Saturday, January 28, 2012

Eden Rock


Maybe it's because it seems to be fashioned of odd bits that wouldn't normally connect. But yet it comes together with style and even a bit of magic, if not with simplicity. There are rooms and there are bungalows and there are even beachfront villas, for those with deep pockets—the little red-hatted one above is in fact enormous, stunningly chic inside and comes with its own pool.

And there's great service—for those who are happy to see lots of staff buzzing around you doing things. Every morning these clean towels are carted in for the beach sun loungers.

It's an ugly duckling—but only if you haven't considered the details, always inventive and impeccably realized.

This swampy little waterway passes right through the hotel grounds but to make sure that no one falls into it they've stretched these masking white sails—clever.

This could be the elegant door to your suite. You won't be surprised by the glamor and luxury inside—there's always at least one Hollywood celebrity staying here.

Or you could be staying in this sea view cottage, why not? So many possibilities. Years ago this used to be the bar.

There's a resident portrait artist—wouldn't you care for one of your kids at play on the beach?

Eden Rock Hotel, St Barth.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Other St Barth


I've always loved the old port of Corossol on St Barth. It's hidden away from most tourist traffic and not particularly inviting with its steep narrow road down into it and a village intimacy that's not entirely welcoming. When you walk these narrow, very lived-in streets, you have the sense that everyone is aware of your intrusion and yet if you pass someone along the way they're always cordial, and even rather proud.

This little house is very typically St Barth, one room, and yet it was built as a dwelling, often anchored to a sturdy tree whose deep roots would help secure it in a gale.

This house has a stunning view of the sea and the port, a few steps away from its little white gate.

This is not why Roman Abramovich has chose St Barth for his winter home, yet this house has a view of his three yachts anchored half a mile or so off shore—they're far too big to come into the port of Gustavia.

The ubiquitous sun that never sets, very British, and very Caribbean!

Inappropriate lighting is often the first improvement less developed towns make in their journey to a brighter future.

The gingerbread and the filigree seem to be all over the Caribbean. I suppose the ready-made templates and decorative bricks were widely traded across the islands, regardless of their colonial traditions.

The riches of an azure sea upon ones doorstep—it's never gone unappreciated by the locals!

This is not a bad quality of life.

A very unusual cactus tree, wouldn't you say?

In this ruin of an old house someone has taken the time to hang baskets of plants.

Friday, January 20, 2012

An Italian Caribbean Island?


I'd always felt that that would be bliss, an Italian Caribbean island, where the palm trees sway and a good plate of spaghetti's never far away! But alas, it doesn't exist. This is just St Barth (or St. Bart's) and while the real estate and flavor are decidedly French, due to its proximity to the US mainland, the visitors are largely American. We've been going there since the 70s when the airport was grass and never had a Vuitton bag ever sat upon it. Our loyalties are real, however, and we still love it there—it's changed, but so are we.

We usually rent houses there but this time I wanted to stay smack on the beach and so I came up with the idea of Emeraude Plage, at St Jean. The advantage is that you never have to get into the car, if you don't want to. You live in a bathing suite. You hear and smell the sea breezes as you fall asleep at night, with all your windows wide open to that tonic air. You're swimming even before breakfast and you can say good night to the sea with your bare feet in the sand before getting into bed.

We were happy to find several Italians staying here as well who invited us to their private terrace on the beach a bit further along for champagne before lunch.

There's Gil making up our two sun loungers—and so the days went by.

Emeraude Plage enjoys the best bit of beach at St Jean. Everything to the left of that rope fence is private to its guests. Even now in mid season, with the hotel full, it felt as if we had the place to ourselves.

There's not much of a restaurant, just a charming woman from Santo Domingo who'll fix you breakfast if you don't want to bother making it in your bungalow (which comes with a tiny kitchen).

The reception bungalow was redecorated in 2006.

You can tell whoever did it had a bit of practice under his belt! That, below, is the designer's book. I'd never heard of them, but I'd driven past their stunning St Tropez home, pictured here on the cover, many times, wondering who was responsible for it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Why We Don't Have Starbucks in Italy


As you can see, this coffee bar bears no resemblance to Starbucks. We're in Florence here, at Gilli, one of the most truly Italian, truly Florentine cafes imaginable. There's a handsome grandeur to it—Liberty style (the Italian version of Art Nouveau), but this is a bar that anyone can feel comfortable in.

When Starbucks was asked why they didn't have stores in Italy the answer was, "Italians aren't used to waiting more than 30 seconds for a cappuccino." This is true, but the better answer is more complicated than that. In Starbucks' nations an Italian coffee bar is a novelty. It's not truly part of American, or British or Swiss culture. It's a foreign concept, like a Thai restaurant. Here in Italy the coffee bar is daily life and always has been. There's nothing snobbish or pretentious about it—when American Republicans condemn liberal effete snobs they're apt to call them, derisively, "latte sippers." Here, even the most humble citizen can indulge in a caffe latte with impunity. The coffee bar is for everybody.

But it's true, Starbucks is not an Italian bar. The departure point was Italian but the end result is purely American. Even though they use Italian words to describe their coffees what is served is unmistakably American, from the taste of the coffee itself to the consistency of the foam of steamed milk. In the penultimate photograph you see the proper coffee cups lined up on the bar. No one here wants their coffee in a styrofoam or paper cup. And the size is important. It must be small. When it's small you taste the coffee. It must be of a temperature that's ready to drink—Italians won't stand there and stir their cup cool with a narrow plastic stick for ten minutes. Even a caffe latte is small—little more than twice the amount of milk of a cappuccino. The Starbucks item called a "venti" does not exist and Italians can't help but chuckle when they see it. This is the way it is here and nothing will change it. Starbucks is wise not to try to teach the fish how to swim

This is a nation of culturally established rules; Starbucks would have shattered each and every one of them. A friend was visiting from the US and he found the cappuccino too small. He learned the word for double, doppio, and came up with his solution to the problem. He ordered "Un doppio cappuccino con doppio caffe!" The barista couldn't imagine what in the world such a thing might be—how do you get all that into a coffee cup? must have been the question he asked himself. My friend was offended by the barista's half smile at such a request, and at the way he repeated Un doppio cappuccino con doppio caffe! when he finally served up his odd attempt at making the customer happy. Italians are not snooty, it's just that their habits are so ingrained. For them, there's only one way to make a cappuccino and if isn't big enough, you have another one.

A few closing tips: If you order a latte in an Italian bar you get a glass of milk. You must say caffe latte. If you want to sound like a local, when you order an espresso at an Italian bar say simply, "Un caffe!" Only foreigners say, "Un espresso!" Oh, and one more thing: cappuccino is only for breakfast, never at the end of a meal!