Following the Maya: Cartier, Chanel et Moi

Sailing from the Port of Miami on Oceania’s newest luxury ship, the Riviera, we are following in the footsteps of the Maya, looking to explore the remnants of this ancient pre-Columbian culture, its temples and villages. This particular sailing, Mayan Mystique, will take us as far south as Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. Places with large indigenous Maya communities, many of whom still worship the gods of the ancient Maya. If not the ideal trip for someone desperately seeking Paris, it's of great interest nonetheless.

After a sybaritic day at sea, we dock at George Town, the capital of the Cayman Islands. Some of the more adventuresome passengers sign up for a two-tank certified reef dive in underwater canyons teeming with corals, sponges and shipwrecks. Others sign up to snorkel and feed the gentle stingrays by hand. Having done that in Australia, I check out other possibilities and find mention of world-class shopping. I go ashore.

Without a plan or a clue as to where the best shops are located, I mosey along the main street, first popping intothe National Museum and then into United Church,  dating to 1846.

086
075
080

Mosey along, that is, until a banner on a side-street  catches my eye: How French is that? The interior of the shop is welcoming -- all honey-woods with seductive eye-catching cases -- as is the sales assistant. Wearing a long-sleeved white silk blouse, her sleek hair pulled back, she looks elegant and cool. On a hot afternoon in the Caribbean, cool is good.

We chitchat about the watches, about how complicated the newer models are, how simple and classic the older ones. I ask if she’s from the Caymans to learn she grew up in Trinidad.

085

Really? I would never have thought you were Trinidadian. I would have thought you had some Asian in your background.

Bingo! Her father, who had been the Taiwanese ambassador to Trinidad, married a Trinidadian woman. She grew up there for a number of years, until she was packed off to a Catholic convent school in Taiwan. I sympathized, having spent four years in a Catholic high school that was as single-sexed as a nunnery.

As these things go, we soon discovered that we both had flown for the airlines, during the glory days of aviation. She for nine years with BOAC, British Overseas Airways Corp which later became British Airways, and I for four with TWA, which was taken over by American Airlines. The bonding was immediate; it was if I had found a sorority sister in the Caymans.

084
081

I could hardly bring myself to leave Cartier, but I did when an actual customer arrived. Handing her one of my Desperately Seeking Paris cards, she told me where in town to find the other high-end shops: Take a left at the fountain. I took one long lingering look around.

090

A left at the fountain brought me to the Rolex clock under the palms. Not interested in purchasing fine watches or loading up on long-stemmed crystal, I gravitated to Chanel where I met the charming Briseida who taught me an important lesson: After you have sniffed so many fragrances that they’re all running full-out in your head, the thing to do is to take a time out and sniff the coffee...beans.

095

At which Briseida brought over a bowl of them. Smell this, she said. And I did. After a few inhales, the coffee beans clear your air passages and reset your olfactory sense, so you can continue sniffing your way through the collection. There were so many fragrances to choose from, so many that I liked, but the one I kept returning to was Chanel’s Coco: Mademoiselle. At Briseida’s suggestion, I purchased the eau de parfum in a twist and spray perfect for tucking into a handbag. Perfect for traveling, by air or by sea.

With time running short, I took a quick inventory of the other shops before taking the tender back to the ship.

082
093

In the days following, we explored Mayan temples and artifacts, but that's for another day. If you would like to hear about it, drop me a line. As any writer can tell you, writing solo can be a lonely exercise.

I'd be most grateful if you would take a second to share this post. And drop by for coffee next Sunday...