Oakland’s Waterfront Takes Center Stage at PortFest 2003
Oleta Adams to Star at PortFest 2003
Grammy-Winning Oakland Interfaith Choir on PortFest 2003
Bay Crossings Journal
Bay Crossings Poetry
Freeway Service Patrol Logs 1 Million Assists
Wine Festival by the Bay
How Do Bus Drivers Feel About Golden Gate’s Financial Problems?
Paving the Way for Buses – The Great GM Streetcar Conspiracy
Port of Call: Cayenne, French Guyana
Opening of Argonaut Hotel in San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
Changing of the Guard at San Francisco’s Last Shipyard
The Port Of Oakland Needs Your Help!
Taste of Oakland
East Bay French-American School To Host Annual "La Place Du Marche"
What the AC Transit Bus Driver Knows
The Iraq war reader
Judge Orders Carnival Cruise Line to Stop Illegal Dumping
On the Oakland Waterfront, Seafarers Club Breaks New Ground
Year of the Salmon!
WTA: For Whom the Bridge Tolls
New Ferry Building Sunday Garden Market Opening May 4th
San Francisco Bay
Vermeer Chocolate Martini
Oakland Arts Focus
Music Calendar - May 2003
In appreciation: David Clark
Water Transit Authority  WTA

Port of Call: Cayenne, French Guyana

By Drake Nanda

Wanted for short-term occupancy with an option to colonize: quaint, oceanfront property in the equatorial region, new world. Should have multiship port with navigable river access to interior. Prefer a native population of savages for exploitation and forced labor, possible Christian conversion, eventual extermination. Room for two major raw materials, gold preferred. Contact: King of France, Paris.

This could have been the ad placed by an acquisitive monarch set on snatching up a little slice of South America back in the 16th century, known today as French Guyana (or Guiana). All his friends and relatives were doing it, so why miss out on the fun? It was actually a Spanish real estate agent named Vincente Pinzón who first scouted the property in 1499, only five years after Spain and Portugal divided the entire globe between themselves by drawing a line of demarcation down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Spain got everything west of the line and Portugal took all territories to the east. Blind hubris though it was, it did have a simple charm that can be appreciated in today’s complex world. And had it actually worked, today we might be able to get a decent paella in Jack London Square. Make that Juan Londres Plaza.

After five hundred years with the property changing hands between European powers more often than a time-share condo, the deed to this starter colony today rests firmly with the Republic of France. And the shingle out front reads "French Guyana-- just like France, only less so." To the French government, this South American mangrove coast and jungle is no different than Provence or the Rhone Valley. It is an "Overseas Department of France" with one elected representative to the National Assembly, chosen by voters thousands of miles from Paris with French Francs and Euros in their pockets. If it is difficult to imagine such a terribly anachronistic and hauntingly colonial ministate owned outright in this day and age by one of the modern world’s leading democratic nations, then think of, well, Hawaii.

Cayenne is the peppery hot name of the capital city and principle port, located on the northeast coast of South America about 200 miles north of the mouth of the Amazon River. All of its 48,000 residents are direct or indirect recipients of approximately $500 million per year in subsidies from France. The original idea was to subsidize the colony with human capital via the off-shore penal system made famous by a pre-Laetrile Steve McQueen in the movie Papillon. The offer made to France’s less distinguished citizens went like this: do your time in a French Guianese prison (a la Devil’s Island), then serve an equal amount of time as a quasi-free indentured colonist farming the jungles. The only problem was that the majority of prime candidates were dead before they had a chance to make a positive contribution, aside from fertilizer.

There is a different kind of one-way port in the nearby city of Kourou, where the government has decided on launching a geographically tangential activity to daily life in French Guyana. This is the home of the European Space Centre, where the community’s satellites are blasted into orbit at the rate of about one every six weeks. And by the way, in case you are thinking of anchoring your yacht near Devil’s Island to watch a launch--ce n’est pas possible. The European Space Agency forbids such suspicious activity. [Note to terrorists: shoot down Arian rockets from the beach, not from the boat.] But why space shots from here, of all places? It’s certainly not the convenience. Or is it? It is actually more efficient to launch space-bound rockets from locations closer to the earth’s equator, thanks to centrifugal force. It takes about 30 percent more fuel to get your baguettes into orbit from central France rather than from the equator, which is very close to French Guyana. This means a significant kilo-for-kilo increase in the amount of French cultural influence circling the globe. Je suis content.

Cayenne, French Guyana— you can get there from the San Francisco Bay in just 18 days traveling at 10 knots via the Panama Canal, a mere 4,471 miles away.

Port of Call is a regular feature that takes a humorous historical look at ferry important places around the globe each month, exclusively in Bay Crossings. Tell us what you think-info@baycrossings.com.s