In January I took a teenty tiny holiday, a few days away from my life and down to Martinique. Before I bought my plane ticket and booked my Air BnB, Martinique had receded to the back corners of my brain. It had only existed as a place French people were always thinking I might be from when I was living in Paris. Young foolish child that I was back then, I’d never even taken a moment to learn anything about the place, not even where, exactly, it was. I just knew I wasn’t from there and wished annoying French people would stop asking me.
But then someone shared a link to Parisian airfares that were crazy-low … and I almost bought a flight until I remembered how dreary Paris is in January. So I checked other destinations and found that the sale extended to Martinique and Guadeloupe. And my brain smiled. The Caribbean in January? Yes, please.
But how to choose between two destinations I knew nothing about? Yes, naturally I took a crash course at the School of Google, clicking through articles and photo galleries. It turned out to be less helpful than it should have been: both islands are, of course, beautiful.
And then I read the piece of information that sealed the deal, something so extraordinary and captivating there was no way this first trip could be to anywhere but Martinique. (And I say “first” trip because, with fares so low, I will surely be going back!)
The magical object of my fascination was a statue that graces a park in Fort-de-France, the capital. A statue of the Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s wife, whose family was ensconced in Martinique, enslaving people and living the life. And in her honor, someone at some point saw fit to erect a statue in the capital.
And someone else at some other point, saw fit to behead the statue. And I have to assume this artistic revision happened after the period of enslavement had ended, after Martinique established itself as a Black country for good and true. And I have to assume these things because deftly-beheaded Josephine still stands in the park. Someone — maybe the original swordsman but perhaps not — dashed her with red paint. Just enough for her decapitation to appear a bit … fresh.
I read about that, and I knew I had to see it for myself. Ticket bought, hunt for the right lodging began.
Seriously, though. If there could be a better illustration of the difference between a country that embraced its Blackness after slavery and a country that contorted itself to find new ways to codify the condemnation of Blackness, I feel it’s that Josephine statue. We don’t even have to imagine how such an act of vandalism would go over in this country, this country where we have held fiercely to our reverence for and protection of the monuments to our ugly history. We don’t have to imagine because we’ve seen the violence and swift law enforcement response to merely the suggestion that the statues be removed. The call for removals was the rallying point, the excuse used to organize the white supremacy protest in Charlottesville.
So a country that leaves a beheaded slave owner on display … well that was a place I needed to visit.
And Martinique didn’t disappoint. Josephine didn’t disappoint.
I have done a decent amount of traveling. Not anywhere as much as I’d like, but I’ve gotten myself out there. And I like to think I am a good traveler, that I go prepared, that I don’t further anyone’s negative opinions about Americans abroad and all that. I try to know stuff, try to have basic phrases mastered to show some good will.
I didn’t prepare for this trip, not really. I used to speak French, so I figured I’d just pick it back up when I got there, as if that was a real thing. And I did check the weather to be sure temps would be high enough for me to wear my summery-est summer dresses. And at the last minute, I checked to see if there was a time difference. That was really all I did.
And then I arrived and realized I didn’t know anything, realized how not ready I was.
Examples of this glaring not-knowing: Yes, there is a time difference. Martinique is an hour ahead of New York. I read that information, but I couldn’t process it, couldn’t make it make sense. Why is Martinique an hour earlier than New York? did it have something to do with them not setting their clocks back in the fall? That was the best I could do. The travel-Stacie I used to be would have gone to look at a map … novel inventions, those maps. They show you where land masses sit in relationship to one another. I did finally look at a map — after I got home — and saw that Martinique is much further east than I was picturing, that it is practically in Venezuela, and of course it’s an hour earlier than New York.
I knew before traveling that Martinique uses the Euro. I knew this because the cost of my airport transfers and the day tour I’d arranged were given in Euros. But I didn’t bother to understand why Martinique — a small Caribbean island — would use European Union currency. It seemed odd, but I didn’t dwell on it. After I arrived and started getting to know my host, I learned that Martinique is considered France. Not a colony, not a territory or protectorate, but part of the country of France. It is one of the official departments (states) of France. What? Seriously? My brain is still wrestling with that. This tiny, shining spot in the Caribbean is part of the EU. Not EU-adjacent, but the EU. Full stop. That seems beyond wacky to me, but there it is.
These aren’t the most dramatic pieces of information in the world, to be sure. But they are important, basic bits of info that it would have made sense for me to bother knowing before I got on the plane. They are things I would for-sure have taken time to learn before traveling in the past. My brain really just didn’t get on the right track for this trip. So much on the wrong track that I headed to a tropical location and didn’t bring a single one of my fans. I was sorry without them the whole time.
I’m just surprised by what seemed a complete lapse of understanding how to travel. I felt as if I’d been asleep from the moment I booked the trip to the moment I arrived in Fort-de-France.
And I’m realizing as I write this that one of the things I didn’t do before my trip was have travel anxiety dreams. Seriously. Every time I plan a trip, I have dreams that feature the parts of my travel plan that haven’t been arranged and settled. I’ve had dreams where I’m on the plane and realize I don’t have my passport. That kind of thing. But I had none of that before this trip. I think I had too many things to focus on between booking and traveling and, in some way, my brain forgot about Martinique. Despite the fact that I was telling everyone I was going on this trip, my brain treated that like random small talk, didn’t let the information take any space in my active consciousness. Weird.
Weird, and I hope that doesn’t happen for trips in the future. I was so disoriented in Martinique. “On the back foot,” as old-timey novelists would have said. I had a lovely trip, but I kept feeling more than a little off, couldn’t shake the sense that I was lost, unmoored. So very odd.
In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.
It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!