RUM AND REVO­LU­TION

Maxim - - CONTENTS -

PULITZER PRIZE–WIN­NER RICK BRAGG ON HIS MOST MEM­O­RABLE DRINK AND THE WAR IT STILL CON­JURES

THE BAR IN PÉTIONVILLE LEANED DRUNK­ENLY ON A HILL­SIDE. The power came and went, plung­ing the city into dark­ness at in­ter­vals, lin­ger­ing just long enough to keep the beer cool in the an­cient ice chest. But it was too dark a time for beer.

Haiti was, as usual in the early 1990s, bathed in blood, but men never drink as much as they do be­tween fu­ner­als, and there were so many of them in Port-au-prince those days that the pro­ces­sions of­ten in­ter­sected. Pétionville was an up­scale sec­tion, at a lofty re­move from the vast slums at the wa­ter­front, but even here among the rich folks, you could feel the coun­try slid­ing deeper into vi­o­lence. The demo­crat­i­cally elected pres­i­dent, Jean-ber­trand Aris­tide, had fled, and the poor Haitians who had put him in of­fice were be­ing mur­dered amid a mil­i­tary coup.

A rock or a chunk of con­crete, some­thing hard, struck the wall of the bar in the pitch-black.

The men at the bar, writ­ers and pho­tog­ra­phers and gen­uine ex­pa­tri­ates, scarcely flinched; it was only se­ri­ous when it was bul­lets and ma­chetes.

“Bar­ban­court?” the bar­tender said. The men an­swered in French. He poured the rum straight.

It tasted like sweet, harsh, liq­uid smoke. It tasted like the place, redo­lent of Haiti’s deep magic and rich and tor­tured his­tory. It was easy to be­lieve, af­ter a glass or three, in in­can­ta­tions, and in the stum­bling, moan­ing dead. But I knew it was the living you had to fear in Haiti.

I sat numb as the men spoke about the killing, and the em­bargo, and the pos­si­bil­ity of a U.S. in­va­sion. Or at least I think that was what they were talk­ing about. I was pretty ig­no­rant of French, and drunk and sleepy. But I never for­got that taste.

I had it again years later in a white-table­cloth restau­rant in New Or­leans, the Upperline. I had an­other, and in my head I drifted across the wa­ter. So this is why they call it spir­its.

MORE IN­TOX­I­CAT­ING THAN A DRINK ARE THE MEM­O­RIES IT EVOKES. FOR RICK BRAGG, RUM CON­JURES A RAM­SHACKLE BAR IN WARTIME PORT-AU-PRINCE.

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