Friday, August 29, 2014

Martinique Folk Dancers




Whenever I visit the Caribbean, witnessing local dance and music is always a priority. The essence of the people and culture are reflected in the music and movements so I was thrilled to witness the vibrant dancing of members of Le Grand Ballet De La Martinique. Gracing the lobby of  Hotel La Pagerie in Trois- Illets, the wave of rhythm, color and spirit took over everyone present. The dancers creole dress uses the bright madras pattern brought from India when indentured servants from India immigrated to the region after the abolition of slavery. The points on the hats represent the wearer's social status, one for free, two for engaged, three for married and four for anything goes! The drummers and musicians are pounding out a traditional Bele' rhythm, which traces directly to West Africa. The charm and energy of the twirls and steps can be witnessed all over the island, in Martinican's stylish and fun-loving attitudes.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Martinique's Infamous Headless Empress


She looms in the middle of the tropical splendor of  La Savane Park, in Fort de France, Martinique's bustling capital. Strolling past the palm trees, I spotted the marble statue dedicated to the island's most famous daughter, Josephine Bonaparte. Of course, that wasn't her name when she was born in Trois-Ilets in 1763. She was named Marie Josephe  Rose deTascher de la Pagerie and was called Rose until she met Napoleon after she moved to France and he nick named her Josephine.  It seems that Josephine and the statue that was erected in her honor in 1859, represent the tangled and discordant relationship between France and Martinique. Although Martinique is an overseas department of France, the colonial history and legacy of slavery casts an uneasy shadow over the relationship.

In 1991, after remaining in tact for 132 years, Josephine's statue was vandalized. Her head was severed from its base, in much the same way that French aristocrats were guillotined during the French revolution, a fate suffered by Josephine's first husband and one she narrowly escaped herself. A few years later, red paint was splattered on the shoulders and base of the statue. Scrawled in creole on the pedestal are the words, "Respect Martinique, Respect May 22."  The phrase references the date of the 1848 slave rebellion that finally led to the abolition of slavery in Martinique, after Napoleon reinstated the institution in 1802 after a decade of freedom, at the urging, it is said,of Josephine to benefit her family's flagging sugar plantation. The head remains missing and the paint was never removed.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Isle of Flowers


It's actually an understatement to describe Martinique as beautiful, it's like calling New York kind of big. This southern Caribbean island stunned me from the first glimpse outside my plane window. The mountains are sweeping, the water a crystalline turquoise and then there are the flowers. The original inhabitants of the region, the Arawak Indians, called the island Madinina, or island of  flowers.  Blooms dot the landscape everywhere and Martinque is especially noted for nearly 100 orchid varieties. Unfortunately, orchid season on the island is March and April but I was treated to a variety of exotic flowers during a visit to Balata Botanical Garden.

This flower comes in red and pink and is called Porcelain rose. It's a popular export flower because it lasts for weeks.


I thought these long stemmed blossoms looked like flamingos peeking out of the greenery.


These striking blooms reminded me of golden dandelions. Of course, they're taller and more elegant with rolling hills as a backdrop.


The cone shape of these flowers recalls pineapples, which also grow on the island. Another nickname for Martinique is Pays des Revenants or Land to Which One Returns. As you can gather from just these pix, it's not the sort of place that you want to leave..