Sixth in a Series:
On the final full day of our recent Caribbean cruise with Island Windjammers, the Sagitta anchored off the dock at Fort-de-France, capital of Martinique.
Like Guadeloupe, where we had spent the previous two days, Martinique is an overseas department of France, so I had a chance to practice my rusty French from high school and college. It’s amazing what flows out when you actually want or need something, such as a map of the city or a bottle of wine.
Leah, the operations manager aboard the Sagitta, had tasked us all with bringing back a bottle of wine from shore for a wine and cheese party to be held during cocktail hour that afternoon. It was the first time all week she had actually asked us to do anything, so just about everyone gladly obeyed.
The problem was finding a wine store amid a sea of opticians and optika — eyewear — stores of all types.
There were stores selling eyeglasses and optometrist shops giving eye tests on just about every corner of the central city — sometimes three or four per block.
Are the people of Martinique that nearsighted? Is Martinique a central spot for buying eyewear in the Caribbean? I don’t know the answer, even after googling it.
Finally, after wandering around for an hour and eyeing some sleek looking Ray-Bans, my wife, Catharine, and I came upon a grocery store that sold wine (not surprisingly, French vintages). The lines at the checkout counters were long — it seemed to be the only grocery store around — but we spotted two other folks from the ship toward the front of the line and slipped our bottle to them for payment.
Our duty fulfilled, we continued our walk around the capital, map in hand (which I had procured at the tourist office after asking the woman in the window, “Avez-vous un plan de la ville?” to which she replied, “Yes, of course” and handed it to me).
I guess I need to work on my accent. But as in mainland France, I find that no matter how badly I butcher the language, a smile works wonders when entering any shop.as does a “Bonjour, madame” or “Bonjour, monsieur” as the case may be. For Martinique, I would practice this: “Bonjour, monsieur, avez-vous une paire peu coûteuse de Ray-Ban?”
Optika stores aside, Fort-de-France has some unusual and alluring architecture, which reminded us a bit of New Orleans’ French Quarter.
We stopped into Saint Louis Cathedral, which was built in a remarkable Romanesque-Byzantine style in the 1890s and is the most prominent structure in the capital. The seventh church on this spot — all the previous ones had burned down or were destroyed by natural disasters — the cathedral is framed in steel to extend its longevity, earning it the moniker “Iron Cathedral.”
And we liked the Schoelcher Library, another Romanesque-Byzantine structure, which was built in Paris for the World’s Fair of 1889, then dismantled and shipped to Martinique, where it was reassembled.
We also wandered through the city’s Covered Market (La Marché Couvert) to check out the local vegetables, fruit and spices. Like the Saint Louis Cathedral and the Schoelcher Library, the market was designed by Henry Picq, a contemporary of Gustave Eiffel of tower fame.
Finally, we admired the former Hotel de Ville — City Hall — which has a neoclassical look and is now home to the Aimé Césaire Theater.
That afternoon, after lunch aboard the Sagitta, we anchored off an uncrowded beach, where we took a last swim and engaged in some final “liming” — hanging out and relaxing, as they say in the Caribbean — before packing up for the next morning’s disembarkation back in St. Lucia.
The late afternoon wine and cheese party, followed by the Captain’s dinner of lobster over pasta, helped ease the transition from our no-worries cruise to our return to reality. The next day would bring a trip to the airport, security lines, a long plane flight back to the States, and a long drive home after that, but for now we could focus on one of the burning questions of the trip: what’s the proper way to spell “arrgh”?
Yes, pirate talk kept cropping up throughout the week, and it was time to settle this debate, at least for those of us sitting with Captain Matt at dinner. Everyone at our table agreed that “ar” was too short and that “arr” or “arrr” were preferable to “ar,” but there was disagreement as to whether or not the silent “gh” should be added at the end.
The Captain argued in favor of “arrgh.” He should know — after all, he’s the dude who steers the ship and has been captaining in the Caribbean for years.
This was his last Island Windjammers voyage until October, and he would shortly be off to his home in Minnesota, where he would spend time with his family and be captaining day cruises on Lake Superior.
I forgot to ask if he could do that barefoot. Probably not. We would all miss the informality and camaraderie of the Sagitta and Island Windjammers — where, as their slogan goes, they’re “Always on island time.”
For previous posts in this series, see:
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