Friday, December 26, 2003

An Untraditional Christmas

We had an unusal, but wonderful, Christmas. On impulse, we went out to a rather expensive restaurant for dinner on Christmas Eve. It was our first time there. We called about 6:30 and got a 7:00 reservation (not a good sign). But what was really funny was when we walked in. There were two people seated at the bar and two employees seated at the hostess station--all the tables were empty, but they actually asked, "Do you have a reservation?" The meal and service were mediocre, but the view of downtown and the harbor was spectacular. We saw the last of Wednesday's seven(!) cruise ships depart--in all their lit-up glory. Even some of the yachts along the downtown waterfront were decorated with Christmas lights. About mid-way through our meal, my old walking buddy walked in with her son and her parents, who come from New Jersey each winter to spend three months here. So it was nice to meet them (they had just arrived a week before).

Because we'd been up till the wee hours the night before, we turned in very early on Christmas Eve. As a result, we were awake at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning. We laid in bed and talked and listened to the radio for an hour; at 5:00 we decided what the hell, let's open our gifts. But first boyfriend wanted to go out to the car to get a little bag of goodies he'd bought me. (We agreed no Christmas gifts, but he wanted to get me a little something anyway.) We were standing in the living room with just the tree lights on and as he was about to open the screen door he stopped in his tracks, pointed at a bench on the balcony and asked, "Where'd that come from?" And we stood there nonplussed for a moment...because sitting on the bench was a beautiful food gift basket, which neither of us had put there. After a moment, we looked at each other and said simultaneously, "Jack and Suzy." They're our landlords who live upstairs and the only ones who possess a key to our place. It was a thank you gift to boyfriend and the card read, "Thank you for saving Paris." Their little black cat had gotten herself stuck in a tree on the golf course, and boyfriend was one of the course workers who had rescued her. (She'd been stuck for three days.) But just for a split second, it was fun to imagine that there really IS a Santa Claus...because it's been over 40 years since I had that magical feeling of walking out on Christmas morning to find a gift that had magically materialized.

After the gift basket surprise, we made a pot of decaf and opened our gifts in the pre-dawn darkness. Among our gifts was a box of See's candy--a treat since we hadn't had any in years (since we left Portland). We felt quite decadent sitting by the tree, drinking coffee and eating candy at 5:30 a.m. Since we were up and awake, boyfriend decided to go to work for a couple of hours to pitch in on a short-handed holiday.

When he returned, we packed our sand chairs and headed to the beach. There was hardly a soul there when we arrived at 9:45. We ordered breakfast and sat in the bar, where I began my day with a virgin strawberry dacquiri (I was in the mood for a red drink). We had breakfast at a picnic table and then did some major power-lounging in our chairs, while watching the arrival of ever-increasing numbers of tourists. By mid-day, the beach was packed. It was a postcard-perfect day, weather-wise. We swam (even though the water temperature is a bit chilly right now, at least to our tropically-acclimated bodies) and dined on big gooey slices of pizza for lunch. We napped in our chairs and headed home about 4:00. It was the first time either of us had ever spent Christmas Day at the beach...and it was the most relaxing Christmas day either of us could remember.

We had plenty of groceries at home but didn't feel like cooking, so we popped a frozen lasagna into the oven. Not long before it was done, boyfriend's parents called. His mother placed the call and I answered, so we spoke first and then I put him on the phone. Then his father got on the phone and proceeded to tell boyfriend about his trip to Israel (he just returned late on the 23rd). When it looked like the call might last a while, I quietly dished up a plate and ate while boyfriend was still talking to his Dad. Then his Dad asked to speak to me and I chatted with him while boyfriend ate. So our "Christmas dinner" was a casual meal of lasagna, eaten separately and surreptitiously, while listening to the extraordinary details of my "father-in-law's" trip to the Middle East.

Boyfriend's father is a pastor and was traveling to Israel on a multi-denominational mission of peace. Both government officials and the church officials who sponsored their trip told them they couldn't guarantee their safety and warned them they were on their own. They traveled into the Gaza and were shot at while standing at the Egyptian border. The saw first-hand the horrible living conditions of many Palestinians, and he said he was most surprised by that. I think it really made him realize that the news we receive about the Middle East is almost always delivered with a pro-Israel bent. I gathered from my conversation with him that it was a profound and life-altering experience. He's a deeply religious and spiritual man and takes no side, but simply prays for both sides to find peace. And all I can say is, amen to that.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Grace isn't so Slick anymore...

Okay, now I'm officially old. I just saw Grace Slick on VH-1...and didn't even recognize her. It's not even that she's gotten's that her hair is white/gray. I thought: who's the old broad? As a long-time resident of Marin County and San Francisco, it wasn't unusual to occasionally see Grace around town. But I would have never known that was her on VH-1 just now. If Grace has totally let her bottled jet-black hair go, then I'm officially old.

Stranded in Paradise

No, not us...the 759 passengers of the Royal Olympia Voyager cruise ship. Those poor folks thought they were bound for an Amazon cruise...except by the time the ship reached St. Barths, Olympic World Cruises (which operates the line) had filed for bankruptcy in federal court in Hawaii. The District Court in Honolulu ordered the ship to return to U.S. waters immediately. St. Thomas being the closest port, that's where it headed--and that's where it's been since December 22nd...and where it will probably be until December 31st. I guess there are worse places to be stranded, but if I were hoping for a cruise down the Amazon, St. Thomas were seem pretty tame in comparison.

Sunday, December 21, 2003


To get from our place to downtown, we climb and descend a hill on a road that offers a gorgeous view of Magens Bay and the ocean on the way to town and a panoramic view of downtown (Charlotte Amalie) and the harbor on the descent. As we descend into town on particularly clear days, we can also see the outline of St. Croix (40 miles south) and Culebra (a Puerto Rican island) about 20 miles to the southwest. As residents, we've grown accustomed to the view, but it's one that inspires vanloads of tourists to stop and take pictures. As we were driving into town yesterday morning to go to breakfast, we saw that there are currently half a dozen white yachts anchored along the waterfront downtown. During season (now), it's not unusual to find gorgeous, spectacular, world-class yachts anchored just across the street from the downtown shopping district. To get an idea of some of the yachts that visit St. Thomas, go here.

Yesterday afternoon as we were kicking back on the deck of our neighborhood beach cafe having a late lunch, we saw a sailboat motor into the bay and anchor there. As we looked out at the sailboat, boyfriend said that he was scheduled to play on one of the waterfront yachts on New Year's Eve. I knew that someone had called him for a New Year's gig, but couldn't remember where it was. I said I hadn't realized that it was on a yacht. He said the yacht was supposed to go to Tortola (in the British Virgin Islands), spend the night and return the next day. I said, "What?!? You didn't tell me you were going to Tortola for New Year's Eve?! Where are you guys staying?" He said he guessed they'd be staying on the yacht. To which I replied, "Oh, HELL no!" He let me squirm for a minute before he laughed said that was the original plan, but now it was going to stay anchored at the waterfront. Brat!

A New Year's Eve gig is always my least favorite to attend. Think about it: how much fun can it be to sit alone all night and not even get a midnight kiss because your mate is on the bandstand as the band counts down to midnight? Last year I didn't even go to his New Year's Eve gig at the Ritz-Carlton. I stayed home, dozed on the couch and woke up in time to see the ball drop...and that was perfectly fine with me.

Late last night, he asked if I planned to come to his gig on St. John this evening. I said no...and asked why he thought I might. He said that (as I know) not all of these gigs are fun for him, so if he sits through them then I should have to sit through a few, too. I laughed and reminded him that I've been to HUNDREDS of his gigs. Those days are over, pal! I reached a point years ago where I realized that he wasn't going to love me any less if I stopped going to his gigs. I used to think I had to go to show my support. But truthfully I'd just as soon be at home with a good book. I always love HIS playing but sometimes the gigs just aren't fun. Either the other players suck or the song selection is lame or it's in a venue where I feel awkward sitting by myself all night or whatever. So now I'm picky. I save myself for the juicy gigs, and then it's a joy to be there...instead of an endurance test.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

What's My Line?

I posted a couple of weeks ago about the boyfriend and I dining at our new favorite restaurant and learning that they had a new executive chef from Louisiana. A couple of days ago, boyfriend came home at lunchtime to discover a message from one of the restaurant's owners asking if he could put together a band (on extremely short notice) to play for Chef's birthday tomorrow night. He managed to hustle up a couple of players for a jazz/blues trio, and Tuesday after work we went to the restaurant so he could discuss details with the owner and Chef. (That's what everyone calls him: "Chef.")

That same day there was a "Holiday Dining and Entertainment Guide" supplement in the newspaper which featured a nice profile of the restaurant and some background on Chef. It said that he's from Lafayette, Louisiana, lived in L.A. for 9 years, owned several restaurants there, and did green room catering for events like the Grammys, Oscars and American Music Awards. When I read that, I thought, "Hmmmm...and he's here on our little island because...?" I was recounting the highlights of the article to the boyfriend as we dined on our comped meal after his meeting with Chef. And I added, "Maybe he did...maybe he didn't..." Boyfriend laughed and replied, "That's the great thing about St. Thomas--you can come here and re-create yourself."

I've written about this before, but I was really thinking again this week how this is a place where reinvention seems to be the norm, rather than the exception. Of course it matters if you choose a desirable new persona. We had a dear friend who was inspired to re-create himself in the mold of Jeffrey Wright's character "Peoples" in Shaft. Needless to say, he was basically run out of town on two islands and is now, well, god knows where. We had another friend we worked with our first year here--someone we spent a lot of time around and who lived upstairs from us for part of that time--who later vanished from sight having burned his bridges on every front.

This is a small place...filled with people with big ideas and dreams. There are a lot of real characters here. It's what makes it sort of a wacky place to live...with a world of possibilities. After all, don't a lot of people dream about moving to "paradise" and livin' the good life? So if you're ever down this way, take a look around...the person right next to you just might be somebody you'd least expect.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Golf Widow Film Fest

Boyfriend is playing in a golf tournament both days this weekend. There are countless tournaments year-round, but there are four that he never misses. I think in his mind it's his own version of "the majors." This weekend's is one of those "major" tournaments. I swear, he gets more nervous about playing in a silly little golf tournament at his hometown course than he does about playing on stage in front of 10,000 people. Men.

So since I'll be a "golf widow" this weekend, I plan to have my own little DVD film fest. Our Sam Goody store downtown is going out of business. (Which is a drag because it's just a couple of blocks from my office and basically the only place downtown where I can buy CD's and DVD's.) The DVD's are 25% off (I'm sure there will be a larger reduction later, but they were already pretty picked over by the time I got there yesterday.) I bought four and plan to revel in "chick flicks" all weekend: "The Hours" (loved the book), "The Virgin Suicides," "Kissing Jessica Stein" and "Gosford Park." Okay, "Gosford Park" isn't technically a chick flick, but I doubt you'd find a lot of guys reaching to buy it over, say, anything featuring Halle Berry. And besides, we've always thought we should see "Gosford Park" (we missed it when it was here) because it was winning all kinds of awards at the same time as boyfriend's friend's film two years ago. So we certainly heard a lot about it when it was in wide release.

I'll make the obligatory appearance on the balcony when boyfriend makes it to this part of the course in a few hours. I'll wince consolingly if he's made a bad shot...and give him a big smile if he's made a great one. But until then, I'll be reveling in chick flicks.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

A Curious Mix

Living where we do can really mess up a person. It often results in a near-constant state of confusion...should we stay?...should we go? It's your basic love/hate relationship, and as with all relationships, ours (both collectively and individually) with this place goes through all the typical ups/downs, peaks/valleys that one experiences in any relationship.

After work yesterday, boyfriend went to play golf and I was doing some surfing on the laptop. Typically, once I'm home from the office I don't feel like going anywhere--I'm a real homebody. But for some reason, I felt like going out after work yesterday. When I spotted the boyfriend just across the pond (which is below our balcony), I stepped outside so I could talk to him once he reached the green. There were no other golfers right behind him, so he was taking his time practicing his putting from various spots on the green. And as he was doing that, I was yelling down at him asking if he wanted to go to a movie or go out to eat, all while I kept going back and forth into the house to check the movie listings in the paper, look up a number for a restaurant we'd never tried to call and see if they were open, etc. And it hit me in those moments that we have a pretty cush life here...I mean not everyone can talk to their mate while he's playing golf as if he's in the front yard.

As I was calling what is supposed to be a recording at the movie complex listing the movies and times, I kept getting a message that said, "Leave your message at the tone." Those kinds of things drive me nuts. I was bitching out loud (to myself), "I wanna live in a 'real' place where things work!" We decided to pass on the movie but decided to try a new restaurant, a place where some friends had recently invited us to join them for a meal. We didn't go with our friends that night but thought that if they liked it, it must be okay. So we drove downtown to the restaurant, walked in and saw three people, all at the bar. This is a Japanese/Vietnamese restaurant--at least that's how they advertise it. The waitress walked over to greet us, grabbed a couple of menus, asked if we'd be having sushi (no) and told us to sit wherever we liked. She was joking how there wasn't exactly a rush on tables, so we should take any one we liked. I chose a table next to the window and said we'd sit there so it would look like they had some "bodies" in there. She said she had just been hanging out at the bar with her friends, making drinks for all of them. She was very pleasant, but we also got the impression that she would have been perfectly happy to spend her evening not having to wait on any tables.

The menu was not at all what we were expecting--it was a huge disappointment. I'm not a particularly finicky eater, and neither is my boyfriend. We'll eat pretty much anything, but we do like it to be GOOD...and this wasn't. It didn't taste bad, it was just...well, nothing. But we enjoyed ourselves anyway, talking and laughing a lot. Two other couples came in while we were there: an older couple related to someone who worked there and a couple who were clearly tourists (we saw them exit their cab). The tourists were seated, looked at the menu and then told the manager/waiter that they were terribly sorry but they'd forgotten their money and had to go back to their hotel. They asked if he could please call them a cab; he told them it would probably take 30-40 minutes for one to arrive and that they'd have better luck trying to flag one down in the street (failing to tell them that taxis here only answer radio calls and don't pick up flagging pedestrians). My guess was that they took one look at the menu (it's never a good sign when it contains pictures of all the dishes...and yet your dish looks absolutely nothing like the picture) and decided to try somewhere else.

As we were driving to dinner, coming down a steep hill with downtown and the harbor laid out in front of us, I was thinking how lovely that scene looks at night. There were two cruise ships in yesterday and curiously, they were still docked (they usually depart by 6:30). We could see one of them from our table in the restaurant and it was all lit up. We had "ooh-ed and ah-ed" as we drove past Emancipation Garden downtown because it was awash with Xmas lights of different colors. Over dinner, as the boyfriend was looking at the lit-up cruise ship, he commented how we take this place for granted, but it really is a pretty special place in some ways. I had to agree. I had had the same thought when I went out for a stroll yesterday at lunchtime. I get a kick out of seeing the excitement on the tourists' faces as they wander around the shopping always reminds me how excited I am to be on vacation somewhere. I try to remind myself (in my more dissatisfied moments) that people spend thousands of dollars to vacation here.

In my dissatisfied moments, it's the small things that get under my skin: the dearth of decent restaurants and the complete absence of any good ethnic food...a wacky movie complex where the box office never opens on time, the food's never ready and the movie you're watching will probably have Spanish good places to shop for clothes...the frequent power outages...a lack of abundant fresh produce, etc....all the conveniences we take for granted on the mainland. But on the flip side, we have so many enviable things here: world-class beaches, constant warm weather, a stress-free (spoiled) lifestyle, laid-back jobs, etc. And once again, I'm struck by what a curious mix of the pleasurable and irritating this place can be...and how we find ourselves in a real conundrum.

I keep coming back to the idea that maybe we're looking at the situation as too much of an either/or answer...maybe the answer isn't so cut-and-dried (i.e., should we live here or on the mainland). Maybe getting to the "right" answer requires us to change the question. Maybe the question isn't a cut-and-dried "Where do we live?" Maybe it's how can we create a life that allows us to enjoy the best parts of living here while still partaking of the things currently missing from our lives? Maybe we're starting from the wrong place to get to the right answer. Maybe we need to look at what we want the end result to be...and then backtrack from there. It's easy to say: if I go THERE, I'll have what I need (which may or may not turn out to be true). Maybe the more challenging--but ultimately more fulfilling--process is to ask what I want my life to look like...and then figure out how/where best to make that happen. Because it's never about PLACE...we often just think it Alex recently realized in her 12/8 post. It's about searching for the right elements to create my own beautiful, crazy-quilt life...wherever that might be. It doesn't have to be beautiful (or even understandable) to anyone long as my curious mix works for me.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Sweet Surprise

I LOVE my boyfriend! He stayed home from work today since he wasn't feeling well this morning. I razzed him that it was really because he didn't want to work in the rain, since it was pouring when he called in (but we only had a morning shower, followed by cloudy skies all day). I can never predict how he'll end up spending a day off, because left to his own devices at home, he can create all kinds of (sometimes zany) activities for himself.

Today he felt inspired to program a bunch of numbers into speed dial on our new portable phone. I know this because he programmed my work number and called it to make sure it was working. He also told me that he carved the remaining meat off the turkey carcass, and then he mentioned something about making a surprise for me. I said, "Turkey soup?!" And he said, "Something like that..." So I walked in the door late this afternoon and walked straight to the kitchen, expecting to find a big pot of turkey soup. I saw our big pot on the stove, but it was empty. I whined, "You didn't make any soup!" as I peeked at him under the kitchen cabinets where he was sitting at his keyboard on the other side of the counter. He didn't really say anything, just sort of gave me a funny look. Then I opened the fridge because I suddenly had the bright idea that maybe he'd made the soup hours earlier and refrigerated it. But when I opened the fridge I didn't find turkey soup...I found a plate of the cutest little sweet potato pie tarts you ever saw. I actually squealed with delight. He'd discovered we had one large yam left, and there was still some pie crust dough in the fridge...but I still don't know what inspired him to grab the muffin tin instead of the pie pan, especially since he'd never baked a pie in his life until last Sunday when he made his first sweet potato pie. So that was my surprise: miniature sweet potato pies made by my one and only swee-tart.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Dear Reader

I've always believed in the cliche that books can save lives...and sometimes, literally. I subscribe to "Chapter A Day" e-mails for both fiction and non-fiction. That's what it used to be called--now it's "Dear Reader." Each day's selection is preceded by a "Dear Reader" note/essay written by Suzanne Beecher, the woman in Florida who founded these book clubs. It's a wonderful service, and Suzanne seems to be a wonderful person. She has thousands and thousands of readers all over the world, but always takes the time to respond--personally--to the e-mails she receives from her readers. (I know that from first-hand experience.)

Today in her "Dear Reader" remarks she included a link to a letter she received from a soldier in Baghdad about a book he received from the book club that saved him from some serious harm. He was hit by shrapnel, but it was stopped by a paperback he had in the pocket of his cargo pants; it saved his leg.

Most of us who are avid readers won't ever have a book play this dramatic a role in our lives, but I still believe that books can save the most profound yet fundamental and intellectual and emotional ways. If you, too, love to read, please check out

When the war in Iraq first began (and let's face it, our soldiers are still "at war"), I read about "Books for Soldiers," an organization that was taking book requests from enlisted personnel in all branches of the service and asking people to fill the orders with either new or used books. Boyfriend (who's not a reader) and I selected a request from a Sergeant with the 101st Airborne and we sent him a box full of my used paperbacks and some golf magazines (boyfriend's contribution). They're still accepting book orders from service men and women, but I don't know if they're still asking people to fill the orders. I do know that they're seeking contributions to send books to Iraq for the holidays. If you'd like to donate, go here. Who knows? Your donation could be used to purchase a book that just might save a life.

Celebrity Hairstyles

So I was sitting in my stylist's chair after work yesterday, getting my hair cut, when she mentioned that she was supposed to do Joan Rivers' hair for 10 days. Whaaa??!!?? Turns out Joan is going to be here for 10 days (over the holidays, I presume) and her management contacted my stylist about the gig. Joan wants her hair styled each day at 5 pm. My stylist sent them a contract and asked them to fax it back to her by a certain date with a 50% deposit. She hadn't heard back from them but had decided that if she does, she'll ask them for even more money since they missed her deadline. And if she doesn't hear back from them, she said she could care less because as she puts it, "I have a life to lead." I said, "Gee, Joan doesn't strike me as the tropical type." She replied, "Yeah, I know, the humidity, the bugs..." Although it's not like she's gonna be camping on the beach.

After my haircut, I managed to squeeze in some Xmas shopping, even though almost all of the shops in that neighborhood close at 5:00. Every year at this time, I marvel over the fact that these shop owners want residents to purchase their holidays gifts in their stores, but they don't stay open long enough for people to shop after work. Bizarre.

Then I met the boyfriend for dinner at our new favorite restaurant, which we hadn't been to in awhile. And we were in for a pleasant surprise, because they have a new chef from New Orleans (who walked through the restaurant and introduced himself to each diner) and it was the first day they were using their new menu. We had a catfish nugget appetizer, I had the vegetarian jambalaya (enough for a small regiment...I'll be eating the leftovers for lunch today) and boyfriend had the Italian sausage served in a roux with rice. He practically licked his plate. N'Awlins food! In the West Indies! Good gawd, he's in heaven! And here's the topper: he arrived a few minutes late at the restaurant...because he'd been at home baking another sweet potato pie (we had filling and crust left over from our big Sunday feast). Now, I don't know about the rest of you ladies, but getting to spend my evening eating some yummy New Orleans-influenced food and then going home to further stuff myself with sweet potato pie--that was baked by my boyfriend!...well, it just doesn't get much better than that for me.

Monday, December 01, 2003

A surprise

Go to Penelope's site and check out her super secret surprise! Adorable!