Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Browsing Fort-de- France's Covered Market

The heart of any Caribbean island is always a bustling, open air market where locals buy fresh produce, crafts, clothes and anything else considered a staple. In Martinque, the cosmopolitan capital of Fort- de- France hosts the island's shopping mecca, Le Grand Marche' Couvert or covered market. It was designed by a French architect in 1901 and still serves generations of locals.

I love shopping in local markets because it's the best way to sample cultural hallmarks. In Martinque, spices are essential. The line-up of spices shown above include a heaping pile of columbo, the curry powder that flavors many Martinican dishes.

The madras cloth that represents the island's cultural tradition fills many stalls. The boldly colored cloth appears in basket linings, on dolls, purses and  on an array of clothes. I spent a long time looking through all the dresses and shirts until I found a turquoise madras sundress that I quickly snapped up.

Jewelry also plays a significant role in Martinican culture, rows of traditional necklaces and bracelets made from seeds and stones claim a prime spot in the market. Notice that the sign welcomes visitors in French, English, Spanish and creole.

Of course, you can actually buy fruit and vegetables at the market as well. Seasonal tropical fruits like genips,  and tamarinds and vegetables like christophene dot  the stalls with pretty colors and scents. I left clutching my dress and munching on a bunch of tangy genips and I felt like a true Martinican. What are your favorite markets that you've discovered  on your travels?

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..

Monday, July 21, 2014

Next Stop: Martinique Magnifique

It's been a busy summer and a huge highlight is traveling to the French Caribbean island of Martinique. Although the island is noted for lush vegetation and dozens of orchid varieties, I'm excited for the chance to delve into Martinique's multi-faceted culture, courtesy of Martinique Tourism Authority. My introduction to Martinique has been through  the exuberant rhythms of zouk music, the poetry of Aime' Cesaire and through my favorite movie, Sugarcane Alley so I'm thrilled to experience it firsthand. I'll be visiting the Aime' Cesaire Museum and the vibrant covered market in the capital city of Fort de France as well as Le Petibonum, the restaurant famous for creole dishes, as well as the cook charmingly dubbed chef hot pants. So please stay tuned for some lively Martinique posts!

Photo of Martinique's Pitons Du Carbet courtesy of Steve Bennett,of Uncommon Caribbean

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Day At The Beach--In Montreal

I love the excitement and action of big city travel but I also love the relaxation and natural beauty of beaches. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover a beach just five minutes from the bustling streets of downtown Montreal. I caught wind of it as a guide was explaining the city's many parks and he casually mentioned the beach in Parc Jean-Drapeau. My ears perked up. What's this? A beach nearby? As a certified beach baby, I grabbed my sunscreen and dashed over. A short Metro ride landed me at Parc Jean-Drapeau, which is actually two islands sprawled along the St. Lawrence River. Islands? You know I was excited. And the adventure was just starting because the park boasts tons of other attractions before you can even get to the beach.

This pretty strip of tranquility beckoned me to sink my toes into the sand and lounge for hours. It was quiet, with just a few families enjoying the water. Before I located it, I found myself at La Ronde, the amusement park that draws teens and adolescents from all over the city. It turns out that I had grabbed the wrong shuttle bus.

Then I strolled by the glistening dome of the Biosphere environmental museum. Nearby, vendors were setting up for Piknic Electronik, the weekly summer music fest that serves up electronic music for a non-stop, outdoor dance party. But I still didn't spot a beach. Finally, Francois, a shuttle bus driver who watched me wander around, hopped into his car and personally drove me to the elusive beach. His helpfulness was par for the course for friendly Montrealers but I was touched by his gallantry.

On the way, he pointed out the casino and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve racetrack, which hosts the Canadian Grand Prix every June and supplies a smooth course for bikers, skateboarders and runners for the rest of the summer. We rolled up on the other side of the racetrack and he delivered me to "la plage."

Being near the water is always worth the journey for me and I spent my last few hours in Montreal sprawled on the beach, grateful for still another Montreal discovery.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Montreal Street Art

Montreal overwhelms me. In a good way. For art lovers like me who live for connections with artistic and cultural expressions, Montreal is truly a dreamland. There is absolutely no place you can go in this stylish city where you will not be surrounded by art in some form. Metro stations, sidewalks, buildings, cafes, schools, markets, everywhere you turn, you'll be greeted with visual, musical or performance art. Montreal actually enforces a law that at least 1% of  a building's budget must go to public art. I thought it was just me honing in on every art form but no, Montreal really is covered in art. I find that it's an uplifting feeling to always have art close by. I think that's one of the reason's that Montrealers always seem so good-natured and vibrant. The mural above, was created during Montreal's Mural Fest (There is a fest for everything art-related in Montreal) and drew me in with the vivid colors and trippy designs.

This painting lines a wall by a park and displays Montreal's history.

There's lots of super hero/comic book figures peering out from Montreal buildings. I was told that this guy represents a particular event coming up. Obviously relating to blue hair and bionic back packs.

Music is an art form that Montreal clearly adores, you hear live music everywhere Jazz is a ubiquitous favorite. I was walking back from Old Montreal when I spotted this lovely tribute to Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

All metro stops are splashed with art in Montreal. I found myself lingering in the stations, just to take in the art.

I like the mix of colors and patterns on this piece that adorns an alley. The face on the right looks like Ringo Starr to me but I don't think that was intentional. What city do you enjoy for it's art scene?