Friday, January 23, 2009

Travel Blog #6: St. Barth's

Eddie Murphy spent New Year’s Eve in St Barth on his boat. Other travelers have seen Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington and a ton of other luminaries. Apparently they come here because the climate’s great, nasty tropical hurricanes rarely hit here and the prices on everything are high enough to keep the riff raff away.

The last time the ship was in port, there were over two thousand yachts in the harbor. We’re not talking your twenty foot skiff either. We’re talking multi-million dollar yachts like you expect to see really wealthy places. These have their crewmembers in white pressed linen and their passengers seated on chairs so comfortable that you can’t imagine ever wanting to move.

During the “At Sea” days, we developed a great relationship with a few crew members. This is a great idea, by the way. They’ve been back to the port often enough to know it well. Once they believe you aren’t a jerk, they are very friendly and often supply great information. One of these crewmembers is a deck attendant named Adrian. He’s from Croatia.

“Going to St. Barth’s tomorrow?” he asked with the kind of sly smile designed to spark the obvious question.

“Yup,” said I. “Why?”

“Take your charge cards. Oi! Very expensive!”

He made a flapping motion with his hand.

“Are we talking “oi” expensive or “Oh-my-God” expensive?” I asked.

Adrian paused to consider this. Then he smiled: “What is higher than “Oh my God?”

We tendered into the port the next morning anyway, glad to be off the ship for a while and instantly got the same feeling that came through loud and clear in Monte Carlo: this is where rich people live. And they don't like you much. They know you are there, of course, and they are happy to feed on the little bits of money you spend (which is how they got rich in the first place, I guess) – but there is a chasm between them and us and the bridge between us was torn down and dynamited a long time ago.

Our destination speaker told us that many of the shops actually close when cruise ships are in town since they don’t want the browsers wasting their time. We’re talking about shops that sell two thousand dollar shirts and women’s dresses that run upwards of $20,000 USD. (You wouldn’t want to get a chicken gravy stain on one of those babies.)
The place drips money and just a touch of scorn.

We arrived in port, and stood there for a minute drinking it in. An old guy approached us almost instantly.

“Do you want to split a cab?” he asked, introducing himself as Joe. “They are so pricey. We thought we could split the fare with another couple.”

He spoke very loudly and I saw two huge hearing aids that looked a little like tumors sticking out of each ear.

“Yes,” said Sheree instantly. “Let’s do it!”

So we piled into a cab run by Celine – a woman who claimed to be fluent in English. She was pleasant enough: but most of the commentary was confined to: “Over der une building.”

We sat and waited for more information. There wasn’t any. Yup. It’s a building alright.

There was great beauty in the places she showed us. The roads were narrow, but very expensive looking little cars zipped over them with ease.

I guess the thing that bugged me just a little was that everyone looked so well coiffed. Even the blue jeans were pressed, and that’s just a law against nature. You have the notion that even the jeans that have holes in the knees were put there on purpose before they were sold by some little guy in a sweatshop somewhere who probably wondered what the heck was wrong with people who wanted holes put into perfectly good pants. Isn’t it perverse that one of the fashions of the rich is to look poor?

I didn’t have the sense that there was anything wild left on St. Barth…and those things that looked wild were first domesticated and then re-created into the image of what people would expect to find on a tropical island.

Napoleon “discovered” this island and named it for his brother. (Here’s another strange thing: how come places are only “discovered” when white people get there? Didn’t the ‘natives’ count? They were already there…so….??)

But St. Barth landscapes were breathtaking and the marinas well stocked with yachts.

We paused at an ice cream shop and got two very small gelatos and a bottle of water. Total cost: $22 USD. At first I thought he was kidding. But he just smiled and put out his hand. Yikes!

Part of the challenge of travel, for me anyway, is to try very hard to set aside negativity and enter willfully into enjoying a place. This is something Sheree does quite naturally. But it doesn’t come easy to me. I tend to keep seeing only the stuff that bugs me.

It was on this trip however that I got over my uneasiness with a polarizing lens. I bought this little wonder a year ago, played around with it and concluded it wasn’t going to work for me.
But polarizing lenses are wonderful for reflective subjects. Once the filter is attached to your lens, you’ll notice that an outer part of the filter can be turned with your fingers. Point the camera at water or sky (or in this case a deep hued chain), turn the outer ring, and you will see the subject darken. It’s the same effect as looking out at the world through very cool sunglasses where you can adjust the lenses at will.

If you point a polarizing lens at water, the fish become clearer. You can shoot through glass much more easily. Before long I was shooting most things with a polarizing lens. You just have to keep in mind that your subject really determines whether you use one. And it is going to mess up your camera exposures, so be prepared to play around and bracket your shots.

So we pulled away from St. Barth’s happy enough that we’d come here. We saw nary a celebrity. But we did see David Letterman’s house from a distance. And that should be enough for anyone, huh?

We go to Tobago tomorrow.

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