Saturday, March 24, 2007


   I was not a complete stranger to corrupt free-loading. I had known an Australian in Bangkok in the mid-sixties who had so many free tickets that when he was broke he would fly to Singapore and back or Manila and back or Saigon and back to get the airline meals. I had always looked down on these practices, even once when I was staying in the Peninsula in Hong Kong and smuggling in fried rice and fish & chips wrapped in newspaper because the deal did not include food. I had mentioned this to Seymour Ralston -­ that I had done it but not my deep contempt for it - and he said sternly that he had never in his life taken a free hotel room without also insisting on free food. Give me a call when you need help, he

I would never make such a call, I thought. I had been very young when I had stayed at he Peninsula and anyway it had all been part of something I had been putting together which I eventually realized was for a novel, so there was a bigger purpose than a free room. A bigger purpose, far from the most corrupt sort travel writing, which was almost all travel writing that appeared in periodicals, which almost always entailed taking these bribes on the at least implied promise you would write in praise of some probably less than admirable

A couple of weeks after I was in Hunting World helping Seymour check out elephant hide luggage, an aspiring playwright friend of mine who now edited a business publication called to say he had been offered a silly press junket -­ a dubious organization that was inaugurating a gold mine in the Dominican Republic. He said he knew I had to do a lot of traveling, so maybe this free flight and hotel would be useful. I certainly wasn't going to say anything good about the airline or the hotel, and it would be useful since there was an ambassador I wanted to see in Santo Domingo, so maybe I could break that rule of mine about no corrupt travel writing ever again, which was right up there with my rules about no entanglements ever again that entailed married women or abortion.

I called Seymour in Miami and told him about the junket and asked for his advice. It's a good start, he said. But while you're down there you should go to the other end o the island, these great indulgent new Gulf & Western resorts, they're the most expensive in the Caribbean. Let me call Gulf & Western, then I'll call you back.

Casa de Campo, he said when he called back. That's the newest and most expensive. They'll send a car to pick you up in Santo Domingo. There's also the more famous one, Ramona, the converted sugar mill, Gulf & Western bought that one too, and you can eat there, but I think you'll be more comfortable in Casa de Campo.

In my mid-twenties -- my God, almost 15 years ago! ­ I had had great contempt for the Dominican Republic, partly because is was run by Trujillo, the bloodiest of all the tin pot dictators American outfits like the CIA & Gulf & Western sponsored in the region, Contempt too, 15 years ago, because of my involvement in the far more intriguing rival end of the island of Hispaniola ­ Haiti, where I'd gone out of curiosity and then found myself involved with the vibrant local artists and arranging shows back in New York ­ which for a time had seemed like the sort of life I wanted ­ Haiti, the most real and independent and actually exotic of all possible places ­ mountains and sea and vibrant painters and the world's most graceful dancing and the most beguiling women -- which was about a far as you could get from travel publication free loading. I had been right in the thick of the complex place, hiding out from Papa Doc's tonton marcoutes, then emerging to dance the nights away in the beneath the stars in dance hall brothels where I had hid, then trekking by camion to huge deep and dark mountain voodoo gatherings where I had seen people possessed by, and turned into, the voodoo gods -- and in art circles I'd come in contact with Katherine Dunham, who was establishing a national dance troupe for Haiti, and then in New York I had had the most gorgeous of all possible girl friends, Anne Marie, one of the Haitians who came the shows of Haitian paintings that I put on.

And now I wondered what I would have thought back then, art and Haiti and the gods of Africa and the Duvaliers and Katherine Dunham and Anne Marie - if I had come across the person I was in this present time in danger of becoming.

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