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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Last days in Paradise (with a nod to Death in Paradise, the murder mystery series)

Two more days to go, and we have been enjoying every minute. Our days have settled into an easy rhythm m, as sojourns in tropical places tend to do. Wake up, read our books, (with Guadeloupan themes) and or the Boston Globe online on the porch, go out for a morning or an afternoon drive to another part of the island. There are a few touristy things to do here, and then a few more that we’ve decided probably aren't worth it.

The Botanical Gardens, just a few k’s up the road, are definitely worth a visit. The walk through the park takes about an hour, although it really isn’t very big, and twists back and forth within a small space. It is designed so that you are not aware, with the thick vegetation, that you are repeatedly doubling back on yourself. The trees and flowering plants are stunning. Most fun, for both kids and adults, all of whom were laughing gleefully, was the aviary containing the lorikeets, a kind of parrot, I believe. For a half euro, you could get a small amount of sugar liquid in a cup, and almost immediately, birds would alight on your arm, hand, and head. Everyone was shrieking in delight and taking photos. And the enclosure was large enough that the birds had ample space to fly. Unlike some of the larger parrots in smaller cages elsewhere in the park.

As I am writing this, the prelude to the inauguration is being live cast, and I have been toggling back and forth between the two, writing for a bit, watching the ceremonial events a bit. I’ve seen many of the dignitaries arrive, the Carters, the Bushes, the Clintons, Ruth Bader, now the Trump offspring.  I am beginning to feel sick, but not sure if it’s the events or the two chocolate croissants I downed a little earlier this morning,

The juxtaposition of the events on screen and my current reality are so jarring, surreal. Part of me doesn’t want to watch, part of me can’t stay away. Loring has no  desire to watch, and has gone off in our kayak for what he called his protest paddle.
When he comes back, probably an hour later, I am full into it, watching the processional, listening to the commentators, although they are hard to hear over the waves while I’m sitting here and writing on the porch. Perhaps not a bad thing.

I watch the speeches, the swearing in of the vp, by the loathsome Clarence Thomas, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and then finally the swearing in of the new president. It still seems so hard to believe, maybe because of the still difficult- to- absorb circumstances, maybe because of my current situation sitting on a porch overlooking the ocean in my sarong and my own current dreamlike reality.
I find Trump’s speech more reserved and somewhat statesmanlike than I expected. I want him to continue to be a buffoon, for people to laugh at him and him to react with his typical thin-skinned retorts.  So I am not happy that he appears almost normal and delivers his speech fairly well.

 Just as the speech ends and the commentators begin their immediate assessment, my tablet is out of juice and goes blank.  But not before I hear them, in agreement with each other, saying that Trump could have gone conciliatory but chose to go hostile, insulting all of the former presidents present. So much for my take on things.  I’ll be home in time on Sunday to read the pundits in the Sunday Glove.
We have one more day here, tomorrow, Saturday.

It’s now Saturday am, nearly 10 am.  We’ve already read the paper and had breakfast -fried eggs and a baguette between us.  I can’t think of anything much better than sitting on the porch overlooking the ocean with a fresh baguette from the bakery across the street.  That was probably our last baguette. We leave here early tomorrow, before dawn, to catch our 8am flight home. It’s about an hour’s drive to the airport.

Loring said he had two goals for today, a swim and getting gas so we have enough to get back to Pointe a Pitre.  I said I had two also, going swimming and finishing the baguette that we were in the process of eating. So have already accomplished one.

Actually have a couple more – one is to finish the book I’m reading, a murder mystery that takes place in Guadeloupe. The other is to try to remember enough about knitting to get started on the scarf I was planning to knit while here. It should be simple enough, since I picked the easiest pattern I could find. But nevertheless I am having trouble and keep ripping it out and starting again. I knew if I ever was going to get another knitting project going, it would be in a place like this. But even that may not be enough for me with my very limited knitting skills.

We have stopped at a number of different beaches along this part of the island on our daily driving excursions, and most have been beautiful.  Many were crowded with cars but didn’t feel crowded once you were on the beach. Most had one or several beach restaurants. One, Plage de la Perle, was supposedly where the lead character in Death in Paradise has his beachfront shack. I assume that is a set, not a real cabin. But many of the sites in the show are in actual places in town. And did I mention earlier that our landlord told us that in one of the episodes they broke down the door of our house?!

Most of the beaches have had waves too strong for me to want to dip more than my toes in. The best swimming, or rather floating, is right in front of our house. There is no beach, just some rocks to climb over, but the water is calm and clear, and I can float and listen to my music, and watch the little fishies swimming around me. And the bottom is sandy once you get over the first rocks.  Loring of course has gone out for long swims daily, and has found pieces of a shipwreck (modern, not old) and seen a very large turtle twice.

Yesterday we used one of the kayaks (there are two) for the first time. We went out past all the moored sailboats, and up to the point that marks one end of the harbor. We’ve had views all the time of sailors coming in their dinghies to the dock right by our house here, and trying to figure out what their sailing lives are like.

One day we drove to the Maison de Chocolat, a small museum/shop that demonstrates the process of extracting the cocoa seeds, drying them, them pulverizing them. We got to taste them at each part of the process, culminating in a tasting of very rich, but not overly sweet, hot chocolate. It was delicious. Even Loring, no hot chocolate fan, admitted he liked it. I would suggest visiting as long as your expectations aren’t overly high. The rum museums, of which there are several, we decided to forgo. We’ve been to a couple before, in Havana, no more than a tourist trap, and in Jamaica, which actually was pretty interesting.

Most of the towns we’ve been in, including here in Deshaies, and on the other island, Marie Galante, have been quite small. Deshaies is nearly the biggest one, with its dozen restaurants, couple of grocery stores, and half dozen tourist shops. We did, however, drive into one town, near the Cousteau  underwater  reserve, that was just packed. On the road into town, there were cars parked along the side a good ways out of the town, and people walking down the hill to the beach. Nowhere to stop in town at all. You’d have to drive around for a while, like looking for a spot Manhattan or Harvard Square. It was at  PLage Malendure, between Bouillion and Pointe Noire. We’re not sure what the reserve consists of, I guess a protected underwater area, and the source for a lot of diving and boat excursions.

The other side of Guadeloupe, Grande Terre, is the more developed and more touristed part, many resorts, etc. Not sure how much I’d like it, probably not much, but it would be interesting to see it if we were to return. 

Sainte Rose, though, to the north and around the top of the island, was more interesting and more of a town. Many of the shops seemed to cater more to locals than tourists. They were setting up a grandstand and a stage for some event, but no indication of what. (Update – after our return I watched  the video,  which had been broadcast on local tv, of a very large and long Carnival parade.)

In our own town, as we drove back, there were police blocking off our street, the main street of the town. We at first thought it was some kind of parade, perhaps Carnival related. Lots of men in suits and women in elegant white dresses, a few with umbrellas, or rather parasols,  for the sun. It reminded me a bit of Alvin Ailey’s famous ballet, Revelations.  Before long, we realized that it was actually a funeral.

We’ve tried to take some of the back roads outside of our and other towns, although most of them only lead to housing, and often don’t go through. Some of those areas have fancy villas, others more local housing, and some a mix of both.

I haven’t been able to find much in the way of local handicrafts. Even in the tourist shops it seems most of the merchandise is from elsewhere, tin wall decorations from Haiti, beach clothes from Sri Lanka, etc. We drove down one road where a sign had said Artisan Village. Only as we approached did I remember that artisan could mean workshops in the sense of carpentry shops, mechanics, etc.
I saw one sign on the main road that said Artiste in Bois, (wood) and we drove, higher, up into the hills, until we came to a small clearing with  a house and a couple of young guys leaning against a truck. I asked about the artiste, which didn’t seem to register, then said sculptor, and he nodded his head, right there. Just behind us, under and behind all kinds of vines and plants, was a mailbox with a small wooden bird on it, and beyond that, a faint view through the vines, of a house. We walked in, on a narrow boardwalk made of scavenged wood. There were a couple of rooms, both half open like many buildings here. And then a man, who seemed to fade half into his jungle -like surroundings, emerged. He wore beige camouflaged shorts, and most of the rest of his body was covered in tattoos that blended in with his clothing. His hair was in long grey matted dreadlocks that also appeared to blend in with his clothes and tattoos.  All around were sculptures of various sizes. Around the two rooms were a number of platforms at different levels, connected with more walkways of salvaged wood. Most of them looked close to caving in. One platform had a “bar” of a few bottles and glasses, and a table. Another had a table for eating, for he apparently also cooked for visitors. The highest platform had an impressive view of the countryside. I would have loved to have taken his picture, but didn’t want to offend him.  He told us he’d lived there for 35 years. We didn’t get his name or more info about when he cooked and how long in advance we would need to arrange a meal. We’d have to go early in the day, for it was not a road we’d want to navigate in the dark. And as today is our last day, doubtful we’ll make it. (Although we did discuss it.)  I’d sure like to find out more about him, and would try to look him up if we ever were to return here.

Sunday morning, on the way home. We woke before dawn today, drove  the 40 minutes to the airport, then spent about 15 minutes in the still dark early am  trying to find the right parking lot in which to leave the rental car.  Luckily we’d left more than ample time, were one of the first to arrive for our flight.  I couldn’t find anything I would want to use our last few euros on, so we split an expresso with the change and saved our last 10 euro bill for our next trip in the EU.

 All told, we ate four dinners in retaurants in Deshaies, and one lunch on Plage de la Perle, (the one where Death in Paradise’s head detective has his shack) I wish I had known that before we visited there so I could have looked to see if the building actually exists.)

At the plage restaurant I had  oussauous, which I think translates to crayfish, a little larger than large shrimp. We were literally “toes in the sand”, as some of the ads for restaurants and villas say here. There were three resident cats, and I fed them parts of the shells. 
Mostly, we ate at home, three dinners, and lots of breakfasts and lunches. Our lunches were mostly   bread, cheese, and cucumbers,  and our breakfasts ranged from meusli with yougurt and bananas, to eggs with fresh baguette, to chocolate croissants.  We found that, although we enjoyed all the restaurant meals, we actually liked cooking and eating on our own porch best.
When asked in the past whether I’d return to a place I’d visited, I’ve almost always said yes, but then there are so  many other places  I’d like to go. This time I already feel like I’d like to go back, even before we left Deshaies. There are only two other places I can recall feeling that strongly about, Paris, and the Bahamas where we visited repeatedly in the 70’s, to a small private island where Loring worked for the owner. Funny, two of them are places where there is virtually nothing to do, but where the days feel rich and full. And Paris is, well, Paris.

Perhaps my urge to return to Guadeloupe is somewhat connecting to the political situation at home. It feels more necessary to escape, now. But it feels important to be there, too.
There’s only one place I’ve seen that might be better than the one we stayed at. Both of us agree  that being right in town, and also right on the ocean,  and able to walk across the street for baguettes and croissants and fruit tarts, is a pretty unbeatable combination. There are dozens of stunning looking villas with pools and spectacular views, but they are up in the hills, not in town.  The water here is so calm and clear, I could just float around for hours with the fish. I love being in the water but am a timid swimmer and don’t like being in strong waves. When Trip Advisor popped up on my screen a few days ago with “Still considering a trip to Deshaies?” (amusing since we were already there)  it showed a place with a view like ours, in the middle of the town, but with more colorful furniture and a bedroom that opened right onto the porch. We identified it, as there are not many houses right on the water.  It’s just a few doors down, on the other side of the town dock, above one of the restaurants.

I’ve already got my eye on it for next year!