Classics in the French Caribbean: Sint Maarten
Pianist Ronée Boyce explores music in the French Caribbean in the second of a series of guest
November concert engagements on the island were not only a welcomed escape from colder climes, I was happy to have some days off within the week to discover it.
The plane makes an incredibly dramatic and memorable entrance onto Sint Maarten’s Juliana airport runway, wheels dangling low enough for sunbathers below on Maho Beach to almost reach out and touch. Voluble airplane passenger shrieks transform into gales of laughter and applause, like a movie scene extracted straight
from Hollywood, as the plane touches down on the tarmac. We had not yet disembarked, and I already knew that I was in for quite an adventure.
Nicknamed “The Friendly Island”, Sint Maarten is half French, half Dutch and predominantly English-speaking. Predictably, many of its
expatriates hail from Holland and France, giving the Caribbean island an extremely chic, European vibe. Three other islands dwell in very close proximity; the island of Anguilla is only a 30-minute boat ride away; the glamourous island of St. Barth’s is a 45-minute journey in the opposite direction. Saba, with its modest island population of 1,200, required a 2-hour journey at sea, however flying is often advised due to rough waters. Its hazy mountainous appearance stands off in the distance like a shining bulwark in the ocean’s midst.
Winter concerts in warmer climates usually place just about enough wind in my sails to embolden me to press onward through the rest of Canadian winter. So performances on the Island of Sint Maarten were right up my alley.
I travelled to St. Maarten with my piano trio; we spotted our crew in airport arrivals holding up a sign with my name on it. After exchanging warmly greetings by the executive director and her assistants with big hellos and hugs, our luggage was boarded into the trunk of an SUV, and we were whisked away in a 3-vehicle entourage, to our condos and car rental. It seemed a tiny bit humorous travelling in three cars down a 1 lane road, but their earnest desire to treat us well was very touching.
After an hour and a half of unpacking and to get ready to dine at one of the best seafood restaurants in recent memory (I’ll speak more about the cuisine later). “The Friendly Island” of Sint Maarten was certainly living up to its name!
The first few days were spent on the Dutch side of the island, mostly rehearsing in the concert hall. We were taken yachting around the entire island which in retrospect, was a much easier mode of transportation. We boarded on the Dutch side of the island, in the town of Phillipsburg,
We were really grateful to have a car; although it is possible to get around the entire island in about an hour, there are many winding roads and we had a much easier time getting from place to place. The French side of the island had many charming French patisseries where
Hailed as the culinary capital of the Caribbean, Sint Maarten’s exceptional range of cuisine was a gastronomic delight an integral part of the entire trip; each day after rehearsal we awaited seafood delights such as mahi mahi, salmon tartare, wahoo coconut shrimp The next day technically our first day was a day off.