Pointe-a-Pitre

I think the weather is still cold enough to share some more of the welcoming warmth of the Caribbean, especially now that Death in Paradise has left our screens for another year (sniff!).

Guadeloupe has an administrative capital called Basse-Terre, but the happening place to be is Pointe-a-Pitre, right in the centre of the island and not far from the airport. We made a couple of trips there, even braving the transport system and taking the bus in. In previous years everyone used the bus and there were comparatively few cars, but then wham! bang! that scourge of French life, a strike, meant that the buses were out of action for a few weeks and so everyone who could went and bought themselves a car. Hence the buses are quite empty now and the roads are full!

Back to La Pwent, as it is known in creole.  When we visit, there is one person above all that we must visit….the man who pushes his brightly coloured cart around town making sinobol! What is that, I hear you ask? Let me explain. Take a huge chunk of ice, scrape at it with a special grater, pop the crushed ice in a plastic cup, add lashings of sirop de menthe and sirop de grenadine for a lovely green/red colour, stick a straw in, and enjoy!  Great to suck away at on those hot days, not so great if you are avoiding sugar…

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Just behind Bertie in the previous picture is the marché, one section sells fruit and veg, the other gifts, both are very much aimed at tourists.  I have been frustrated with presents I have purchased in previous years that have actually been made elsewhere and had Guadeloupe stuck on them, so I made an effort to find genuine local products this time.  I am not sure how successful I was but at least they didn’t have “fabriqué en Vietnam” on them!  At this market I picked up some local jam and some cute shakers made of coconut shell.

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Just behind the market is La Darse, the port area where all the big ships used to come but now they have a different port and this is simply used by fishermen.  Here is one of their boats…

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…and here is what they are selling – tuna!  I am always surprised at how big it is, and that it has any link with what we get out of a tin!

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We wandered through the main shopping streets, including the crazy rue Frébault, and couldn’t quite believe how many shoe and clothes shops there were in one small area, not to mention all the Haitian women selling oversized underwear on the pavement in front of the shops!  It really is a hustling bustling place, many shops even have an MC standing inside with their microphone announcing to the passing potential customers all the treats there are to find within…  When I returned the following week to do wedding shopping with my shopaholic sister-in-law, we went in each. and. every. one. of those shops.  Ouch.

If you are in search of some culture rather than shopping, there is the cathedral St-Pierre-St-Paul and the town square, la Place de la Victoire (named for a victory over the English, hmph!) which has a pleasant children’s play area, if you can bear the heat!  Nearby is the Musée St-Jean Perse – for all Death in Paradise viewers, they used this colonial house for the episode about Le Clerc and the Deadly Curse, as the place the main pair visit at the start to learn more about local culture.

On this particular occasion, we headed back to the cheaper non-tourist market by the bus station, picked up some pineapple and dried plantain chips, not to mention a well-needed bottle of water, then squeezed into the surprisingly busy bus home.

Tuesday’s Choice: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

I know, I know…when it says Classics on the book it is a good clue that it is a rather good read, but for some reason there are plenty of classics that I have never read or even desired to read. Our Ambleside Online booklist is showing up the gaps in my reading (did I ever actually get beyond Enid Blyton and Anne of Green Gables?) and has put so many delightful books in my path, leading me to ask how can I possibly have never read this before?!  Here is our current read which I would wholeheartedly recommend to any of you dear readers who happen to have the same gaps.

I always envisaged Wind in the Willows as being rather dull, but I have been pleasantly surprised to find it has a lovely mixture of beautiful descriptions of the best of our countryside, great characters that you can really recognise and relate to, and lots of humour and depth.  Who doesn’t know a fellow like Toad who throws himself into new activities with great zest that quickly peters out, having dragged his long suffering friends in his wake? And who wouldn’t wish for a loyal friend such as Ratty, who heads into the Wild Woods in order to find Mole who has foolishly headed there alone, or who heads back into the dark fields with snow on the way to help Mole find his home? And as our history studies take us through a sweeping look at the rise and fall of many civilisations throughout the history of time, Badger’s wise words that men come and go but that the animal kingdom carries on regardless rings true.

I am reading a chapter a week to LissaLou and she narrates back the gist of the story – she has improved greatly in this skill but is stronger on giving a detailed account rather than a short and concise one. Sometimes her narrations are so vivid that it is as good as hearing the story all over again! I don’t think she would be happy reading it to herself just yet though, as there are lots of unfamiliar words. I asked her what her verdict of it so far is and she replied great characters, like you really know them and they give a great example of being good friends. So there you have it!

Tuesday’s Choice: In Grandma’s Attic by Arleta Richardson

We take a quick break from our visit to the Caribbean to welcome back an old friend – Tuesday’s Choice, with a quick dip into a book we have really enjoyed and would wholeheartedly recommend to you. This week is In Grandma’s Attic by Arleta Richardson.

What is better than finding a great book? Well, perhaps finding a great book that all three of your children enjoy, boys or girls, old or young…? Or perhaps finding a great book that is part of a series of great books!

This one ticks both those boxes, being the first of a series of four, each one made up of short stories about the life of the author’s grandma, whose homestead life in America many decades ago was full of fun, mistakes and lessons to be learnt, all conveyed in a most amusing way.  The first three have an introductory conversation between the author as a little girl and her Grandma, leading to the main story, but this is dropped in the fourth book as they launch straight into the story.

We have enjoyed all the stories but the most memorable was definitely the day Mabel and her best friend Sarah Jane were looking after a baby whilst her mother chatted to Mabel’s.  Their decision that it would be more fun to put the sleeping baby on the bed and wheel around their baby pig in her pram and clothes instead has hilarious consequences!

Each story has something of a moral to it, but simply as a lesson to be learnt rather than a sermon to be preached.  Mabel’s big brothers are very familiar figures to me, constantly teasing and winding up their little sister (!) and her parents are very much in the Little House mould, full of patience and good sense.

The books also have fun pictures and reasonably large writing, easy enough for fluent readers. My girls pick them up and read them to themselves for pleasure, but these are the kind of books that make me glad I still get to read aloud to them all!

A Wedding – Gwada style

The original aim of our trip to Guadeloupe was to celebrate Bertie’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, however, his sister took advantage of the presence of all but one of her siblings (when they number 12 that is no mean feat!) to get married.

I have heard many stories about Guadeloupean weddings from Bertie, mainly how 300 plus people will be invited to the evening do and yet still more will come sneaking in, hearing about free drinks, but I had never actually attended one, so I looked forward to filling this gap in my cultural knowledge.  And a learning experience it was! Lessons learnt:

1. How you look is SO important. Hours are dedicated to finding the right outfit and accessories. Evening dress is probably best for women, though men seem to get away with less formal attire. Further hours are given to preparation of hair, nails etc on the morning itself. Even a slight matter such as making the official ceremony in the town hall is not to get in the way of being ready!

2. Being on time is a very relaxed concept. See above (very few people did make the town hall!).  We waited 20 minutes in the heat for the priest to arrive at the church celebration.  The evening meal, hopefully announced on the invitation as 7.30pm to eat at 8.30pm, was in fact served at 10pm! No matter, most the guests didn’t arrive till then!

3. After the ceremony all the cars in the bridal party will drive around town with lights flashing and horns beeping. Just because. Onlookers – feel free to join in and beep back!

4. One can never have too many cakes. There were in fact 20 to choose between that evening. The highlight was the one shaped like an island with a fish swimming around underneath it!

5. Nor can one have too much food or drink.  In fact, there should be enough for everyone to come back and enjoy the next day. And quite possibly the day after. And the day after…

6. Early birds beware, it will go on late!

7. The bride and groom get a marvellous throne to sit on/stand by whilst they welcome their guests. I guess if you have 300 there a place to sit is not a bad idea!

8. A lot of work is done by family and friends, so your holiday will be taken up by plenty of wedding preparation. Perhaps Bertie’s other sister had this in mind when she arrived on the evening of the big day, rather than two weeks in advance like the rest of us!

9. If you wear heels double the height of your highest ever pair, get practising in advance!

10. There will be a lot of dancing and loud music. The aforementioned sister told me that she generally loses a couple of kilos just from dancing!

All in all it was a very successful event enjoyed by all the family.  I must admit, by 1am I was happily back home in my bed, glad to kick those heels off!

Here is a very small selection of the many family photos I took that day!

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Death In Paradise

Today I am going to shamelessly plug the BBC’s entertaining detective show that is Death in Paradise – Tuesdays at 9pm and then on iPlayer, no excuse to miss it, especially as it was filmed in good old Guadeloupe!

When we went last summer I cherished a small hope that we would see it being filmed, but I had no idea if they were filming and with our lack of car, couldn’t see how we would get over to its location in any case.

Well, after two weeks of waiting, a car finally became available – note to self, book in advance in future! To say it was no object of beauty would be an understatement, but at least it moved – though its habit of stalling meant that I was very nervous on any hills! We then got a slightly better car the following week, phew!

On Ascension Day (bank holiday for the French) Bertie’s sister invited us to les hauteurs (literally ‘the heights’, and believe me, they are high!) of Deshaies on the west side of Guadeloupe to meet an in-law, and hope sprang in my heart, just maybe….!  Having finally found the house (road names are significantly lacking in this land, our direction for one house we visited was “by the breadfruit tree hanging over the road”!!) and somehow having made it up the incredibly steep drive that so many Guadeloupeans manage to deal with on a daily basis (thank goodness we were in car no. 2!), we enjoyed a quick visit then set off down into Deshaies to investigate.  As you can imagine, we were thrilled to discover that the quiet beach we usually visit was overrun with lorries, cars, people, cameras – all very positive. A quick look at an official document stuck up in the car park confirmed that yes indeed, filming was going on there that day. We were amused to see that they had taken over a usually rather elegant beachside restaurant as the mess room, and from previous experience, we wondered if they too had to pay nearly five euros for a cup of tea??

We had a quick chat with the director, wandered around a little, and were told filming would start in an hour, so off we went for some food.  Unfortunately for us (but good for them!), Guadeloupeans take bank holidays seriously so we arrived at the Supermarket just as they shut the doors for the day.  We ended up with some odd assortments of food from the only open shop in town, including rolls that turned out to be mouldy, but at least they were stocked up with magnums on a special one euro offer!

Back to watch the filming, and we were delighted to receive a warm welcome from the cast members we met, Fidel and Dwayne, also Londoners.  Then we were as silent as we could possibly be once the cameras started rolling…. Actually, watching filming in the boiling sun with three children is not that fun, who would have known it such a long, drawn-out process? Soon they were clamouring to be going in the water, not simply watching random policemen who weren’t really policemen being pushed in! So after an hour or so we set off for the next part of our trip, looking forward to seeing it on screen in the not so distant future.

I mentioned this visit to my brother-in-law that evening and he told me that he had actually been employed as a driver for their huge vans lugging all their equipment up into the mountains during series one.  He had even been offered a part as an extra but had turned it down as other work came up – what a pity, he could have been gracing our screens!

Thursday night we were catching up with this week’s episode and there it was in the advert for next week, the very scene where Dwayne takes his dive! We were there! Recognise any of these?

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A Bit of Warmth

I know that some of you readers have reached the warmth of summer (enjoy!) and some of you perhaps never leave it, but here in the UK it has turned cold all of a sudden.  After a disturbingly mild Christmas (didn’t feel right singing “on a cold and crispy morning”…), the ice alert has started to flash on the car dashboard and the snow has arrived!

So as a change of scenery for my fellow Brits, I thought this was as good a time as any to (finally) post some photos from our month in Guadeloupe last summer.  Certainly a cheaper way of warming up than all these holidays to Australia that the radio keeps advertising!

Our first week there was pretty calm, mostly spent at home or in Bertie’s local town as we were car-less, so we were very excited to get an invitation to stay that first weekend in a holiday apartment by the sea with his sister and her friends. Highlights – being right by the sea with an air conditioned bedroom, not to mention a tv to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympics back at home. Lowlights – I got my first (and only!) really bad sunburn, sigh, and practically fainted – I was very glad for that air con! The sea was a bit rough for my liking although it didn’t put the kids off! And why did French tv not show the home nation during the opening parade?? I sat through two hours of other countries….for nothing!

Birthday Girl!

This dear girl turned 7 (SEVEN??!!) today and it was a great day of rejoicing indeed.  Out came the ‘throne’ as she excitedly opened her various presents.  I was very impressed that her list was so short – a Barbie VW car, a new quilt, a colouring book and an activity book – either she is learning restraint, or she is learning that her mother is quite frugal!

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We also honoured another special tradition that CassCass herself started a few years ago – a bouquet of flowers from Daddy! How nice that they even match her princess dress!

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CassCass exceptionally enjoyed snow for her birthday (as a friend commented, you can’t order that from Amazon!) and the three of them spent the morning in and out trying out their new sledge and throwing snowballs at the windows (my job was to look cold and horrified on the other side of the glass!).

Bertie treated us to crepes for our lunch followed by his highly reputed galette des rois in place of a birthday cake (his fourth and final one of the year!).  He thoughtfully ensured that the birthday girl got the feve, making her Queen for the year. Grandma and Grandpa braved the snow and popped in to join the celebrations then the day finished with CassCass’ choice of tagliatelle carbonara for tea.

Tomorrow we are having a small party of 8 girls here (our house doesn’t do big, and besides, the party plates come in packs of 8!) so we are looking forward to more joy and merriment then!