National Geographic : 1959 Feb
Old St. Pierre's Roofless Walls Suggest a Ghastly War Scene One writer described the blasted shell as "that hair-stirring corpse of an entire city slain in a matter of seconds...." Another likened the effect to that of a tropical hurricane whose violent winds bore superheated air. This picture was taken in the early 1900's. Members of a National Geographic Society expedition, one of the first of some 150 scien tific projects and exploring expeditions con ducted during 70 years, were among the ear liest to inspect Pelee's still active crater. "I .. do not hesitate to acknowledge that I was ter rified." reported Professor Robert T. Hill, a member of the party (NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE. June. 1902). The city never recovered; St. Pierre today has only about one-fifth the population of its predecessor. Back at Beausejour, I asked Monique if she found her plantation life lonely. "Oh, no," she replied. "There's another plantation-Potiche-a few miles to the east. You'll see. . .. Scarcely had she spoken when an over laden car drove up, tooting a welcome. Within minutes, more visitors of all sizes poured out of a second car and a jeep. After 18 almost identical introductions, I felt sufficiently familiar with their name to venture conversation with Madame de "Cham pignon." "No! No! Pompignan," she smilingly cor rected me, amidst giggles from the youngsters. I was reminded that champignon is French for mushroom. I also learned that Hippolyte de Pompignan and his wife had 13 children, several with children of their own. A jollier, more warm-hearted group than the Pompignans would be hard to imagine. Pierre, one of the sons, began strumming catchy calypsos on his guitar. Soon we all gathered around, joining in quickly learned choruses with a camaraderie which sped the evening hours away all too quickly. Two immense four-poster beds were made up for us in the guest room that night. Over both hung a single mosquito net seemingly as large as a circus tent. Coffee and delicious crusty French bread, warm from the oven, made our 5:30 breakfast next morning. Golden shafts of sunlight slanted over the cliffs when we arrived in Grand' Riviere. Three-man crews were busy preparing each of the 40 fishing boats for launching. A helmsman of one, intently studying the 270 rhythm of cresting swells, signaled a forward thrust. All three leaped in, the two bow men rowing frantically. In seconds, the prow shot skyward (page 256). The light craft seemed certain to snap in half atop the wave. Fifteen seconds more and they were in calmer water beyond the surf. Stowing oars, the men stepped a short mast with a rectan gular sail braced diagonally by a supple bam boo pole. Within a mere 20 minutes the last boat had joined other white specks of sail fanning out toward the horizon. Now the youngsters launched their boats.