POSITION : 14°28'•2 N and 060°51'9 W
DAY / TIME : 12.02.2013
MOOD : IT'S CARNIVAL !!!!!!
We arrived on Martinique ,
the last of the Windward Islands as we go north ,
at the very south-westerly point, where there is a large natural bay called 'Cul-De-Sac du Marin' , home to one of the largest Marinas in the Caribbean, and we are here for repairs to the boat.
Martinique is a French department : Department d'Outre Mer
(Overseas Department) or DOM since 1946,
and as such part of the EU where the Euro reigns.
And one immediately realises that we are in France !
It is not so much because of its good infrastructure and the standard of living which is way above that of the neighbouring islands we visited so far. Neither because of the closure of the shops on Saturdays at 14h and their reopening again only on Monday.
Not even due to the fact that - as George W Bush put it - they have no word for
which they don't really need because they have the
35h / week labour regime and a 75% tax rule.
No , it is because they all speak french here.
You think this is a logical consequence , but that is exactly my point :
They ONLY speak french here, nothing else.
Or to put it bluntly :
They don't want to speak english.
Now there is a silly way around this challenge, and it goes like this :
YOU : Good afternoon Madam
French Shop Sales Person ( in short FSSP ) : Bonjour, Monsieur. J'arrive tout de suite.
YOU : Sorry Madam, I DO NOT SPEAK FRENCH, but I would like to hire a car.
FSSP: Je ne comprends pas, I DO NOT SPEAK ENGLISH !
YOU : OK, that is a pity, because I wanted to rent a car for the whole week. But then I just go next door, they speak english !
FSSP: OH yes, I do speak little english. Drivers licence, Passport and Credit Card please.
So here you are. They all speak english....you just have to give them an incentive.
But it does not make them happy, I tell you.
In fact I believe french people have no concept of "Happiness" anyway.
That is one reason why Disney World France will never work.
But let's not talk about that now, let's talk about Martinique.
Originally Columbus , who discovered this place, called the island Madinina, surely of
Carib origin, meaning 'The Island of Flowers.
It took until 1635 before some Frenchmen arrived, founding Fort St Pierre and the island finally became a part of the Kingdom of France in 1676. This was mainly due to
Madame de Maintenon, who had been brought up at Le Pecheur in the north of the island.
and , if I interpret the history books well who speak of the ''feminine charm' she applied,
gave bluntly speaking some sexual favours to Louis XIV in return for his economical and political support.
She also became his second wife !
They traded it against Canada !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Against Canada ????????
Well they called it a 'few acres of snow',
and those who travel to the "Cote d'Azure" in the summer, and see Madame and Monsieur day in day out lying at the beach, will understand why this deal was "excellent' for them.....and excellent for the British.
Josephine Tacher de la Pagerie,
the future Empress and wife of Napoleon was born , actually not far away from where we are,
on a 200-acre , 150-slave estate in Trois Islet.
Some months earlier, and she would have been born English !!!!!!!
Now that would have been interesting.
May be, but only may be, the Aristocracy in Paris would have started to speak english, and history would have taken a totally different direction..
Who knows ?
And then of course Napoleon's famous letter on his return from the Egyptian campaign in 1799 might have been written in english :
"Don't wash, I am coming home" ( Ne te lave pas, j'arrive ! ),
but of course I find the sentence in French much more romantic than in brutal english !
Anyway, I can only assume that as a result of these frequent wash habits the French gave us all these fantastic "toiletries" like
"Deodorant" or "Perfume".
Josephine's family struggled financially after huricanes destroyed their estate, so through connections in Paris they married off her sister Catherine-Desiree to an aristocrat in Paris.
However shortly before leaving for Paris, 12-year old Catherine died, but the Tascher family "threw-in" instead their older daughter, Josephine.
NOW THAT'S HOW YOU DO BUSINESS !!!!
After her husband's decapitation in the french revolution she ended up in bed with Napoleon !
NOW THAT'S HOW YOU DO BUSINESS !!!!
Josephine spoke of course french, and so Napoleon understood that she wanted the island back that had been chanigng hands again in the process of the French Revolution and other war expeditions by her husband.
Here is another so called 'feminine charm' approach as stated in the history books,
but I am tired of this political correctness,
so I put it into the simple human, husband and wife context :
She couldn't stand that her home was occupied by the British , so she started nagging him.
But the Emperor of Europe obviously had other concerns at that time, specifically about the
naval blockade put in place by Lord Nelson.
Frustrated about her husbands indifference she retorted to more 'charming measures' meaning,
to put it bluntly,
he "didn't get it any more ", she had a 'headache".
End of story !
Ghee, let's talk proper english here !
I can see the situation clearly in my head :
For a couple of days, he probably mulled about it , sleeping on the couch in the living room .
Have you ever tried to sleep on a french couch ?
You see, here we are, men suffer all the time from "feminine charm" .
And when he finally had enough , and she still had a "headache",
he called for his
Admiral Villeneuve in order to brake the blockade, sail to and liberate Martinique,
and on his return to defeat Nelson's fleet entirely !
Hey this is good Management stuff.
Well, Villeneuve did what he was told except for ending the blockade.
In disgrace, he had to leave again, wanting to die in honour, so he chose to
make a stand against Nelson at Trafalgar, and he survived....
Nelson died from a single shot by a french sharp-shooter.
WELL, THAT'S LIFE !
( go back to "Monkey Business" and read what happened next )
Finaly in 1814 by a second Treaty of Versailles,
Martinique became once and for all french territory.
Whilst I travel the island,
on the motorway. with "Club Med" on one side, and industrial estates on the other, I ask myself :
I mean it is like another Cote d'Azur place, except that it is warm here during the european winter.
So Monsieur and Madam can come, speak their own language, retire here, pay less taxes, eat the same food,
and visit their Carrefour supermarket as they would do in Lille or Marseille.
But Caribbean authenticity is hard to find.
I question whether it actually still exists.
So why paying all the subsidies, only to have a "warm winter holiday package" ?
Unless you are French, I find Martinique boring.
However today is Carnival, and things are slightly different.
as you can eat rich, fat food before the fasting starts on Ash Wednesday.
But here the festivities run over 3 days, and even on Ash Wednesday they continue to have fun.
Fair enough. I have no idea whether this activity is better on the other islands or not, some like Grenada have actually changed it to July , may be as a homage to London, where the
Notting Hill Carnival is at the end of August.
But as I said before:
The Caribbean is like half of London ! Do you believe me by now ?
St.Pierre, known in past times as the "Paris of the Caribbean",
at the foot of the vulcano Mt Pelee.
It is said that when the last Caribs on the island were butchered in 1658,
they swore curses against the Europeans invoking
the mountain to revenge them..
That seemed to have worked somehow, as in 1902 the volcano erupted and
wiped out an estimated 30,000 people, with only two survivors of the city.
One of which was the famous Cyparis,
a convicted murderer who was protected by the thick stone walls of his cell and survived the otherwise deadly gas cloud that burnt everybody else to death.
From that day the ethnical and social structure of the island was changed forever,
as most of the dead were Europeans.
Today St Pierre is nothing more than a large village, with some ruins telling the story of better times.