NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 18 Issue 1 - Winter 2018 - Page 44

Joseph Clesca .
I loved helping prepare the coffee . I would rush to the small kitchen out back to beg the maid to let me help , while she put the beans in the chodye to grill them . I hurried to put my tiny hand over hers on the wooden spoon to turn them over , for they had to be evenly grilled on the small charcoal stove . If she wasn ’ t in a hurry or in a bad mood , I was lucky . Then , the beans had to be ground . Sometimes , I was allowed to turn the handle of the coffee grinder , while waiting for the water to boil . Then the little drawer was pulled out to reveal the ground coffee that was poured in the burlap perculator .
“ Hold it tight ,” the maid would tell me , as she handed me the thin handle made out of a metal hanger , twisted for this purpose . Then it was time to pour in the boiling water to see the coffee pour out into the enamel cafetière . By the time she served the hot black liquid in the small white enamel demitasses , every inch of the house was permeated with the scent of coffee . GrandAngele ’ s mouth twisted slightly , as she took the first sip of the blazing-hot coffee . “ Mesi wi ,” she always said , after tasting it . I will forever remember that smile of satisfaction on her face , when she had had the perfect cup of Haitian Arabica , which was almost all the time .
Over the months , through multiple trials and as many tastings , I had learned to make a perfect cup of Haitian espresso coffee . I knew something . It was a way for me to be part of GrandAngele ’ s family ritual . Mother would have never let me get as close as I did to the hot water , afraid that I might get burned . She was probably right , but she was no longer with me . I had more freedom .
Once , I gently leaned on the wide arm of GranAngele ’ s rocking chair , curled my hands into hers , despite the heat , and asked her how she had gotten her house .
“ Mari m ki te bati l pou mwen ; se te yon paket afe ( My husband built it for me ; it was a big deal ),” she had mumbled , without missing one movement of her rocking chair . I detected some pride and vigor in her voice , when she said my husband . I didn ’ t know my grandfather , Joseph Clesca , except from the black-and-white photograph standing on GrandAngele ’ s bedroom coiffeuse . It and her dining room pantry are heirlooms from the 1920s that I treasure in my own home today .
Joseph Clesca was her common-law husband . In the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Haiti , very few couples married legally , particularly in the rural areas ; the norm was rather concubinage called “ plaçage ”, and that ’ s what GrandAngele and Grandpa Joseph did .
There is no mystery concerning the family of Joseph Clesca , who had the French nationality of his father and the Haitian one of his mother . The Clesca family lived in the rich valley town of Saint-Marc , the first city north of the capital Port-au-Prince and located in the plains near the Artibonite delta . Grandpa Joseph came from a long line of adventurers and civil servants and was given his grandfather ’ s name . The first Joseph Clesca had migrated to Haiti from France in the early 1800s to serve the French government as commercial Vice-Consul to Saint-Marc .
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