Apparently, I’m a romantic. I don’t think it’s asking too much for a young man to put some thought into how he keeps my attention. I’m not against a little effort, or being impressed. It’s not that I’m into insincerity and sweet nothings. I simply believe that if life is to be lived abundantly, then matters of the heart should involve some involuntary fluttering. And frankly, on a lush tropical island, it is not exceedingly difficult to woo a romantic; breathtaking views are the norm, atmosphere is everywhere and a little creativity can go a really long way at literally no cost.
As a young, single woman with a cute English accent (although I didn’t know that ’til much later) from abroad I was bound to be a curiosity (read: fresh blood) when I moved to the French Caribbean. And I was semi-mentally prepared for it. In addition, as with the approach of summer in temperate countries, I had the swinging hips of a woman liberated from her winter wardrobe with suitcases of new light and colourful clothes to enjoy. The offers poured in, but I have been sensible and selective about accepting. Safety first and all that. I’ve not been too selective to have no stories at all though, so I thought I’d share my top three to date (no pun intended!):
1) The Anse Couleuvre All Dayer
People rave about Anse Couleuvre but to me, it’s what we call a local beach in St Lucia. Given that by definition an island is surrounded by water, it stands to reason that often there is a nice patch of sand and sea away from the tourist developments. I’d been to this sight a few weeks prior to my date, and having heard people talk as if it was a missing wonder of the world, underwhelmed is the fairest description of my response.
However. When a muscular 6 footer to whom I’d mentioned in passing that I preferred the northern (less developed, greener, quieter) part of the island, told me he’d take me somewhere ‘I’d like’ so I should bring trainers, I was secretly delighted when we started driving…northwards. I still take a childlike delight in surprises, so this date was a winner from the outset. I thought we were going to the beach. We are, but first he wants to show me ‘something’.
A 30 minute upward hike later and we arrived in what can only be described as a small piece of paradise on earth. The waterfall we arrived at was extraordinary. It was small, but as it’s been raining a lot recently (including shortly before we started hiking) the trees surrounding us were covered in leaves a million shades of sparkling green. It was truly a sight to behold. The waterfall consisted of water streaming down one side of the rocks which rose 60ft from the point we had hiked to. I think we were on a side of the volcano Mt Pele, but I wouldn’t like to say.
As I took in the absolute beauty of my surroundings, I was reminded I was on a date when my co-hiker whipped off his t-shirt to reveal a lean muscular torso, and stood directly beneath the gushing water. A total Brown Skin à la India Arie moment. And one of those ‘is this real?’ moments I get from time to time here. Under no circumstances would I get to flick water at a gorgeous 6 foot dark-skinned topless hunk at a waterfall hidden in the depths of a tropical rainforest if I was on a date in London. It just wouldn’t happen.
People don’t hang around the river like they do the beach so we didn’t stay long. Once we’d hiked back down, catching sight of some hairy-looking wild pigs on the way, we’d earned the picnic we stopped for in Anse Ceron. Creole chicken, quiche and local fruit juice. With bread of course: This is France! Simple but extra tasty on the beach bordering the rainforest. Hike, waterfall, picnic, beach lime complete with country drive to and from destination making this date a whole-day event? Definitely top 3.
2) Bélé in the Hills of Gros Morne
It’s a well-known truism that the best events are often entirely unplanned ones. This date was no exception. A last-minute ‘what you up to?’ led to a drive into the winding hills of the countryside. As is often the case here, to somewhere you would never find by accident. 45 mins after departure we began to see country roads lined with parked cars, then a clearing, then a large bar/restaurant made entirely of bamboo (except for the metal sheets reinforcing the bamboo leaves on the roof I later discovered) which was our final destination.
I am no expert on Bélé, but I have gathered that it’s a treasured cultural dance which links Martiniquais to their/our African roots and ancestors. A band of percussionists – mainly drummers – plus a lead and chorus singers (joined by the crowd), and pairs of dancers (also taken from the crowd) supplied serious vibes. What struck me, was that it felt like the first time I’d seen Bélé for the enjoyment of participating Martiniquais, as opposed to as a demonstration of culture for foreigners or to mark a special occasion. It was culture as communal expression rather than culture as performance. It was bélé as a dance to exorcise the week’s demons, to shake off the drama and stress of Mon-Fri, to help an overworked employee feel human again and taste joy. It was the first time I thought Bélé looked like fun. And the first time I’d regretted being too lazy to sign up for dance classes, cos I’d had a stressful week and some communal leg-shaking was the perfect prescription.
If the location, music and dancing weren’t awesome enough, there was the icing on the cake when around 1am soup was passed around. At first I assumed my date had bought it and had someone bring it to me as I’d started chatting to some other people. But no, large trays were distributing soup to everyone. Free food in my new favourite spot. I ended the night without having burned up the dancefloor despite some rather insistent offers, but I will one Friday. Watching my date join the singers was very cool, but sometimes its nice to observe rather than participate in the festivities. With live music and conversation around the role of dance and culture in identity construction in the post-slavery Caribbean, and an exhilaratingly flirtatious debate on whether or not antillanité and creolité were in fact intellectual valves for denial of the African-ness of the majority of Caribbean people, this date turned into a fabulous night. I’d love to apologise for finding a debate flirtatious but I happen to find passionate well-argued position attractive.
3) Dancing on the remains of Empress Josephine’s childhood home at Trois-îlets
In case you didn’t know, Martinique’s most awkward claims to fame is probably being the home of Empress Josephine. As in, the beloved of France’s most beloved son (Napoleon!) was a Béké, i.e a white slave-owning colonist born in Martinique. Think Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre but with a much happier ending for her. It’s awkward ‘cos Béké’s sit on the ‘other’ side of history (read: WRONG); when the imported African slaves in Martinique were rejoicing over the successful Haitian rebellion in 1791, and getting excited about the French Revolutionary government declaring slavery incompatible with the new republic’s value of liberté in 1794, the Béké’s of Martinique let the English know that if they were to invade and declare Martinique a British colony, they would meet no resistance from the plantocracy. The British took the hint, duly invaded and Martinique was in fact a British colony until Napoleon reversed the anti-slavery position of the republic. Slavery in Martinique continued unabated until 1848.
But back to my date. This time the music came from very large speakers. A reggae and hip-hop festival held at Jo’s house. Not quite the 2 week music fest which rocks St Lucia every May, this weekender nevertheless introduced me to a number of new things. I’d not heard new French Hip-Hop in a few years, and had never followed French reggae so seeing my date and the crowd go wild at the sets of Pierpoljak, Tonton David, Bwakore and Daddyyod put me in a good mood – as did their performances.
Then came free gorgeous food and drink all night thanks to a friend being responsible for guest passes, including the most delicious piment vegetarien and prune de cythère (scotch bonnet pepper and golden apple are best if imperfect translation) cocktail, again a distinctly new – but good – experience. As was the ‘all-ital’ food stand selling a range of delicious sandwiches and pastries. There was a DJ tent playing 90s RnB classics (Total! Jade! Brownstone! Jodeci!) so I couldn’t leave their dance floor when the rain took me away from the main stage, and they also played some UK garage and funky house; I nearly cried when Craig David’s ‘Rewind’ came on. My date had chosen well.
That said, my runaway highlight of the evening was the performance of Malian rapper Oxmo Puccino. His beats and flow were mesmerising, and his commentary on social problems and the French inner city resonated more than a little. That I understood the lyrics and found myself able to follow the tales he told on the mic was also a bit of a landmark for my French. The show itself was awesome, the crowd jumping and he closed the festival with true panache as the French would say.
This is not an exhaustive list of all the outings I’ve been lucky enough to be treated to, or even enjoyed. It’s merely an update on the question posed in Dating In Paradise part one; a midnight swim/motorbike ride/sunset picnic on date one doesn’t mean that date two will be a washout. The possibilities for extraordinarily romantic dates, on the contrary, are endless here. Whether the heady seductive potion of French accent with Caribbean lilt + nice man + romantic tropical setting will = something meaningful however, is the new question.