Quake


Gad, Haiti. Why’d it have to be you? Again?

The chicken at top was one I photographed at an outdoor café in Port-au-Prince in August. Better times.

I’ve been marinating all day in coverage of the Haiti quake, in part because an editor at the Columbia Journalism Review’s site asked whether I had any thoughts on it. Some of what I’m going to send him in the morning, pending a final read-through, regards the Hotel Montana. The four-star hotel in Pétionville is a pile of rubble, countering any assumption that only the poor took the brunt of this one. Below I’ve posted a short Flip video of the Haitian singer Belo at a concert I attended with my friend Jonathan in August. There was a fashion show; there was music; there was rum. People were smartly dressed. It was damn fine scene. Now it’s a grave for something like 200 unaccounted-for French nationals (and presumably hotel staff, though I’ve seen no mention of them in the stories I’ve read today).

I dug up an old Harper’s story by Bob Shacochis on his trip through the Montana when he covered the U.S. invasion of Haiti in 1994:

I stand in the illuminated lobby of the Montana Hotel, space-warped into an après-beach party, gawking at the throng of media celebs, the Eddie Bauer tropical-fashion show, the crush of machos at the bar in shorts and network caps, looking as if they’ve spent their day playing softball. On the patio, CNN is feeding a satellite; in the lounge, a big-screen TV broadcasts the Michigan-Colorado game. …

Reservations for dinner are made. The embargo’s impact on fine dining in Pétionville is zero. Souvenance, the restaurant of choice for the capital’s aristocracy of crisis (the politicians and millionaires, the well-heeled gangsters, the diplomats and journalists), is booked up, so we settle for the gastronomic artistry of the chef at La Plantation, where the clientele can fill their glasses with the best French wines to toast the continuing – and, in some cases, karmically inexplicable – miracle of their survival.

Other points from today:

People want to give to the relief effort, and have asked me the best way to do so. The short answer is, pick a relief agency whose overall mission you believe in and donate to it. Most first-responder agencies and other relief agencies don’t use donations on a one-to-one basis anyway; your money will go to fund all their efforts, wherever they may be. I’m partial to Heifer International and Oxfam myself, but you can’t go wrong with the Red Cross or Medicins Sans Frontieres. If you’re determined to donate strictly to this effort, go to Wyclef Jean’s Yele.

Pat Robertson is a ghoul. Shepard Smith remains the best thing Fox News has going for it.

CNN's Ross Levitt has the disaster coverage version of the dreaded "What I ate for breakfast" Twitter feed. Here's a sample. Seriously, it's painful.

@susancandiotti has landed in #Haiti. I'm still waiting 4 a plane 2 land hre in Santo Domingo that will take me thr. A lot of waiting. about 13 hours ago from UberTwitter

The maintenance guy at the Santo Domingo airport makes a mean cup of joe. #alwaysafoodie Still haven't left for #haiti. about 13 hours ago from UberTwitter

My #Haiti ride--I think. http://tweetphoto.com/8642512 about 13 hours ago from UberTwitter

Ok, seriously this time. I'm about to take off for #Haiti...I think. #fb about 13 hours ago from UberTwitter

Preliminary numbers of the dead have ranged from a few thousand to half a million. Take those with a humongous grain of salt for now. I doubt seriously anyone had an ironclad notion of how many people were living in Port-au-Prince even before this damnable nightmare. What I’m wondering now is whether any of the newly homeless will be offered refugee asylum in other countries, and whether the government’s literal, physical collapse will affect that. Documentation and identification were already pretty thin there. You have to wonder if part of Bill Clinton’s urgency at the United Nations today had to do with the fact that there’s a country of 9 million people within a few hundred miles of Florida that nearly literally has no government. Sheer proximity has to be a concern for the State Department as much as just about anything else.

Last, I’ve got terrific admiration and affection for this guy right now. I took this picture in his old bedroom; I don’t know what has become of it, since his Facebook status today said, “House is wrecked.” But he’s kicking all kinds of ass right now, and in conditions no one should have to face. Buy him a drink, top-shelf, next time you see him. Another line from the Shacochis story:

“At ease, Captain Barton glares into space, spits, cusses. He deserves a measure of sympathy. He grew up mostly in Kentucky, graduated from Officers Candidate School, and went to Fort Bragg, but no matter how much money taxpayers spend, you can’t prepare an American soldier for a mission like Haiti, or a Kentucky boy for a place like Limbé.”