We’re in Sainte Anne, on the island of Martinique, to be specific. This is the largest of the Windward Islands, and it is very much France. Not “sort of French” but truly a part of France, much like Hawaii is part of the US (if Hawaii had been part of the US for hundreds of years). Upon arrival, we checked into the EU and hit up the ATM for some Euros.
It’s everything I expect from France: Small streets. French bakeries everywhere. Well maintained houses. Sporty yet practical hatchbacks from Citroen, Renault, and Peugot. Old Frenchmen easily annoyed but loud young American children. Wine. Bread. Cheese. Smokers. Unnecessarily small swim suits.
Regular size swimsuits, but with cool shark prints. Pain au chocolat available for four meals a day. Roundabouts. French citizens who firmly refuse to speak English, despite their ability to do so fluently. A city with tall buildings. Dealers for Audi, BMW, Tesla. No sour cream, but plenty of creme fraiche. And big groceries, even french Big Box stores.
The difference between the last few independant island countries and France is significant. Sure, from the water this looks like a lot of the other Windward Isles. But ashore it is so very European, particularly inland where there are small villages, old churches, and rolling farmland that could easily be mistaken for southern France. Madeleine: “Why do these croissants taste some much better than any other croissant I’ve had?”
In terms of the economy and government support, this french island is clearly well off. I don’t think the kids perceive the difference, but to us adults there is a striking contrast. In Martinique, the French want for nothing. Good roads, malls, clean drinking water, jumbo jets, shiny cars, consistent trade routes, economic development funds, higher education, etc, etc. Nothing is lacking here, there are even traffic jams, stress, and pollution.
On the independent islands we’ve been to the residents were perfectly happy getting by with less: less money, less work, less stress, less automobiles, less food choices, less chances to get off island, etc. But they did have abundance of cheap (or free) seafood, fruit, vegetables, sunshine, relaxation, and smiles.
I’m having a hard time deciding which is the better life. How does one judge happiness or satisfaction? How many things or opportunities or freedoms does one need? “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need?” These are the thoughts that are floating through my head as we are anchored off of an island that doesn’t sell dill pickles but instead has multiple brands of cornichons. An island that has imported lots of things, but doesn’t have a man coming by in the boat he built to sell the fish he caught. An island where everyone drives a nice newer car, but where you have to pay $5 to park near the beach.
If I can ever decide which is the better life, I’ll move on to the next question: What does my answer mean for me as I attempt to live this simple, low cost, vagabond life...but on a nice boat with plenty of bells and whistles?