Archive for the ‘SHOPPING’ Category

This Is Just Like Living in Paradise

Friday, November 26th, 2010

WEDNESDAY
I woke up Wednesday in Curacao ready for a flight to Saint Maarten and a battle with Winair, a local-to-St. Barth’s airline there to change my ticket to the day after I’d originally intended to show. It turns out that the best factor working in my favor was timing, as I’d landed so early as to get onto one of their relatively empty early planes. The planes fill up in the late afternoon as the major airlines show up full of passengers ready to head to the neighboring islands of Anguilla, Saba, St. Bartholomew, and St. Eustatius (aka Statia). It cost about $30 to change my flight and the staff was very accommodating. I was fortunate as none of the anxiety of the previous day entered into this venture.

I landed at 12:20 in St. Barths after a particularly interesting flight. The weather was windy that day and while the pilots didn’t appear to be nervous, I was a little. Here are a few views from the plane.

This is not a big plane:

Here is a view of St Barth’s:

Here is a view of the outer harbor:

The descent into St. Barth’s airport involves a trip over a hill before landing. To do this properly, a pilot has to dip the nose of the airplane and dive into the ground a little bit. Some buzzer usually comes on (more or less the YOU’RE GOING TO DIE IF YOU DON’T STOP WHATEVER YOU’RE DOING buzzer), and the whole thing is really, totally, awesome.

Here is what it looks like through the cockpit window when the pilots are pointing the nose of the plane over the hill.

Here is a shot from the plane of the hill on the one side of the runway. Runways are usually flat on the side where you land!

My mom and Aaron were waiting for me at the other side of the immigration booth. It was totally a surprise, because I didn’t pay for internet when I had the chance in the St. Maarten airport. They called Winair who told them I was on an arriving flight and when to show up. Totally awesome. We regrouped, went to the house and then to the beach. Here is a view from the villa.

It is one of the highest villas on the hill where we’re staying. You can see many of the originally volcanic hills in the foreground, Lorient beach (where the waves are breaking), some uninhabited islands, and on the horizon below the clouds, St. Maarten. We hit the beach but left after a little while. I was wiped out.

THURSDAY
Thanksgiving morning after pastries we watched a bit of the Thanksgiving Day parade. I freaked out before leaving because I saw Takeshi Murakami and his two floats. However because he doesn’t advertise, they skipped over him before Aaron could see. It was incredible.

I went to Lorient beach for a few hours. Here’s the beach. You can see the end of the beach in the foreground, an uninhabited offshore island in the middle ground and between them, just a peek of St. Maarten:

To the other side you can see different villas dotting the landscape. The weren’t many people there. The weather was perfect. I got a bit of a tan. When I was leaving, I saw local lobster fishermen paddling a set of traps on their dinghy to get to a fishing boat. It looked like it was a giant pain in the ass to get over the surf with the traps.

Afterward we picked up Thanksgiving catering from Maya’s To Go, the take-out arm of a legendary restaurant here. On the way to picking up the food, we met a friend:

I really approved of the on-deck location of this unexpected Thanksgiving rendezvous:

This was the result: Mache salad with goat cheese, toasted pistachios and beets; snow peas; mashed potatoes and gravy; stuffing with apples; roast turkey (dark meat mostly for me); fennel with mandarin oranges and kalamata olives; cranberry sauce; bread; and of course beaujolais nouveau.

Holy hell this was delicious. There are enough Americans coming to the island during Thanksgiving that catering Thanksgiving turns out to be good business.

Here is a shot of my mom and Aaron on the deck of the villa. I simply couldn’t put them into a decent space to get the sun on them. They were happy anyway.

Thursday night we took care of some of my laundry and headed into St. Jean to do a bit of shopping. Then we returned home, watching football and ate leftovers. My chevre, butter, ham, turkey, cranberry, and mustard on baguette sandwich was perfectly American. The French ingredients made it excellent.

FRIDAY
I got up a bit late, and after pastries, mailed a box of books I’d accumulated in Venezuela to the US. I thought about doing this there but I never really gave myself the time to do it. This turned out to take a couple of hours because we had to find a place on the island that had tape. Shipping was expensive, but the overweight fees associated with moving the stuff from place to place had begun to mount, so I knew it was necessary. The postal service guy was super helpful and he said “I can’t handle that Americans get the impression that we’re all unhappy, so I want you to have a good experience with this.” All I could do was thank him.

Afterward we went to the beach. Here is a shot from the car of the outer bay and shipyard of Gustavia, the big town here:

One of the beaches we visited is called Gouverneur’s Beach, and for a while the area was owned by a Rockefeller. Here is a view of the beach area and the compound there, now owned by a retired tech billionaire. Everything in the foreground is a wooded compound. In front of that is the beach:

Here is a view of the beach. It was jam-packed:

Here are goats we found on the hill by one of the beach. Sorry the photo sucks:

Afterward we had a burger. It kicked ass to have a regular burger and from a location in St. Jean that I remembered distinctly from my other visit here:

Came loaded with sauces (good mustard, A+) and with bacon. Kicked Ass.

When we returned we found a friend who was making his way around the driveway of the villa:

Seriously the biggest box turtle I’ve ever seen.

We hit Gustavia for a little while as I shopped for a Christmas gift for Jess. I found one. This place is fancy. Then at the Hideway, which advertises “corked wine, bad beer, and a great view of the car park” I had an excellent dinner of Entrecote Frites, a mojito, and a plate of profiteroles with ice cream and chocolate sauce. I was sated.

Afterward I spent the evening with the folks and eventually moved outside to internerd in paradise. Here is a dusk view of the balcony. The night one doesn’t turn out so good with the exposure on my point and shoot:

That’s St. Maarten in the far distance, but if you follow the coastline to the right you can see two big double light groupings on Anguilla.

As I have been writing this, there have been goats that live on the hill behind the house who’ve descended onto the property and begun to eat the landlord’s garden. He hates this. I love it, because it’s incredible to see wild goats. They’re scared out of their mind of us as we’ve been playing a game of cat and mouse trying to catch a glimpse of them all night. They’ve been braying to each other and every once in a while that gives us a good bead on where to look for them. I’ve been shining the computer monitor in their direction to illuminate the area and see the space. Mixed results.

Here is what the moon looked like the other night:

Tomorrow (Saturday) I leave here and head for Brasilia for a little under three weeks of interviews and snowballing. I really look forward to it, but if it’s a little obvious that I’m going to be bummed to leave here, I’ll try not to show my hosts. This has been such a truly generous and wholly welcome three days of distraction. I love it here and hope that next time fewer than four years separates my visits!

Visiting the Pastry Shops in Caracas

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

The power went out this afternoon for an hour. According to my host, the quality of electrical service has been on the decline since nationalization. I can’t verify that, but I can say that I’m glad it happened today and not in the middle of the week while I was turning in a fellowship application. I burned a little battery time and churned through this blog update for you.

My host’s son is at work and his dog Khan is visiting. Khan is a little needy today. He’s super friendly, but a little mouthy.

I need to give you an update on the situation with the Avilas. The hurricane has brought some cloudy and rainy weather this week to Caracas. Today the clouds are hanging low in pockets on the mountains and it looks positively breathtaking. Allow me to illustrate:

If only I had some confidence in going up there and having it not rain today. Maybe tomorrow.

Today on my way back from a meeting with a civil society member, I did some browsing in the Boulevard Sabana Grande shopping area. It was really busy on a Saturday, testifying to the harried weekday schedules of Caraqeños.

It’s a wide pedestrian-oriented boulevard with owner-operated (for the most part) shops on both sides. Here’s a stock photo:

via radleysprague.com

The boulevard surface is currently under construction meaning that it’s muddy because of the rain, but the part that has been finished looks great. It’s pretty hectic and most of the time service inside the stores is great, because people really want you to buy their stuff. I asked around about buying records, but everybody kept telling me that it’s not really something that happens here. I want to find the Jerry’s of Caracas. Maybe I’ll find the Jerry’s of Brasilia.

On the way home, I stopped in the local bake shop, called Panaderia/ Pasteleria Doris, and is really top notch. I was talking with another leader of civil society organization on the other side of town and she said “Sebucan? Really close to Pasteleria Doris! Go there.” It took me almost a week but I’m glad I made it. Here is what it looks like inside.

Among the din and tons of delicious stuff, I found this delicious little lunch of coffee (espresso, taken “corta y negra” or black and short), profiteroles and a little ham pastry with cheese:

Here are the baked goods.

Pastry with Ham and Cheese. This was a delicious brushed butter croissant with savory filling. Heated until just warm, it made for a perfect lunch. I ate it before realizing that I didn’t show you what was inside. Whoops.

Profiteroles. Same name in most languages, these were incredible. Pâte-a-choux covered with chocolate and a little bit of whipped cream, here filled with pastry cream (custardy) and laid on a bed of some sort of flaky pastry crust. Here are two shots: one before, and the after, including the gooey insides.

The grand total was 20 Bolivares Fuertes, which divided by 8 at the black market exchange rate = $2.50. Shop around.