This week our family of six visited a large hardware store in Martinique. Some of their lighting and gardening products left me with more questions than answers about French Caribbean culture. Perhaps I’m the only person to report on the intersect between Martinique’s French Caribbean culture and its hardware store offerings.
The hardware store we visited was in an industrial area on the outskirts of Fort de France. The store was called Mr. Bricolage and was equivalent in size and layout to a North American Home Depot.
I gather that the root word ”Brico’ means something like “build it” in French.
We discovered Mr. Bricolage by happenstance. We had taken a city bus specifically to visit an Apple computer repair shop. We found the repair shop but our computer could not be repaired without ordering parts.
While we were in the repair shop, my husband, Rick, envied the Torx 3 and Torx 5 screwdrivers used by the computer repair technician to open our MacBook. The repair technician recommended Mr. Bricolage as a good place to buy screwdrivers. Rick figured we needed them so we could manage our own repairs in future.
This is how our entire family came to be walking along sidewalks, barely used since the emergence of the Industrial Age, to reach a hardware store.
Traveling with four young kids can be challenging. More often than not, our kids move without a strong sense of unity. We find that vehicles do not allow pedestrians a lot of room in the Caribbean. Often, the roads are not very wide. A driver might honk. But, young or old, you are expected to stay out of the way of traffic. Sometimes our kids need to be reminded to stay on the sidewalk. We have an 11 year-old, a 9-year old and 6-year old twins.
Our twins moved slowly, transfixed by every stray hub cap or lost bolt. They stopped occasionally to load a backpack with their ‘treasures’. We crossed a traffic circle, strung out on the road like beads, and asked for directions. The mid-day sun beat down on us yet still we continued in our quest for screwdrivers.
We walked single-file down a long narrow pot-holed lane, past derelict and unfriendly-looking housing. One home had a concrete fence adorned with spikes and broken glass beer bottles. Another home sported spare tires lying about the lawn. Yet, they were only a few minutes walk from the massive, glossy shop called Mr. Bricolage.
Of course, not everyone in Martinique buys the lifestyle that Mr. Bricolage sells. The houses we passed are a strong reminder of that. With its expansive parking lot, Mr. Bricolage is geared to people who have discretionary income and own property and a vehicle.
In contrast to its typical customers, our family arrived to the store sweaty and a bit hungry, on foot. Our short walk had seen us take a wrong turn up a steep grassy slope, intended to deter people from falling into the freeway below. From that vantage point, we got our bearings. We walked past bored-looking bulls and a man selling cold water bottles to passing motorists.
When we reached the store, Rick went to look for screwdrivers, and the kids and I went off by ourselves. In the process, we found an amazing assortment of lighting fixtures and gardening items that you won’t find in a hardware store in Canada.
A feather chandelier caught my eye and prompted me to take photos.
The frilly feathered offering calls to mind images of bikini-clad women celebrating at carnival time.
The lamp is full-bodied and makes a bold statement. The adjacent pink lamp, the one with little hearts, appears like a shy cousin by comparison.
I’m sure it’s a marketing ploy to create tableaus that tease you to unleash your imagination and wallet at the same time. The wood lamp shown below, for example, will set you back by about $530 US. And, it’s probably mass produced. But, it’s unique-looking, at least from my own, Canadian perspective. A room with this angular, wooden lamp suggests that the owner can afford to beat to their own drum.
Cheaper, wicker alternatives can be found around the corner.
Steering away from the natural to the supernatural, where does this lamp belong?
Is this lamp-style distinctively French? Or, is it Caribbean? Certainly, the style doesn’t fit my own preconceived notions of what might hang in the houses of the Caribbean. But, what do I know about Caribbean decor beyond what I see in travel brochures, or tiki huts and restaurants?
Another confusing item is this space-age creation.
Perhaps no home office is complete without this discussion piece? It costs about $370 US.
Moving to the garden section, here is a different set of lamps. I have never seen anything like them. Are outdoor, illuminated egg shapes making an appearance on shelves and gardens back at home in Ottawa, Canada?
Next up, cutlasses are very common gardening tools in the Caribbean. But it was a surprise to see these huge blades hanging openly on display in a hardware shop. I find the sight of cutlasses and machetes a little unsettling, even as garden tools. I still haven’t adapted to walking down the street and passing someone carrying a machete in their hand. But, in outlying or rural areas this is not uncommon.
By this point in our visit the kids were starting to fade and soon it was time to leave the shop. Henry posed for a quick photo of a rain barrel that carries 550 liters.
The rain barrel points to the rainfall in Martinique. According to a 1998 copy of Fodor’s World Weather Guide, the total annual precipitation for Fort de France is 80.4 inches. Vancouver, Canada seems downright dry by comparison. The total annual precipitation for Vancouver is 57.4 inches.
Finally, here is a picture of Paul with an assortment of colorful gardening pots. The abundance of tropical colours is a sharp contrast to the neutral pots that seem to be favoured by our local Home Depot in Ottawa.
My kids are still young enough not to be embarrassed by their mom taking photos in a hardware store.
We met up with Rick. Rick didn’t find his screwdrivers. They were out of stock. We left Mr. Bricolage empty-handed. But, our trip provided us with a glimpse into a slice of life in Martinique that falls well outside the beach culture that is often promoted in a tourist brochure. And, I find it every bit as interesting.