Besides the guilt-driven nature of the outpouring of aid– people want to be good, and we all have goodness and at last there is an outlet for it– there is also a sense of apocalyptic foreboding, that what has happened to Haiti is only the beginning, the beginning of the end for all of us. If these people who did nothing are being so badly punished, think of what is going to happen to us, whose selfishness and hyperconsumption will only cause more environmental collapse. There’s a lot of Doomsday sentiment in the air that people are either embracing or blanking from their screens. The uneasy sense that we’ve gone and done it, cooked our own gooses, hoisted ourselves by our own petard. Haiti plays into the 2012 Mayan prophesy and the born-again end-of-days waiting for the Rapture fervor, the families who are stockpiling food and guns in backyard bunkers. It’s like a death rehearsal, a forestate of Armaggedon.
I wonder what happened to the Olafson, the wonderful old hotel in Port Prince with white wrought-iron and gingerbread balconies that Graham Greene immortalized in The Comedians ? I suspect it was too rickety to have survived. I had a drink there with my then wife in l978, the only time I’ve been to Haiti. We were on our way down to Brazil, and for some reason decided to spend a few days in Haiti. An extremely dapper and charming gentleman in a black tux and top hat with a gold-tipped cane introduced himself as we sat on one of the balconies drinking rum and cokes in the steamy tropical evening. We invited him to join us. He took my Ana’s hand and gazing adoringly into her eyes told her how beautiful she was, and when we got back to our hotel, she discovered that he had slipped off her watch. We decided he was so good he deserved it. I wonder what happened to him. He was already about 60 then, so the chances of him still being around for the earthquake are slim.
Go to Montrealgazette.com and read Sue Montgomery’s story, Port-au-Prince : a city traumatized and in mourning. She’s on the ground there, and of all the coverage I’ve seen her dispatches are the most searing, powerful old-fashioned reporting whose punch is derived from its spareness, just letting the description and dialogue work on you, no editorializing or tugging at your heart strings. Here’s the lede : “A little girl dressed in the clothes she wore to school a week ago and a surgical mask perched on her forehead places her hand on her tummy and says quietly in Creole, mwen gran ou.
I’m starving. “