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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 4212

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


... "Ou c'est bonhomme caton?-ou c'est zimage, non?" (Am I a pasteboard man, or an image, that I do not eat?) Cyrillia wants to know. The fact is that I am a little overfed; but the stranger in the tropics cannot eat like a native, and my abstemiousness is a surprise. In the North we eat a good deal for the sake of caloric; in the tropics, unless one be in the habit of taking much physical exercise, which is a very difficult thing to do, a generous appetite is out of the question. Cyrillia will not suffer me to live upon mangé-Creole altogether; she insists upon occasional beefsteaks and roasts, and tries to tempt me with all kinds of queer delicious, desserts as well,-particularly those cakes made of grated cocoanut and sugar-syrup (tablett-coco-rapé) of which a stranger becomes very fond. But, nevertheless, I cannot eat enough to quiet Cyrillia's fears.

Not eating enough is not her only complaint against me. I am perpetually doing something or other which shocks her. The Creoles are the most cautious livers in the world, perhaps;-the stranger who walks in the sun without an umbrella, or stands in currents of air, is for them an object of wonder and compassion. Cyrillia's complaints about my recklessness in the matter of hygiene always terminate with the refrain: "Yo pa fai ?a i?i"-(People never do such things in Martinique.) Among such rash acts are washing one's face or hands while perspiring, taking off one's hat on coming in from a walk, going out immediately after a bath, and washing my face with soap. "Oh, Cyrillia! what foolishness!-why should I not wash my face with soap?" "Because it will blind you," Cyrillia answers: "?a ké tchoué limiè zié ou" (it will kill the light in your eyes). There is no cleaner person than Cyrillia; and, indeed among the city people, the daily bath is the rule in all weathers; but soap is never used on the face by thousands, who, like Cyrillia, believe it will "kill the light of the eyes."

One day I had been taking a long walk in the sun, and returned so thirsty that all the old stories about travellers suffering in waterless de

serts returned to memory with new significance;-visions of simooms arose before me. What a delight to see and to grasp the heavy, red, thick-lipped dobanne, the water-jar, dewy and cool with the exudation of the Eau-de-Gouyave which filled it to the brim,-toutt vivant, as Cyrillia says, "all alive"! There was a sudden scream,-the water-pitcher was snatched from my hands by Cyrillia with the question: "Ess ou lè tchoué cò-ou?-Saint Joseph!" (Did I want to kill my body?)... The Creoles use the word "body" in speaking of anything that can happen to one,-"hurt one's body," "tire one's body," "marry one's body," "bury one's body," etc.;-I wonder whether the expression originated in zealous desire to prove a profound faith in the soul.... Then Cyrillia made me a little punch with sugar and rum, and told me I must never drink fresh-water after a walk unless I wanted to kill my body. In this matter her advice was good. The immediate result of a cold drink while heated is a profuse and icy perspiration, during which currents of air are really dangerous. A cold is not dreaded here, and colds are rare; but pleurisy is common, and may be the consequence of any imprudent exposure.

I do not often have the opportunity at home of committing even an unconscious imprudence; for Cyrillia is ubiquitous, and always on the watch lest something dreadful should happen to me. She is wonderful as a house-keeper as well as a cook: there is certainly much to do, and she has only a child to help her, but she always seems to have time. Her kitchen apparatus is of the simplest kind: a charcoal furnace constructed of bricks, a few earthenware pots (canar), and some grid-irons;-yet with these she can certainly prepare as many dishes as there are days in the year. I have never known her to be busy with her canari for more than an hour; yet everything is kept in perfect order. When she is not working, she is quite happy in sitting at a window, and amusing herself by watching the life of the street,-or playing with a kitten, which she has trained so well that it seems to understand everything she says.

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