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Dec 16, 2006

TRUTH OR FICTION?

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There has been a big brouhaha in the American press and on the Internet lately over an article written by Alan Richman in GQ magazine in which he wrote something along the lines of there is no such thing as a real Creole person in New Orleans (he likened them to an imaginary race such as leprechauns…) and by extension, no such thing as real Creole cooking. As a result, the City of New Orleans, as well as many Big Easy fans, took Richman to task, and a spate of articles have been written (even the New York Times got into the act with a nice piece on Creole cuisine) and angry rants on websites have taken exception to his statement, which rings about as true as saying that Saint Barth is a fiscal paradise for millionaires. But wait a minute! There was just a “news” item on television in France that purported that just such nonsense is true. The Tuesday, December 12, 2006 edition of a program entitled “Complément d’Enquête” presented Saint Barth as a fiscal paradise for millionaires who do not pay any taxes and who live far from the economic crisis in France. The first part of the program was a rare interview with Bernard Arnault, the wealthiest man in France, who heads up the luxury goods empire LVMH (who does not have a house in Saint Barth in spite of the show’s insistence that the island continues to attract the world’s largest fortunes). Proof that the island is for millionaires was shown via the luxury boutiques in Gustavia, which are of course the same ones you would find on Madison Avenue, the Rue Faubourg St Honore, the Via Veneta, Rodeo Drive, or even an upscale mall in Texas. Then of course there are the mega-yachts in the harbor, and a who’s who of island visitors such as Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Steven Spielberg (none of whom are French and all of whom pay US taxes one assumes). Yes, of course there are many millionaires who vacation here and others who own homes here, so it’s normal that luxury boutiques would be on hand to cater to their needs. But let’s have a serious reality check here for just a minute. I promise you (and would like the chance to tell these misguided TV journalists) that behind the façade of fancy boutiques and a handful of villas that rent for $35,000 per week and up, there is the "real” island of Saint Barth: one with people of color, although this recent TV special claims there are none; a real island with a slight security problem if you are not careful, although the same report featured a woman saying you can leave your bag and your keys in your car (she’s right only if you want both bag and car stolen… although generally speaking the island is very safe!). At no time did they say that there are plenty of people who make normal livings at normal jobs like bank tellers, teachers, and waiters. Nor did they say that islanders have all kinds of hidden costs such as sending their children away to high school, as the island does not have one, or the lack of a real hospital with a maternity ward, so that expectant mothers need to leave the island at least two weeks before their due dates. Or the fact that not even a tomato is grown here and the cost of imported groceries, meat, fruit, and veggies is much higher than that of France. I’d like to invite those journalists from “Complément d’Enquête” back to Saint Barth and give them the chance to get it right the next time, rather than embellishing the truth and turning it into fiction.

More to come,

 

Ellen Lampert-Greaux


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