Port-au-Prince was tough. My partner Sara’s job—demanding.
She put in long hours as an aid worker; she didn’t sleep well. And I spent way too much time worrying, blogging and fretting that our internet was too slow to upload photos, stressing that the food in our frig would spoil when the electricity went out at night, complaining that we should run the generator more—to hell with conservation, to hell with saving energy or saving Haiti. We should save ourselves, I thought. Food poisoning could be a bitch.
Sara and I were both exhausted. We argued. We quibbled over everything and nothing, sometimes both in the same sentence.
We needed R & R, and it showed.
So last February we flew to Miami for a long weekend, vowing we would watch American TV, enjoy fast food and slow mornings on the beach. Miami was as close to home as we could get—our easiest and most convenient access to all things US—electricity around the clock, unlimited refrigeration, water we could drink, a language we could speak. This was destined to be a big time.
And it was, but not as we’d expected.
It seems, we’d been so long without TV in Haiti that we forgot to watch it once we arrived stateside, so long without access to gadgets and up-to-date appliances, we couldn’t operate the coffeemaker in our hotel. And once we bought Droids at a Miami Verizon store, we spent much of the remaining weekend holed up in our hotel room, marveling at all the phone could do. Could we even brush our teeth without an app? Could another make the coffeemaker work?
Though we did manage to meet an old friend for dinner, it was when we drove from South Beach to Bal Harbour, that something in me changed.
You see, when I was a kid, my parents had a beach-front, Florida condominium—overlooking the Atlantic.
Daddy, a mafia man, had his “business calls” forwarded there—a place where he could “work” amidst the sun and sand and surf. It was a hard life, but someone had to deal with deprivation. Might as well be Daddy. Right?
In Bal Harbour, we had a condo at the Camelot and a cabana next door at the Ivanhoe—a more kid-friendly location, where noise was okay and splashing was permitted.
My parents seemed in perpetual party mode in Miami. Daddy had fun. We laughed, power-lounging in the sun.
So being in Miami last winter, Sara and I decided to visit my parents’ old stomping ground, the sandy places where we had played as kids.
We discovered that the Camelot still stood—under a new name, of course.
It largely looked the same, but out of context with the Ivanhoe next door torn down—replaced by a high-rise condominium complex.
However, a hotel several doors down still stood—seemingly unchanged in more than thirty years.
The Sea View had been a grand old dame of Miami Beach, a place where the rich spent big bucks on fancy dinners, played shuffleboard in the sun, drank bloody Marys by the beach.
The Sea View was an institution. It had survived unchanged by the facelift so much of Collins Avenue had suffered in the intervening decades.
Daddy had loved the Sea View—eating breakfast there on Sunday mornings. Once on Easter, the day I turned sixteen, I remember Daddy taking us there. I ate French toast. The Sea View’s cinnamon-vanilla version was the best.
So Sara and I decided to breakfast there, as well.
It wasn’t Easter. It wasn’t my birthday. But even more appropriately, it was Super Bowl Sunday—the most important day of the year on Daddy’s calendar—big betting business done that day. Massive cash was made. (Daddy had been a bookie.)
However, what amazed me most about the Sea View thirty years later was not so much the French toast itself, which I ate again for old times sake, but how little else had changed.
It literally looked the same as it had several decades earlier—a front desk of darkly paneled wood and polished brass, a stunning chandelier in the lobby—a massive display of crystal suspended from the ceiling, reflecting light, bouncing it around the room.
So standing in that lobby last February, I renewed my vowel to write a memoir—to remember—to reassemble a story not unlike the chandelier itself—a million little pieces of light—refusing to focus.
We returned to Haiti after that weekend and are now living again in the US, but I still struggle to tell this tale—one I remember only bits and pieces of—pieces of past that dangle overhead like cut glass. I strain my neck to look at them.
Now Daddy’s gone, but the Sea View still stands–a testament to memory–its durability–a past refracted by the glass.
(Note: If you are new to my blog, you might like to know that I am, indeed, writing a memoir and blogging about growing up in an organized crime family. To read a post called “Kids Make the Best Bookies,” click here.)