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Conde Nast Traveler (September 2009)
Love and Haiti
By Amy Wilenz
You can call Haiti the Cleopatra of countries—its ravishing natural assets, thrilling history, and magnetic culture have long made select visitors swoon. Its tortured past, however, has made it the Caribbean nation that tourism largely forgot. But this, reports Amy Wilentz, may have to change.
This is a love song. It’s a Haitian love song, played on three drums and an electric slide guitar that never sounds quite on key. No question, you can dance to it.
I’m writing this song not just for me but on behalf of the thousands who have come to Haiti over the centuries and been touched by it, moved by it, even changed forever: the writer Zora Neale Hurston and the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who was the first U.S. ambassador to Haiti. The actors John Gielgud, John Barrymore, Richard Burton, and, more recently, Danny Glover, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie. I’m writing for rock stars Mick Jagger and David Byrne and for rapper Wyclef Jean (who’s actually Haitian-American, and who introduced some of the aforementioned to his homeland), and for the great anthropologist, physician, and author Paul Farmer.
I’m also writing this love song for Maya Deren and Katherine Dunham, both of whom documented traditional Haitian dance and were bitten by the Haiti bug. This song goes out, too, to director Jonathan Demme, whose son was named after a Haitian shantytown, whose walls are covered with Haitian art, and whose films always have a Haitian touch. In this eclectic group are other writers, also: William Styron, Lillian Hellman, and Haiti’s greatest foreign fictionalizer, Graham Greene.
Let’s not forget eternally optimistic Congressman Dick Durbin, longtime lover of Haiti, or Bill Clinton (the third U.S. president ever to visit—and now the UN’s special envoy to the country), or Jimmy Carter, who came to monitor elections, or possibly the grandest of foreign dignitaries who fell for Haiti, Franklin Roosevelt, who drafted one of the country’s many constitutions (that’s how we conducted foreign policy back then) and was the first U.S. president to visit—in 1934. Hats off, too, to the late pontiff Jen-Pol Dè, as we write his name in Creole; he came to Haiti during the time of the dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier and said that things had to change.
Not to be too arrogant, but I am also writing this song on behalf of Christopher Columbus.
Haiti is not a place you just visit, as Columbus would surely have told you (he shipwrecked there in 1492). It’s not a stream into which you just dip a toe. Here, you dive in headlong. It drives you crazy—with love, with anxiety, with desire. You fall into its arms as if it’s been waiting forever to receive you.
It hasn’t. And as with any great unrequited love, Haiti’s indifference only makes you crazier for the place.
Haiti is the Cleopatra of countries, a destination unparalleled on so many levels. It has eccentric history and a tri-continental culture. Its syncretic art is singular and explosive, tender and transcendent. In Haiti, even a pile of garlic for sale, a row of plastic bowls from Taiwan, a display of brassieres (locally manufactured), black bags of charcoal standing at drunken angles cheek by jowl, can be a delicate, devilish masterpiece. There is an ethos of making do with what you have that leads to an ability to make much out of little, to make magisterial statements out of the least materials: With two or three beans, a chicken feather, an old rag of worn-out satin, and a hollowed-out gourd, a voodoo priest can make a whimsical charm that wards off evil.
Read the rest of the article at http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/articles/501372
* “Amy Wilenz could have added to the list of well known Haitianophiles Simon Bolivar, Langston Hughes, , Alain Locke, Richard Burton, , Aime Cesaire, Alejo Carpentier, Andre Breton, et j’en passe, open-minded and cosmopolitan men and women who could recognize, beyond the usual cliches associated with Haiti, an intellectually keen, culturally rich, socially gracious, historically conscious, politically sophisticated, and spritually aware people” (Dr. Asselin Charles)
Haitian champion remembered
who lived interesting life could attract tourists to Nation’s Oldest City
By ANTHONY DeMATTEO | More by this reporter | email@example.com | Posted: Sunday, August 30, 2009 ; Updated: 11:33 PM on Sunday, August 30, 2009
hope the legend of a man who helped lead history’s bloodiest slave revolt will forge another path for visitors to the Oldest City.
Raymond Joseph, the United States Ambassador to , toured Tolomato Cemetery Saturday morning as part of a weekend visit celebrating Jorge Biassou, the slave-turned-Haitian Revolution general who lived in St. Augustine from 1796 until his 1801 death.
Biassou commanded a force as large as 40,000 in Haiti in the fight for independence from France that led to the formation of the Republic of Haiti. He is buried among Old City heritage natives in the Tolomato Cemetery, a Catholic cemetery from 1784 to 1884 on Cordova Street.
“I think this is going to stimulate a lot of interest in not only Haitian Americans, African Americans, but all Americans,” said St. Augustine City Commissioner and Vice Mayor Errol Jones in a ceremony at Tolomato. “I think it’s going to stimulate tourism. It’s very exciting.”
St. Johns County Commissioner Ken Bryan also accompanied the delegation to a Friday reception at Fort Mose State Park. Bryan said county and city commissioners, and State Sen. Tony Hill, Jacksonville, are collaborating on increasing the number of area tourists by heightening awareness of historical figures such as Biassou.
“It’s a whole new move toward tourism,” Bryan said.
In 1796, Biassou arrived in Salcedo House on St. George Street now occupied by Whetstone Chocolates.with nearly 30 followers and family members. Florida’s only black militant political leader, Biassou lived in the old
The local economy was bad, and Biassou often complained to Spanish Florida Governor Juan Nepomuceno de Quesada about his salary. But history notes Biassou’s success leading a regiment of free black soldiers at sometimes charged with defending the bulwark against hostile Native Americans.
Biassou’s funeral in the St. Augustine Catholic Church — now the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine — included an elaborate St. George Street precession leading to his resting place.
Nearly 1,000 dead occupy Tolomato. About 100 of the graves are marked.
Menorcan Cultural Society President Carol Lopez Bradshaw said a recent study using ground penetrating radar revealed hundreds of, but the location of Biassou’s remains is unknown.
Inside Tolomato Cemetery’s austere mortuary chapel, its walls adorned with a crucifix and water stains, Hill said Biassou should be recognized with a grave marker.
“It’s time for us to give honor where honor is due,” Hill said.
Joseph and Haitian delegates from Miami, Haiti and , encircled Hill and the marble memorial of Cuban priest Father Felix Verala, whose remains alone occupied the chapel for years until the death of the first Catholic bishop of Florida, .
“They needed a fitting place to bury the bishop, so they came and dug Father Verala up, put his remains in a pillowcase and put him to the side,” Bradshaw said.
In 1911, Cuba petitioned for the return of Verala’s remains, which now reside at the University of Havana Chapel as Verala is beatified, a step in the canonization process of the Catholic Church.
Jean Claude Exulien, vice president of Haitian American Historical Society, said Biassou’s legacy carries importance beyond encouraging tourism.
“We have what we call a crisis of identity,” Exulien said. “Our young Haitians refuse, sometimes, to identify themselves as Haitians because of what they read in the newspapers. But we adults know what Haitians did during the 19th Century.”
Joseph, a formerwho later owned a newspaper with his brother, said Biassou and his revolutionary brother, Jean Francois Biassou, are well known in Haiti.
“This is one of the most enjoyable trips I’ve had to Florida,” said Joseph, who returned to Washington D.C. Saturday. “I see the connections of Haiti to northern Florida, we know of the connections in South Florida, but I see the Haitian connection is being marked here, too.”
WHO WAS JORGE BIASSOU?
Jorge Biassou was a general in thethat led to independence from France. Biassou lived in St. Augustine from 1796 until his death in 1801.
He led a free black regiment at Fort Matanzas, sometimes defending the fort from hostile Native Americans. Buried in an unmarked grave in Tolomato Cemetery on Cordova Street.
City and county officials hope illustrating Biassou’s local history leads to greater tourism.