It’s hard to open a magazine without reading about some lunatic (usually hetero and gentile) coughing up blood on the side of Everest, or a crazed fashion designer seeking spiritual replenishment and design inspiration in someone else’s country. I find this mania for “spiritual vacations” very worrying.
Last year my potter partner Jonathan Adler and I took our winter vacation in Peru. The landscape is fascinating: Much of it looks as if a giant vacuum cleaner bag has been emptied onto it. The trip was dramatic: One of our party was bitten by a monkey and hallucinated for two days-which I suppose was spiritual in its own way. The next day Jonathan and two cohorts, including the monkey-bitten friend, were ambushed by gunmen in a pharmacy while attempting to buy over-the-counter Viagra and Valium. The rent-a-car was stolen and never recovered. I returned with a new resolve to spearhead a New Age-vacation backlash.
This year we decided to go to St. Barts: Who cares if it’s bourgeois and trendy, at least it’s safe. The worst thing that can happen to you is that you will be denied entry to the fabulously snotty Hermès shop.
Surveying the crowd in the departure lounge at Newark International Airport allayed my fears about the trendiness-there was a Joey Heatherton look-alike and a Soprano-esque family with lots of jewelry. The beau monde obviously arrives on private planes, or maybe they had disguised themselves in moderate sportswear so they wouldn’t be mobbed or hassled by customs.
The most happening person was our drugged-out dog, Liberace; he was high as a kite after the ingestion of his tranquilizer. I suspect it was Special K, the notorious disco drug cooked and snorted by murderous Michael Alig and his club kids. I watched our little fella go a bit wobbly. Fifteen minutes later he was definitely in a K-hole. Norwich terriers don’t often smile, but when I peeked into the doggie bag I could swear the corners of his mouth were upturned.
We arrived at our rented villa on Lorient Beach. The exterior looked promising: cottagey, in an Inès de la Fressange-y sort of way-all bright colors and Provençal insouciance. We barreled inside. Quelle horreur ! The interior was a nightmare, an impoverished version of the set of The Golden Girls . Pastel chintz, cheesy rattan, plastic plants and plastic chairs everywhere. We kept getting stuck to them. The beds had foam pillows and poly-blend sheets: Pardon my prissiness, but if you’re renting a villa in St. Barts, I would advise you to call ahead and get a thread count.
The neighborhood looked a bit dodgy, too; there appeared to be homeless people sleeping on old car seats in a lean-to adjacent to our property.
“There are bums.… Il y a des clochards !” I complained to the rental agency.
“Monsieur, let me assure you zat zere are no ‘omeless persons living on St. Barts, and zere never will be.” By next year, I’m sure they will be advertising the presence of our “clochards,” the same way fashionable houses in 18th-century England often boasted the presence of an ornamental hermit living on the grounds.
A week in St. Barts is like sitting shiva . It’s obviously more cheery, but you are just as likely to put on 10 pounds. The restaurants are formidable, and the French lack of commitment to hygiene allows one to bring one’s dog. Maya’s, Tamarin, the Taïwana-all combine simple, fab food with a bohemian je ne sais quoi . The new restaurant, Massaï, has more je ne veux pas than je ne sais quoi , specializing in skewered things in coconut milk, etc. And we were definitely seated in the salle des refusés , back by the toilets. Most of the restaurants will start you off there, within sniffing distance of the pissoir, on your first visit. Pick one you like and go relentlessly; by the time you leave, you will have worked your way up to a decent table. If you are craving or suffering from a bit of folie de grandeur , I would definitely recommend François Plantation, where they proudly proffer amuses-bouches between courses without any trace of irony.
The Hermès shop in Gustavia is the real reason to go to St. Barts. Piles of gorgeous merchandise are juxtaposed with idiosyncratic Caribbean décor and are presided over by the two very arch human beings, the High Priest and Priestess, Catherine and Pero Feric, a husband-and-wife team who have run the Hermès boutique for as long as anyone can remember. It is a religious experience of sorts: We purchased two gaudily overdesigned towels and have found them to be quite emotionally fulfilling.
If you want to see French snobbism at its most magnifique , wait for a cruise ship to dock at Gustavia and watch the tubby tourists, many of whom look exactly like Duane Hanson sculptures, being repelled with uninhibited panache by these two shopkeepers.
If I had kids, I’m not sure I would take them to either Gouverneur or Saline beaches. There are one too many unexplainable mounds of wobbly exposed flesh on view. In fact, I wouldn’t really recommend it for adults, either: The sight of grown people in various states of physical fitness frying their genitalia in the sun really put me off my crepes Suzette.
Also: Careful with your dogs! We had to put Liberace on his leash after he surprised a couple of clothing-optional funsters with vigorous licks to their various areas.
Jonathan and I like to invent insulting and sadistic games when we are on vacation. Last year I invented the best game; it was called “Soothing or Annoying?” It’s quite simple: You think of the most heinously unsoothing thing you can do, e.g. grinding the mesh of a tennis racket into the end of your partner’s nose. Then you ask your partner, “Soothing or annoying?” They win or lose, depending on how long they can endure the pain and maintain the lie that it feels “soothing.”
This year I reluctantly had to admit that Jonathan won. His winning game was called “Playing the Obese Idiot.” It consisted of slapping me as hard as possible on my back and diaphragm, and maintaining that this was his art and that I was some kind of musical instrument.
“I’m playing the obese idiot. It’s a new piece I’m working on.”
Innocent bystanders were appalled, but we found the whole process quite spiritually enriching.