Sunday, April 14
Palm Sunday. I peeked out my window to see how the day would be celebrated. The church goers had gathered in the courtyard to receive fresh palms. As a child, I made crosses from dried palms.
Instead of mass, I went to the market to buy flowers for that very window.
When I returned, I planned my route to the Musee d’Orsay to see “Le modele noir de Gericault a Matisse” (The Black Model from Gericault to Matisse) which I had first seen at Columbia University.
I liked the route as it took me through my old neighborhood of Odeon. After crossing Blvd. Saint Germaine to Rue de l’Ancienne Comedie, I turned onto Rue de Buci, a virtually pedestrianized narrow street filled with restaurants, Parisians. and a group of blues buskers.
I arrived at the museum early enough to avoid long lines. The exhibit had greatly expanded from what I had seen in New York. At first I’m was in a frenzy: there was so much to see, so many wonders: films of Harlem projected on the walls high enough so everyone can see.
And a film of Katherine Dunham, the choreographer, anthropologist, and metissage (her mother was French Canadian, her father African America) dancing Les Ballets Caribes in Paris.
I tried to photograph much of the text displayed on the wall but had to maneuver around other visitors. At one point I backed into a display and fell on my backside. It was worth it. One section entitled “Metissages Litteraires,” Mixed Race in Literature, mentioned Alexandre Dumas. The author of The Three Musketeers was the grandson of an emancipated slave (Slavery in the French colonies wasn’t abolished until 1832.)
My grandmother, Germaine de Jorna, nicknamed her sons after the three musketeers.
De Jorna Family
Armand de Jorna married Noeline Noel
Andreid (Yia) Germaine James (father of Adria and Everard)
Germaine de Jorna Married Efstadiou Zinis
Andrew Germaine Alma Louis Flora Gabriel Stella
Louis Zinis married Mary Daly (daughter of Mary McGann)
Judith Linda Edward
My father was Porthos, the character who wanted to make a fortune. Since he worked from an early age in order to have his own spending money, the choice seems apt. Did she choose this book because she knew of Dumas’ heritage. Because she knew that another de Jorna had actually been a “mousquetaire?’
Louis Zinis (Porthos) who liked nice cars
Also discussed was Jeanne Duval born in Haiti around 1827. She became Baudelaire’s mistress and was an important part of the poems in Les Fleurs du mal. One edition included Matisse’s drawing, Martiniquaise, A Martinique Woman. An exciting coincidence, so similar to the title of Mayotte Capecia’s novel, Je Suis Martiniquaise,
My de Jorna relative arrived in Martinique in 1690, five years after the enactment of the Code Noir, an edict of Louis XIV that set forth the policy for the slave population and remained in effect until 1789. In the 1700’s one of the Martinique de Jorna’s angered a King of France: he was demoted from a high level administrative position to head of the militia. In either case, he had to be involved in controlling slaves and having slaves. But years later, they mixed, the de Jorna’s and the slaves. So like Dumas, I am also descended from a slave. Nevertheless, my military writer friend is somewhat correct in assessing it’s limited effect on me. My father didn’t wash my skin with lye in order to “whiten” me. However, my great aunt Yia tried this method on her nieces.
Edouard Glissant, Martinique poet and philosopher, wrote ”One of the assumptions of French culture is to assimilate people, to have them all become like a transcendent French model.” The French Antilleans believed they were French and according to Glissant, emulated French values which meant being white forming what he called a “pseudo-elite,” that resulted in a “depersonalization” of their identity. Consequently. being identified as African or black was an insult. They, as my grande-tante did, wanted to get as close as possible to white, to French culture. Every summer she sent her nieces to a relative’s farm on Long Island where they were scrubbed with a diluted lye solution to make sure their one drop wasn’t too evident.
Germaine de Jorna’s daughters once washed with lye
When she brought her brother’s daughter and son from Saint Lucia to live with her, the nephew was banished from her household. He couldn’t pass. He was too dark. He joined the Merchant Marines so the story went. However, he spent most of his life in Manhattan never to be seen again, at least not by his family or even the sister with whom he had lived. Her skin tone did pass. She kept that secret all her life.
By chance, on my way home, I passed where Richard Wright had once lived. Fitting.