Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Bring Out the Coffin . . ."

On a 1997 trip to Haiti, in February, to be there during the Carnaval period; one day while out for a ramble around, I took these three shots in quick succession, simply because I was intrigued with the way large numbers of people and baggage were piled on trucks and transported from one place to another like that in Haiti. Often the trucks were colorful affairs with brightly colored paint, and usually a slogan of some sort across the front. This one said across the top of the windshield, " DIEU RESPONSABLE"... or "God is Responsible". It wasn't until much later, looking at the images shot that day, that I realized there was a coffin tied down on top of the load, I'd been so busy trying to get a clear photograph, that I hadn't seen what the cargo was . . . I can only imagine someone was being carried off to their final resting place.
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The poem by W.H. Auden that was famously used in the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral" comes to mind now looking at these images . . .
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Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
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Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
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He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
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The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
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23 comments:

ladydi said...

I see room for two more!

louciao said...

I wonder if ladydi means room for two more coffins...

Janie said...

Quite interesting to have captured a funeral parade and not realize it until later. I remember that poem!

robert said...

To die, to sleep/To sleep, perchance to dream.
(Hamlet, 3. Act)
Guess that those people dreamed afterwards about the coffin as well. In search of sleep, I see the night running away, yet still far too early to die, to sleep.
Wish you a nice Sunday and a new week filled with much life.

louciao said...

When it comes to the part in 4W&aF where he reads the eulogy I always cry (guilty pleasure DVD).

But Owen, how do we know there's a body in the casket? Maybe it's like having an upper berth on the train. Maybe it's the romantic cabin for honeymooners. Maybe it's the portable rum distillery.

I really like the movement, the graininess and the shaky feeling of the whole enterprise that you caught in the last photo.

And just because you asked awhile ago, I have posted on my blog tonight my painting that went to live in Haiti. You'll have to skim through the rest of the palaver to get to it, though.

Steve said...

There's something very efficient and eco-friendly about the whole thing. Killing lots of birds with one stone... though possibly this is not the most sensitive expression one could use.

Nadege said...

It is a beautiful poem. My heart goes out to these people; beautifuly island but such poverty with corrupt officials.

April Jarocka said...

CLASSIC!!! I bet you thought you'd seen everything when you captured that shot Owen! I wonder also, was there a body in that coffin?? Laughed my ass off too at Ladydi's comment. Keep em coming - it's entertaining me!

*SparkleMirror* Kiln-Fired Art Studio said...

Hey Owen
It's understandable that you'd miss what seems to be obvious (to me, only because of your post's title)... trying to get an impromptu shot of a moving vehicle is difficult. You did a great job of it, though... one might even say "Dead On"... knuck knuck knuck
David

Jo said...

Omigoodness, what a send-off that person is getting. Those pictures sort of say it all, don't they? Life and death.

Wonderful photographs -- as usual.

I had not read that poem before. Now I'm going to read it again.

Cheers!

The Sagittarian said...

My favourite poem of all time (well, it's one we can read out loud in front of the kids so that's a starting point these days)...great photos. Isn't it odd the things you find when you re-look at photos, things that you didn't notice while taking them. I like Loucaio's idea of a portable rum distillery tho'....

Marguerite said...

If you hadn't pointed the coffin out, I may have missed it, thinking it was something else. Amazing photos and poem! Have a happy week, Owen!

AmyR said...

Definitely a bit different than the funeral parades I've seen. I might like this option better...the last photo is my favorite.

And that poem makes me cry every time I read it. *sniff*

The Sagittarian said...

Oh and I wonder if there was really anybody (LOL) in the coffin, were they really dead...visions of Monty Python "bring our your dead" sketch spring to my warped mind!

Elise said...

Hello, just wanted to pop in & leave you a comment because you have such a delightful site ! I've loved looking at your pictures and reading your posts - they are great !

Thank you so much for sharing them

Owen said...

Hi Diana, yeah, I guess you could squeeze at least two more people on the back... or two more coffins on the cab of the truck...

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Hey Lynne, I was wondering too... it is possible the coffin was empty and was just being transported to be used somewhere, or indeed, endless other possibilities; it might have been packed with cocaine (according to stories we heard while there, Haiti is a major transhipment center)... now, if as you suggested it might be the honeymoon suite, I hope at least it is airconditioned. There are, I learned recently portable airconditioning units for coffins to be used in hot climates to keep the occupant presentable until burial... (saw an advert for this in a funerary industry magazine which I found in an abandoned gravestone cutting site, will post pictures soon of that place which was a bit surreal). Now, if it's a mobile rum distillery, I'm interested, may have to track one down. It's a good thing Hunter Thompson didn't have one of those in Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, he might never have made it out of there alive ! If I can find one, you and Saj and Steve and everyone will have to come over for drinks !

Loved your lobster painting, will be over again soon to your place, I took a quick look yesterday, but the press of holiday socializing left me no time to write...

And many thanks, the grainy third one is my favorite too...

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Janie, indeed, I was really surprised when I saw what was in the images, and had pretty well forgotten the details until getting these negatives scanned to digital files very recently and looking at them again carefully...

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Hello Robert, there were many beautiful sleeping dreams in Haiti, it was a paradise, with sometimes nightmare qualities, plenty of material there for great tragedy pieces to be written... if Shakespeare could have seen it as it is today, I wonder what he would have written... Many thanks, there is plenty of life already in this new week... I need a vacation... oh, right, I'm on vacation ! :-D

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Steve, very practical you are, perhaps you could invent and market a funeral bus where the casket and mourners could all travel together, instead of having scads of cars all following a hearse, causing traffic jams and burning gas... that way the birds could flock together...

Owen said...

Hi Nadege, you are surely right, the place is rife with corruption, a small number of families concentrate considerable wealth there... Baby Doc is I gather still living comfortably in France off his accumulated resources...

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Hey April, Glad you are enjoying ! Hard to say whether the coffin was occupied or not... it needed one of those two-sided "Vacancy" or "No Vacancy" signs on it ...

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David ! Great to see you out and about ! Yep, dead straight, I was so dead set on getting a shot of the truck that was moving dead ahead, that I wasn't focused on the details... nearly dropped dead when I realized what I'd caught... knuck knuck indeed... See ya !

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Dear Jo, thanks so much ! If you haven't seen the movie, it is worth taking a look at, Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell are both good fun in it... that's where I discovered the poem and WH Auden, after seeing the film went out and purchased his collected works... was not disappointed...

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Dearest Saj, no doubt you've been dreaming of rum distilleries ! That Lynne is full of grand ideas !!! And I'm betting you liked the film mainly because of Hugh Grant... am I wrong ??? Hmmm, I wonder who is better looking, him or Jackson Browne ??? :-D

Oh, that Monty Python sketch is priceless, love it when the not-dead-yet-but-soon-to-be says "I feel fine" !

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Hi Marguerite, if you haven't been to Haiti, you might enjoy it... the french creole spoken there may have some similarity to cajun, in any case with the French you have you could probably get by pretty well there... lot's of interesting island dishes to sample...

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Hey Amy... ahhh, I guess a lot of folks are touched by that poem when they hear it, especially as it was read in Four Weddings, it just blew me away the first time I saw it there...

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Elise, Wonderful, do pop in anytime, the more the merrier, one can't exist in a vacuum, this humble little blog is meant for public consumption... Thanks so much for your very kind words here !!!

J said...

I can see how you missed the coffin - brings a new meaning to 'standing room only'!

That poem was totally ruined for me by having to 'study' (ie, reguritate the most moronically obvious critique the exam board required) it for my English GCSE (high school leaving exams taken at 16 in the UK), meanwhile being banned (church high school) from ever mentioning homosexuality - to the extent that when I saw it I just though 'Oh god, that poem again' and had to scroll past.

Hmm, time to get off the soap box...

the watercats said...

That's the way to be sent off!.. (strapped to the top of a truck that is). That or being danced to the grave in a celebratory festival like I read the Mayan culture does/did. OR... cut up and left in the mountains for the vultures, OR, just being left in the wilderness to beautiful decomposition... There's so many brilliant ways to be sent off!

Anonymous said...

oh, Owen... here people still do this, go round the town/village with the open coffin placed on a special car decorated with flowers and candles, relatives going behind it, crying - it was one of the most terrifying images of my childhood... and people coming out at their gates to watch...

roxana said...

sorry, that was me :-)

The Sagittarian said...

Sorry bud, I DETEST Hugh Grant.

Lille Diane said...

These pictures are haunting. Intriguing, and hauntingly beautiful. Black and white gave them even more layers. Oh to have been a bird on your shoulder able to see a portion of the wondrous things you've seen, Owen.