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?