Near the Galion River, I talked to a metro supervisor in one of the two sugar refineries still in action. The others closed down as the cost of producing sugar in a region of high labor prices soared above its worth.
“We lose money here,” he told me. “I my¬self work for a French sugar-beet company. We operate this place. We do not need it, but if we close it, we will put perhaps 1,500 peo¬ple out of work.”
Back up the coast near Basse Pointe I found a pineapple-canning factory, once closed down, about to open again. “We’ve mecha¬nized,” said a foreman. “And we get a guar¬anteed share of the French market. So we may make it, this time. But we can’t sell cheaply, competitively, like the Ivory Coast. We pay wages and French social security determined by Paris. Look: Martinique has 340,000 people on 425 square miles, mostly mountainous. So we get special support, or we go out of business.”
Bananas, also blessed by a protected French market, thrive on these pleasant slopes; in¬deed, all over the island (pages 138-9). Deep in one of these leafy groves, where blue-plastic bags protect the ripening fruit, is a fine manor house and the ruins of a refinery. Leyritz, the place is called, and its young owners, of bluest blood and warmest hospitality, welcomed me to their restaurant, wonderfully blended into the remains of a sugar mill, and their hand¬some home-cum-hotel, where old mahogany shines in high-ceilinged rooms.
MmeYveline de Lucy de Fossarieu is a gay, quick, restless lady who has decided she has entered an insane profession but is determined to prosper regardless. Her small kitchen uses good local foods rather than the imported French fare of most other inns. Here mangoes and citrus grace good lawns, and there is a sense of peace not to be found where crowded guests squeal and splash beneath beachside terraces.
Her husband, Charles, added his thoughts about bananas and politics, echoing those of the sugar and pineapple producers: “We can make a modest profit on bananas now. But as an independent producer we’d be lost. We are small and without resources.”