Manners and Customs

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The famous Leandra of Chez Leandra

“When in Rome do as the Romans” is an old familiar saying. It is important to assimilate to the surroundings at hand. Fitting in with people from other countries is respectful. It is an instructive form of peer pressure. Learning about people and a country through its manners and customs reveals much about their society and adds insight to its history as a nation. The French greet with a double kiss, the Dutch with three and the Americans…who knows? Sometimes it’s a handshake. Other times a kiss on the cheek and then there’s the ever awkward lukewarm half hug, half burp. Honestly, it is difficult to guess what behavior is expected in the US. In the northeast part of the country you’ll always know where you stand. In the south they’ll “bless your heart” as the knife goes in…..but I digress.

In St. Martin the islanders are straight forward with their greetings as well as how one shows respect. Here they choose to honor tradition. It is a way to identify the outsider as well as welcome him in. It is so amazing that such a simple gesture would make all the difference between reception or rejection.

This particular day I forgot my island manners. I was a bit out of sorts. We were lost and late and had been driving around in circles for at least a half an hour. We decided to find a WiFi signal and attempt to contact our friends and get further instructions. We found a local restaurant that we knew had one. We just needed the password. Although the place was closed, a man was working, sweeping the floors, a local. I rushed up to him and quickly asked him for it. He replied, “good morning.“ Puzzled, I added that we were lost and needed help. Again he said “good morning.“ I think I must have finally responded with a “good morning” in return and was finally granted the password. I accessed the needed information when it finally dawned on me that I had not honored this man’s custom. Before leaving, I apologized and thanked him for his help. He waved and smiled. So simple to do the right thing and also acknowledge him as a human being. In the end that is what it’s all about. A little respect goes a long way on the friendly island.

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Onlooker

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Inspiration was starting to get sucked dry as my soul was troubled over recent negativity on social media. This is my response back to the onlookers, some who’ve actually gone out of their way to harass us personally with their judgment of us and the island.

Onlooker, what do you hope to see?

Trauma. Drama. Devastation.

Curiosity delights in the details. The train wreck we see coming and cannot look away. Wherein lies the story? In the sensation of the disaster?

How easy it is to sit behind a screen and judge what truth is…what reality is. The onlooker sits in judgement of those they think they know but do not.

We choose not to listen to you.

We choose life.

Life is springing up all around. We applaud and fund it…the new restaurants we choose to eat at with friends, the building efforts, and the smiles we see.

Smiles are resistance. Resistance to the naysayers who thrive on the failures of others.

No.
Resilience!
SXM strong!

Come and see.

Come and rejoice at the progress! Enjoy dinner! Yes! So respectful of all the people of the island.

Do not collaborate with the negativity of the onlookers who want to rob the essence of what the island is about.

Come and enjoy the wild disorganization that you’ve always loved. It is why you fell in love with the island in the first place.

So much to enjoy.

So many opportunities to encourage growth. No. There is nothing boring here. Adventure awaits. It is the Caribbean. Rum and beer flow along with drinks that bring a blush to a woman’s cheek.

Of course I understand if there may be objections or disagreements to my words. I’ve only been here seven weeks. What do I as a mere female know? Disagree, be free to go elsewhere. Please, take your negative words and impressions with you. The rest of us will party together….on SXM.

SXM is Smiling Again

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Irma has ushered in a new day on many levels. People on the island were and some still are so traumatized they can barely breathe let alone smile. Jeff and Jacky began working together on his nine week project to help others on the island. He said he got lost on roads we are all told to avoid. It was there he met and heard stories and realized the deep needs of local people. That experience has morphed into a charity with many ongoing projects seeking to minister to those in need and continue to care for St. Martin’s most vulnerable, the children.

It was Christmas time when we visited homes and areas where there are children, many of whom are orphans. One party Jeff and Jacky helped to organize had a Santa giving out gifts and a celebration with favorite foods. It was so awesome to see kids so excited about receiving a present. Jeff made sure they had a bouncy house to jump and tumble in. This was only one example of happiness children all around the island were able to experience. They were given an opportunity to be kids again.

All About a Smile is a fitting name for the organization. We’ve been fortunate enough to see the smiles on the faces of those who’ve received gifts and attention from the work Jeff and Jacky started. We were thrilled to accompany them on a few of their daily missions. They are truly inspired by the willingness of so many who have jumped in with financial and material donations. What has impressed us the most is how they took the time to ask each group or individual what they specifically needed. The answers have been surprising and range from shoes and clothing to appliances and building materials. In turn, many are smiling either from receiving, giving, or volunteering.

The work continues to bring smiles and provide help to those who need it. Visitors to the island are joining Jeff on the day-to-day deliveries or pickups needed. Locals, too, offer trucks and other assistance. Check out their Facebook page All About a Smile or go to allaboutasmile.org for more information on how you too can help

For the Birds

Another beautiful day on the island. A steady cooling breeze blows. The sun heats my body instantly as I take my morning walk. I instinctively move to the shaded side of the road.

Pointe Blanche is a residential neighborhood nestled between two very steep hills. To the east in the open sea lies St. Barths. On a clear day the houses that cling to the mountainsides are visible. The west side is all industrial ending at the harbor. Throughout the neighborhood you can tell how many cruise ships are in port for the day. At night the tree frogs serenade us with their slow sweet chirping. Just before the dawn they stop and it is completely silent for what seems like only a moment. Then the morning doves begin their windpipe melodies. A rooster crows in the distance. The next door neighbor has dogs that start barking and a goat whose bleating sounds like a moaning woman. The sugar birds wait until the sun is up to add their high pitched trilling to the daily concert.

Which route should I take today? It is almost impossible to avoid the steep inclines of the winding roads surrounding me. I have to stop at times to catch my breath. Around the corner from our building cars spin their tires and also make chirping sounds as they finally grip the pavement. All of the roads in this area have bird names….thrush, goldfinch, peacock, to mention a few. Of course the biggest claim to fame is that the prison is located at the very to of the hill. The running joke is that the prisoners have the best view. We drove up there by accident the other day. Not only is the road steep but it is also narrow with an array of hairpin turns leading to the summit. As we climbed up the last rise the prison gate complete with two armed guards popped into view. We quickly backed down the road until we could manage to turn around. There are no guard rails to brake a very nasty fall. Back at our complex we have a nice pool, where we recovered from our little adventure. The breeze continues to blow and the birds fill it with song.

Oh, but we are close to the tide pools! That will be an adventure for another day!

Three Ships Sailing

Three giant cruise ships in the harbor
Three catamarans in the Bay
The surf is rough
The crowd’s been drinking
We hear their laughter
We watch from the safety of our lounges
They jump in for a swim
The waves are so big
They crash into the sloping shore
Rocks lie hidden beneath the breakers
Still the group swims to shore
It’s hard to get in and out of the water
The three ships lingered
The passengers made it back safely
We watched the three ships sailing

St. Martin Snow

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It’s January on the island and I sometimes get cold in the evenings. Clouds gather, showers fall, and rainbows result. When the sun is hidden and the winds blow, it can feel cold. Still this is warmer than being stateside where snow may fall and woolens are worn. SXM has snow too…. Small clouds of fluttering movement. Clusters of butterflies in palest yellows, cream and white flit above the water or vines with tiny pink flowers. Quietly they go about their day searching for nourishment and being energized by the light of the sun. That’s the kind of snow I love the most. The breeze guides them along as though there wasn’t a care in the world. What a pleasant surprise after Irma furiously blew over the face of the island. She burned all the vegetation to brown. It’s a wonder these creatures along with a variety of others all survived and now thrive. The plants and trees are lushly green. It’s another story of resilience for all to enjoy. What would Winter on the island be without butterfly snow?

Art and the Artist

Before

Before 

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After

When I first began to paint the people and places of St. Martin, it was because I was so inspired by the beauty. There is an intensity of color and character that resonated within my spirit. It is here that I feel at home in every way, myself, the people, architecture, land and seascapes, and the slower pace. I love the small town feel of people knowing your name and greeting one another with a kiss or three. The island is a melting pot of language and culture. It is a blend of surf and turf. Each group of people living here has brought to the table, literally, their own foods. The people are also such characters with special nicknames. SXM is truly colorful in every way.

Recently my paintings are more than inspiration alone. They are becoming a historical record. They pay homage to some of the local people and places. As things change over time the paintings will call to mind homes that are no longer there, and eventually the people as well; including myself.

All that will be left is the oil upon the canvas, a time capsule capturing snippets of light and shadow.

Guess Who’s Back

 

Imagine our surprise as we got closer to the beach bar on Happy Bay. It looked like some work has been done. There are benches on either side of the bar newly painted in green. There was Danny, behind the bar wearing a green shirt that matched the paint with green speckles on his face. He smiled from ear to ear as he greeted us. He plans on cleaning up the dead trees and bushes laying on the sand, but we are on island time. In the same breath, much can change in a week or so. We enjoyed a drink with him. His rum punch still packs one… making it easy to take a nap on the beach. The day brought with it periods of showers where we ran for cover under Danny’s roof. When the sun shone once again a double rainbow appeared right on cue. Now everything on Happy Bay is as it should be.

Harmony Needs a Melody

Grand Case is dotted with open businesses just waiting for people to enjoy. It was here I ran into Stephanie of Sexy Fruits. She was usually at the shop on Orient Beach, between Le String and Aloha. She was so happy to see us. We listened to her Irma story. As she and Frankie ran for shelter in their apartment, she slipped and fell on the rain soaked floor. Several cracked ribs was the result and she was still in pain waiting for the bones to mend. The storm has impacted each person differently and her choice to cope moving forward was to cut her long hair super short. It was her way to say “I’ve changed but go forward.“ Yet as the shops open up ready for business, the streets are void of tourists. She told us that Harmony Night will be making a brief comeback in March. We were worried that they’d be canceled altogether.

The charming former fishing village suffered great damage from the storm. Some are still waiting for insurance money in order to decide if they can regroup and rebuild. Contractors often do not keep their promises if they can be gotten hold of at all. Bureaucracy keeps owners in limbo without the assistance their employees collect. Even through all these setbacks restaurants and shops are open, waiting for visitors to encourage a comeback.

Spiga, Lidi’s ice cream, Les Bains, not sure about Max’s Place, Three LolosLa Villa, Bistro Caraibes, Voila, Sexy Fruits, soon to be open Piazza Pascal, and planning to open Blue Martini. There are also places on the main road near the end of the Boulevard.

We’ve visited several places frequently and enjoyed the company of the locals. The lighting is good and we’ve felt secure. The choices may be smaller than usual but this is an unusual year. Grand Case still has its vibe, it only needs more people to come and join in.

Ital is Vital

This is the saying or slogan of the Freedom Fighters Ital Shack. Roland M Joe, aka: Ras Bushman and his wife work together feeding guests vegetarian food except on the Sabbath. They are Rastafarian, their diet and lifestyle follow this belief system. They also have a farm in Bellevue, just before Marigot.

My digestive system has been giving me trouble lately. We stopped in for lunch and right away Ras went into “bush doctor” mode. We climbed the stairs alongside of the house where he has a small garden. He showed me the many seedlings, ready for transplanting. We stopped at an aloe plant where he carefully chose and cut one of its stalks. Skillfully carving away the outer sheath to reveal translucent meat, he bade me to eat the gum-sized gooey plant. It was bitter but I obeyed, swallowing as much as I could whole. He told me to drink some water and my stomach would feel better, which it did. We headed back down to the restaurant to get some lunch.

There is no menu. The board states what is being served that day with a list of available drinks, no alcohol. We chose sorrel juice to accompany our plate of oat croquettes, chick peas with sweet potatoes, corned rice and dandelion salad. We liked it so much we went back a second day and had veggie pasta, sweet potato salad with cashew dressing, black quinoa, and fresh-picked arugula salad. (See photos)

The type of sweet potato used has purple skin but the inside is white and soft with a hint of sweetness when prepared. The oat croquettes and quinoa gave the meal the substance of meat without feeling overstuffed.

Eating is a serious joy of providing the body clean energy to run on. This is their philosophy and their youthful smiles and trim physiques agree. Simple, clean, well cooked and combined foods from scratch, served with pleasure. It is all part of a slow life where folks sit down to eat, actually taking time to taste each bite. Savoring flavors and textures is all part of the sacred practice of eating a meal.

Here they still relish what the western culture has sold out to convenience. Making something from nothing is part of our DNA. Families hand down their traditional recipes based upon years of perfecting that one special dish. Sadly much of modern society hasn’t even learned basic cooking skills. So many young people haven’t a clue where their food comes from or what processes it takes to get from farm to the table.

Meat doesn’t taste the same or have the same texture it did some fifteen years ago. Animals are confined in CAFOs and often injected full of hormones and antibiotics. These “farms,” more like concentration camps, release toxic waste impacting the environment. Agricultural farming isn’t any better. Today’s practices deplete the soil of necessary minerals and microbes. Spray fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides harm the soil, plants, environment, and ultimately humans. Grocery stores give the illusion of choice when the reality is — that only a few corporations are represented. Within the last five years groceries have revamped to make room for giant freezers to hold pre-cooked and prepared items. These products are conveniently inconvenient. Although it may be easy to heat up in the oven or pop into the microwave, these processed meals end up costing more in money and health. Chemicals add flavor, preservatives, shelf life, and dyes make it all appear appetizing. The list of diseases is mind boggling. There has been a steady rise in food allergies, and so many people, including children, are becoming overweight. It seems sad to think this is all considered normal. We eat on the run, in a car, out of a box, in front of the TV, we eat when we’re bored or emotional….we’ve lost something important.

To change is a process that will take time in the beginning. Cooking and organizing supplies to have on hand becomes easier with practice. Whipping together healthy meals is so worth it. Sitting down to eat together lends itself to the art of conversation and relationship building the table is magic. In this way we can take back control from a centralized food system that seeks to help us spend our hard-earned money. In the process we also will take back our health and well-being. Food is our energy, it is vital. The human body runs best on high test fuel. Small changes over time will become a lifestyle change. Learning to eat with awareness, savoring each bite will make a big difference.

Ital is vital. Our Rastafarian friends are living examples of what is possible if we care enough to try. We once knew this and can learn it yet again. So much here on the island challenges me to become a better version of myself. Food is just one area.