St Maarten/St Martin
Weather: Sunday, 27 Jan, was lovely but Monday started out a bit hazy. As we drove to Pburg, you could barely see Saba and no other islands were visible as we came over Cay Hill. By the time we got back home it had cleared out and all four islands were visible from our balcony, including the peak of Nevis 90 miles away. Tuesday morning was spectacularly clear. There are Tuesday morning photos on the photos page of my condo website. I thought they were so amazing I put them there. Clouds rolled in and the sunset that night was also spectacular.
The clouds were preceded by a wind shift and followed by some major rollers that brought a dozen surfers to Cupecoy by Wednesday afternoon. It was pretty breezy and cooler on into Thursday. On the left is a sunset shot with waves of showers to west. Unfortunately, those showers arrived overnight flooding out the road through the golf course. The winds were calmer on Friday, but the thermometer read 66F at 6:14AM. It was clear and the day ended in a spectacular green flash. On Saturday a tropical storm produced a whiteout at Cupecoy around 2PM, dropping the temperature from 79 to 72F in a matter of minutes.
Here's the local weather forecast from the Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel.
Today's (3 Feb) sunset will be at 6:04PM.
Full moon dates for 2008 are: 21 Feb, 21 Mar, 20 Apr, 20 May, 18 Jun, 18 Jul, 16 Aug, 15 Sep, 13 Oct, 13 Nov, and 12 Dec.
Beach Reading: I've finished reading Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford. I had read some of it in The New Yorker, and worked my way through the Kitchen Slave and Line Cook at Mario Batali's Baboo last week. This week I made it through the Pasta-making and butchering experience in Italy. Amusing, especially if you are interested in food.
Activities: The on-line version of the newsletter has a photo of Tango, Lambada, and another sunset cruise off our balcony on one of the beautiful evenings earlier this week. On our way back from the First Friday wine and cheese tasting at Champagne Restaurant and Select Wine Cellar we passed by Skipjack's and saw Neil Roebert, the captain of Celine, home of the Lagoon Pub Crawl. The Pub Crawl sails from Skipjack's to two other restaurants where you get a drink and a snack before returning to Skipjack's for, you guessed it, another drink and a snack. All drinks on the boat are free and the snacks amount to more than a meal, so this is essentially dinner, drinks, a darned good time for $65 per person. Better yet, enter the contest on SXM-Info and win a two-for-one ticket. We give away five every year. Or just book our condo for a week. It comes with a two for one ticket.
Sapphire Beach Club: I have been using Sapphire's wifi for seven weeks now and am quite pleased. It isn't free but it costs a lot less than Caribserve wants to charge me for four months. For those of you who wish to sell or rent their week or unit, we have opened up the Sapphire Beach Club website for that purpose. We charge $25 per year. If you wish to rent or sell your unit, send us some text (and $25 to email@example.com via Paypal). If you wish to rent or buy a unit without high middleman fees, check out the website. Given the large assessment that Sapphire just levied, there may be a lot of sales. At present, there are 20 sales and/or rentals available directly from owners. Given a 25 to 35% standard rental commission, there should be some bargains in eliminating the middleman and dealing direct.
Travel: A recent traveler to San Juan and back reports "As a note on SXM immigration: they stamped our passports on the way OUT for the first time, and checked the appropriate box. We were able to check in at a kiosk in the sju airport, and the lady who helped us asked if we had a return ticket to the US. We said yes, did she need to see it, and she said, no, but they might ask in SXM. First time for that, which prompted me to look at our passports, where I noticed the exit stamp. They didn't ask for anything when we entered; but it does seem they're gradually gearing up for more restrictions."
I looked over our passports and we have no In or Out checked over the last several years, including this year's entry. Hmmm? All travel to the USA now requires a passport. Life is pretty easy if you allow enough time to renew by mail. All the details can be found at this State Department page. The new, stricter rules for travel to and from Canada went into effect last week and the papers report little trouble. One border post reported that they turned back one car in 250.
Shopping: We were back in Pburg and stopped in at Fifth Avenue. They have just opened up a new shop, essentially across the street from L'Escargot Restaurant. The old location is still there, but now they have added Dooney and Burke and Guess lines of handbags, so they put them in a new space.
Groceries: There were some Guadeloupe eggplants with purple stripes in Grand Marche and Martha thinks they are superior to the ones that she grows. These beauties seem capable of consistent cooking, ie the entire slice cooks whereas generally the central seed area turns to mush before the outer core is edible. I guess it's true, but all I can say is that last night's dinner featuring the eggplant with onions, tomatoes, and a bit of habanero was fantastic.
Alcohol: Last week we tried a 2005 Bourgogne Les Taupes Maison Dieu from Chantal Lescure at Select Wine Cellar. The words translate as The Mole House God. Your guess is as good as mine as to what it means, but it was a very nice Burgundy, well worth the $20 or so that they charge.
Here's some current prices at the Grand Marche in Cole Bay: Campari 11.50, Kahlua 14.00, Appleton Dark Jamaican Rum 5.53, St James Rum 30.00, Bowen VSOP Cognac 37, Black Bush 42.75, Bushmill's Singlemalt 26, Jameson 14.25, Balvenie 10 yo 40, Balvenie 12 yo 48, Jura 10 yo 33, Glenmorangie 10 yo 45, Glenmorangie's wood finished around 53, Aberlour 10 yo 21.50, Aberlour 15 yo sherry cask 41.50, Remy VSOP 40, Henessey VSOP 43, Basil Hayden 8 yo 29, Baker's 7 yo 36, Jack Daniel's 21.50, Gentleman Jack 29, Maker's Mark 36.60, Woodford Reserve 35 - all liters, all dollars, and a great selection. Cost u Less had Jim Beam 8.24, Mount Gay Rum 9.03, Glenlivit 23.72, Glenfiddach 30, Glenmorangie 10 yo 48.53 - all liters, all dollars, but the selection isn't as good.
Traffic: Sometime between 3 and 4PM, eastbound traffic from the lowlands past the airport through Simpson Bay slows to a crawl. It then gets worse as the 4:30 and 5:30 bridge openings bring things to a halt, just as the end of the work-day and beach-day traffic begins. It is possible to head in a westerly direction. I did not mention that by 6:30 to 7PM things are back to normal, so it is quite easy to get to Pburg. In fact, using the shortcut at the roundabout on Cay Hill gets one down to Front street in record time. Keep this in mind if you are heading to Antoine Restaurant, L'Escargot Restaurant, or even Greenhouse Restaurant at the head of town. Note that Antoine has valet parking, Escargot has a parking lot behind the restaurant, and Greenhouse has validated parking at Bobby's Marina. Gas prices have gone up at Cadisco. It's now $1.04 per liter at Orient and $1.02 in Sandy Ground, almost $4 per gallon. They still do 1 to 1 for cash and I think they are still cheaper than the Dutch side.
Nature: The sugarbirds on our balcony are moving their nest from the center of the sliding glass doorway to the edge. They had started building in the center of the doorway before we came down in December and we guess that as we leave the door open all the time, they felt too exposed. It's an amazing amount of work for such tiny birds.
The French side is into phase two of its car crushing campaign. They round up abandoned cars, crush them, and ship them off to a steel mill via slow boat. They did this about a year ago and there are still plenty of candidates around. This is also related to Dengue as they claim that cleaning up water traps in vacant lots will decrease the mosquito population. The Daily Herald says that there were 18 biologically confirmed cases of Dengue on the French side last week and 183 suspected cases. This goes along with one of the threads on TTOL where someone who claimed to be involved in another island's healthcare said that they multiplied confirmed cases by ten to get suspected cases, because many people don't come forward. I have always been a bit suspicious of multiplying known numbers by anything to calculate suspected numbers, especially when those doing the multiplying get added benefits from bigger numbers. It is a fever and it is not contagious. It is quite painful but most people get over it in a week or so and acetaminophen products are recommended for managing the fever. Acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (such as ibuprofen) should be avoided because of their anticoagulant properties says WebMD. You may be tired for several weeks thereafter. Of all the cases on the French side, only 13 have required hospitalization. In another article, the Herald reported that several areas on the Dutch side were going to be fogged over the next few days. No comment on what was in the fog or what it was hoped the fog would do, and certainly no mention of Dengue. Insightful reporting at its best. In any event, there is Dengue in almost any warm climate in the world. It generally is not fatal but is painful. Fear is not the right approach, but precaution is. The mosquito in question is a day feeder, especially active just after sunup and just before sundown. Avoid being outdoors at those times and/or use a repellant with DEET.
Small island story: SHTA (don't try to pronounce that, it's the St Maarten Hospitality Association) is exercised about the increase in the cost of living here on the island over the last ten years. Things have increased from 16% to 38% over that time frame. It's good they used a ten year time frame, because on a yearly basis the numbers were 1.5% to 3.3%. The 38% figure is for energy (essentially oil), somewhat beyond the control of anyone outside of OPEC. The other numbers mostly indicate how much oil is involved in making and shipping the product. Obviously, these rates of inflation are pretty much normal and SXM being an island that makes nothing, can hardly do anything about the cost of those things, except raise the price of the one thing that they sell: tourism in the form of condos, hotel rooms, restaurant food, and activities. My maintenance bill has gone up from $200 per month to over $600 in those ten years, that's 600%, or 20% per year - shades of Jimmy Carter. The restaurant figure is harder to track, but I think it is at the far end of that range, about a 40% increase over those ten years. Anybody save any hotels bills they wish to share with me? How about a ride on some of the charter boats? Airline fares?
Current Contest - now to 2 March 2008
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
DK Gems - $50 off a purchase of $100 or more
Antoine Restaurant - $100 off a dinner for two
Le Cottage Restaurant - $100 off a dinner for two
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
One of the rules is that you should enter each contest only once.
2 March to 27 April
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Halsey's Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two
Hibiscus Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
L'Escargot Restaurant - $100 off dinner for two (cash payments only excludes Friday Cabaret show)
On Sunday we went to Pirate Beach Bar on Orient Beach for some great conch. We both had the Pirate salad. It's conch with a slightly spicy tomato sauce on a bed of crisp lettuce and red cabbage with some tomatoes and carrot strips. Add Matouk's hot sauce as required. Keep come cold Caribs nearby. Best lunch that two of you can get on Orient Beach for $30. The view's good, too. Check the website website for even more photos.
On Wednesday night we had a waterfront table at Il Nettuno Restaurant in Grand Case. Raymon has been running this restaurant as long as we have been here. It's on a double width lot and it looks a bit small as you peer in past the bar and see a few tables on the water. That is just the start of the dining room and it runs parallel to the water for about 75 feet. There are great views of the pier, bay, and Anguilla in the distance. There is a large menu and several specials every evening. The wine list is also quite large and concentrated on Italy. We ordered water and choose a 2004 Chianti Classico from Banfi (45€). We started with a special appetizer, gnocchi with porcini in a light brown sauce featuring a hint of tomato, and continued with another special as Martha's main course: braciola, veal rolled with spices, ham, and pecorino cheese. It came with fusilli and black olives in a tomato sauce. I choose the saltimbocca (which translates as jump mouth), suggesting that the sage and prosciutto will cause quite a bit of excitement when placed on the veal cutlet, sautéed and then braised in white wine (24€). The Chianti was quite nice with all the flavors on the table. We ended with espressos and a glass of chilled grappa di chardonnay (9€). We've had this before and it is not one of those grappas that require eye protection. It is smooth as can be and would have been a perfect way to end the evening, except a complimentary pair of Sambucas were delivered complete with coffee beans, another perfect way to end the evening, especially when staring across Grand Case Bay to Anguilla. Our total bill was $169 as they use an exchange rate of $1.35/€.
Thursday we had a breezy lunch at Restaurant du Soleil on the water in Grand Case. It's right next to Il Nettuno and conveniently located across from the parking lot which is free at lunch. The view is lovely. I like it better during the day than at dinner. Cedric has a new chef this summer as Sami has moved essentially across the street to Blue Martini. The new chef is Marc Daniel who spent 10 years as executive chef at Lasserre in Paris (awarded two stars from Michelin). It's an interesting menu and at lunch they serve a 13.50€ menu. They use 1.35 to the dollar so this is about $18 for a glass of wine, a plate (fish or meat plus veg/pasta/starch), plus coffee. We thought it was a deal, especially when one of the offerings was a lamb shoulder braised with wild mushrooms and veg with a side of potato gratin. Martyne (formerly of Mario's Bistro) took a bit of time off from her studies to join us and had the fish offering which was a fish that none of us knew, similar to a pike. We did need more than one glass of wine and moved on to the Cotes du Rhone from Jaboulet (22€). The lamb shoulder was very tasty and included black chanterelles. There's a photo on the website. The entire lunch for three people came to $85. Not bad for good hearty food and a great view.
We had a great lunch at Kakao Beach on Friday. There was a Beef Wellington special on the menu and it seemed to go well with the temperature in the 60's overnight. It also went well Guigal's 2003 Cotes du Rhone. It came with potatoes gratin, a stuffed mushroom cap, a bit of stuffed zucchini, red cabbage, snow peas, a slice of tomato, topped with a slice of eggplant, topped with a slice of yellow squash, and a few cherry tomato halves. The star of the plate consists of a tender cut of beef filet and a mushroom duxelle wrapped in puff pastry. For an even more special version, foie gras may be added. It's quite a preparation to look at (and taste), but not too difficult to do. There's a photo on the website. If they ever have it when you are there, try it.
We had a smaller dinner that evening at the Champagne Restaurant and Select Wine Cellar First Friday joint wine and cheese tasting. They have one of these on the first Friday of most months and if you like wine and cheese, you should be here. It's only $30 per person and included seven wonderful cheeses, six wines, and one Chocolate Sax player. Yes, Chocolate Sax Watts was there with his Saxophones. There is a writeup on the Select website and photos on the Champagne website, so I'll only say that Bruno finds better cheeses than we do. His Morbier puts ours to shame and the bleu was the creamiest version I have ever tasted, made better by a slightly sweet red wine (Maury) that Sylvain brought out as a bonus. Bread is included, but we also purchased a small plate of charcuterie (prosciutto, chorizo, salami, and cornichons). A plate for two costs $15 and included a chorizo that I couldn't find on the island and cornichons that are better than ours. While Marina was preparing the notes for the cheese tasting I noticed the book she was using and recognized the cover. It was the French language version of French Cheeses: The Visual Guide to More Than 350 Cheeses from Every Region of France by Kazuko Masui & Tomoko Yamada (Author), Joel Robuchon (Foreword), Yohei Maruyama (Photographer). It's about $10 used with shipping and if there is anything that Jenkin's Cheese Primer lacks, the stunning color photographs in this volume supply it.
Harmony Nights will run every Tuesday night in Grand Case until April. Pascal from Blue Martini is in charge of entertainment. He also has entertainment at his restaurant next to the parking lot on several nights.
Changes: Dino Jagtiani is branching out. This week he opened Rituals Coffeeshop on Captain Hodge Wharf. Grand Case Parking in the center of town is now up to $7, essentially giving up on 1 to 1 pricing. Many restaurants will comp the parking. Fleur says she's working on Rainbow, but it's not open yet. Alabama is still closed, Casablanca (Dehlia's) is still not opened, and Francisco Franco is still dead. That's getting old, how about Fidel Castro is still alive.
BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS
Art in the Park: The annual Art in the Park show will take place on Sunday, 10 Feb at Emilio Wilson Park, a short drive past the Texaco at the Pburg roundabout. Festivities start at 10AM and run until 4PM.
Wine & Cheese Party: Select Wine Cellar and Champagne Snack Bar are hosting a monthly wine and cheese tastings, usually on the first Friday of the month. Send an email to Sylvain for more details or a reservation (highly recommended as these are very popular).
Coupons: Look on the SXM-Info website for a list of all restaurants and others that have coupons for some freebie or discount. There are several coupons there to make your vacation a bit cheaper. Here's a list of what you'll find:
Pirate Beach Bar
Pedro's Beach Bar
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
The Mario's Bistro Cookbook is now available. They are shipped via UPS and cost $49 for one, $87 for two, and $123 for three, delivered. Delivery via UPS should take a day or two in the US.
L'Esperance Hotel has great rates and is conveniently located. It's quite handy if you just need a night or two at either end of your vacation because of the wretched flight schedules. They have a lovely pool and offer free wireless internet access.
Sandy Molloy at Molloy Travel offers personalized service to fit your needs and budget.