A beacon amid the rubble, Greene's hotel survives
Friday 15 January 2010
Amid Haiti's death and devastation, one small but significant piece of good news has emerged. The staff and guests at the country's most historic hotel survived, the building apparently not having suffered extensive damage.
In the first of a series of Twitter messages that have provided one of the few sources of immediate information about the aftermath of the quake, Richard Morse, the convivial, energetic owner of the Hotel Oloffson, wrote: "Everyone o.k at the Hotel Oloffson."
He later updated to say: "All my guests slept in the driveway last night. People came up from the streets thinking they were bodies – neighbours helping neighbours. The last time my guests all slept together was when the Haitian army was shooting journalists after the election massacre of November 1987."
Built during the late 19th century in a "Gingerbread House" style, the rambling hotel has long lost something of its grandeur. During the years of the Duvalier dictatorship, it hosted many of the most important celebrities to visit Haiti, which was then a major tourist destination. Both Jackie Onassis and Mick Jagger, who stayed several times, have had rooms – these days very basic – named after them. Among the most famous guests was Graham Greene, who wrote part of The Comedians in the establishment, which appeared in the novel as the Hotel Trianon.
Another character associated with the Oloffson who appeared in Greene's novel was the late writer, journalist and dandy, Aubelin Jolicoeur, a gossip-columnist and frontman for several murderous Haitian regimes but most famously the inspiration for the roguish Petit Pierre.
While the hotel had long lost the business and diplomatic trade to other more plush hotels situated in the upmarket Petionville district, the Oloffson continued to be frequented by aid workers and journalists.
Mr Morse, a Haitian-American with an intense interest in both rock music and voodoo, bought the hotel in 1987. Yesterday morning he wrote on Twitter: "With everything closed, money, food, drinks, supplies, rotting bodies, frustration, impatience, despair will all become a problem... People have been good, helpful, calm. At some point, hunger, thirst, despair will set in. Portable morgues are needed... medical supplies."
He also had time to reflect on what lies ahead for the impoverished people of Haiti. "What are the poor supposed to do... no homes, no jobs, no savings... no medical attention. Bodies half buried nearby. A priest came to see me... I asked him why so many churches collapsed. He left without an answer. God works in mysterious ways."
The Hotel Oloffson, by Graham Greene
"With its towers and balconies and wooden frame decorations it has the air at night of a Charles Addams house in [an edition of] The New Yorker. You expected a witch to open the door to you or a maniac butler with a bat hanging from a chandelier behind him. But in the sunlight, or when the lights went on among the palms, it seemed fragile and period and pretty and absurd, like an illustration from a book of fairy tales."
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