Monday, January 25, 2010

A writer's story - January 13, 2010

There’s a very good site that provides a pretty complete list of Haitian/Caribbean authors one should know about called ile en ile.

Hopscotching through certain of their links, I came up a story – an earthquake story – that will surely become part of the legend of what happened on January 13, 2010. One of the most famous contemporary Haitian writers is Dany Laferrièere, author of Comment faire l'amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer. And one of the most famous contemporary publishers and critics of Haitian literature, who lives in Montreal, is Rodney Saint-Élo. Both writers were in Port-au-Prince for the Etonnants Voyageurs writers conference. Both were staying at the Hotel Karibe. And they were actually having dinner together when the earthquake happened. They’ve left two separate accounts of the dinner on the web. Laferriere’s is here and Rodney Saint-Eloi’s is here. Laferriere has a sharp eye out for what my Mom, if she were alive, would probably be calling God looking out for him – by which she meant the insignificant incidences that guide one past a disaster. God is in the blindspot. The writer, especially the comic writer, suspects that God is not alone in the blindspot, and that one can’t presume on what he is thinking as he sits enthroned there. In any case, Laferriere attributes his salvation to a mango and a lobster. On the day of the earthquake, Laferriere was setting himself up in his hotel room. He’d ordered a lobster. And he was concerned to find some mangos:

We patiently waited for the writers in the great lobby of the Karibé Hotel. Some were working under the trees. One could very well eat : the cooking is excellent. A lobster (in fact, it was a langouste) that I didn’t get last time because, even if it is succulent, it is sometimes difficult to digest – especially late at night. But I love it, thus I waited for the moment to peacefully dine on the lobster-langouste. But I did what I always do every time I arrive in a city : I looked around to find out if there were any mangos and avocados. I put them in my room. The mangos perfume the room. A tropical odor. It is not yet the season for mangos, but I found some being sold on the street. A little saleswoman squatting on the sidewalk, her back to the wall. A dress folded between her thighs. The white scarf. Oh how I love the tender, animated gaze of the women of this town ! Maette Chantrell bought me the fruits : five mangos and two avocados. And I didn’t even offer him a mango. How silly, I lose my head when I see mangos.

Fruits and veggies. The feast of my childhood. I love to come back at night, turn on the tele, or place a book on my nighttable – and devour an entire avocado with bread.”

And so Laferrière comes into the restaurant to have his lobster-langouste.

I chose my lobster and he [Rodney Sainte-Eloi] a poisson gros sel. They bring us a salad and bread. Too hungry, I began to eat. Rodney sees Thomas Spear [a U.S. professor of literature] drinking a beer alone in the courtyard. He invites him to join us. We chat. I ask the waiters to speed it up, because we hardly have ten minutes, as, at 5 o’clock, they are going to come for us. We elbowed the waiters a little. Because they love me, they poked the cooks…

There was a noise that came from behind my back. Terrible. As though we were being machine gunned. I turned around. Nothing. Suddenly, I saw the cooks speed past. I told myself something must have exploded in the kitchen. It took 6 to 8 seconds to understand that this was an earthquake. We ran, Rodney and me. Thomas remained to finish his beer, he said. We returned to find him. We lay down on our stomachs in the courtyard, under the trees, besides Isabella and Agathe [members of the Etonnants Voyageurs]. In diving to the ground, Rodney scratched his knee.
Suddenly, a second shockwave. I began to be afraid, for I had the impression that this was not going to stop – not before our death. I waited for the earth to open. Someone said we ought to leave the courtyard where there were too many trees and seek shelter on the tennis courts. We went. A small shockwave.
Faces were waxy. We didn’t know where we were. A cloud of dust rose above the city. Not a cry. Total silence. Total silence. »

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