Knocking on Heaven’s Door | La Mariée Oubliée

In the midst of the affectionate chatter of my maids of honor at the foot of the stairs, I proclaimed my thirst aloud. I would really like a glass of ice water.” […] Had someone foreseen my last-minute thirst?

Hadriana in All my Dreams | René Dépestre

When Hadriana wakes up from her state of coma, she knocks at all doors surrounding the Central Plaza. The night is torrential and her followers are getting closer to her. The city mourns her death but has now shut its doors.

But is the city solely comprised of her family the Siloés, the Krafts and the Catholic sisters who now ignore her? Hadriana’s image of purity was gone as soon as her body came out of the Church. People dancing the Rabòday around her to bring her back to life, have forever affected her innocence. Nobody around the plaza will answer to her calls because she is now no longer worth their recognition.

Early sketch

Below is a sketch illustrating how I wished to tackle issues of transparency with the Manoir Alexandra. When I started research for my thesis during the Summer of 2011, I was interested in using the Manoir as an accessible and progressive Town Hall.   I had begun altering the architecture of the mansion to provide more porches and public viewing access to the bay. Now, I am more inclined to keeping the aspect of the house in ruins, conserving memories of the aftermath of a catastrophe and its impact on the architecture of a place.

As I have learned in November 2011, that the Manoir Alexandra is becoming a cultural center and museum space, the goal is now to occupy its interiors, and most importantly its gardens, while perpetuating the narratives I wish to preserve in my thesis. 

During my happy life as a girl, there had always been three spaces- the inward garden, the exterior courtyard, and the Caribbean side. It was very warm in all of them.

Hadriana in All my Dreams | René Depestre

Lower Level Performance Space & Garden

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The first image of this slideshow is a modified Times Magazine photo of the interior of Haitian dancer Viviane Gauthier’s Gingerbread house in Turgeau, Port-au-Prince. The photo illustrated an atmosphere I wish to convey in the lower rooms of the Manoir Alexandra. This performance space would spill out to the garden.

Times Magazine Photo Essay: Haïti’s Gingerbread Houses

Granchiré | La Mariée Souillée

Les Papillons ne sont que des fleurs envolées un jour de fête où la nature était en veine d’invention et de fécondité. “Butterflies are but flowers that blew away one sunny day when Nature was feeling at her most inventive and fertile.” George Sand

“Go Hadriana!” said a voice inside on the Caribbean side

Hadriana In All my Dreams- René Dépestre 

In Hadriana in All my Dreams, Granchiré is a Man-Butterfly who terrorizes Jacmelian families by luring their young women. On the day of her wedding, Hadriana dies at the altar of the Cathedral St Phillipe & St Jacques. Although some believe that her passion to marry has caused her death, the following day her corpse disappears from the cemetery. Those who had tried fervently to bring her back to life with Vaudou processions on the Place d’Armes, are finally convinced that Granchiré had not been satisfied yet. For a very last time, he takes away the life and purity of a young girl.

‘Kote yo fè zafè yo’ shining light on the obscure

It is a common belief (and often times true occurence) in Haiti for families that practice Vaudou and deem themselves Christian, to hide their rituals in a room reserved for services to their governing Loas. When I visited the Manoir Alexandra in November, the Géran or gardener led me and my cousin to a dark lower room where he believed (with no hesitation) that the past owners of the house used to practice Vaudou. Sa se kote yo fè zafè yo “that is where they did their things” he said as he pointed towards stairs leading to the dark room. An old bell placed on a rocking chair, and racks of empty wine bottle were the indications that the owners practiced Vaudou.

The Manoir Alexandra was a hotel and all the wine bottles where neatly locked away in cages. The room was a wine depot, however, the Géran was sure the owners also practiced Vaudou there. Whether it was true or not, one cannot dismiss that in Haiti, the belief system is such that Vaudou is always on people’s minds, especially when things are difficult to explain… and this at both ends of the spectrum.

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Photography: Catherine Buteau, during our trip to Jacmel in November 2011

Garden on the Caribbean Side

Alors l’enchantement commençait pour moi au jardin. Pour notre plaisir, mon père, en botaniste amateur, avait voulu y faire épanouir, outre la flore spécifiquement haïtienne et dominicaine, le paysage de toute la Caraïbe, de Cuba à Trinidad, en passant par Porto-Rico, la Jamaïque, la Martinique, la Guadeloupe et l’ensemble insulaire des Petites Antilles. Ainsi prospérait autour de la maison un échantillon de chaque espèce de plantes à fleurs, des plus humbles aux plus spectaculaires […]

Depestre, René. Hadriana Dans Tous Mes Rêves: Roman. Paris: Gallimard, 1988. Print. 190.

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Photography: Catherine Buteau, during our trip to Jacmel in November 2011


An attempt at a thesis statement, in which I let René Depestre’s protagonist haunt the ‘constructions of my thoughts’.

In the Caribbean city of Jacmel, the Manoir Alexandra, an early 20th century white-brick building sits in a historic colonial district. On its Northern façade, turquoise wooden-framed windows overlook a barren plaza, while Southern iron-cast balconies offer views of a quiet bay. Layers of chipped paint and missing window panes, illustrate a desolation that has struck the Southern city of Jacmel since the closing of its commercial port in the 1960s. The city’s economic decadence accelerated when a powerful earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, affecting much of the historic district and adding long cracks to the aging structure of the Manoir.
Alexandra looks like an actress whose grandiose years have been left behind in an era of a now lost coffee industry. Her state of disrepair perpetuates the fictional novel that made her famous. Visitors, who learned about her resident zombie bride, Hadriana, look for traces of the young French girl in its decaying walls, mahogany stairs, and spacious rooms. On the inclined balcony, Hadriana combs her hair while looking out towards a lush garden on the Caribbean side. Her story is a threshold into the mystical city of Jacmel. The current generation of Jacmelians is young and unaware of Hadriana’s story which, not only translates a magical language, but also allows an appropriate understanding of the city’s complex social inheritance. In the novel, Hadriana’s disappearance coincides with Jacmel’s actual decadence. Yet it also calls for a reunion between the Haitian population and the international community. René Dépestre has been criticized for idolizing his protagonist and her symbolism in a proud emancipated Black society, yet his novel depicts exactly the complicated relationship between Haiti and the world.
Today, Jacmel is at the forefront of the Haitian government’s efforts towards the redevelopment of tourism in the country. Its historic district has made the 2012 World Monument Heritage Watch List and presents a rich potential as a prototype of cultural preservation and reconstruction, yet it also faces the challenge of pushing against a global tourism economy that favors chain resorts and might render a weak government, even more vulnerable. The Manoir Alexandra, a physical anchor between the upper and lower sides of the city and threshold between the town and the international population, is located at the southern end of a ring of civic buildings, in which important decisions for the city and whole South-East Department are made. While taking into account the legend that has made the Manoir Alexandra important, this thesis will explore how this prime piece of real-estate can mediate a mutually beneficial relationship between the global community and the local inhabitants of Jacmel who have long been renowned for their welcoming habits, their vibrant art scene, progressive philosophies and vivacity in social affairs, despite the many challenges that have crippled Haïti, throughout the years.