Iron Market and Craft Centre
02.11.2016 - 02.11.2016 34 °C
Iron Market (Marché de Fer)
As we were unable to reach this – one of Haiti's most important civic landmarks - on our last visit because of the political rallies taking place, we have set aside a morning to explore its sales halls.
Shipped over from France in 1891, the structure was originally destined for Cairo, where it was going to become a railway station; but the deal fell through so it ended up here in Port au Prince instead. No-one is quite sure why or how.
The iconic market was badly destroyed during the 2010 earthquake, but has since been rebuilt and is yet again the focus of the city's vendors.
Notorious for its overwhelming atmosphere and high-pressure aggressive salesmen, it is with some trepidation we enter the first of the two halls, which contains a number of food and everyday household items for sale.
Gourds and dried mushrooms
Great selection of fancy shoes
Many locals prefer to rely on alternative medicine, and we see several stalls selling a great variety of herbal infusions.
For medicinal purposes only?
No salesmen have bothered us so far, but I guess the other hall – full of Vodou paraphernalia, artists and souvenirs, is where it is all happening as far as the tourist goes.
Here we see all sorts of 'creations' – I find the ones featuring dolls (of which there are many) - somewhat unnerving.
Other - equally macabre - items are produced from and around human skulls. Real human skulls that is.
When the slaves were brought over from Africa, they were forbidden to practice their Vodou religion, so would disguise their art behind a veil of Catholic saints. Today the two merge into one as far as art goes.
The bowls of turtles intrigue me, and Serge explains that they are used for rituals. The turtle is not killed, merely drained of some blood, which is mixed with rum and coffee (isn't everything over here?), and given to pregnant women to protect the foetus from evil spirits.
Candles used for ceremonies
The last part of the market is dedicated to souvenirs, and although we are approached by the stall holders and encouraged to browse their goods, they are not what I would call 'aggressive', or even particularly persistent. Perhaps this is down to the fact that Serge has spent years trying to discourage them; maybe it's because we have taken one of the stallholders as a guide, or it could be that we are just so used to it from our many travels through Africa and Asia that we just ignore it. While Haiti does not receive many tourists as such, the great number of visiting diaspora are the main buyers of these items, wanting to take a small piece of their home-land back to the US (or wherever) with them.
From the Iron Market we make our way across town to the area known as Grand Rue (Main Street) through the labyrinthine warren of back streets in neighbourhoods dedicated entirely to car scrap yards and recycling.
Atis Rezistans – the Sculptors of Grand Rue
It is not immediately obvious where the junk-yard ends and the art museum / gallery begins.
The artists in this tight-knit community use salvaged wood, discarded car parts and household items to create bold, radical and warped sculptures.
“E Pluribus Unum”: out of many, one.
Compelling and whimsical, sometimes disturbing, often absurd, always extraordinary, each piece of art has a story behind it and a meaning to it, although the latter can be very elusive to the non-initiated.
This open-air gallery is crammed full of sculptures, the focus seemingly being on ghoulish representations, although I am told the symbology is based on slavery, death and rebirth, Vodou, Christianity and the occult.
Fetish, sexuality and anatomy are recurring themes in these fantastical creations reborn from discarded everyday items.
And of course the ever-present human skulls grinning at us as we walk past.
“Who buys this stuff” I ask André Eugéne – the founder of the art museum – as he invites us in to see his studio and bedroom. “It is mainly art collectors from all over the world, rarely locals” he explains. The interior of his work-and-living-space is dimly lit – by a human skull with red and green bulbs in its eye sockets. Not exactly what I would like to wake up to after a night on the rum.
As we are leaving, I take a fancy to a mask hanging by the exit. “Everything here is for sale” says Eugéne, but I recoil when he ask for $400. “That is way out of my reach” I explain. “How much?” asks Eugéne hopefully and I throw back an almost derisory offer of $100, which is immediately rejected for double that. I explain that this price is still way too high for me and walk away. Eugéne calls me back, money changes hands and I am now the 'proud' owner of an 'original' piece of Haitian art. More on that tomorrow.
Kids' Place – a Street Kid Project
Children between the ages of 10 and 17 are encouraged to create their own art and have been given a small shack in which to display and sell their creations.
We - no, correction, I - buy another mask for our collection. David looks at me and shakes his head. Evidently he and I do not share the same taste in art.
The kids are cute and love playing up for the camera.
Le Plaza Hotel – chill time
After a morning of 'culture', the 'arts' and shopping, we have some free time this afternoon. Inspired (encouragingly 'bullied') by my friend Ian to use my macro lens, I take a few close-up pictures of everyday items in the restaurant.
Ice cubes in my ginger ale
The metal table
Bubbles and condensation on my glass
The rest of the afternoon is spent in and around the swimming pool - first to create some trick photography.
So how are these created? Quite simple really – one photo of David on a chair, and one photo of just the scene (making sure that the camera is in the identical position), then layer them in Photoshop and remove the chair. Voila!
Later we fool around in the pool with my little waterproof camera, until the sun goes down and the lights come on.
After a quick shower we wander down to the restaurant for dinner. Although they do have an air-conditioned dining room, we make the most of the lovely warm evening by sitting outside in the leafy courtyard.
David enjoys a cold Premiere beer in a frosted glass
Prawn skewers with garlic mango sauce
Filet mignon with creamy mushroom sauce
I take great pleasure in a refreshing Plaza Punch after dinner, before it is time to say goodnight.
Thank you Jacqui from Voyages Lumiere for arranging this amazing trip to Haiti for us.