Whaddyadoallday? Real Life on a Desert Island Rotating Header Image

February, 2012:

What’s in a name? – Juliet

Where I come from folks didn’t have nicknames. One high school classmate was called “Smokey” (for blatantly obvious reasons), but that was it. In our home even shortening names was considered taboo. My mother, Bernadine, had lived a life of nomenclatorial regret for having been tagged with the shorter and less lovely version, “Bernie”. As a result, Gregg was simply named Gregg (not Gregory and then called Greg), Gordon was never Gordy, and nobody but nobody was allowed to call me “George”. My own father tried, on occasion, but my mother would fix her steely eyes on me and forbid me from answering him.

Clearly parents feel an enormous responsibility associated with choosing names for their beloved children. An Amazon search for books under ‘baby names’ yielded 24,883 hits. That indicates some serious interest in picking the perfect moniker. Why then does everyone in Anguilla have a nickname? The guys who built our house weren’t Tom, Dick and Harry. They were Star, Diamond, Boss and the Baker. I know Sugar and Chickie, Stallone and Benjy, Moses and Duda. Even Michael is sometimes Mike, occasionally Paul, but often times Doc. (I have no idea if people have a name for me other than my given one, but that may be just as well). Way back when, I asked Star about the commonplace, bordering on requisite, nature of nicknames in Anguilla; and he told me, “ ‘Jaja’, yo mama can call you whatever she want, but it be yo friends what pick yo name.”

Heck, even I made one up the other day. I was having lunch with my friend, Dianne, and met the new waiter at the little bistro where we were eating. She introduced him as John. He corrected her. His real name is Paul. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I honestly can’t remember now because she kept getting it confused. So I kept getting it confused. We went around and around and around until we ended up laughing about our aging brains’ inability to remember names. Finally, I sought solace in the fact that at least we knew he was one of the Beatles. So we called him Ringo. And it stuck. He’ll always be Ringo to us now.

So I guess it wasn’t surprising when I went down to the ferry dock yesterday to give something to my friend Dwayne, and I couldn’t find him. I asked one of the regulars if he had seen him. Dwayne? He didn’t know any Dwayne. I said, of course you do. He’s here all the time. Yo tall. Chubby cheeks. Worked on the ferries, then for the port authority, now maybe with the GBExpress boat…. Of course you know Dwayne. Nope. Didn’t ring a bell. So just as I started doubting myself and wondering if his name was really Dwayne since Michael frequently calls him Dwight, the first guy called over another guy. Hey, do you know someone named Dwayne? Luckily, recognition showed on the second guy’s face. He said, oh Duuu-aaaayne? Yeah, he said to the first guy, that’s ‘Beaver’.

Beaver?, I thought. Oh, yeah, Beaver, he says. He was here but I think he gone. So I went over to the woman at the GBExpress boat who I KNOW knows Dwayne because I’ve talked to both of them at the same time. I asked her if Dwayne was around. Pause. Beaver?, I offered. Oh yeah, sorry. He not here. He gone, but he soon come again. So I told her he asked me to drop something off. Could I leave it with her? But before I left I told her how I only know Dwayne as Dwayne – that I didn’t realize that everyone calls him Beaver. And she said, Oh yeah, I remember now. He mother call him Dwayne, but everybody know he as Beaver.

Well, apparently everybody but me and Doc.




It’s time for the annual migration. For years we rented our home to vacationers from Christmas into March so we weren’t here on island this time of year. We would overlap a little bit with the folks who come down to the islands to escape the cold, snowy winter and then return to their northern homes in the spring, but we were always heading in the opposite direction. We were sort of reverse snowbirds. This year we have been here for the duration, though, so I have reminders in my calendars on my computer alerting me to watch for departing nomads. I’m not sitting on my veranda watching the planes take off, however. I’m sitting on the veranda looking for the other snowbirds, the whales. 

It’s a little known and surprisingly poorly publicized fact that the humpback whales pass through these islands in February and March on their way from their breeding grounds in the warm tropical waters around the Dominican Republic to their feeding grounds up north. As a result, we were living in our home long before we ever knew that whales swim by here. An Anguillian friend was here one day talking to us and just paused briefly in his conversation to note, ‘oh, there’s a whale,’ and then went right on talking. We were stunned. 

In past years, we’ve only had the opportunity to catch sight of a few late stragglers, but this year we are here during the peak travel season; and we are watching. The problem is that the whales can stay under the water for upwards to 30 minutes if they want which means a person could spend a LOT of time staring at the sea in the hopes of seeing one even if one is out there. Therefore, in an attempt to increase my odds of making a sighting, I asked everyone I know to call me if they see a whale. That way I’d at least know when they started coming through. I even enlisted my gardener to be a lookout. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have much fascination with whales. He was pretty ho hum on the topic – much like that first ‘oh, there’s a whale’ sighting. When I asked him to call me if he saw one, he informed me that he typically spots them while working at friends’ houses further east of us beyond the channel in the open water. No problem, I said. Just call me. He didn’t see the point, though. It’s not like I could be expected to drive all the way out there just to see a whale. 

This is probably why nobody advertises the prospect of whale watching while you are here on vacation.  The gardner is probably not the only one who doesn’t think I would bother to drive 5 miles to see a whale when, in fact, I have driven 125 miles from San Francisco to Monterey, California and then paid to go out on a boat in the hopes of seeing a whale. Suffice it to say, that I didn’t have a lot of confidence that he would call me in the event of a sighting. 

Thank heavens for facebook. A friend returned to the States on Tuesday, and on Wednesday she posted that the ferry boat had passed by a couple of whales on its way to St. Maarten. So, knowing they had arrived, I redoubled my efforts. That night I was just getting ready to go out and decided to take a minute to scan the horizon. When I saw the first spout, I thought I was conjuring the image in my mind. Then I saw the second spout. I called for Michael to bring the binoculars and we spent the next 20 minutes watching a whale spout and roll and breach – oohing and aahing like kids watching fireworks. It was closer to St. Martin than it was to Anguilla, but that’s OK. I have hope. I’ve just got to devote more time to looking. After all, it’s early. I’ve still got weeks before the last snowbirds depart.

Mais non….mais oui!

The other day, Michael had to fly off to States. That meant that he had to take the ferry over one afternoon to stay overnight in St Maarten in order to catch the first flight to Miami the next morning. I was due for a break so I went over with him. (The hotel was already paid for, after all.)

We did some minor shopping. Checked into a hotel near the airport. (Three times, in fact, since twice they gave us keys to rooms that were already occupied.) And then drove into Marigot for a lovely dinner at one of our favorite, French restaurants at the Marina. It was a beautiful evening: a welcoming environment, fantastic food, stellar weather, twinkling lights, and happy people everywhere.  Definitely one of those rewarding ‘can you believe we live here?’ moments.

After Michael left the next morning I lounged around for a little while and then headed back to the ferry dock to meet my good friend, Dianne. She had some shopping she needed to do in St Maarten, I was already there, and I had a car rented so it worked out perfectly. We successfully completed most of her errands. Then we headed off to lunch at the very same restaurant. We had to wait for a table, so I went to look at some bathing suits Michael had admired while window shopping before dinner the night before. (Better to try on bathing suits before lunch than after lunch.)

Let me preface this story with the tale of my first (and last) bathing suit shopping trip on the French side of St. Martin. I was younger then (by about a decade). We had just moved to the island so that living in a bathing suit was still new to me. Online shopping and shipping to the island was not an option then. Michael thought I needed a new suit (then just like now) and dragged me into a store in Marigot. Now, men do not understand the stress associated with bathing suit shopping. That is because they basically get to wear shorts – just made out of slightly different fabric than their regular shorts. If men had no choice but to wear tight, little Speedos to the beach, then they’d know what we go through.  But I digress….

Back to my first search for a bathing suit in French St Martin. I took a deep breath; steeled myself and ventured into the store and spotted a bathing suit I thought I could manage. I asked the teeny, tiny little French jeune femme if she had the suit in my size.  She stood there in her runway pose, literally looked me up and down and up again, and then said, “Mais non, madame, I’m afraid that we do not carry the big, big sizes.” I could have died. Plus, I am not a plus size. I wear a size 8, sometimes a 6. So what was that about? Suffice it to say that I have not tried on bathing suits in St. Martin since that day.

But, Dianne was encouraging, the sales girl was not rude, and Michael really liked this one particular suit. I thought it looked a little too “Bond Girl” for me. So, I put off trying it on and tried on other ones instead. They were as OK as a bathing suit can look on a woman my age, but I wasn’t enamored. Finally, I broke down and tried on the one he picked. I was behind the little curtain in the cubby hole the French call dressing rooms. I put on the suit and said, “Shit.” Dianne asked what was the matter.  I told her, “It looks good.” And damn if it didn’t. Not bearable, but honest to goodness, ‘I feel good in this’ good.

So good that I actually looked up the label when I got home. Niki de Paimpol. If the computer is translating  the French on their facebook page properly, their goal is to dress women from 4 to 85 and especially the mature woman (it translated as the ‘ripe’ woman so I’m paraphrasing here) who still feels 20 in her mind. That pretty much fits. And so does the suit. So why was my initial response a derogatory expletive? Well, for two reasons. One: Michael was right. That tends to be annoying. Two: the price. Even in euros it was a lot. You’d swear, too.

However, when you are my age (let’s just say a smidge past the halfway mark between 4 and 85), and you put on a bathing suit and feel great in it, you just have to suck it up (and in) and buy the damn thing. I know Michael would have. At least I’m banking on that fact.