Here's the link to my story in the Columbia Journalism Review. The takeaway:
If foreign reporters knew Haiti at all, it was via the removed perspective of the war correspondent—as a witness to horrors that he or she would never know first-hand. This experience was perhaps best sketched by Bob Shacochis, the journalist and novelist, who describes arriving there as a reporter in the opening to his 1995 Harper’s cover story, “The Immaculate Invasion.”
He describes the frenzied, cash-greased path into Haiti from the Dominican Republic, which still casts a dark and menacing countenance of its own (my road trip from the Haiti border to Santo Domingo last summer required passage through a dozen separate military checkpoints over some 150 highway miles). Upon reaching Haiti’s besieged capital, Shacochis describes a Port-au-Prince ripe for physical collapse: “Vast areas of the cityscape seem constructed out of shortcuts and makeshift solutions, erected by the homeless for the homeless, creating the smoldering architectural temperament of a dream constantly solicited and constantly deferred …”
The contrast was the Hotel Montana, the palace atop a succession of winding roads in the comparatively tony suburb of Pétionville, home to many NGO workers and international personnel. The Montana served as four-star bivouac for privileged visitors: politicians, successful émigrés, and, of course, journalists.
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.”
This is a poignant bit of comedic genius. The sigh and slouch -- ah, Oregon Duck, we are thee.
Finally I got around to replacing the public-domain letterage at the top of this site with a few stray fonts from the deep catalog of photos I've accumulated over the years.
The S is from the inside of a boxcar-turned-barn in my grandmother's pasture; Pine Bluff, Ark. I found it when I went to shovel dried horseshit into a bucket to serve as fertilizer for fruit trees my dad and I were planting in her yard.
The A is from the neon front of the Billy Goat Tavern; Chicago. Think of me next time you walk by the iconic "Tap & Grill" sign.
The M is on the walls outside the restrooms at Vino's; Little Rock, Ark. Fine spot for calzones and microbrew.
The E is from a movie theater exit at the Rave in West Little Rock. Can't remember what I had gone to see when I snapped that picture ... but, oh, wait. The file is stamped 11/1/09, and amid the (fairly comprehensive) pile of movie tickets I keep around is one for the 7:30 showing of "A Serious Man," a review of which I wrote for the Arkansas Times. See it before Oscar season; it'll damn sure draw nominations for something. The Coen brothers tend to be good for that sort of thing.
The I is from a huge "PARKING" sign on the top floor of a deck overlooking downtown Hot Springs, Ark.
The F lives atop a shuttered grocery in Gurdon, Ark., a hamlet in the timberlands of the southwest of the state. It wasn't far outside Gurdon that I saw this magnificent mailbox you see at top.
The L is from a taptap in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Check August posts for a fuller discussion.
The second I is a Washington Monument profile I snapped when I was in D.C. a couple of years ago to cover the Bassmaster Classic winner's victory visit to the Oval Office when it was W.'s playpen.
The N is from a children's book-themed mural near the downtown Little Rock library. I walk past it each day to work; this is from the "Where the Wild Things Are" pane.
The G is from a (badass) clothier in downtown Texarkana, Ark., called "G.Q. Style." The open-air pigeonarium at right is next door.
The dot is a 16-pound bowling ball taking a rest at Ozark Lanes in Fayetteville, Ark.
The C is part of a signature on a mural at Bonnaroo two years ago. Damn -- almost three, now.
The O is a logo painted inside Little Rock ad agency Stone Ward. The colors and symmetry struck me on a visit there one night.
The M is from a cigar sign in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: "Hecho a Manos," or hand-made.
And not that it has anything to do with any of these, but as I was rummaging through seemingly every file folder on my scattershot desktop tonight, I found this photo I snapped of Barry Obama in Cedar Rapids on the eve of his win in the Iowa primaries two years ago. Even then it was clear this guy was endowed with charisma squared. I've seen the past three presidents speak as they campaigned, along with several -- John Kerry, John Edwards ('04 and '08), Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee, John Richardson, Joe Biden -- who fizzled.
For shots of a decidedly less august lot, check out this photo essay I donated to Deadspin, of the duck gumbo cookoff that every November turns the sleepy rice town of Stuttgart, Ark., into a boozy riot of ass-slapping. I hope it's not the last time a major blog meta-tags a piece of mine with "#sadwhimsy," which come to think of it describes a lot of this little state. Still, why more people don't drop by Arkansas to tour the sad and whimsical now and then is beyond me.
Anyone familiar with my terrier mutt, Ripley, knows him as an uncommonly needy dog, one apparently so smitten with the very idea of attention that he'll debase himself to any level just to get so much as a scratch behind the ear.
He is also a murderer of mammals great and small. His scalps include a skunk, a possum, a squirrel, at least two rabbits, and, over the snowy holiday in northwest Arkansas, three rodents in two days. This plump field mouse Ripley flushed out of a snowed-over patch of flowers, only after pawing through ice and chomping through branches to follow his nose.
Death comes cold and swift in a mouser dog's jaws. And it's worth remembering, when this cute little dog tries to lick you on the mouth, that his lips would just as soon be curled around stiffening rat hide.
Excellent all-purpose advice from a robot shop in Chicago.
Funny, the things you find in the woods.
Yep, this is full-blown. Not for much longer. It is absolutely the sweetest time of year in central Arkansas until these leaves dun over and fill the gutters. Then: nastiness 'til March.
If you want to make the case that the Halloween costumes we choose are somehow reflections of our psyches -- that we distort and project a self-image first affected by our perceptions of how others see us -- then at some level I'm a nattily dressed yet naked-from-the-waist-down gorilla in smart-looking glasses, and my friend Shannon is a toothpaste model channeling '80s high school live-for-the-moment exuberance as imagined by John Hughes and engineered by Savers. Her gentleman friend, Collins, was a Ferris at least as convincing as her Sloane.
My discussion last night of The House, the Little Rock restaurant that is, in fact, not your house and therefore a pain in the ass to discuss as a meeting point, prompted the inestimable Jonathan Katz to e-mail me a note and accompanying photos from the Caribbean. Apparently this homonymous business naming is a global problem.
Re the confusingly named restaurant in Little Rock, there is a funny if oppositely intentioned analogue on Hispaniola.
On the outskirts of Santo Domingo, entrepreneurs set up small, pay-by-hour motels chiefly for the purpose of doing it. While some customers are legitimate couples looking for a few moments away from a house filled with every living relative they have, most are used by Dominican working men for a quick abscond with the mistress, secondary mistress, or ever-popular "girl you just met."
As a service to customers, the owners of these establishments give them names that, even if accidentally dropped into conversation, will either reveal nothing or create confusion. I've attached two pictures here. The first place is "Aki," which when read aloud is the Spanish word for "here." (As in, Q: "Baby I've been calling all day. Where are you?" A: "Here.") Next door is "Allí," or "over there." And finally we have, of course, "The Office." If only.