Guadeloupe: Between France And The Tropics
By Anna Brones
I often contemplate where cultures intertwine and where they separate. On a Caribbean island, once a colony now turned overseas department, this question is posed daily.
Where does French culture end, and where does the local culture begin?
L’île papillon, The Butterfly Island, as Guadeloupe is known, its two islands forming two wings stretching into separate oceans. The more time I spend here, I see these wings stretching into two oceans, and at the same time representing Guadeloupe’s stretching out towards two different cultures. Far from the French métropole, here one is amidst the dichotomies that come from being a part of a European country, yet influenced by the particular Caribbean climate, landscape, culture, and history. It is a vast region full of nuances, dualities and organized chaos. The vibrant and lively atmosphere on this island comes to represent the mélange of two forces but also highlights the defining and separating line between them; the impact of Guadeloupe’s defining wings flapping in two different cultures.
Altough only 30km from my new home of Capesterre Belle-Eau, the bus trip to Pointe-à-Pitre, the capital which embodies this French-Caribbean crossover, is more than an hour long. Accentuated by blaring French and Guadeloupe pop music, along with the scream of wind from open windows, the ride is anything but calm; my visual and aural senses are strongly overwhelmed. Add to this the unpredictability of a bus driver who stops at the drop of a hat and follows the car in front of him with possibly an arm’s length of room. This is how everyone drives on this island, sporadic and fast. I find this to be paradoxical to the Caribbean approach to life, which is often casual, calm and entails patience.
Outside the bus window I see the blue sky trying to scare off rain clouds. Rain here is torrential, although as equally sporadic as the driving. A few drops of rain touch my window as we pass through Goyave, meaning “guava” in French. Here the ground is wet, soaked from the morning’s storm, water still hanging in the air. The rain ceases as we roll along, and the road becomes dry again. Even on such a small island nothing is necessarily experienced by all; and there are pockets of foul weather, which disappear as one passes through onto the next village. Much like the local experience of culture, which in an instant changes from new and European society, to an old and rooted Caribbean one.
Approaching Pointe-à-Pitre is like approaching any other a big city. Car dealerships selling the newest and fastest European vehicles are spread over the outskirts of town. Palm trees giving to the wind separate the other warehouse looking stores: plumbing, furniture, sporting goods—all French. The arrival at the bus station tells me otherwise. There is no system of European punctuality or organization. Quite the opposite; there are no timetables, no bus tickets, and no bus terminals. This sense of organized chaos is the same in Pointe-à-Pitre’s bus ‘station’. The enormous parking lot filled with buses, like an overstuffed bag, teeming at the seams, ready to overflow.
From the bus station I make my way towards the centre ville. Immediately I realize the impact that architecture invokes on my senses. Feeling like I am in a sardine can, I am surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a city crammed into a tiny space. I smell the odor created by the combination of sweat, gas, and humidity. I see the buildings constructed with the frequency of earthquakes in mind, leaving behind a city that feels small and condensed. Streets are packed with people, cars and, storefronts. The humidity, even at nine in the morning, consumes the city and its people, providing for an intertwinement of business activity and heat inspired lethargy.
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