Sunday, March 19, 2017

1980 (7) - Fort de France, Martinique


To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

Martinique was our first “repeat” island.  We’d been in Fort de France the year before, with Tony and Joyce, as we made our way north from Grenada to the Virgin Islands.  During our three-day visit in Martinique, we’d been more like tourists, eating out two nights, and wandering through the city of Fort de France on a Sunday, when all the shops were closed, and the streets were deserted.  That turned out to be an unrealistic indication of what it would it would be like to live at the island for several weeks. 

Fort de France was a big, hectic, bustling city with a population of around 100,000.  When I walked through the streets on a weekday, I’d almost think the whole 100,000 were out there hurrying along with me.  It was a city with a life of its own, quite apart from the influences of tourism.  Martinique was noted for its beautiful women. Empress Josephine, Napoleon's wife, was from Martinique.  There's a larger-than-life, Carrara marble statue of her in the Savanne, a beautiful 12-acre park near the harbor. 

Harbor at Fort de France

To me, there didn't appear to be racial stratification in Martinique.  I saw people of every shade and hue.  Part of what made the people so attractive was their attention to appearance and fashion.  The feminine daytime apparel was far dressier than anything I’d ever worn in my life.  Treacherous high heels, with no support other than a strap across the toes, left me in awe.  I enjoyed sitting on the steps of the post office, watching the passing parade, and feeling a bit like Cinderella, B.F.G. (Before Fairy Godmother). 

There were many beautiful buildings, new and old.  When my shopping took me across town, I made a point of varying the streets I walked.  The traffic was almost frightening to a simple pedestrian, long out of practice with city walking.  Cars, motorcycles, and mopeds frantically flew by, coming to jarring stops at the corners, and then speeding off for another block.  Salvation came from the fact that almost all the streets were one-way, with one-directional danger.

We’d been cruising in French islands - Guadeloupe and Les Saintes - but the fact that I really can't speak French didn't become totally apparent until we reached Martinique.  The truth surfaced because, when we stop at an island for a while, we start working on the boat, run low on supplies, and a certain amount of shopping has to be done.

The grocery stores were easy because items had the prices marked on them.  By watching other customers, I learned where to get my fruits and vegetables weighed and priced.  If I couldn't catch what the checker said, I looked at the cash register to read the total.  The clerks had methods for dealing with ignorant foreigners.  While I was mentally trying to work out what I needed in French francs, they would be taking the correct amount of money from their drawer, to spread on the counter for me to match.

Fort de France.  Photo from the Internet

When we needed some new screws or some rope, I would take a sample around with me to the marine stores.  The drain hose from the sink in the head had started to leak, and we needed new piping.  Unfortunately, we didn't think to take a sample with us.  We were sent from store to store, armed with the French words for plastic pipe.  At the third store, we found a man who was determined to help us.  He didn't know any English, but would work out what I was trying to say, and then repeat it to the man in the office.  Yes, they had plastic pipe.  Vingt centimeters? (20 centimeters in diameter?).  Oui.  Trois metres longueur? (3 meters in length?).  After a bit of not understanding, I gathered there was a 6-meter minimum (about 20 feet).  Ed wanted to know the price, and what I deciphered sounded reasonable.  I went into the office, where the manager wrote out my bill.  I came back out to find Ed shaking his head over a 6-meter section of rigid plastic pipe.  Our friend looked concerned.  I made lots of bending, flexing motions with my hands.  The light dawned.  With a "follow me" signal, he led us across the street to another store, and pointed in the window at just what we wanted.

I was less than happy with Ed when he decided he needed more bedding compound.  (That’s a thick, viscous, waterproof mixture that is laid down where fittings are to be fastened, to keep moisture out, and prevent rot.)  There was no way I was going to try to translate bedding compound into French!  We went through the several marine stores in Fort de France, and even spoke to clerks who knew some English, and who tried to sell us everything from glue to paint to screws.  Unfortunately, none of them had ever heard of bedding compound.

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