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Martinique

 
 

Chameleon in the Sun!

   

 

Martinique and Guadeloupe—two French-speaking islands in the Caribbean bathed in brilliant azure blue waters with rolling hills covered in lush tropical green.  Paradise: wildly-colored orchids, quilled pineapples, sweet sugarcane, extravagant branches of thorny bougainvillea that cover bungalows and walls in sweeping sprays of hot pink and red flowers, sparkling lagoons and idyllic beaches.

 

Truman Capote’s Music for Chameleons is a marvelous collection of non-fiction vignettes and reportage – all embellished with his trademark literary verve.  In the title piece, Music for Chameleons, Capote plays us some delightful Martiniquan music – he takes a scene and extracts from it charming eccentric details. An elegant cultured Martiniquais woman plays Mozart for Capote in order to demonstrate that chameleons are in fact attracted to music: 'Three green chameleons race one another across the terrace; one pauses at Madame’s feet, flicking its forked tongue, and she comments: "Chameleons.  Such exceptional creatures.  The way they change color.  Red.  Yellow.  Lime.  Pink.  Lavender.  And did you know they are very fond of music?"  She regards me with her fine black eyes. "You don’t believe me?”" Capote looks on entranced, as they '...skittered across the terrace and scampered into the salon, a sensitive, absorbed audience for the music played....'  How wonderful then to also change chameleon-like from etiolated urban denizen to burnished chameleon basking in the sun in the warmth of Martinique and Guadeloupe’s beautiful beaches this winter.

 

 


 Tropical Vegetation, 1887, Paul Gauguin, National Gallery of Scotland

 

The two islands are a part of France: to be precise they are known as départements d’outre mer - territoires d’outre-mer or more poetically - DOM TOM’s!  Josephine de Beauharnais, Napoleon Bonaparte’s first wife, was in fact born in Martinique on her family’s sugar plantation.  Napoleon fell passionately in love with the Creole beauty who become Empress Josephine in 1804.  He was her second husband, their marriage was not to last, but the very last word Napoleon uttered as he lay dying on St. Helena was “Josephine”.  The islands’ spectacular tropical colors inspired another Frenchman, the painter Paul Gauguin, who spent a few months in Martinique in 1887.  From his tropical haven—a small wooden shack above La Carbet, Gauguin became entranced by the island’s brilliant colors and local life—these few months were a turning point in the artist’s evolution, predating his later, more renowned Tahitian period.

 

There is delicious Creole food to be had, rum plantations to visit.  A French highway system that keeps things running smoothly.  Hiking trails that take one to delightful places with glittering names like the Baie du Trésor.  Martinique’s capital city Fort-de-France was also the setting for the 1944 wartime film To Have and Have Not (a romance with Humphrey Bogart as a jaded boat captain and Lauren Bacall as a charming pickpocket). So this winter we recommend following in the footsteps of Capote, Gauguin, and other assorted chameleons to these enchanting islands in the sun....

  

 

Read: Music for Chameleons

 

Explore: Martinique Travel Guide, nytimes.com

 


 

 

 

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