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Monday
Mar012010

Ta-Cousteau

Location: Chez Jen & Mark, Grand Case, St. Martin

Friday night we were invited to the 2nd annual Ta-Cousteau: a celebration of all things Taco and Jacques Cousteau. Sounded like fun, and it most definitely was.

We arrived at our friends' rooftop deck (and I use the term "deck" very loosely ;), to find the rest of the party (everyone from the dive shop, plus a few) already sporting their red Jacques Cousteau hats, and t-shirts that said "J'aime ESS" which stands for Extreme Shallow Snorkeling, a sport which our friends are working diligently to invent/socialize.

First, I feel compelled to make a side note on the roofdeck. One of the things I have noticed, being outside the U.S., is that not every country is obsessed with safety. Perhaps it is a sign of a less litigious culture, of which I wholeheartedly approve, or simply an indication of a belief system that embraces personal responsibility. Either way, what you start to see in other countries (and I remember it well from my time in France/Europe 18 years ago), is that there aren't guard rails on every nook and cranny. The roof was genuinely just a roof. It had random metal spikes sticking up a few feet, at unpredictable intervals, smartly covered by empty beer bottles (proving yet again necessity is the mother of invention, especially when drunk). At the edge of the roof - nothing. Just a few feet of empty space between this roof and the next. In the dark, no indication of the 30-foot fall you'd experience if you drunkenly stumbled that direction, except a tiny bit of light emanating from the cement alleyway below. But for all that, it was a fantastic roofdeck - not overlooking anything in particular, but wide open to the beautiful St. Martin night sky and the perfect breeze. We took appropriate note of the borders, and cracked our first beers.

While Mark was upstairs whipping up the most amazing tacos I've ever had in a private home - complete with braised chicken which had obviously been simmering perfectly for days, freshly made tortillas, mouthwatering guacamole, and succulent black beans - the rest of us were down on the roofdeck prepping for our first Jacques Cousteau screening.

Of course, I was a little confused, wondering how we were going to watch a Cousteau movie - the logistics of it were a bit baffling - when our host whipped out the smallest projector I've ever seen. It was from Optimus, and he got it off Amazon for a pittance (less than your average digital camera), and it had better screen resolution than the 30-lb dinosaurs we still use at my company. He hooked it up to his ipod, on which was loaded the movie, and plugged in a tiny single speaker, et voila - an outdoor movie theater was born. Seriously, the whole set up could fit in your pocket, and cost less than $500. I wish I had brought my camera to take a picture of it.

After dining in total splendor (did I mention the amazing tacos?), the Cousteau film festival began. Now, I'm pretty sure I'd watched some Cousteau back in my younger years, but that would have been decades ago. I'm familiar - and vastly appreciative - of the impact his efforts have had on underwater preservation efforts, and generally the awareness and appreciation of what lives in the great blue yonder. What I didn't realize, is that these guys were crazy. Downright diabolical, by today's standards.

When you dive these days, you don't touch, and you certainly don't bring things back with you, nor do you intentionally @#!@ with the indigenous critters. These guys did all of those things. Granted, it was in the name of science, and for that matter they were regularly risking their lives (and sanity), but it was amazing to watch. First, there were the big plexiglass balls that they would lure fish into, so they were constrained for the first time in their lives. As soon as they realized it, the fish went a little nuts, and "started acting unnatural, a sure invitation to predators," at which point an enormous grouper came by and tried to attack the plexiglass ball. But that's not all. They then swam down with a ginormous syringe - I am not making this up - larger than a person, but still syringe-shapped, and injected the plexiglass ball full of fish with "a narcotic we whipped up on the boat." God only knows what was in this stuff, but needless to say, the fish began acting even less natural. Let's just say that the plexiglass dome and ball figured prominently in several subsequent experiments; craziness ensued. Oh, and then the huge mirror came out. The grouper, one could hardly blame him, viciously attacked one of the divers in retaliation.

The next film was about the hatching of turtles. At one point they drilled a hole in the shell of a turtle, and attached an enormous red weather balloon, to see whether the turtle waited around the reef to see if her eggs hatched or went ahead and callously swam out to sea. Apparently, some do, some don't. Falco, who seems to have been Jacque's right-hand man, heroically saved many of the baby turtles from certain death in the clutches of the birds. 

And yet, for all their crazy antics, the funniest part of the films were the scenes from on board. All handsome 20-something, svelte european men running around in nothing but their speedos, cooped up together in decompression chambers, not a woman in sight... I was just waiting for the bow-chica-wow-wow porn music to begin. 

Overall, the films were beautifully shot, vastly informative, and just plain crazy. But, these guys learned a lot from their seemingly diabolical plots, and for that, we certainly owe them a debt of gratitude. 

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