexpected distances from their sources through this hidden substructure. Leaks could be entering from any number of hatches and windows, or through hairline punctures in the caulking of our myriad deck paraphernalia: stanchions, cleats, running rigging, standing rigging and things with functions I still havent learned. Meanwhile salt water is tremendously corrosive to interior wood, metal, fabrics and upholstery. Think of it as instant aging. And, just like wrinkles, theres always a new one developing somewhere.
Now our Feisty friends really could have stayed in St. Barths, avoiding the hard knocks, the wet ride and flooded interior. And, 4 hours out into this 12 to 15 hour passage, they were still anxiously mulling over the idea of turning back. But being exactly that feisty friends -- they decided the four of us were in this together and slogged on through. But because our boat is faster, we were lucky to come in just at sunset. Meanwhile they had 2 more hours at sea with the unhappy prospect of having to enter the Deep Bay anchorage, unlit and blocked by a small, uninhabited island a mile off its mouth and a half submerged wreck just at the entrance -- obstacles you just dont want to be navigating around in pitch dark.
They radioed us when they got close and, we, (with flashlights and our trusty hand-held radio) got into our dinghy to lead them in. Assistance or not, it was a real knee-knocker of a maneuver. Imagine entrusting the fate of your boat and only home -- to someone else, especially when your favorite adjective for that someone else is "cavalier." Compounding their fright, on our first attempt at radio contact, our battery obviously not so trusty -- ran out. We could hear their frantic calls for instructions, but we were unable to transmit our answers. Jackie, a clear head in a tough situation, suggested a few rudimentary flashlight signals, which worked to get them in and anchored successfully.
Returning to Antigua was almost like your college homecoming. Falmouth greeted us with some new and some old mega-yachts, its chatty VHF party line and all our now-familiar trades people ready (we hope) to jump aboard and finally put to rest some of our old malfunctions: autopilot, inverter and generator, all very key systems. While were gone were also having the hull and deckhouse compounded and waxed, so Lulu should be gleaming like a brand new refrigerator when we return.