Versailles in July 1789. There’s growing disquiet at the court of King Louis XVI: the people are defiant and the country is on the brink of revolution. Behind the scenes at the royal palaces emergency plans are being made. Although nobody believes that this spells the end of the established order everyone is talking of escape, including Queen Marie Antoinette and her entourage. One of Marie Antoinette’s ladies-in-waiting is Sidonie Laborde who, as the Queen’s reader, is a member of the monarch’s inner circle. Little does she know that she is about to witness the downfall of her beloved queen.
Farewell My Queen, Summer 2012
Au mariage d’Hadriana, les soeurs Kraft s’étaient trouvées en tête du groupe fascinant des demoiselles d’honneur, en meilleur position que les pulpeuses jumelles Philisbourg qui étaien également des jeunes Haïtiennes très proches de Nana. Mélissa n’avait-elle pas déchiré sa toilette à l’église en voyant son amie s’écrouler avec son “oui” de perdition?
Hadriana dans tous mes rêves, René Dépestre, 1987
Gilot Casimir, Carnes Belle-Vil and Yves Valescot, students from the very first graduating class of the École Atelier de Jacmel (Jacmel’s Preservation School) helped me measure the Manoir Alexandra. The picture below taken in front of the mahogany stairs on the first floor of the Manoir.
Photo Credit: Andreas Nicholas
During my Spring Break (March 2012), I traveled to Jacmel with my good friend Andreas Nicholas, a film student at RISD. The main purpose of our trip was to take the measurements of the Manoir Alexandra with students from Jacmel’s Preservation School and to collect stories from locals of various generations, through video interviews.
I measured the house for four days with three students from the first graduating class of the Ëcole Atelier de Jacmel (Jacmel’s Preservation School), an institution founded by the Haitian Historical Society (ISPAN) and the AECID (Spain).
A syncretetic and changing system of beliefs and rituals produced out of the experience of the sugar plantation system in the New World, Vodou, or “the serving of the Gods,” though bricolaged in the forced contact of African vodun and Catholicism, may be understood as a historical response to the very experience of the ritual brutality of slavery. the serving of the Gods, or lwas, worked to transform torture, terror, and servitude itself. In her recent reconsideration of Haitian history, Haiti, History, and the Gods, Joan Dayan recounts her lesson from the Manbo Priestess La Merci Benjamin about what it means to submit to being ridden by the spirits. Benjamin explains that through the intense thought work of incarnating one of the Vodou deities, “instead of being turned into a thing, you become a god.” And, thus, Dayan theorizes, “to Be ridden by the mèt tèt, to be seized by the god, is thus to destroy the cunning imperial dichotomy of master and slave, or colonizer and colonized.” In eighteenth-century Saint-Domingue nighttime assemblies for the collective practice of Vodou ritual and dancing were more than just transgressions of colonial legal authority. Possession by the gods also conjured a spirit-infused landscape of sacred trees and herbal offerings that menaced colonial authority through a reversal of colonial authority’s basis in its materially staked claims to possession, the notion of “property rights,” of self-possession and control of land.
Sowing Empire- Landscape and Colonization | Jil Casid
Inspiration to design dance spaces in the gardens of Le Manoir Alexandra
Some pictures like the one in the bottom-left are still mind-boggling to me, as I pursue this thesis.
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
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.
Photography: Catherine Buteau, during our trip to Jacmel in November 2011