In Martinique, the time is set by tree frogs and ti’ punches.
A morning is an unrisen sun without that rum cocktail peculiar to the French Antilles, the small but potent mix they call here “decollage” – a take off.
You may know it as the ti’ punch: lime, sugar, rhum blanc.
And the tree frogs here know better than we when the sun has set, launching their chirp at the shortest end of twilight.
After the frogs start singing, time shifts to a Rhum Vieux, neat, in Fort de France something local like La Favorite made on the outskirts of town. (When you have more than a dozen rum distilleries, local means local.)
I am sitting after twilight in the cafe of the Imperatrice, an Antillean anomaly, seemingly grabbed right out of the Boulevard St Germain but quintessentially Martiniquais.
It calls home the ground floor of a hotel nearly three quarters of a century old, and the age is something palpable.
It’s a timeless, charming little hotel with 21 rooms, all with mahogany parquet floors and the feeling that you’ve stepped into another epoch.
It’s one of the epicenters of this endlessly charming French Caribbean city, a place filled with art and culture and pulsing energy and biguine.
To my left, a table of old friends smokes cigars and talks their weekday talk. To my right, French tourists on their phones.
Inside, Foyals (the demonym for those from Fort de France proper) take a cocktail and laugh loudly.
It is in a place like the Imperatrice that Martinique begins to open itself up to you. Because there are no cafes like this in most Caribbean downtowns, and few hotels like this either.
Sitting here in the kind of outward-facing cafe table you’d find in Paris, sipping on an aged glass of La Favorite, the frogs in the background and the palm trees shaking, you start to get it.
It’s what makes Martinique so fascinating to visit – it’s set right in the middle of the West Indies but an island of islands, long hidden away from the world of travel and so much richer for it.
And then somehow an espresso appears. I didn’t order it but the espresso knew it was meant for me.
Because in Martinique, if you open yourself to it, will give to you.
This is France. This is the Caribbean.
This is also inextricably, inevitably, wonderfully Martinique.
For more, visit the Imperatrice.