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Posts tagged ‘Caribbean Island’

No. 100-101: The Colors and Creatures of Martinique

Our time in Martinique is drawing to a close and as the gas strike is still in full swing, I spent the afternoon wandering, watching and snapping photos, soaking up the vibrant colors, creatures and flavors of our temporary piece of the French Caribbean. Profitez!

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Vocabulaire

Profitez! Enjoy!

No. 99: Island Christmas

I know Christmas has come and gone, but I really loved it this year. This is my last year with a child living at home. Next year we will be empty nesting it, although I hope not for Christmas. Here are a few memories from our island Christmas with Kitcat and Button en Martinique.

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No. 97-98: Flowers and Plants of Martinique

logo-villes-et-villages-fleurisMartinique is bursting with flowers and most of their cities are designated villes fleuries. I think they should go one step further and designate the whole of Martinique as a “flower and plant island”. The diversity of flower and plant life on this tiny island knocks my socks off. Take a look (and hold on to your socks).

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Vocabulaire:

villes fleuries:  literally flowered villages/cities; a designation given by the French government (since the 1950s) to cities and towns in France that foster not only beautiful flowers, but also improve the quality of city life and make newcomers feel welcome; the designation is based on a four flower rating system.

No. 96: une grève: a strike

Yesterday we had big plans. We were going to drive the length of the island and see what we could see. Trunk packed with hiking shoes and guidebooks, maps and mosquito spray, rain gear and beachwear, we were ready for anything.

Anything, that is, except une grève.

The French are famous for their strikes, and it appears that Martinique is no exception. Unfortunately the strike involves gasoline and all the gas stations were/are closed. Of course, our tank was nearly empty.

Because we are on holiday, we have not been listening to the news, so we had no idea this was coming, but as it turns out, neither did the Martiniquais. Usually in France, the strikes are announced ahead of time (and often you even know exactly how long they will last), but this one was not. Sprung upon the island, on the day most mainland French vacanciers were arriving and expecting rental cars with full tanks of gas, this one was/is a proper and effective strike.

So, you may ask, how do I turn une grève into something I love about France? The girls had the same question. The answer: forced relaxation.

With no gas in the tank and no place to go, we were forced to head to the small local beach and spend the day resting, talking and laughing, playing cards, reading and eating ice cream, watching the locals’ picnic and play with their beautiful families and remember how lucky we are to have each other.

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Fun family time. The silver lining to une grève.

Vocabulaire

une grève: a strike

vacanciers: vacationers

No. 93: Wild Beaches

I am a huge fan of wild beaches. When Superman and I lived in Washington, D.C. our favorite weekend getaway was backpacking and camping at Chincoteague Island in Virginia with the wild horses. We were both happily reminded of that wonderful beach when we took a wrong turn the other day in Martinique and ended up at Macabou.

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The translation for wild beaches in French is plages sauvages—savage beaches—which in my mind captures this beach exactly.

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As I am currently addicted to the American television series LOST (yes, a decade after everyone else was), stepping onto the beach at Macabou was like stepping into the world of Jack Shepard and the evil Benjamin Linus. There was even the cliff where Hurley attempted suicide.

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The waves were vicious, the wind was roaring, and there wasn’t a soul in sight. The shore covered mostly with dry plants washed in with the tide, we had to hike in about 15 minutes to find a tiny bit of sand among the fierce vegetation.

Completely alone, it was as if no one else existed. Beautiful. Undisturbed. A small slice of heaven on Earth.

No. 92: The Houses of Martinique

The colors of Martinique are a refreshing break from the black of Paris. These brilliant color choices make me smile. How about you?

No. 91: Overseas Departments: Martinique

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One of my goals this year is to see as much of France as possible, so I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to visit one of the five overseas departments belonging to France.

Having secured a sweet deal on flights (it would have almost cost as much to take the four of us to Strasbourg’s Marché de Noël by TGV), I am thrilled that we chose Martinique.

It’s a funny thing to think of a Caribbean island as part of France. I’d love to have a conversation with our new friends here about whether or not they consider themselves French, and what they think about mainland France.

Martinique, like many countries taken over by European and American colonialist, has quite a sad history. The more time I spend on this island, the more I wonder what life would be like here today, if the French had ignored it the way Columbus did when he first sighted it in 1502.

Thanks to Columbus’ indifference, the indigenous population was granted an 85-year reprieve before the French claimed them and began colonization in 1635. This is when the true atrocities of colonial history (now conveniently whitewashed in history books) began. In every article or book I read about Martinique before leaving Paris, the initial colonization of Martinique was reduced to barely two sentences, and it was presented something like this:

“…colonization began in 1635, when the French promised the native Caribs the western half of the island, in return for establishing a settlement on the eastern half. Then the French proceeded to eliminate the Caribs…”

After annihilating 6,500 years of civilization in a few short decades, the French realized they were short on manpower and began to “import” African slaves as sugar plantation workers. With no indigenous population to stand in their way, a tropical climate, an abundance of sugarcane, and free slave labor to boot, Martinique quickly became one of France’s most valuable colonies.

As rum production (from sugarcane), distilleries, and sugar refineries became more lucrative, the African slave trade became even more important to the colonialist and life for the slaves became even more unbearable. In addition to providing the labor for the sugar and rum production, the slaves were also recruited into the island militia to fend off the British attempts to take control of the island. (In return they were promised their freedom.)

The Brits did manage to occupy the island for a short while in 1762, but returned it the following year in exchange for a small country called Canada. They invaded and held the island once again in the early 1800s, but in the end, it was returned to the French.

By the mid-1800s, Martinique had more slaves and “freedmen” than free colonists. Slavery was abolished in 1848. Obviously life was still not peachy for the former slaves and things got worse when in 1902 Mount Pelée erupted and destroyed the capital, Saint Pierre, wiping out 30,000 inhabitants in less than an hour.

So in many respects, Martinique’s society is a very young one, made up mostly of decendents of African slaves , decendents of their former colonial masters, and often a mix of both. Their language is a fusion of Créole and French, with French the official language. The food is a mingling of French and Créole, heavy on the Créole side and influenced by the locally grown products. There is definitely a French vibe to Martinique, but not too much to stifle the vibrant and colorful culture.

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