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Posts tagged ‘Caribbean’

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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No. 90: Mwen ka palé Kréyol

Le Vauclin, Martinique

Le Vauclin, Martinique

Mwen ka palé Kréyol.

Je parle Créole.

I speak Creole.

Not that I need another language knocking around in my old brain, but here are some simple words and phrases in Créole I hope to learn by week’s end. I’ll give it the old college try.

bonjou: bonjour, good morning/hello

mésyé zé dam bonjou: Mesdames et messieurs, bonjour, ladies and gentleman hello/good day.

bonswa : bonsoir, good evening

mèsi: merci, thank you

mwen ka rimèsié’w anlo: je te remercie beaucoup, thank you very much

souplè: s’il vous plait, please

Mi plisi! Avec plaisir! With pleasure!

ni pwoblem: pas de problème, no problem

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tanzantan: de temps en temps, from time to time

An pa tini pwen lajan. Je n’ai pas d’argent. I have no money.

 

Sa ou fé ? Comment ça va? How are you?

Sa ka maché, è wou? Ça va bien, et toi? Fine, and you?

 

Ka ki là? Qui est la? Who is there?

Ka sa yé? Qu’est-ce que c’est? What’s that?

Ki laj a ou? et Ki laj ou ka fè? : Quel âge avez-vous? Quel âge-a tu? How old are you?

 

Annou ay!  On y va! Let’s go!

Resté la, an ka vin!  Restez là, je viens! Stay there, I’m coming!

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bagail la chô: il fait très chaud, it’s very hot!

et enfin….

ti-bo: un bisou, a kiss

Mwen aimé ou doudou: Je t’aime mon cher. I love you dear.

 Créole-Martiniquais

And another bonus…Kréyol verb conjugation. Hmm…looks a mite bit easier. Maybe we should move to Martinique and take up Kréyol instead.

  

French                                                        Kréyol

je chante                                               mwen ka chanté

tu chantes                                             ou ka chanté

il ou elle chante                                     i ka chanté

nous chantons                                      nou ka chantè

vous chantez                                        zot ka chanté

ils ou elles chantent                              yo ka chanté

No. 89: French People who want to be Tutoyer-ed

In addition to enjoying the luxury of hanging out with the slow speaking Martiniquais and the confidence boost they provide to my own speaking ability, I also love the fact that the people on this island want to be tutoyer-ed.

Yes. In case you don’t know, the French actually have a verb for calling someone by the familiar form of “you” (tu)tutoyer versus the formal form of “you” (vous)—vouvoyer. So you can actually ask someone if they would like to be “tu”-ed or “vous”-ed.

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I always err on the side of caution and choose to “vous” everyone until I am told otherwise, or notice that they have begun “tu”-ing me. It’s my default position. The way I see it, it’s better to be formal than risk starting off on the wrong side of the rue with the French.

IMG_9212As English speakers, this phenomenon of “tu-ing” and “vous-ing” does not exist in our language, and sometimes I find it too elitist for my taste. I’m guessing my difficulty with the French way of sorting out who is a friend/family versus who is an acquaintance, is the same difficulty but in reverse for the French when they travel to Anglo countries. They must find it quite startling when we greet them for the first time as if we are chums and ask them gamely how they are, when, in fact, they really don’t want to share that information with a stranger.

But the Martiniquais are different. From the minute we met the family we are renting our house from here, it has been “tu”, “tu”,“tu”. When I asked our hosts about it, they simple said, “Mais bien sûr, nous sommes amis, comme de la famille!”

What a delightful change. In my American mindset it makes me feel at ease and makes me feel a greater sense of equality, and all and all just makes me feel good.

Vocabulaire:

Mais bien sûr, nous sommes amis, comme de la famille! But of course, we are friends, like a family. 

rue: street

tu: you, informal

tutoyer: to use “tu” when speaking to someone

vous: you, formal and plural

vouvoyer: to use “vous” when speaking to someone

 

No. 87: Petit-déjeuner en Martinique

This was breakfast in Martinique this morning. Refreshing, authentic and just so thrilled Superman did not chop off his fingertips.IMG_9227

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We are loving the Martiniquais and their beautiful island.

 

Vocabulaire:

petit-déjeuner: breakfast