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Hibiscusade with that Goat Water?

A tryst with John Deere is what I expected when asked to cover the St. Croix 37th Agricultural and Food Fair – AGRIFEST – (or AgFest if you’re cool.) Feeling conflicted between the promise of sandy beaches with little parasols in tropical cocktails and the thought of having to find tractors sexy and inspiring, I hesitated about, oh, 10 seconds then ordered a new skimpy bikini.

A week later, I fly to the Virgin Islands, armed with hours of scientific research on agricultural implements and their attachments. John Deere and I are going to have a total love fest.

The St. Croix AgFest is a huge deal in the U.S. Virgin Islands. As soon as I land, I am whisked away to the opening reception at the Governor’s Mansion.

Talking about governors, here he is: the seventh Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Governor John deJongh. A muy sympatico laid back governor if you ask me.

After a few glasses of punch, I feel ready for the big day ahead of me.

The next morning, approaching the Fair venue, I realize that studying the engagement of the locking differential through the use of split breaks in a four-wheel drive tractor may have been a tad irrelevant, if not completely nerdy. The sun is shining on columns of colorfully clad families walking cheerfully towards the Fair grounds and this is starting to feel a lot like… a party! This will be work for the camera rather than the pen, the senses rather then the brain (pretty good news considering the gray cells seem to have migrated to another country.)

Inspired by the last Top Chef season, I decide to emulate Anthony Bourdain. Whatever sounds the weirdest, that’s what I’m eating. I end up with Goat Water (a creamy stew made of goat.) In all honesty, I think the goat water is an acquired taste, and not to sound unworldly but a Hamburger from McDonald’s begins to look real good after a few bites of the goat (plus you receive a complimentary toy with your Happy Meal and you get nada with the goat.)

All the women serving food wear traditional garb. I could use a headdress such as this one. I think it would make me look much taller.

Rastafarians everywhere! Some make this adorable little heart sign when you photograph them. I can only assume this is the Rasta way of saying “peace out mon.” Perhaps I’m completely mistaken and the sign means “you look like a weird little dudette” but hopefully not.

Some Rastas look very friendly,

some very wise.

Some appear just a tad less approachable (you’ll notice no trace of little “I heart you” sign going on there, just Rasta office weaponry.)

Some non-Rastafarians look downright as if they had emerged from the Dallas hood, bling and all… You just catch yourself scrutinizing the parking lot for the pimped car on hydraulics.

No worries. We are very well protected by the island popo who incidentally has a lot of problem not cracking up while posing for the photograph.

The St. Croix agents are a force to be reckoned with. They are fierce. They look mean. Do not mess with them.

At the Agfest, you can get a temporary tattoo which is cool for a woman but not so cool for a mon, I told Matthew, another travel writer, who seemed quite tempted by the experience.

Having heard about Matthew’s longing for a girly girl tattoo, a Moko Jumbie attempts to scare the evil spirits away from him.

The whole fair grounds is strewn with booths selling clothes, jewelry, artifacts, fabrics, music, and local products from the three islands.

Fresh local organic produce. As a rule, I never eat anything green unless it’s wasabi but sampling the products of the Virgin Island Sustainable Farm Institute, I was reminded of how fruits and vegetables are supposed to taste. Yummy for my tummy! I’d eat veggies if I lived on St. Croix. Until then, I’ll stick with sushi and Cocoa Puffs.

Music instruments and pots.

A photo booth!

At the end of the day, you could observe exhausted children sleeping in their mom’s arms… I, too, could have used a little nap by that time but then I would have missed…

Mister Suave. Perched on his bike, the dude was flirting with every women passing by. Sampling tomatoes? It’s all good but, eh, you have to keep your priorities straight, you know.

As I leave the Fair Grounds, the guy manning the entrance asks to have his portrait taken. He seems really cool. I have never ever seen such blown pupils in my life!

If you want a display of shiny modern agricultural machines, the Agricultural and Food Fair may not be for you. The AgFest is a cultural jewel and offers a perfect insight in the colorful Crucian lifestyle to tourists.

I would only perhaps recommend a Pious Nun over the goat water.

I, Parisian Paparazza

At midnight, Didier unceremoniously threw me out of his party. I was fifteen. Walked back home in the dark, crying and screaming bloody murder. Nowadays, neither Didier nor I remember the exact circumstances of my demise that night, but reunited two years ago after more than two decades of silence, I have more or less forgiven him and have renounced sending him my fear of rejection therapy bills for reimbursement.

Didier as Super Dupont

Didier as Super Dupont circa 1982 at the Lycee Francais de Bruxelles

Didier now lives in Paris as many of our old schoolmates. Spending time with him, an artist, is never dull… if not downright spooky.

Didier at Pere Lachaise

Didier, Pere Lachaise, May 2008

We met in the morning at one of my all time favorite cemeteries, the Pere Lachaise. Since I hadn’t had my daily five cappuccinos yet, we walked to one of his favorite hang-outs, A La Bonne Franquette, a Parisian bistrot serving wonderful berber specialties.

Ninor et Chavane

Ninor and Chavane, sexy brothers, owners of La Bonne Franquette

We spent quite a few hours on the terrace, I filling up on caffeine, Didier on “serre” and discussing our lives. I insisted on attempting to photograph his rapper buddy Xanax who, I’m told, lives in pajamas, but the bon-vivant would not answer his phone.

Xanax where art thou?

Our next move was to use the cappuccino fuel to scale the next-door six story building leading to a smoky music studio. Didier and friends are producing a very cool reggae album.

Le studio

I was happy to finally meet Baco, the infamous Madacascan singer. Charming fellow. Womanizer extraordinaire. Good times!

Baco

Baco Wazi Wazi

The studio is very small, and with my 85mm lense, I find myself plastered to the walls to be able to take photographs.

Paris rooftop

View of Paris rooftops from the studio’s window

Self-portrait and didier\'s portrait in one

Self-portrait and portrait wrapped into one or killing two birds with one stone

After a while, we decide to move along. I propose the metro. Didier insists on taking his scooter. I am terrified BUT I am way too proud to admit it. For anyone who has had the excruciating experience of driving in Paris, being on a scooter is the next step on the dangerous slope towards premature death. As Didier wiggles the scooter keys with a stupid grin plastered on his face, I know he is enjoying the moment.

The scooter

A la guerre comme a la guerre! I’ll turn myself into a Parisian paparazza and hold on to dear life discreetly while appearing very cool on the outside – well as cool as one can be wearing a helmet.

I, Scooter paparazza

I know some of you probably think of me as a total wimp and complete sissy but I must inform you about “the special scooter lane.” The aforementioned “special scooter lane” is the tiny space between opposing lines of traffic in the middle of the street. Interestingly enough, while there is, in the best of cases, room for a single scooter on the special lane, scooters coming from facing directions borrow the narrow passage in a never-ending ballet of playing chicken with one another.

Scooter lane

After several close calls, I start to document the last few minutes before impending doom.

Gas prices in Paris

S.P 98 is unleaded 98 octane gas. 1,57 euros is the price for one liter, that’s 5.96 euros a gallon, that’s $7.77 a gallon – one of the reasons why people drive small cars in Europe (the other reason being that they actually care about the environment even is China doesn’t but I digress…)

The French popo

It is forbidden to photograph the French popo in Paris. This one got really irate but I love the forbidden! A little gun is not going to deter me. In contrast, when we rode right into a protest, I was not about to mess with the very impressive display of force at hand. There are no photographs of the “CRS” on this blog, but trust me, they looked quite mean and appear singularly devoid of any sense of humor.

La manif

I’m not sure what the protest was all about. Didier tells me everybody is completely blase about them. “Manifs” in Paris happen hundreds of times a year. A day in Paris without a protest just wouldn’t be a true reflection of the city.

Sans-papiers protest

Didier finally lets me get off the infernal machine to check out the somewhat organized chaos. I think these above protesters were trying to hijack the event for their cause, the legalization of all illegal immigrants. You’d think you were in the States!

Bus loads of cops

Bus loads of cops

Cleaning services

In the distance, the cleaning crew. It would seem that Paris has it pat down. Half hour after any protest, the place is spotless. Of course, they have ample opportunities to train.

The cleaning crew

After protesting with the people and chanting L’internationale, it was time to hang up my scooter paparazza persona and take the metro towards other adventures.

If you wish to check out the video of the first single of my friends’ reggae album, here is a link:

http://www.toutlemondeabesoindetoutlemonde.com

This song is in French, but there are songs in English too.