From the book
iL'iˆle de France
Have you ever, on a long, cold, melancholy winter night--alone with your thoughts and the wind whistling through the hallways, the rain pounding against the windows--have you ever leaned your forehead against the mantel, absently watching sparks dance on the hearth, and longed to flee our wet and muddy Paris for some enchanted oasis? Somewhere fresh and carpeted in green, where you could lie in the shade of a riverside palm tree and doze off without a care in the world?
Well, the paradise of your dreams exists! Eden awaits you; the water flows clear and bright there, falling and surging up in bright dust; the palm fronds wave gently in the soft sea breeze like feathers in a genie's cap. The jambosa trees, laden with iridescent fruit, stand ready to offer you their sweetly scented shade. Come, follow me now.
Let us make for Brest, warlike sister of bustling Marseille, standing sentinel over the waves. Choose a vessel from the hundreds anchored in its port--perhaps a brigantine, long-masted, lean, and light-sailed, fit even for the hardy pirates dreamed up by Walter Scott, that romantic poet of the waves. It's early September, the perfect time to begin a long voyage. Let us board our chosen ship and leave summer behind in our quest for spring! Adieu, Brest, Nantes, Bayonne--adieu, France!
See there, on our right, that granite peak towering ten thousand feet into the clouds? Look, in such transparent water even its mighty roots are visible. It is Tenerife, the ancient Nivaria, rendezvous point for the eagles that swoop and glide around its crest, looking as small as doves from this great distance. This, however, is not our destination; it's simply a stray bit of Spain, and I've promised you the garden of the world.
Look, on the left--that barren rock, burning in the tropical sun? Our modern Prometheus spent six years chained there. England chose that wasted islet to erect a monument to its own shame, to the stake where Joan of Arc burned and the scaffold where Mary Stuart died. It is a political Golgotha, and for eighteen years it was the pious rendezvous point where all ships converged. But--enough of the regicide St. Helena, we will have nothing more to do with her, now that the martyr is gone.
We've reached the Cape of Storms now. See the towering peak in front of us, its summit lost in the mists? This is the giant Adamastor, who appeared to the author of The Lusiads. It marks the very end of the earth--the prow of that great green vessel on which we are all passengers. How the waves crash with furious impotence against its rocky face! It is impervious, invincible, forever anchored here in the port of eternity with God himself as captain. Let us keep on. Beyond these verdant mountains lies nothing but barren stone and sun-scorched desert. I promised you pure water, gentle shade, succulent fruit, and radiant blooms, did I not?
Ah, the westerly wind has finally brought us to our destination--the Indian Ocean, theater of the Arabian Nights! There is grim Mont Bourbon, with its sulfurous, eternally flaming volcano. Spare a glance at its fiery maw and smell its fumes. Just a few knots more now; we pass between île Plate and Coin-de-Mire and round pointe aux Cannoniers, and we drop anchor at last. Our trusty brigantine has earned a rest. We have arrived! This is the blessed island itself, hidden away in this far-flung corner of the world like some virginal maiden whose mother jealously guards her beauty from covetous suitors' eyes. This is the Promised Land--the pearl of the Indian Ocean. This is île de France.
Now, chaste daughter of the seas, twin sister of Bourbon, blessed rival of Ceylon,...