The New York Times, February 7, 1886, p.10:|
A NIGHT IN MARTINIQUECOMFORTS AND DISCOMFORTS OF THE HÔTEL DES BAINS.
UNSUCCESSFUL EFFORTS TO SPEAK FRENCH
TO A FRENCHMAN—
A CHAMBERMAID INTERPRETER—
THE BRAZILIAN CIRCUS WITH AN AMERICAN MANAGER.
...We are off for Martinique; for the fairest, greenest, most beautiful island in all this wide world, I do believe. It is plainly within sight of Dominica, being only about 30 miles away. We left Dominica at 1 o'clock in the afternoon of Tuesday, Oct. 6, and reached Martinique three hours later. That is, we reached St. Pierre, its capital city, and anchored within a stone's throw of the landing place.
We had steamed for some miles along its beautiful shore, near enough to see the houses, and the trees, and the roads, and the people walking and driving in them. It looked for a long distance much like the other islands we had seen—high mountain peaks, running, as usual, up into the clouds, and the slopes cultivated, and thick, dark, foliage. Only in Martinique, even as we saw it from the steamer, the cultivation was better and more widespread, and the foliage was thicker, the trees larger.
We saw miles of roads running along the mountain sides, and sometimes up them, with rows of large trees on each side of them. We saw large groves of cocoanut trees, and snug little villages nestling in sheltered nooks on the mountain side; some large sugar estates, with extensive buildings and great chimneys, and unmistakable evidences that we were approaching a Catholic country.
But the crowning beauty of all we saw just a short time before we anchored off St. Pierre. It was a great glen cut by nature through the rock—a glen perhaps two or three miles wide and a wall of rock on each side of it a thousand feet high and nearly perpendicular, and the glen full of cane fields and big trees and houses. It ran at nearly right angles with the water, and as the ship moved along and we passed it, and it went out of range, the wall of rock came up and shut it out and left us wondering whether we really had seen such a place or had only imagined it.
Then we dropped anchor, with the city of St. Pierre before us. I can call this a city with better grace than any of those other towns we had yet visited, for it contains from 40,000 to 50,000 inhabitants, is regularly laid out, the streets are well paved and cleanly kept, and the whole place has an air of civilization that is somewhat wanting in the Caribbean islands north of it. The part of it nearest the landing place, we could easily see, is the oldest part. It looks as if it might be a century at the least.
There is just a gentle slope to that part of the city, so that the roofs of houses in one street rise up behind the roofs of the houses in the street in front of it. And they are all shingle roofs, dark and gray with age. These older buildings seem to be nearly all of one pattern—either two or three stories high, built of stone, and turned, too, like the roofs, gray and dark with age. And they all have steep slanting roofs, with gable ends, of the kind that give one involuntarily an impression of vast expanses of garret—dusty, musty, rat-infested garret, full of the accumulated trash of generations.
Further up the ascent the houses looked newer. There they were of different shapes—some flat roofs, and some, colored yellow on the outside, looking very much like some of the older dwellings in American cities.
The gradual slope between the mountain side and the city is entirely filled up with buildings. And as the city has grown, it has begun to climb the mountain. Some dwellings are so far up the mountain, almost overhanging the city, that they seem utterly inacessible, unless by balloon or steam elevator.
On the highest ground of the sloping land is a large stone building, a good looking old-fashioned building, with the cheering word painted across its front in big black letters "THEATRE." Ah, you Frenchmen, you will have your amusements. And the French Government, with the interest of a parent, and knowing that a really good theatre in Martinique could hardly be self-supporting, gives it a subsidy, so that these colonists may have something to entertain them. There is a performance in it three nights every week, always by French companies. I knew some colonies whose parent Government thinks its whole duty done when it sends out a Governor and a Bishop, but I have fraternal feelings for any Government that knows enough to give its colonists a play bill as well as a prayer book.
It was easy to see how the city had gradually spread. Shortly to the left of the hill on which the theatre stands is a deep ravine, through which a tiny river trickles. This ravine is bridged, and the buildings go on for a mile beyond it—newer buildings, some of them made of wood—till at length the houses begin to straggle, and then lose themselves in the green country. The sloping space between the sea and the mountain is, perhaps, a quarter of a mile wide, and this is filled up with houses as thickly as any part of New-York—perhaps thicker, for the streets are very narrow.
Far off to the right, as we look ashore from the ship's deck, is a high hill, and on its summit a white statue of heroic size.
"What is it up there for?" I ask somebody.
"That is a statue of the Virgin," somebody replies, "and it was put there in old times to frighten off the pirates." But I don't believe the pirates ever were such timid fellows as to be frightened by a statue.
The further up the mountain a huge white cross with a large white base, which looked at that distance as if it might be a drinking fountain. This was put there, I was told, to insure the future welfare of a number of persons who were killed on that spot years ago by a landslide from the mountain. And further off to the right, the high hill sinking down to the sea level again and a road running over it and through it (by a tunnel near the end) and then coming out unexpectedly on the seashore, where there was a fine white beach with houses near it, and these houses standing in the midst of a great grove of gigantic cocoanut trees.
And all these things, please to bear in mind, set in a framework of green such as cannot be seen anywhere north of this island—not even in Cuba. I do not think there is any point nearer to New-York than Martinique is where you can see it in its glory. Even the best parts of Mexico do not compare with it. There is much grander and wilder scenery in Mexico than there is in Martinique, but there is no such foliage. And as to Cuba, it is a barren island compared with this.
Swarms of boatmen came out to the ship in quest of fares, as they do at all these islands. But here they were more quiet, more polite, and less inclined to take passengers by the collar and drag them into their boats. They all spoke French, of course; but most of them had picked up a few words of English, and a few could speak it very well. They were better dressed, too, than the boatmen at any of the other islands, and their boats looked neater.
One intelligent young fellow came up to me and asked in English whether I wanted to be taken ashore. But I was going in the ship's boat, and told him so. He said he was a guide as well as a boatman, and would take me to any part of the city. I thought then that I did not need his services, but afterward I found him very useful.
The afternoon was traveling along to a close, so we once more availed ourselves of the muscles of "Sanny" and his companion, and were rowed ashore in the broad safe boat belonging to the ship. Another night on shore, we thought, would be pleasant after 11 days and nights on the ship. Mr. Dupont had recommended us by all means go to the Hôtel des Bains, or hotel of the baths, and I had spent some time trying to get my tongue used to the French pronounciation of the name, which, as nearly as I can write it was said to be "Bee-ang."
We landed at a very neat little wharf, by far the best we had seen yet, and close to a substantial lighthouse. No Custom House officer troubled us, though we carried ashore some small satchels. We found ourselves in a little park by the water, with a stone paved levee running from it down to the sea. The park was well shaded and provided with benches.
So we started off to find the "Hôtel day Bee-ang." This was not so easy as it seemed. I asked one gentleman to direct me to it, and he made some reply in French which I took to mean that he did not understand English. I asked another with the same result. The third told me the same thing. I looked about for a policeman (being a New-Yorker, and naturally supposing that all policemen are Irishmen,) but there were no policemen in sight.
Just at the right moment the young boatman who had talked to me on the ship came up. He guided us to the hotel in short order. It was not more than three or four blocks from the landing place, and we went in by a big double door, that at home we would be strongly inclined to think was a stable door, and through a long, dark, broad, brick paved hallway.
This led us into the café and office of the "Hôtel des Bee-ang" which occupied two sides of a square, the centre being a sort of open courtyard, paved with flat stones, with a very large dove-cote in the centre of it, and a large stone fountain at the rear. There were tables all about the café, at which gentlemen were sitting, eating, drinking, and playing cards. It seemed rather an odd place to take ladies into (there were two ladies with me,) but there was nowhere else to take them. In one part of the café was a raised platform perhaps a foot high and five feet square, on the front of which stood a large desk. This was the office of the Hôtel des Bains.
see also: Dominica News - Guadeloupe - Antigua-Barbuda - Venezuela|
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Martinique: Martinique is an island in the eastern Caribbean Sea, having a land area of 1,128 km². It is an overseas department of France. As with the other overseas departments, Martinique is also one of the twenty-six regions of France (being an overseas region) and an integral part of the Republic. As part of France, Martinique is part of the European Union, and its currency is the euro. Its official language is French, although almost all of its inhabitants also speak Antillean Creole (Créole Martiniquais).
Area of Martinique:
1,100 sq km
slightly more than 6x the size of Wash., DC
Population of Martinique:
July 2004 estimate
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