The Coral Sea is a small book about loss by Patty Smith, telling the story of a man on a journey to see the Southern Cross. She also has an album reciting the text accompanied by guitar. The album evokes a feeling that I have encountered watching the actual Coral Sea of Mauritius, a place where the landscape and sea is overwhelming, and unlike any picturesque stereotypes.
The waves crush on the coral reef, leaving an expanse of water and light for the eye and mind to ponder. It’s bright and dark at the same time. “Ο ήλιος κυκλοδίωκτος, ως αράχνη, μ’ εδίπλωνε και μέ φως και μέ θάνατον ακαταπαύστως”: “The spider-like sun chased in cycles was folding me in light and death incessantly”.
Mauritius was French and English with a population of African, Indian, Chinese and European origin. And so is the food. It is a tamed creole version of Indian and Chinese – local fresh-water shrimps with curry-, or a European fantasy of the exotic – palm heart salad with a light vinaigrette, crème brulee labeled per sugar variety. In 1841, Edmond Albius, a slave who lived on the near-by island of Reunion, discovered how to hand-pollinate the vanilla plat, enabling the vanilla cultivation in the Indian ocean. Vanilla is still grown in Mauritius, although not in the scale of Madagascar. Cane fields in the valleys and tea-fields on the highlands.
The post-colonial Central Market in Port Louis beats any hall of the National History Museum in London for variety of specimens or the food hall of Harrods for tastiness of offered food.
Mauritius is a post-colonial island in the tropics. It is worth stepping out of the resorts to discover the essence of a society similar to the one Derek Walcott decribed in the other side of the world: “Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs? Where is your tribal memory? Sirs, in that grey vault. The sea. The sea has locked them up. The sea is History.” I think this suits well Mauritius too.