The View
from Here:
    Ellen Lampert-Greaux lives in Petite Saline, and when she's not organizing the St. Barts film festival, or supervising the local volleyball league, or writing for various magazines, she turns her all-seeing eye upon local happenings.
    Every once in a while something happens in Saint Barth that gets a lot of people into a tizzy, which is something like a tailspin, or a state of general agitation. It could be a rumor about taxes or perhaps the announcement of an oncoming hurricane (and believe it or not, some people seem happy to see one coming). But when people around here get a bee in their bonnet, or something stuck in their craw, it becomes a topic of conversation everywhere from Le Select to Toiny and back. This fall, one of those topics was a passport, of all things. I have always found the local passports kind of charming, an innocent throwback to the simpler days on the island. While the local passports are French and part of the European Union, just like those issued to all other French citizens, the Saint Barth version of this international get-away pass has always been hand-written by someone in the local Sous-Prefecture. But last August the United States announced that hand-written passports would no longer allow access past the Statue of Liberty or any other American port of call (and who knows, perhaps the rest of the civilized world as well). And not only would hand-written passports not be accepted, but all passports now had to have a bar code, or electronic strip that can be read by a computer. And the new ruling was in effect as of October 1,2003. Anyone without the proper passport would have to have a visa issued by the American consulate on some island not anywhere near this one, which meant a quick trip someplace to get the visa (or entrusting your passport to the capriciousness of inter-island mail...). So everyone quickly looked at their passports. Some sighed a sigh of relief. Theirs had been issued recently enough to meet the new requirements. Some would expire soon and could be replaced with the right kind. But what about those passports that were only halfway through their life expectancy and did not pass muster? The Sous-Prefecture must have been swamped with calls. A new passport cost 60 Euros and was good for 10 years. A United States visa cost 80 Euros and you only needed it until you got a new passport. I even looked at my own United States passport that was just issued last February to see if it had the electronic reader strip (it does) to make sure I could get past immigration at JFK when I next landed there. But what were the island's intrepid travelers to do? I can just imagine how many of the old hand-written passports were suddenly "lost," making replacements a necessity. Or perhaps they were chewed by the dog, dropped in the ocean, or shredded by the lawnmower. And after all that, the United States decided to push back the deadline by a year, to 2004, but I'll bet you the price of a passport or two that by then everyone will have the shiny new version that meets the demands of Uncle Sam.
    More to come,
    Ellen Lampert-Greaux
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