We have been fortunate enough to have made many trips to Sint Maarten/St. Martin, so much so that over the years, it became more like a second home than a vacation spot. The exotic became the sweetly familiar as we got to know the people of that remarkable little island—half Dutch, half French, all heart.
Although the Dutch side has more trappings, it was the French, St. Martin, that captivated us.
It is where we both had our first taste of French culture, of being immersed. Marigot—on the French side—is where my classroom French took the leap to real conversation, thanks to my dear, dear friend Dolly, who always knew how to reframe a story for me when she could see I wasn’t getting it. It’s where I learned everyday words you don’t find in textbooks. Like tapissier, traiteur, and impasse—upholsterer, caterer, and alley!
It’s where we would sit early in the morning, at the Croissanterie, watching the marina come to life.
Where our friend Asha’s son, Dino Jagtiani, become one of the most celebrated chefs in the Caribbean—but never lost his sense of what matters.
Where lovely Elisa—and her assistants over the years, especially Vera and Fanny—taught me how Italians dress. And where Serge sold me those gorgeous shoes.
It’s where Mercedes and Mona would greet us in the little store, introducing us to their families, chatting about school and clothes and how to make peas and rice. And Eva grinned from ear to ear as she shared her son’s affinity for soccer and math.
It’s where Christophe, that perennial fixture, always found us a good table at lunch. And John, his moto buddy, regaled us with stories of his native Denmark and the time his daughter saw the queen.
And it’s Grand Case, Baie Rouge, and Cupecoy, Pic Paradis, Fort Louis, and the butterfly farm, and horses on Galleon Beach. It’s the old Match—not the fancy new one—and the store near the bridge with the poulet rôti.
It’s “Mrs. Mario” feeding leftover gnocchi to the tarpons leaping out of the water next to the terrace. It’s the flamboyant tree and hibiscus and plumbago—everywhere—and the mongoose we saw in the Terres Basses one Sunday.
It’s everyone dressed up in their Easter best, headed to church. And the neatly uniformed kids, walking happily along the road to school. It’s the woman whose tiny Yorkie, Madison, kept watch in her children’s store; the pharmacie, where we found French remedies you can’t buy in the US; and Maison La Presse, where we bought stationery and Paris Match. It’s slipping into the skin of a place you grow, very quickly, to love.
So much more, so very much more, than lying on a beach.
We have heard that St. Martin is “95% destroyed,” that lives have been lost. At this writing, we believe that many of our friends are well and safe but… Jose is en route.
The French say, “Bon courage!” when someone is facing a hard patch. I can’t even imagine the trauma of living through and after this terrible storm, with a second on its heels.
Bon courage, nos amis. Nous les aimons bien.
Cover photo: Fort Louis, standing tall over Marigot.