Monday, November 17, 2008
A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu (pardon the lack of accents)
I'm walking down the streets of Port Louis, staring intently at the ground to avoid tripping on the uneven cobblestones. At the same time, pedestrians in front of me stop to examine the wares for sale on the sidewalk -- cotton shirts, plastic kitchenware, nail clippers. I turn to avoid them. To the left of me is the central market. I can hear the vendors inside advertising their wares: "Bananas! Lychees! Eggplants, peppers, lettuce! Madame, some mangoes for you?" The sweet scent of ripe fruit mixes with the muskiness of the Indian spices they're selling. It's a familiar, comforting fragrance.
I turn the corner and cross the street, dodging the cars and motorcycles that come careening through the intersection. I come to a certain storefront and go inside. A wiry middle-aged man of Chinese descent is wrapping a set of spanners for his customer. He nods to me in greeting, his head bent over the desk. I squeeze past, being careful not to upset the piles of industrial machinery that surround me. The pleasant-looking woman at the back, his wife, writes a receipt for the purchase, makes a copy with carbon paper. The wrenches are wrapped efficiently in wrinkly brown paper, the package sealed with ancient cellophane tape. The purchaser hands two folded notes over the desk to the lady, who puts the money in the top drawer of her sagging desk. Next to her, comfortably seated in an old wicker chair, I put my hands out, palms up, for her to give me the money. My beloved aunt looks at me, laughs, pats my arm. I could be six; I could be thirty (one.) It feels like nothing has changed here since I was a child.
Parts of Mauritius are glossy and fancy; the capital of Port Louis is being remade and revamped. No matter how bright and shiny it may become in the future, this is how Mauritius will always be for me -- and I wouldn't have it any other way.