Albertine Diaries

Florida and the Caribbean through a Child’s Eyes

Every month, France-Amérique talks to the residents of Villa Albertine, the cultural institution launched by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, which offers an annual program of 60 artistic and cultural residencies in the United States. This issue features Martinican poet Simone Lagrand, who spent six weeks in Miami. Her encounters and wanderings in this seaside metropolis led to the idea for a novel, a “climatic fiction” which depicts the future of Florida and the Caribbean through a child’s eyes.
The Little Haiti Cultural Complex, in Miami.

One day, I sat down in the courtyard of the Little Haiti Cultural Complex. Some kids were skipping rope. Did they realize that they were living in an area threatened by climatic gentrification, due to its location high above the water, which therefore protected it from rising sea levels? (Forecasts for the Miami area predict a rise of at least two feet by 2060.) What is it like to spend your childhood in a neighborhood besieged by water and developers?

This is how Vénus came into the world as the heroine of the novel I started writing during my residency in Florida. Vénus was born in Little Haiti to a Haitian mother and a Martinican father. She doesn’t talk, but hears everything: the phone calls between her parents and a dishonest realtor with his eyes on their little house on Northwest Second Avenue, a stone’s throw from the Mapou Creole bookstore; her grandmother’s voice; and her aunt’s tarot readings, which she listens to while hiding under a bed.

On each of her birthdays, Vénus makes a wish to find her voice and sing her mother a song to tell her that she is beautiful. Her mother’s name is Lucide. She arrived in Martinique in 2010 just after the earthquake that devastated Haiti. This is where she met Josué, a young literature professor who was offered a job at the University of Miami shortly after. The young couple, expecting a baby, moved to Florida to reunite with Lucide’s sister and her mother in their climate exile.

Simone Lagrand. © Aucepika

But during the summer when she turns ten, Vénus’s world collapses. She gets her first period, finds her voice, and her mother dies. In a turbulent month of July, a birthday, an earthquake, and a hurricane put an end to her childhood. It all happens in Martinique as she visits the island for the first time. A place so close, yet so far; a record of when her parents met. By setting out to look for her mother in the midst of a natural disaster, she will come across people who help her to live through this incredibly important moment in her life as a little girl, while encouraging her to find her voice.

I called this story La solitude du rhizophore, after the name of a tropical tree. Half-root, half-stem, it grows like on stilts, suspended above the waters of the mangrove. I was born in a similar landscape, and always viewed this space as a metaphor for a certain marginality and the decomposition of society. Throughout her coming-of-age journey, Vénus will explore this small, amphibious world of mystery, teeming with worrying and enticing life, spoiled by progress and development.

Seeing the world collapsing under the weight of climate change through the eyes of a little girl from the Caribbean and America, who admires the entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist Captain Haiti, and who speaks Creole, French, and English, means listening to the voices of those who will build the sixth continent of tomorrow.


Article published in the April 2022 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.