In previous online contacts Philippe Lucien had already warned us that he was depressed. Shortly after we find him in one of the holiday homes he manages, he finally unburdens himself with the reason: “You know, my life in Martinique is not easy.
I was born here but moved early to France, got married there and had children. But I never felt integrated. They asked me all the time if I was from Algeria or Morocco, a little suspicious of my look. Afterwards, when I came back here, I also felt without an identity.
We are in an officially French paradise, but here, you have to choose which side you live on, whether the black or the white… I don't belong to any.”
In the various weekends that we spend at table with him and his girlfriend Severine, the Francophone contradictions of the Antilles come to the fore again and again, with the most distinct developments. Then, the following mornings, we left early to explore Martinique and experience the theme on the ground.
Philippe Lucien is the son of a wealthy Fort-de-France lawyer. It was in these two generations of Luciens that the island's capital changed the most.
Fort-de-France's rivalry with the neighbor Saint Pierre by the status of capital it lasted until the turn of the XNUMXth century, when the two cities had almost the same number of inhabitants and shared administrative and military institutions. By that time, Saint Pierre was at the forefront as its population was more concentrated and urban.
But in 1902, Mount Pelée volcano erupted and devastated her. Only two of its nearly 30.000 inhabitants resisted and survivors from the surrounding area had to move to Fort-de-France. Since then, the city has assumed itself as the true capital of Martinique and has never stopped growing.
A Curious Incursion into the Trenelle-Citron neighborhood
With the advent of the economic crisis of the 30s and World War II, Fort-de-France went out of control as the population approached 2 inhabitants, many of them settled in slums.
From 1945 to 2001, the mayor Aimé Cesaire sought to restore order to his city, but not all problems were completely resolved.
We find in one of them – the Trenelle-Citron quartier – an unexpected visual appeal that ends up giving rise to one of the most curious adventures we experience in Martinique.
We probe the alleys below a viaduct in the suburb of Shoelcher to find a spot to photograph Trenelle's houses when we come across a Rue du Photographe. At a bad time, we decided to register your plate.
Immediately, the door of a house next door opens and a young resident with a naked torso and a thick beard comes outside, screaming in an intimidating way. “What do you want? Get out of here! They have nothing to interfere in our lives.”
An Understandable Confusion and Rejection
We reacted with amazement and took several minutes to calm the resident, meanwhile accompanied by 5 friends all wearing caps, sports clothes and, luckily, much cooler.
With the necessary patience, we explain and prove to them that we have nothing to do with the police. It's enough to tell us that they are from Haiti and Dominican Republic, and the reason for so much disquiet: “Since they opened the police station down there, they have not stopped controlling us.
We don't have the patience to put up with them anymore and we put that camera over the door to understand when they come here. That's how we saw you. Here they arrest us for everything and nothing. We ride the bike and go inside. We smoke a weed and go inside again…”
We ended up living with the “gangsta” Rolando and António de Castilla and we talked about everything.
from the unknown Portugal, Carnival and Brazilian women and the economic policies of Sarkozy and the peaceful, the descendants of the island's first settlers, some of them from still and always powerful families that the population blames for the increasingly unaffordable cost of living in Martinique.
Afterwards, we said goodbye with mutual respect and continued to the heart of the capital.
Fort-de-France: the Caribbean Capital of Martinique
We walk along the wooden walkway that runs along the Caribbean Sea, overlooking the garden of Place de La Savane and up to the imposing wall of the Saint Louis fort and military base, where coconut trees and an inevitable tricolor flag flutter.
During the day, Fort-de-France is given over to the activity of its numerous one-story stores, mostly shoe shops and boutiques with armies of mannequins.
We cross the Grand Marché, full of tropical fruit, aromas of spices, handicrafts and bottles of rum, ti punch and other liqueur specialties sold by large ladies and even bigger promotional gifts who ask us “From that department êtes-vous…” curious about which French corner we came from.
Around us, we also spoke with two Egyptians who named their shop Adham and joined an already significant immigrant community from the Middle East and surrounding areas.
We also meet the Chen family who decided to move three years ago from Cayenne and open their Mei Dieda bazaar because French Guiana has become too dangerous.
From time to time, this more down-to-earth and multi-ethnic Fort-de-France makes you forget who you belong to. The sensation rarely lasts.
When we reach the vicinity of Saint Louis Cathedral, the funeral of a former war veteran takes place, a ceremony that takes place with pomp and military circumstance.
The slow procession comes from the coastal area decorated by more French flags and insignia.
Officials, family and friends with a Gallic profile greet and greet other Afros, and the moment, so delicate, once again shuffles the data. We needed a year or two to live in these French-speaking confines to better understand its true universal principles.