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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Duvalier's First and Worse Half (Pt 1)

When I heard the surprising news a few days ago that Jean-Claude Duvalier, the former leader of Haiti, who had left the country in very ignominious circumstances 35 years ago, had returned unannounced in the middle of yet another of Haiti's long series of deeply troubled times, I didn't ask the questions that immediately occurred to almost everyone else and today are still preoccupying them.   I didn't ask, "Why now, and why at all?"   Instead my immediate question was, "Where is that wife of his?"   The answers to all these questions, as with any inquiries involving Haiti, have not been quick to arrive.

I had not kept up with the Duvalier duo after the American cargo plane that took them out of Haiti in 1986, in the face of overwhelming popular protests over their many misdeeds, including exreme profligacy, dropped them off in France.   That probably caused still another generation of Frenchmen to rue the day that their ancestors took over the left half of Hispanola not long after the Spanish found the island, and used it as a colony worked by numerous slaves shipped in from Africa.   Before the Duvalier arrival the French  had already been highly put out by being driven out of Haiti themselves by those slaves at close to the same time as the American Revolution, and that heritage, tightened by the Haitians hanging on to the things of their former oppressors, especially keeping a form of French as their language, had caused the Haitians to be troublesome clients of the French throughout  all the times of additional turmoil that have characterized Haitian history almost without a break.

The forced flight of J-C and Michele Duvalier from Haiti in 1986 grabbed my imagination, and that led to the kind of situation that I would guess has afflicted many a writer when they use their creative tastes to shape an actual event into an entirely different form that so appeals to them that eventually in their minds the truth of the latter takes over from the facts of the former, and that was why the subsequent fates of the Duvaliers fell off my radarscope through all the years  that they spent in France -- till now.

I decided to use not Duvalier but his wife, the attractive yet manipulative and spendthrift woman that I thought of as being the Original Dragon Lady, after a cartoon character from my childhood, as the inspiration for a novel in a long series that today, like that novel, is fully sketched out but seems fated never to be finished.   As its working title suggests, I focused entirely on the character suggested by Duvalier's wife and on her son, while changing her husband into an entirely different sort and then summarily dropping him from the story, by having her arranging for a fatal car accident.   At the same time, though,  I kept softening his wife,  to the point of giving her a worthwhile love interest and even some noble principles, which she shows most of all by being the one instead who returns, unbidden, to the island suggested by Haiti, which I called "Caribe," during one of its troubled times, and she rises from being truly  despised to becoming Caribe's new ruler in her own right, and leads the country into better times.

Meanwhile what actually happened to the Duvaliers in real life while I was busy cooking up stuff for my transmuting of the lead of their story into the gold of my story was that, from the day of their arrival the French tried to get rid of them, but no other country would take them, and eventually they were allowed to settle down in comfortable circumstances in a villa in or near the Riviera.   It probably helped that the Duvaliers had gotten out of Haiti with a stash rumored to total as much as 120 million dollars, which they spent lavishly on French things, especially on jewelry, and on such surefire items of lust as a 68 thousand dollar clock..

But time and their dispositions and all the temptations of La Belle France did its work, and all that loot slowly kept getting whittled down, especially when the inevitable happened and in 1990,  ten years after they were married and, if my math is right, just four after they were removed to France, the pair divorced, in the course of which, with all the predictability in the world, the former M. Bennett took poor J-C for a bunch, while she was said to be living with another man in Cannes, and after that she went off the radar.

  But given this new notoriety and an actual air of mystery that J-C has managed to drape over himself without her along, for how much longer will she stay out of sight, I can't help asking..   This situation is even more interesting because Duvalier, now 60,  turned up in Haiti with another woman who is variously described as being either his wife or his companion, and most likely is a very different cup of tea, though, aside from what time and his habits have done to his physical being,  he himself could not have changed at all.    In all this time I have never witnessed anyone who has.   If there is any shift, it is only an intensification of what they already were..


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