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Monday musing: fragments from Curaçao

PostPosted: Tue Mar 06, 2007 4:08 pm
by bimjim ... ing_f.html

March 05, 2007

monday musing: fragments from Curaçao

(Just the last few paragraphs)

I haven't told you of the secret within the secret, the ring inside the ring. In the fifteenth century the Catholic Church in Spain decided that it was a good time to get more serious about Christianity. The Jews, sensing that this new direction boded rather ill for them, cast their eyes about the globe once more, looking for safe haven. The Dutch were a good prospect. A basic premise of toleration seemed to govern their internal affairs. And as time went on the Dutch began to establish their colonies, the Dutch Caribbean being one example, Curaçao in particular. And so they came. The Jews sailed the high seas to Curaçao. They lived and died in Willemstad and in the smaller towns, on the beaches and in the craggy coves. They ended up with names like Chaim Aron Henriquez. Linguists say that the language of the Dutch Caribbean, Papamiento, has its roots in the Ladino of the Sephardim and thereby can be traced directly back to the Jews who fled the Inquisition. As they lived and died they built a cemetery. They put it in a place outside the city of Willemstad. And then the city grew. And it continued to grow until, in 1919, Shell came to town. There was oil beneath the waters of Curaçao, and a deep water port in the center of Willemstad where it could be processed. There was also a Jewish cemetery dating back to the seventeenth century.

Today, you can take a turn onto a little used road off the northern section of The Ring. A drive of a couple hundred yards brings you into the heart of the city of pipes. The smell of oil and burning gases is overwhelming. There is a sound that can only be described as a deep mechanical belching. Giant chimneys and exhaust pipes stretch high into the sky letting out a thick white smoke. Here is the final resting place of the Jews of Curacao. Thousands of wind swept graves on which the names and stories of the deceased can barely be discerned. They are being wiped away here a second time, in what seems almost like the concerted effort of man and nature to obliterate this place of memory.

As a postscript, the early modern philosopher Spinoza lived in Amsterdam and was from a family of Marrano Jews who fled Spain. He could easily have ended up in Curaçao. Indeed, his half sister did, and she is buried in the cemetery at the center of The Ring. We know almost nothing of Spinoza the man, and it seems that he wanted it that way. We have only his writings, some of the most powerful and lucid thoughts of their time, any time. In his Ethics, Spinoza wrote, "a free man thinks of nothing less than death."

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