Narrative Flows

Oral Histories.

The challenge in trying to decipher the truth in oral histories reminds me of an Indian literature class I took at RISD during my Sophomore year. It was called “Narrative Flows” and it explored literary pieces that dealt with the importance of water in Calcutta- through stories of different families, social classes, religious groups, caste systems, etc…

The class attempted to expose the various local voices in Calcutta. For the first time, I learned about the concept of “The Other” and one’s position in the world, when hailing from a developing country.

Since my goal with this project is to tell a story, perhaps a fluid approach is appropriate… and ideal. The truth in “Narrative Flows” might prove more valid than the Westerner’s written words on “The Other”s history.

Simultaneously, Jacmel has always been open to the world. It might also be fitting to welcome (compare & contrast) different views and interpretations of the history of this vibrant town. It does become very colorful and stimulating to learn and write about the different views.

The Globe and Mail


The many articles published by the Canadian newspaper “The Globe and Mail” have provided useful information on the city of Jacmel as it recovers. Their “Project Jacmel” initiative was encouraged by Canada’s governor general Michaelle Jean, who is a native of Jacmel and current UNESCO Envoy for Haïti.

Here is a link to the website: Project Jacmel; A City Rebuilds 


Atelier Photo Jacmel 2011

The Atelier Photo Jacmel 2011 is a photography workshop that took place during the past two weeks in Jacmel. The studio opened  an exhibition in Port-au-Prince at the Institut Français d’Haïti, this past Friday, October 28. Here is a link to their online journal: Atelier Photo Jacmel 2011

The workshop was funded by FOKAL, the Institut Français d’HaïtiChantiers du Sud, the Alliance Française de Jacmel, and MINUSTAH. 

Some pictures retrieved from the Atelier’s blog:

Preservation is overtaking us

In the introduction of his article “Preservation is Overtaking us“, Rem Koolhaas makes a point that covers a shared feeling on the architect’s approach to projects.

We were lucky in 2002 to receive a commission from the Beijing government that enabled us to try to investigate and define for China a specific form of preservation. This is one of those unique moments in which we come closer, and maybe I should say in this case that I come closer, to one of my most intimate utopian dreams, which is to find an architecture that does nothing. I’ve always been appalled that abstinence is the one part of the architectural repertoire that is never considered. Perhaps in architecture, a profession that fundamentally is supposed to change things it encounters (usually before reflection), there ought to be an equally important arm of it which is concerned with not doing anything.

Carnaval in Jacmel- History in Color

From an American couple’s blog “On the Goat Path” in Haiti:

But Carnival is actually more than just scary masks, music, and dancing.  There are a number of groups who decorate themselves symbolically in a way that portrays a time in Haiti’s history.  For instance, there are the Chaloska, who “mimic Charles Oscar Etienne, chief of police who in 1915 killed the political prisoners which led to the fall of Vilbrun Guillaume Sam and then to the American occupation.” (Thanks Christina Schutt!)  Their enormous red mouths filled with large protruding teeth make them hard to miss, and they march down the roads acting out the prosecution of said political prisoners.  It’s actually kind of creepy, but incredibly interesting at the same time.

Image by British photographer: Leah Gordon in “Kanaval : vodou, politics and revolution on the streets of Haiti / photography and oral histories”

A History of Names- Thesis Statement

Jacmel’s abandoned hotel, Manoir Alexandra, sited on the South side of Jacmel’s Town Square:

It is a warm afternoon, balmy with an occasional breeze from the coast. The sun is setting behind a tuft of palm trees. The trees’ long shadows cast dark silhouettes on the old Town Hall, whose foundations are outlined with a flat strip of brass. A few families are quietly contem¬plating the vacant lot and a young boy lays flowers on the now sacred ground.

The cruise-ship has anchored at the port and vacationers are making their way up to the town square. Submerged in the new humid atmosphere, they walk through narrow stepped corridors and under iron-laced balconies. Children precede them and run up the stairs, proudly shaking the colorful cha-cha’s purchased at the harbor’s art galleries.

The town square has been transformed into an open-air auditorium space. The clock of the Cathedral St Phillipe chimes the new hour and the overhead garlands of light are dimmed. Visitors and locals proceed into their seats. We all face south towards Alexandra, but she can barely be seen. The only light emanates from the colorful fanals on the ground.

Suddenly we hear sounds of drumming. Large screens light up to our left and right, and images of energetic folkloric dancers and colorful carnival paper-mâché masks catch our attention. The crowd, unanimously enthralled by the rich images, applauds and whistles when the drum sounds travel from the speakers to the ground, in front of Alexandra. Live drummers end the piece with strong, deep and bold rhythmic sounds. The fast images are slowly replaced by calmer scenes. Young kids splash into the deep pools of the Bassin Bleu waterfalls, fishing nets thrown into the sea glitter under the lazy sun, and silence is reestablished as a cheerful coconut vendor convinces his cameraman to put down his lens and to come enjoy a drink of coconut water.

Alexandra takes our attention again, her turquoise window frames popping out from the darkness. On her left, the mayor of Jacmel climbs to a podium. Behind him, images of the daily lives of Jacmelians fade in and out unto the white façade of Alexandra. Her long cracks are still noticeable, but an unprecedented story of resilience and restoration is about to unfold.

´The atmosphere, shapes and imagination that make up Jacmel have been created by real men and women. Its unique and inimitable fabric is a patchwork of walls, streets, open spaces, memories, meetings, sensations and creations, voices and images stitched together day by day for posterity. This is not tangible heritage but a history of names’.

Bernard Hadjadj and Alain Sancerni in “Jacmel: A Centre for the Development of Culture and Tourism”

How can Jacmel’s Civic Center, damaged in Haiti’s massive 2010 earthquake, be transformed into a prototype for historic preservation? Can this small coastal town, the “Cultural Hub of Haiti” and international tourist destination, set a universal example as a progressive community in a developing country?

Collaboration, Spirit of Teamwork and Community

Central to Jacmel’s burgeoning recovery has been a sense of pride long associated with the city. Jacmelians, as residents call themselves, view themselves independent of Haiti. And many took it upon themselves to clean up the rubble from the streets and their property, and not wait for foreign aid workers to do so.

“Jacmelians, they put their heads together,” said Archille Laguerre, the local leader of Camp Mayard. “Why? They have a spirit of collaboration, a spirit of teamwork and community.”

Huffington Post: Jacmel, Haitian Tourist Town, Rebounding Post-Quake

2010-09-28-leNouvellisteDesagriculteursvenusdediffrentescommunesdeJacmel.jpgFarmers from different communes of the South-East, meeting in Jacmel. Photo: Le Nouvelliste

Manoir Alexandra

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“What would Jacmel be without the Manoir Alexandra, the mythical backdrop of René Depestre’s novel Hadriana in All My Dreams? What would Jacmel be without the warm, sleepy afternoons in teh Rue du Commerce? What would the city be without the permanent conversation between the murmurs from teh St James and St Philip Church and the incessant hubbub of hte Iron Market? What would this rebellious city, with its tumultuous past, be without its old prison, its City Hall, its Boucard, Dougé or Cadet houses, its Masonic Lodge, its wooden houses in Bel-Air, its Marina, its Haitian Pharmacy, etc.? […] Jacmel also still has the vestiges of the colonial defence system, including the ruis of the great fort that defended the entry to the harbour along with the ramparts, the ‘Petite Batterie’ and the Beliot Fort. (Bulletin de l’ISPAN)