October 4, 2013 § Leave a comment
Last month I had the opportunity to go to Haiti. It was exotic, dangerous, a land of contrasts and contradictions: incredible wealth, heartbreaking poverty, dysfunctional bureaucracy, political corruption, fantastic food, searing heat, talented and impressive artists and craftspeople, terrible roads (with nail biting traffic), fabulous rum, crumbling infrastructure, old Creole culture and… everybody loves to dance! Just like New Orleans (except for the rum part, New Orleans makes crappy rum).
Three years is not a long time for such a poor nation to recover from a devastating earthquake. It’s not for lack of trying. There are signs of recovery despite all the obstacles (kinda like New Orleans after the flood).
The food in Haiti is way better than anywhere, even New Orleans. I realize I will get pushback from that statement, but I stand by it. I am now determined to add Haitian cuisine to my already fine repertoire of deliciousness. Here’s the first wonderful dish that greeted me on my arrival:
I think this was called “bouillon”, it was a soup/stew made with chicken and unusual tubers and things that only grow in Haiti. It was delicious. Haiti grows all kinds of things I’ve never tasted, or even heard of!
The traditional Sunday breakfast is soup Joumou, made with a type of pumpkin or squash. It is served on New Year’s Day to celebrate Haiti’s liberation from France. This soup was forbidden for slaves to eat (even though they were the ones who prepared it). Now it represents Haiti’s independence and it too is delicious. This is a shot of what I had on my Sunday morning (We dug in before I took the photo, I have no control).
Haitians make a “black” rice dish with a mushroom called “djon djon” which only grows there. I brought a couple of packages home to see if I can make some for my ball&chain. They like to season their bean dishes with cloves and other spices, and there’s a condiment called “pikliz” which is a like a very spicy coleslaw and is served with fried stuff. Like plantains or Griot which is an outstanding fried pork dish.
Here’s a shot of the one I made when I got home:
It went great with my first attempt at Poulet Creole!
One of my favorite things was a dip called “Chiktay”. The one I had was made with smoked herring; blended with a mix of peppers and spices. I ate it before I thought of taking a picture. Sorry.
Here’s a fun aside:
This has got to be THE most interesting former Chief of Police in the world. Now a fashion designer. Check out the stylin’ outfit.
The word “Haiti” means “land of mountains” and they aren’t kidding. The whole place is just one big hill after another. This is why (I decided) there are no fat people in Haiti.
One day we took a ride out to Jacmel, a gorgeous old town with a stunning coast.
Parts of old city were damaged in the earthquake too, but Jacmel is being rebuilt, along with a new boardwalk – an attempt to regain tourism. The cruise ships have stopped coming, and the locals are definitely feeling the pinch. Check out this extraordinary mosaic that guides you to the shore:
Unfortunately, the people who have the most, often do the least. This is one of the oldest houses in Jacmel, owned by the wealthiest family there. Note the lethargic upkeep. So like New Orleans. Sigh.
They also own this one across the street. It’s shameful. Just saying.
On a positive note, this is one of several art/craft shops with colorful wares spilling onto the streets of Jacmel, note the protective overseer!
The spirit of the people of Haiti is astounding and inspiring. Given what they’ve been through they are striving to make the best of it. Many Haitian/Americans have come back to their roots to help in the rebuilding process. I applaud their efforts.
One of the most important resources for the future of Haiti is the children. If you would like to help, you can “like” this page: https://www.facebook.com/StickingUpForHaitianChildren and maybe even purchase a pair of hand painted drumsticks. The $$ will go to an orphanage and school (that I had the privilege of visiting – I am still tingling from all the hugging and kissing that swarmed around me by itty bitty humans!) There is so much to do, and every little bit helps. While you’re at it (shameless plug) you can stop by and “like” MY page too: https://www.facebook.com/LedaJewelCo
I realize this is a jewelry blog, and I’ve gone off topic. However, I have always been drawn to the Haitian culture without even trying (see last year’s post “That Old Black Magic” April 2012). To end this post, I will present an encore edition (with better photos!) of some of my Wanga pieces. (Wanga is a magical charm, or spell, taken from Haitian Creole). With links to the shop – of course.
April 11, 2013 § 2 Comments
The last couple of weeks or so have not been the best for me – I’ve been trying not to get too stressed out over my petty little problems (learning curves, taxes, etc), but some days I’m ready for my happiest hour much too soon… Having said that, I am usually pretty good about keeping a lot of the crazy world affairs from seeping into my little world and ruining my zen (not having a television helps). But sometimes, you gotta rant. I’ll keep it brief – trinkets to follow (this is after all, a jewelry blog).
I grew up in Montreal – in its heyday. I loved going downtown as a kid with my dad to get bagels and the European goodies that lined Saint Lawrence Boulevard, aka “the main” (or boulevard Saint-Laurent its official name, in French). My parents were Eastern European immigrants, they met and married in Montreal, a city filled with a plethora of languages. In our house alone, at any given time, you could hear: Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, English and French. In the early 70s we lived through the “October Crisis”, and language became a galvanizing issue. Rumbles in schoolyards between French and English boys were commonplace. It was crazy and ridiculous.
In 1976 the Partie Quebecois came into power and created language and signage laws that drove the Anglophone community, and pretty much everyone else, out of the province, and along with it went most of the money that made the economy hum. For the next couple of decades, the province suffered financially. Everything was for sale, for lease, or essentially abandoned. Real estate values plunged and the city fell to its knees. During this time, a friend of mine moved to Montreal and found a spacious 3 bedroom apartment he liked. When the landlord told him the rent was $300 a month, he looked at him, surprised and said “Really? I’ll take two!” Slowly, people started to move back, the politics changed and the city became a vibrant viable place again.
Last year Quebec experienced a relapse. The Partis Quebecois returned to power. The new language police have done things like ban the word “pasta” off of restaurant menus (Mon Dieu! Pasta is not a French word!) and have monitors in schoolyards to scold children speaking any other language besides French. Sadly, I am not making any of this up – you can google “pastagate” or “no recess for French” for the ridiculous details.
It seems ironic to me that I now live in South Louisiana where less than a hundred years ago, the French language was essentially banned and Cajun children were punished for speaking French at school.
Zachary Richard is a Cajun singer/songwriter living near Lafayette, Louisiana (I am one of his biggest fans). He writes haunting ballads and rocking Zydeco music in French AND in English. Mr. Richard lived in Montreal during the 70s and played around town when I was growing up. Always a supporter of French culture, this song “No French No More” is a heartbreaker; inspired by his father, it’s about a son who gives up his culture to become successful, and in the end, laments his decision.
Nobody wants to be railroaded from a tradition they love. But I would like to just say this: It was wrong to force everyone to speak only English in Louisiana a hundred years ago, and it’s wrong to force everyone to communicate only in French in Quebec now.
Check out this Time magazine article:
Not surprisingly, when I’ve had a chance to make jewelry for my own amusement lately, I have been turning to blue stones (peace, balance, communication(!), aligning your higher self) . Ya’ll up there in La Belle Province can probably use a couple.
How about these babies? Wonderful for bringing peace, balance and aligning your higher self for deeper insight and intuition. Watermelon tourmalines represent the heart chakra, they are emotionally healing and bring about emotional understanding. Oui oui!
For compassionate and sympathetic communication, yellow/golden beryl (aka heliodor) will do the trick, and the aquamarine brings peace, courage and happiness. C’est magnifique!
Underlining the point here: aquamarines for peace, courage and happiness, blue tourmalines symbolize peace and they help with communication, eloquence and emotional purification. Sapphires represent truth and faithfulness. Oooh la la!
Ici (translation: here) we have the rose cut turquoise for wisdom, et pour le grounding the wayward spirit. The peridot will help to cleanse negative emotions. Ah, fantastique et perfect for le weekend!
The title of this post was inspired by a band based in Montreal. I would like to end with a song I liked to dance to in the 70s (when I was young and beautiful!): APRIL WINE – TONIGHT IS A WONDERFUL NIGHT TO FALL IN LOVE Enjoy!