Catastrophe (part forty-one)
Among the Experts
A Guardian of Sanitary Regulations
Protests All Down the Line
A man truly no longer content, not at all, with the government and administrative actions at Martinique, but who has been there—through the time they are already calling “Volcano Month”—is the director of sanitation services, Dr. Lidin.
M. Lidin does not do politics. No. That, he has no regard for. He is a service officer, outside and above these relationships that butter the bread…so much for the table of Monsieur X; so much for that of Monsieur Y…
All this counts less to him than the first tooth cut in the mouth of one of his soldiers. But that’s the devil!
He is white. Things have not been favoring the whites of Martinique…and since the volcano, are worse still. A trinity of color weighs on the land, the governor Lhuerre, a man of color; the mayor of Fort-de-France, Sévère, a man of color; Senator Knight, a man of color…
Dr. Lidin does not say negro. He says man of color. This dark trio, he says, have undermined his task.
The director of sanitation services does not allow himself to judge the masters of Martinique for their acts, appreciation of which is not his competence. But of public health, he tells me these three have made an absolute mockery. The sanitary regulations worry them no more than if there were none.
“However, monsieur, at times everyone loses their heads, leaders truly deserving of the name must show they know how to keep theirs.”
And M. Lidin recites to me inconceivable omissions of regulation.
“When the D’Assas arrived, carrying the ministerial mission, do you suppose they would wait for the ship to be boarded, to receive the all-clear from customs? Not at all. Without a scruple…like the coloreds, although they were white, the governor’s aide-de-camp takes a boat reserved for the medical examiner [It appears there is only one of these in the port—JH], and simply goes aboard the D’Assas, with no precautions for sanitation. And he brings back M. Bloch and the others—with no worries for sanitation.
“Here, we have regulations, monsieur. The regulations are not observed unless they can be used to bully an enemy. Oh! Then, they forget nothing. At the least infraction, the magistracy moves. But this doesn’t concern me. All that concerns me is public health. Now, would you like another proof, of the shamelessness with which these gentlemen treat it, our poor public health?
“Look at the street corners, the notices the town hall has just posted. You see how to profit the victims, they sell putrid cod, spoiled flour, fermented rice. Is it not a cheat, at this moment when traders complain they have no stocks, and retailers don’t know which store to supply, is it not a cheat to put on sale spoiled food, rotten, dangerous…but which can be bought for next to nothing!
“I know that they will say this is to feed cattle, to make fertilizer. A good joke! They arrange this for the feeding of the whites, this rottenness. And they will say, even so, it’s too good for them…
“In no civilized country, in no country that has public health regulations, is it permitted to market rotten food. But here, in a country commanded by these three men, we find it so. As you know…”
Dr. Lidin complains as well that in destroying the corpses of Saint-Pierre, they have proceeded, “in the way of the negro”. An epidemic coming to complete the island’s misfortune, in striking the people spared, would not astonish him. He had to insist that they draw up a regulatory decree, for these “excavations” at Saint-Pierre, in a civilized and European manner.
In brief, Dr. Lidin is not content. Like all the whites, by the way!
Here, the official document, the text of the decree relative to the excavations:
The Governor, par intérim, of Martinique.
In view of the record of the medical commission rendered at Saint-Pierre, May 16th.
Considering that, in the present state, the prolonged stationing of persons in the city constitutes for them a grave danger, due to the infection of the corpses, the menaces of the volcano, and the instability of the walls which remain standing:
Article 1: That excavations are, in general, prohibited in the area of Saint-Pierre.
Art. 2: That special authorization can be given by the commission of excavations for the recovery of valuables, and business papers, as contained in safes.
Art. 3: That these authorizations are given to consuls general, to establishments of public interest, to industrialists, and to traders, who can establish the existence of such safes.
Art 4: That the specific location where the safe is to be found, must first be searched to avoid the discovery of corpses in the process of decomposition.
Art 5: That any request for the sole purpose of searching for bodies cannot be admitted.
Art. 6: That authorizations to excavate are carried out at the expense and at the risk of the interested parties, and under supervision regulated by the Administration.
Art. 7: That the men making up the teams must have a change of clothing. The clothing used during the work must be washed and disinfected in an antiseptic solution of mercury dichloride, before it is returned to Fort-de-France.
Art. 8: That the corpses that may be found during the course of the excavations, are to be burned or buried.
In the event of persons wishing to transport these bodies outside of Saint-Pierre, this transportation cannot be effected, but under conditions provided by the regulations on the subject… etc., etc.
A later decree regulated conditions for “civilians”, as to excavations.
This decree named a commission charged with examining requests for excavations addressed to the Administration, and advising on the rights of petitioners; the authorization be agreed to by the Colonial Governor.
This commission is to assure that the ruins where the excavations take place, must in reality prove those referred to in the requests. The searches shall take place under the supervision of an agent of the public constabulary. The commission will collect the valuables found, and deposit them in a special vault, etc., etc.
If Dr. Lidin complained that the decree of hygiene for the excavations was made tardily, and was not observed, I have heard many issue similar complaints regarding the decree, as to the “security”, or if one prefers, the “sincerity”, of the excavations.
La Catastrophe de la Martinique
(1902, Jean Hess, La Catastrophe de la Martinique; 2019, translation, Stephanie Foster)