Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The Odyssey continues: Fort de France

It is a truth universally acknowledged that YADDA YADDA YADDA I was hoping to reel you in by using a trademark Jane Austen opener, but I'm getting bored just by typing it, so I'm going to go straight to the point instead. It seems I've lost myself in this cycle of writing how life was in the Caribbeans, so I'll just run with it for the moment. This post is about finding houses, and specifically, about how I found a house in Martinique.

So, since the University seemed intent on making us stay in tiger latrines for seven days, it became an ever too pressing matter to find a house to live in. The initial bitch-slap impact with the residences, it turned out, was only the tip of the iceberg in an encyclopaedic catalogue of discomforts to which the local students were subjected, the most burdensome of which was by far the question of water. To state it plainly, the water coming out of the tap in those residences tasted like it had been ran through a camel's urethra. Even when one came back from, say, a football match, red and capable of performing manslaughter for a drink, it was still impossible to force oneself to swallow that nefarious liquid. The only solution to the ignoble solution was to trek down to the supermarket and buy a box of water-bottles, a venture which always sent me nuts. Over and beyond the (considerable) expenses for a basic good, what really got to me was that the university had been placed - for reasons to me obscure, maybe it was planned as a military outpost before some inept architect changed idea - at the very top of the most unfriendly, unwelcoming, impervious mountain on the entire island short of taking a trip to the fucking volcano. Scaling it back up from the supermarket while carrying one or even two boxes containing nine litres of water each was a venture which filled one with brief deliriums in which you began believing yourself to be a mountain goat. The fact that you would shed more sweat in one day upon that island than with three monthly subscriptions to a national sauna and an orgie performed upon a working oven meant that you needed to renew your fluids faster than an lizard in a McDonald's kitchen. Six bottles would last you, what, three days? The trip, as a consequence, had to be repeated over and over again.

On the first day on the island, therefore, I swiftly decide to find myself new accommodation at once. Obviously the best way to do this, unless you make it a habit of throwing your money off a bridge, is to find some flatmates among your fellow Erasmus students. I enquire at the accommodation office where I may find them, since not many appear to be there at that precise moment, and the woman there tells me that they are scattered about the university, sorting out each their own things. This is not very helpful, so I ask an Erasmus colleague who happens to be in the vicinity of the office, and he tells me that quite a few people are planning on going out that night. He invites me to join them, of course. In other words, he is offering me the perfect chance to meet potential housemates.

Since I have to wait until that night to meet the people, I might as well go to town, not so much for tourism but to get some stuff sorted, from a new contract for my mobile phone to some shoes more befitting the beach atmosphere (at that moment, I was wearing some World War II relics which had seen everything from mud to snow in England and were keeping my feet inside a furnace). So, in my shorts and sunglasses, with nothing but my small bag slung over my shoulder (I am feeling very Hemingway-esque at that moment, really), I go to the bus-stop right outside the university.

It takes a while of waiting before something akin to a banana-truck starts puffing up the hill towards us. If I hadn't seen it moving, I would have thought it an exhibitional ruin. It is ancient, dilapidated, and there is an air of genuine concern upon the driver's face as the bus struggles up the slope; in fact, he looks frankly surprised when it reaches all the way to the top. (Transport, as I would find out over my stay, was in pretty dreadful conditions in Martinique). We take the trip, and I feel a fresh sense of wonder when I find that the driver does not close the door - he leaves it open all the time, as an extra window, letting a tender breeze enter the vehicle and spread like an underwater current over the occupants, who are pressed up in the crowd and sitting everywhere, from the seats to the floors and the steps. It is a beautiful day.

I do not wish to make too many negative comments about this because I was really enjoying myself and that island was breathtakingly beautiful, not least because of the amazing flora and fauna it could boast - I lost count of the birds I saw which I could not recognise, while gigantic and exotic flowers grew by the sides of the very road. Nonetheless, and with those qualifiers stated, I must declare the capital of that island to have been the ugliest abyss in which human being ever has set foot. Fort de France was in fact the only ugly place I saw in the whole Caribbean area: it was a flat expanse drowned in concrete, with low buildings and stuffed with McDonalds and clothes' shops, fully embracing (and indeed even boasting) the consumeristic culture of the tourists who invaded it. Compared with all the other things I saw there (and university accommodation aside), it was a tremendous underwhelment.

I come back home with already more tan than I'd had in two years in England, and in the evening I go to the meeting place to encounter my fellow Erasmus students. There's a good dozen of them planning on going somewhere. I put up my best smile, approach them, and ask which one of them is going to have the privilege of living with me in a few days' time.

More to be said in the next blog entry. Ta ta!

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