George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ is the most covered song in recording history. I would have never guessed that, but it is a factoid that makes sense. We all love summer, though our reasons are as varied as the artists who have etched the tune in vinyl or tape or electronic digits. Personally I consider Janis Joplin’s version definitive, and she was hardly what you’d call a summery kind of girl. Even in Haiti, where seasons vary no more than fifteen degrees throughout the year, summer has a languid ease that sets it apart from the rest of the year.
My flight to PAP is uneventful. I sit next to a polite business man who is trim enough not to hang over our shared armrest. Neither project wants anything hauled in, so instead of picking up bags I collect the airport’s newest attractions, flyers! One young women hands out advertisements extolling a local restaurant, another modular homes complete with air conditioning. True, her flyer also boasts of building pre-fabricated orphanages and even includes a plan to house 40 children. That is an odd product to sell, and I overlook it. A third lady shoves Magic Haiti magazine in my face, a glossy number with articles on art, culture, resorts and food designed to attract tourists. The pictures are delectable, like no place in Haiti I have ever seen. This is a new form of hucksterism, much more sophisticated than panhandling, and although this type of commerce usually annoys me, I gather all the offerings like an anthropologist discovering a fascinating variation of his subject culture.
I breeze through customs. There are no beggars along the gauntlet to the pick-up lot. When I reach the end of the secure walkway, for the first time, no one is waiting to pick me up. I step across security’s threshold and enter the crowd on the far side without a flicker of anxiety. I am the only blan but no one in the Port au Prince crowd much notices. They look different than people from Grand Goave, they have rounder bellies but deeper scars. Everyone’s face carries the residue of trauma, evidence of Port au Prince’s reputation as one tough town. They look battered by not frightening in the least.
Ricardo strolls along with Alexis at his side. I flag them down and trail over the dusty parking lot to our car. Alexis is dressed to the outer limits of what her mother Renee will allow. The girl is remarkably beautiful, and at sixteen is beginning to understand what that means; her hip tight jeans and bodice griping top are calculated to catch city guys’ eyes. Raymond, Lex’s older brother, is in the car along with his son Tanyo, and another girl, Fabi, who has alluring blue extensions woven into her tiny braids.
We exit the airport and turn the wrong way, motor over to the National Convenience Store for a snack, which turns into a full lunch. Ricardo and Fabi flirt. Midway through lunch Lex calls Ricardo. When Lex finds out we are still at the airport he gets me on the line and tells me to hustle. I have no control and tell him so. I don’t mention I am in no particular rush to get to Grand Goave. This is first time Port au Prince has seemed like anything other than an ordeal to be persevered.
Ricardo takes a very circuitous route through the city, higher into the hills than I have ever been, though still far from the exclusivity of Petionville. We ride along streets that might be considered middle class, houses with small courtyards; a few even sport a tree. It is dense but ordered. We descend back into the center of things. The azure sea fills the voids where the cathedral’s rose window shattered, but the remains appear more sculpture than ruin. As we scoot around the palace, still toppled, I am amazed that all the tent cities are gone, the landscape is raked, the trees in leaf. Where rows of port-a-potties stood two months ago there is now a shady corner with an open air bookstore, Bibliotec Universal, Parisian in ambiance as well as in name.
I am not sure how much Port au Prince is improving versus how much I am just not in the mood to dwell upon the metal roof shacks and piles of garbage and pigs in sewer trenches. We are on a joy ride, and all I take in is the joy. We stop at a roadside stand and Tanyo exits. We pick up sodas and sugar cane from a sidewalk vendor. Everyone in the car chatters in Creole, which sounds like birds warbling to me. The Bay of Gonave has that sparkling aqua tint I associate with Bermuda; gorgeous and refreshing to behold.
We turn off in Leogone to deposit Raymond, wave at all of Alexis’ cousins and finally pull into Mission of Hope about 4:30 pm. It was a long leisurely drive. All the tasks that need attention wait for us upon arrival. None of them are critical. After all, it’s summertime.