Thursday, July 29, 2004
Martinique is a hilly island with 400,000 inhabitants. There's a highway featuring round-the-clock traffic jams, but you have abandoned cars being reclaimed by vegetation to look at to pass the time. There are no trains but there are old buses and unreliable boats mascarading as public transportation.
The hills are called mornes. The newer roads are straighter, imposing their will on the environment. The older roads snake up and down. When building a house, the disadvantage is that you're most likely to be on a slopey plot. The advantage is that a well-situated slopey plot gives you an awesome, kilometers-long view. Higher than the hills is the Montagne Pelée, a volcano that last erupted in 1902, razing the city of Saint-Pierre and famously leaving a prisoner under thick fortifications as lone survivor.
There's the Atlantic side and the Carribbean side. The former is wilder, with black sand beaches, colder water and dangerous currents. The latter is more swimmer- and lounger-friendly. The Carribbean side decisively shaped my opinion of what a sea was: small, curved beaches with white-ish sand, blue water and brown seaweed. Hence my enduring repulsion at the idea of bathing at Brighton Beach. Some beaches have little bits of mangrove. These used to be considered foul mosquito breeding grounds. Later, too much later, their ecological importance was recognised.
One of the first animals I met was a red and black crab, affectionately known as a loulou. He tried to run (or side-scramble) away through the grass, but when I got close to him he stopped and confronted me. He spread his claws wide and seemed to be saying You want some of this, ese?, just like a Latino gangster from Los Angeles. I don't know where a Martiniquan crab would have picked that up from. There are also fireflies, known more elegantly in french as lucioles and awesome red dragonflies, which are called an overly cutesy libellule.
As my father and I walked down Fort-de-France's sea front, schools of small fish suddenly appeared out of the water like a bad rash, looking and sounding like they'd been dropped on a hot skillet.
In the late afternoon, the symphony of frogs and crickets starts up. It's not something that starts or ends: at some point you realise that it has started, but can't know how long it has been going on; it stops during your sleep. The frogs provide a continuous, undulating and mellifluous texture, which the crickets overlay with their shrill high-pitched drones. If I knew anything about Minimalism, I'd probably draw a comparaison. Feel free to do so now, if you have such knowledge.
Among other things, there are plants whose leaves close when you touch them and at night when they go to sleep.
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Getting off the Brussels-Paris Nord train, I spot two customs officers at the other end of the platform. I know they'll stop me. As they search through my suitcase, they launch pleasanteries at me, which I deflect with a smile and terse replies.
Where are you going?
Are you carrying narcotics?
(jokingly) You'll be able to get everything you need over there anyway.
The RER (subway lines that extend into the suburbs) takes me to the airport. Returning, there will be an incredibly beautiful café au lait-skinned woman - doubtless a model, as my neighbours on the subway will agree - waiting to take the RER. There will also be the interesting sight (but not sound) of a guy seemingly succesfully flirting with her. I will almost be able to see his brain furiously scrambling to come up with things to say to her. She will go sit next to him when the subway arrives. They will walk together when they get out at Paris-Nord. I will lose sight of them as he, realising that they are soon to separate, gets ready to ask for her phone number.
A small two-wagon conducterless train whisks me to the terminal. We go through tunnels lit only by lamps on the ceiling or on either side. It feels like a cross between an evil genius's underground lair and Indiana Jones, minus the boulder.
I get to the check-in counter. This is where Martinique begins. A massive line of variously coloured people, many luggin massive packages for the folks back home. Those who simply have too much overweight are seeking out fellow travellers with lighter loads. The family visits, the meals, the smells, the music and the beaches are almost tangible here, an Atlantic Ocean away.
Trickle-down theory works in the airline industry, if nowhere else. Since the last time I flew long-distance, individual TV screens have trickled to the back of the plane.