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Haitian Art in a Modern Decorative Scheme

Working in Haiti is great. It’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s mind-opening and mind-blowing all at once. It’s also steamy and sweaty and dusty and at the end of the day, you’re not opposed to taking in a bit of gracious ambiance with your hot shower and cold drink. We’ve stayed at some nice

Tropical heat is a work hazard for wimps.

Hot and sweaty in Haiti. It is the tropics, after all.

hotels over the years, nothing truly fancy, but consistently having good service, clean sheets, a solid in-house restaurant, and wonderful character. Having said that, Casey always has an eye out for the next best thing and is prone to experimentation. So when she announced that we were staying at the Best Western Premiere Hotel in Petionville, I wasn’t sure that I had heard her correctly.

Best Western? Well, check the box affirmative for clean sheets and decent service and restaurants of an adequate sort. I’ve never minded

staying at a Best Western, but in the wonderful character category, I haven’t ever thought of giving them high marks. Plain vanilla has pretty much been my over-riding impression and I am here to say THAT is very unCasey-like.

Louis-Prospere inspired elevator surround and Haitian recycled metal mirror frame.

Design element from a Louis-Propere painting surrounds the elevator door. Mirror frame is Hatiain metal.

But she nailed it.

Let me pause to tell you this is not a Tripadvisor review that I’ve posted incorrectly to the It’s Cactus blog. The point is actually decorating with Haitian art, and how they did it at the Best Western Premiere Hotel so beautifully. The modern, somewhat minimalist design scheme is punctuated by GREAT local art. Rumor has it that Donna Karan had a hand in the interior design work, so saying that the designer had an eye is a bit of an understatement. Take, for example, the paintings by Pierre-Louis Prospere hanging in the hallway:  design elements from those paintings were appropriated to surround the elevator doors on every floor. How about the framed recycled tire art arranged near the lobby check-in desk by Eugene Andre? And check out the full barrel sculptures by the early metal art masters hanging near sparkling crystal chandeliers. All combined for a WOW factor that for me, was completely unexpected but very much appreciated.

I have written previously about different decorative schemes into which Haitian art can be incorporated. Clearly, I can add minimalist modern to that list. And how!


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Haitian iron and crystal, together in the Best Western Premier Hotel

Imagine pairing Haitian iron and crystal. Magic!

Haitian art - rubber cutouts

Cut-out rubber artwork by Eugene Andre

Expected and Unexpected in Haiti

Curious teens climbed the walls to dance to the music and get a better view of the procession.

Curious teens climbed the walls to dance to the beat of the rah-rah band get a better view of the procession.

Last Wednesday, when I boarded the 9:45 flight from Miami to Port-au-Prince with Casey, Gigi, and Mary, I was struck by conflicting senses that I knew what to expect and that I have never known what to expect. I fully anticipated that traffic would be slow and chaotic, but the ride would be endlessly fascinating. The language would be tricky but the smiles would be genuine. The heat and dust would be oppressive but tropical breezes and Prestige at the end of the day would be blessed. I have come to expect all of these things. But always, always there something that lies in wait; something beyond my experience base that finds its chance to be added.

This time it was a funeral procession.

It was mid-morning and we were motoring purposefully along when our progress inexplicably slowed to a crawl. There was a string of cars, and a large number of interspersed pedestrians seemed to be following them. A few blocks along, Franz, our intrepid Haitian driver, spotted the hearse ahead. “Ah,” he said, “a funeral. Well, it is Saturday. Lots of funerals on Saturdays. This could be a while.”

A few blocks later, we came to a “dead stop.” (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) The hearse had reached the cemetery and the crowd had begun to swell.

Huge floral arrangements swirled behind the casket as mourners entered the cemetery.

Huge floral arrangements swirled behind the casket as mourners entered the cemetery.

Up ahead we could hear a rah-rah band; drums and vuvuzelas creating a wild, not quite melodic but definitely rhythmic cacophony. The cemetery was surrounded by a large cinderblock wall, and agile teenagers scrambled to the top and bopped to the beat. Moments later, the coffin appeared, born by black-suited pall bearers, who began to dance vigorously with their heavy load up and down the street. Women and girls dazzling in their finery cavorted behind the coffin, swirling voluminous floral arrangements of yellows and whites. This went on for fifteen minutes or so; a spectacle of funerary custom that I could certainly recognize, but that was far from the sedate traditions of my own experience.

I have read many times that Haitians celebrate their culture by giving thanks for those who have lived before them. They believe their future depends on the ways they honor their ancestors. What I observed, I think, is that very thing. The Haitian way of honoring the dead is to mourn, yes, but also to celebrate the life that was lived. To see that played out was wonderfully unexpected.


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

State Dept. Advises Caution When Driving in Haiti

Women headed to market walking in the middle of the street where the sidewalks are too narrow.

Women headed to market walk in the middle of the street where the sidewalks are too narrow.

Planning a trip to Haiti is fun and exciting, but it is always a good idea to have a feel for what you are getting yourself into. Having just consulted the State Department website on Haiti, I am happy to report that the current advisories don’t offer up anything much that is new or alarming. Status quo, you might say. Maybe it is my anticipatory mood, though, that makes me think their admonishments of caution are actually kind of funny.Take for example:

“In addition to vehicles, a variety of other objects may appear on the road in Haiti, such as wooden carts dragged by people or animals, small ice cream carts, animals, mechanics working on vehicles parked on the street, and vendors and their wares.”

Ya think? Then there was this gem:

“Driving in Haiti must be undertaken with extreme caution. Traffic is usually chaotic; those with no knowledge of Haitian roads and traffic

Goats running along the road across from the US Embassy. Guess you could call it "local color."

Goats running along the road across from the US Embassy. Guess you could call it “local color.”

customs should hire a driver through a local tour operator or hotel. Roads are generally unmarked and detailed and accurate maps are not widely available. Lanes are not marked and signs indicating the direction of traffic flow seldom exist. Huge potholes may cause drivers to execute unpredictable and dangerous maneuvers in heavy traffic.”

Been there, seen that! In one of the more remarkable examples of potholes burned in my brain, I am pretty sure you could have lost a four-year old for good. Roadway hazard doesn’t quite describe it accurately. Yawning bottomless chasm is much closer.

And finally:

“Signaling imminent actions is not widely practiced and not all drivers use turn indicators or international hand signals properly. For instance, many drivers use their left blinker for all actions, including right turns and stops. Non-standard and non-intuitive hand signals are used to indicate a variety of actions. Drivers do not always verify that the road is clear before switching lanes, turning, or merging. When making a left-hand turn, drivers should be aware that traffic may pass on the left while they are attempting to turn. This is legal in Haiti.”

All of which makes me thank my lucky stars that we have Franz. His skill as a driver is beyond compare and he proves it every single time we

Meet Franz, our eternally patient, extraordinarily skilled driver and friend. He is worth his weight in gold.

Meet Franz, our eternally patient, extraordinarily skilled driver and friend. He is worth his weight in gold.

get in his van. Truly a he is heaven-sent; he is able to negotiate all of the above and more with infinite patience and finess. I actually think he could even make the State Department relax. Now THAT is a gift.


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

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