Monday, September 3, 2018

In Memory of Rachel Faucett (17? - 1768) - Mother of Alexander Hamilton

My soul floats like the clouds
     that circle the earth.
The keepers of lightness
     of sweetness and mirth.
With no tinge of sadness
     to blacken their fleece.
No bolts of lightning
     to shatter their peace.
My soul soars like the dove
     in the tropical sky.
Keeping watch o’er my children
     wherever I fly.
‘Tween heaven and earth
     is where my soul roams.
Forever to wander,
     always alone.
Sailing forever -
     o’er fields of sugar cane
No fortress can hold me -
     no shackles or chains.
In the light of the moon -
     I wander the hills.
Yearning for comfort
     in the old sugar mills.
My voice murmurs softly -
     in the tropical breeze.
Rustling the tamarind
      and flamboyant trees.
The isle of St. Croix
     is where my soul roams.
My journey is over -
     At last I am home!

The Porcelain Rose - A Poem

In the garden of the Caribbees;
Lives the Rose of Porcelain;
A queen who reigns amidst the trees;
Of this lush and savage land.

With no courtiers or servants;
To keep her company;
Just thousands of descendants;
To keep alive her memory.

This queen of beauty and of grace;
Hides the sadness of her heart;
When it rains she shows not her disgrace;
Her composure is her art.

Through hurricanes or tropic storms;
Her faith acts like a shield;
And in her arms she offers warmth;
To every creature in the field.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Hummingbird - A Poem

Hummingbird in the Jardin de Balata, Martinique. Photo by Aurore Guennou.

Alone he stands the Colibri -
Beneath the forest canopy -
This solitary, solemn gent -
The object of my enthrallment.

So gentle, humble, wild, and free -
He drones just like the bumble bee -
And woos the flowers so ardently -
This cunning little Colibri!

With blazing eyes and fearsome beak -
Though I was sure he could not speak -
And wings that shone like gleaming gold -
How I loved him heart and soul!

Pursuing nectar in his fashion -
So ardently and full of passion -
This gentleman so duty bound-
A part of Nature most profound!

I knew at once his soul was free -
And he could not belong to me -
This magical creature from tropic zones -
Belonged to earth and earth alone.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

La Rose de Porcelain - Poem in French

Sur une petite île dans les Caraïbes
Vit une rose de porcelain
Dans son royaume vert et archaïque
Règne cette merveilleuse dame!

Sans courtisans ni serviteurs
Pour garder sa compagnie
Mais des milliers de progénitures
Garderont la mémoire de sa vie

Cette reine de la beauté et de la grâce
Garde son coeur si triste et calme
Quand il pleut elle ne montre pas sa disgrâce
Elle est une femme pas plus ou moins!

Dans les tempêtes ou les ouragans
Elle garde sa foi si forte
Et dans ses bras si élégants
Elle offre toujours du réconfort.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

One Day While Strolling 'Neath Tropic Skies - A Poem

One day while strolling ‘neath tropic skies -
I saw a pair of wizened eyes.
A little man all dressed in green -
With the strangest face I’d ever seen.

He had a cunning little presence -
And bowed to me with reverence.
Then eyed me with a cautious glance -
This solemn gent I met by chance.

Though old and haggard, thin and frail -
He had the most extraordinary tail.
And seemed amused by my surprise -
I saw it in his ancient eyes.

This garden was his vast domain -
Each flower, each beetle was his to claim.
And when a fly grew far too bold -
He flicked his tongue and ate him whole.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Saint-Pierre, Martinique: The Sleeping Beauty

By Pierre-Olivier Jay

A century after the eruption of Mt. Pelee, the former "Little Paris of the West Indies" has not regained its former glory. It is still only marginally developed. This is perhaps what makes this pretty little sleepy town so charming.


The month of May in St-Pierre is punctuated by celebrations, commemorations, and festivities. And for good reason, on May 22, 1848, the Martinican slaves took their liberty even before slavery was officially abolished, and half a century later, on May 8, 1902, the city was entirely destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mt. Pelee. These days of celebrations are all the more important in a city where, apart from a modest museum, few things allow the visitor to imagine the size of St-Pierre before the disaster. Here, it is not like in Herculaneum or Pompeii, where the bodies are frozen in time from the moment of their death. If the memory of the 30,000 inhabitants who disappeared in 1902 has not been lost, the visitor must reconstruct it from clues scattered throughout the city.


St-Pierre is only the shadow of its past. It takes a good dose of imagination to plunge back into it. The city was a beacon and a cultural and economic capital of the 19th century West Indies. Its streetlights illuminated the streets with electricity, a line of horse-drawn streetcars circulated its elevated streets and, from 1879, they boasted a "vitascope," the first cinema of the French colonies. While today the heat is often overwhelming, in those days, this spa town was crossed by multiple channels of fresh-flowing mountain spring water that refreshed the atmosphere. On the industrial front, rum and sugar were the treasures of the city. Today there are 16 distilleries and their know-how is legendary throughout the Caribbean. Through this port, valuable commodities were shipped between South America and North America, including cocoa, orange wine (vin d'orange), indigo, cassava, and pineapple.

The city was a mythical stop for sailors, attracted by its festive and frivolous nightlife. At dusk, more than a hundred cabarets and pubs come to life. They became the cradle of a new kind of music known as "biguine." The libertine atmosphere was described in one of the only novels from that time, "Nuit d’Orgie à St-Pierre" (Night of Orgy in St. Pierre). The opera house was the pride of the bekes, the white Antillean aristocracy, of which St-Pierre is the capital. The city is also the seat of 11 of the 15 Martinique newspapers of the time. They dealt mainly with politics, one of the West Indian people's burning passions.


On April 27, 1902, the first round of elections was tight between the two candidates. Industrialist Fernand Clerc, a progressive candidate of the Democratic Republican Alliance, obtained 4,496 votes and his opponent, Louis Percin, Radical-Socialist candidate, 4,167 votes. Overlooking the city, the volcano known as Mount Pelee awakened for a bit and then erupted on April 20. First a lake appeared in the dry crater lake, and then the White River showed unusual flow variations. On April 30, earthquakes shook the city. They were accompanied by phreatic explosions, steam-blast eruptions caused by the sudden increase of temperature of the superficial waters surrounding the volcano and the extremely hot magma reservoir. From May 2, ashes began to fall on the city, then a mudslide overtook the Guérin distillery, taking Pelée's first victims.
For the elite of the city, despite these signs and a panic among the residents, it was vital to mobilize voters for the second round of voting on May 11. It would never happen. Due north of St-Pierre the island has little to no access to the rest of the island. The only way to escape by sea, but by then it was impossible. But the authorities continued to reassure the public and a pseudo-scientific commission published a report that concluded, "St-Pierre is no more in danger at the foot of the volcano than Naples is at the foot of Vesuvius." The governor of Martinique, Louis Mouttet, previously stationed in Cayenne, arrived in the city with his wife, hoping to calm the agitated crowd.

From May 5, the situation escalated at the crater. The magma reached the surface, glowing rocks are thrown from the crater, a mudslide engulfed part of Precheur, taking 400 victims during the night of May 7 to 8. The inhabitants were never informed.

On the morning of May 8, the city of St-Pierre was calm. The clouds around the mountain obscure the town. A ship, le Diament, leaves curiously a few minutes before the tragedy. Some also speak of a ship, the Grappler, which was loaded shortly before the disappearance of the city, with all the fortune of the Martinique aristocracy. But until this day it is still a mystery. 

At 8:02 am, as the mass ends in town, a pyroclastic flow, a cloud of hot gas carrying debris of all sizes, reaches St. Pierre in less than a minute. In addition to the heat of the cloud, which reached 500 ° F, the shock wave and the inhalation of gases and ashes caused instant death for the town's 30,000 inhabitants. The passage of this deadly cloud triggered a fire in rum stocks. For three days, the city burned. But the apocalyptic vision of the rubble photographed is in fact the result of the seven fiery clouds that fell on the city until August 30, 1902.


If many people saw this cataclysm as divine punishment for the dissolute lifestyle and the mores of the time and a particularly libertine carnival season, for the scientific community it was the beginning of contemporary volcanology. An observatory was set up by volcanologist Alfred Lacroix, who investigated the eruption. He analyzed the phenomenon of the pyroclastic flows, whose process of volcanic eruption took the name "Pelean". This eruption remains in volcanology a reference  to explosive eruptions accompanied by viscous flows. Since the last eruption of the volcano in 1929, underground activity has been continuously monitored by the Morne des Cadets Observatory, which houses one of the largest seismographs in the world.

The city of St. Pierre was never fully rebuilt. At the time, it was losing its dominance to Fort-de-France, favored by its central location and better port facilities. In the 20th century, Martinique no longer wishes to look north; the trauma and tragedy are still palpable. The ruins of the old city are everywhere, but they are left to crumble.


St-Pierre is now rich in its underwater heritage. The discovery of the wrecks of the many ships that were in the bay on May 8, 1902 is an unexpected treasure trove for the city.
Jacques-Yves Imbert arrived in 1981. He lives with his family in a small white house several feet from the bay. A pioneer of scuba diving, he founded a diving club. He relates, "In May 1977, Mayor Jean Bally and Michel Metery declared themselves" "inventors" of all the wrecks, but they were already known to fishermen. Since then, diving, especially in wrecks like the mythical Roraïma, one of the first big steamers, is one of the main assets of the city."


After acquiring the prestigious label "City of Art and History" in 1990, cultural projects are waiting to emerge. Archaeologists are also working on excavating sites, bringing with them their share of new discoveries. In September 2015, David Earle, an American screenwriter, received the Best Screenplay for "Pelee" at the Monrovia International Film Festival in California. It tells the story of the tragedy of 1902. Will the exceptional destiny of St-Pierre be rediscovered on the screens of cinemas through an American super-production? That remains to be seen.

Guagin's interpretation of St. Pierre bay.